The New Edinburgh Edition of the Collected Works of Robert Louis Stevenson

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Reading transcriptions of manuscripts

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A technical post about how we present manuscripts in our volumes

Reading transcriptions

Some of the texts in the EdRLS volumes will be based on manuscripts, and this leads us to the problem of how to present them. One way to do this would to ‘reproduce’ the manuscript as a full diplomatic transcription with all deletions and insertions. EdRLS has decided not to do this, but to ‘publish’ MSS in a reading transcription, with the volume editor acting as a respectful intermediary: ignoring deletions, adding insertions, changing underlinings to italics, ‘&’ to ‘and’, correcting clear slips of the pen, supplying clearly missing punctuation and correcting all other language-processing errors.

An unavoidable problem comes with non-standard spelling, and for our edition we have decided to ‘correct’ all spelling that we feel sure a contemporary printer would have changed and that RLS would have accepted (and provably did so, accepting the change in dozens of cases where we have manuscript with one spelling and printed editions with the other). This means that the ubiquitous ‘niether’ is changed to ‘neither’, ‘it’s cause’ becomes ‘its cause’ etc. No problem.

Problem cases

However, we don’t want to iron out any spelling variants that seem to have been acceptable at the time and had a chance of being accepted by a printer or editor: examples in this grey area are ‘to develope’ ‘at the bakers’, ‘to recal’, ‘cloke’, ‘carreer’. Google Advanced Book Searches (GABS) show evidence of these forms being used in the nineteenth century, so how do we decide in these cases?

A proposal: test with Google N-Grams

One way to decide is to look in the ‘Forms’ given by the OED: any form marked as ’19’ (i.e. 19th century), or with an open range of centuries (century number followed by dash and space), is indicated by the OED as a variant spelling in the 19th century; this helps us decide about ‘develope’, which is marked ’16–’ (i.e. 16th cent. onwards). However, GABS often shows forms in print that are not listed as variant forms by the OED. In this case, I propose that we test the two forms using Google N-grams.

Google N-Grams shows relative frequency of words and phrases in a huge number of books. Let’s take an example, ‘carreer’, which RLS uses in the MS of ‘Essays, Reflections and Remarks on Human Life’ (1880; ‘at other periods of my carreer’) and again in the MS of Kidnapped (1886; ‘I was in full carreer’, a spelling kept in Barry Menikoff’s edition). Do we keep this as an interesting personal way of writing, a touch of individual savouring, or can we be sure that RLS would have accepted its correction without batting an eyelid and even thanked the printer for helping him with his uncertain spelling? Well, let’s put ‘carreer,career’ in N-Grams, select British English and date range 1870-90…. Press Enter and we get:Screen shot 2013-05-29 at 12.23.33This convinces me that ‘carreer’ had a snowball in hell’s chance of getting past a printer in 1886, and that RLS himself would have sensed it as strange if he saw it in print.

But what about if the tested form was around at the time but maybe just happened to get past a printer only a few times? Let’s try ‘cloke’, an interesting case because in Webster’s Dictionary of 1828 it is the one and only spelling given for the word, so it had certainly existed as a respectable spelling in the 19th century. Here’s the result with N-Grams:

Screen shot 2013-05-29 at 14.26.14‘Cloke’ is there but surviving on the level of the flat-fish. Now here’s my proposal: put the cursor anywhere on the vertical line that marks 1880 (not here: in Google N-Grams) and you get a reading of the frequency for books published in that year (N.B. it includes any historical books published then, which is where I suspect the occurences of ‘cloke’ come from): in this case it is ‘cloak 0.00115%; cloke 0.00004%’. I’ve underlined the zeros, because I propose that, counting the number of zeros after the decimal point, wherever the minority spelling is within one zero point away (on average 10 times less frequent) we consider it as a variant that would have been reasonably familiar in print; but wherever is it two zero points (or more) away (on average 100(+) times less frequent) we ‘correct’ it. Here, we have four zeros against two, a difference of two zero points, so ‘cloke’ doesn’t pass the test.

[Additional comment (January 2016): the ‘one zero’ measure is I think too rough: one zero point away goes down to .009 vs .0001, which is 99% of occurrences vs 1%. I suggest that ‘rare’ occurrences could be counted as those below 10% with respect to 90% of the dominant form, e.g. .oo9 vs .0009. The links to the examples of the minority form should also be inspected: some of these may be from books published in the selected period, but in editions of older authors. The actual facsimile pages should also be inspected as sometimes the snippet views show wrongly transcribed forms.]

OK, that helps us change ‘cloke’ to ‘cloak’, what about the other examples? ‘to develope’ and ‘at the bakers’ pass the test – frequent enough in print to possibly be accepted; ‘recal’ doesn’t, suggesting it should be changed to ‘recall’.

Any comments?

“What Are You Reading” Workshop, NLS Dec 7th 2011

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Insights into Scholarly Editing at the NLS


At the third “What Are Your Reading” workshop at the National Library of Scotland (7 December 2011), presented by EdRLS editors, Penny Fielding started by emphasizing the complexity and difficulty of choices in preparing a a scholarly edition, taking as an example the striking and memorable incident of Alison thrusting the sword into the frozen ground in The Master of Ballantrae, which Colvin did not include in the Edinburgh Edition (1896), where it is printed prefaced with the note “The present text follows a copy of the first edition corrected by the author before his death”.

Gill Hughes then talked about the three basic choices of ‘base text’ for an edition:  the final manuscript prepared by the author, the first edition, or the last lifetime edition produced with the author’s input.

Richard Dury: gave an overview of the history of composition and publication of Kidnapped, in particular of the difficult coordination of overlapping publication by Young Folks magazine and in book form by Cassells.


The particpants, in three groups guided by the presenters, studied the variant readings of a page of Kidnapped (from chapter 1, 2, and 3 according to group). The aim was to explain how the differences had arisen and – taking the role of volume editor – advise on any emendations to the base text.

For the purposes of the exercise the 1886 Cassells edition was taken as the base text and compared with the MS (a reading text version of the manuscript), and YF (the Young Folks serialisation). The aim was not to choose a base text, but to give the participants the experience of making editorial choices.

Chapter 1 group

Here are some observations of the group that was looking at the page from Chapter 1.

a certain morning early in the month of June: ”early” is not in the MS, but is in YF and Cassells (left). The group agreed that this must have been an addition by RLS on the YF proofs. One could see the reasons: it emphasizes the beginning of the story at the beginning of the day, the month and the summer, and it is vaguely reminiscent of a folk song.

“Well, Davie, lad,” said he: in MS and in YF this is “, Davie lad“, so the added comma looks like a change made by the Cassell’s printer and not noted by RLS–or made by the printer and accepted by RLS–or made by RLS himself on the Cassells proofs. (This shows the difficulty of reconstructing what happened.) One member of the group could see justification for the change, seeing “lad” as equivalent to “my lad”; the others saw “Davie lad” as a unit (like “Chrissie lass”, or “Davie bach” in Anglo-Welsh), with the “lad” part reinforcing the suffix of endearment. Here, the editors would want to look at other examples of the construction by RLS and others and possibly then propose an emendation to the base text.

Chapter 2 group

This group had some interesting points where the MS differed from the printed versions: in some cases the MS reading seemed better, in other cases it seems to contain an error that has later been corrected.

bats flew in and out: the MS has “flew in out“. This might seem a straightforward correction of an accidental omission of a small word while writing. However there was an interesting discussion about (i) whether “in out” was a possible phrase, or (ii) whether perhaps RLS wrote “in”, wasn’t sure about it, and wrote “out” and forgot to cross out the first alternative. Backing up this possibility was the suggestion that at dusk, bats would be flying out from their place of daytime rest.

I lifted my hand with a faint heart under my jacket, and knocked once: the MS has “hand” followed by a comma, removed in YF and Cassells. Participants here were split between those who could see this as the intervention of RLS not wanting too long a pause after “hand” (wanting the important pause to be after “jacket” as David hesitated), and others who thought this could be a mistake in copying the MS because the comma usefully removes the possible ambiguity of “lifted with a faint heart”.

Mr. Ebenezer Balfour of Shaws: MS has “Balfour of the Shaws”. Participants were not quite sure of the MS reading here: could it be an old Scottish expression? Could it show Davie’s uncertainty about the title? The group also had an image of the MS and could see that this also might have been a mistake, later corrected by the author: RLS writes in the MS “Balfour of the” and comes to the end of a line, then as he moves the pen across the page he imagines he’s written the words “house of” and starts the new line with “Shaws”.

Chapter 3 group

This group also had some interesting cases of differences in the MS that were changed for the printed versions.

Half-a-dozen dishes stood upon the shelves: MS has “stood upon the bink” (as recently discovered in preparation for this event), a Scots word meaning “shelf” or “dresser”. The feeling of the members of the group at the NLS was that this was probably a change made by the author, but they would like to emend the text to “bink”, on the grounds that the early proofing was not really part of “the initial creative process”.

I’ll take the ale, though: MS has “beer“; clearly a change made by the author to the YF proofs, the group thought. Some members noticed that earlier on (third paragraph of this chapter), when Davie enters the kitchen he sees on the table “a cup of small beer”. Some thought it was better to follow the MS, to keep consistency and use “beer” in both places; others saw “ale” as an older and more traditional word that was used here to show Ebeneezer’s more old-fashioned way of speaking in comparison with David.  So in the first case (“shelves” vs “bink”) the members of the group wanted to keep the MS reading, and in the second, some wanted to take the variant in the printed versions as better.


The discussion of the passages went on too long for a proper conclusion. But one general reaction was surprise that on every page there were so many and often important variants; another reaction was an understanding of the complexity of preparing a scholarly edition.

Written by rdury

12/12/2011 at 5:09 pm

Kidnapped and the copright edition

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The joys of making an unexpected discovery

For the “What Are You Reading” event at the NLS on 7th December I was trying, with Penny Fielding and Gill Hughes, to get as clear an idea as possible of the publication history of Kidnapped. We knew there had been a “copyright edition” of the first ten chapters produced by Henderson (editor of Young Folks) issued in April 1886, but I’d assumed such productions were slung together any old how and were not really relevant.

Copyright Edition is identical with Young Folks

But then I remembered that, of course, the NLS has a copy of this, so we could have a look and see what relationship it might have with the Young Folks and Cassells first ten chapters.

Gill Hughes and I called up the volume, and we saw that it corresponded exactly with all the typical word- and punctuation-variants of Young Folks, that it was indeed identical with it (Gill’s expert proofing skills came into play here). Then I thought the type size and column width looked familiar (it was in two columns to the page), so I suggested looking at the University of South Carolina images of Young Folks on their website.

Copyright Edition is Young Folks

So off we went to the catalogue computers, where you’re allowed to look at any websites, found the first chapter of Kidnapped in Young Folks on the USC site and saw that the lines all began and ended with the same words as in the Copyright Edition—that the typography was identical. They had just placed the lines of type into the different lengths of columns. (The only change was to the first paragraphs of each chapter in the magazine version, where a decorated initial meant the type had to be placed differently on the lines.) This fact immediately removed a couple of question marks from the provisional stemma we had sketched out. (A stemma is the tree diagram to show the relationship of the different ‘witness texts’.)

Just to make sure, that we hadn’t discovered something already known, I then looked in the various Stevenson bibliographies (conveniently on open shelves in the NLS Readng Room) and found that this indeed had not been noticed before.

Much research involves months of work before results start mistily to appear; this all took ten minutes. Great!

Written by rdury

08/12/2011 at 8:56 am

Kidnapped conundrum solved

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Davie enters the kitchen of the House of Shaws and sees a bxxxk

In Chapter 3 of Kidnapped, David Balfour is reluctantly admitted by his uncle to the kitchen of the House of Shaws, and looks around him. In the 1886 Young Folks text and in the first book edition (Cassells, 1886), he sees:

Half a dozen dishes stood upon the shelves…

In Barry Menikoffs transcription of the manuscript in the Huntington Library, the sentence begins

Half a dozen dishes stood upon the brick…

Looking at the manuscript, the last word seemed more like ‘brink’:

I thought that was a bit better, but neither word mades any obvious sense. I looked in the SND and OED, to no avail. I asked various experts, thinking that we might find a traditional feature of Scottish kitchens called ‘brick’ or ‘brink’, in a use that (I persuaded myself) hadn’t made it to the SND. Then Jeremy Hodges solved the problem, at a stroke:

the Scots word for a shelf is a ‘bink’. The Chambers Concise English-Scots Dictionary (p226) has the following:

shelf see also ledge, shelving; skelf, dale; (eg on a wall, for plates etc) bink; (by an old fireplace, for pots etc) bink, hud.

Of course! once you start seeing that second letter as ‘r’ it’s difficult to ‘unsee’ it and re-sort the marks in any other way. So many thanks to Jeremy. I see from the Concise Scots Dictionary (meaning 2) that ‘bink’ is also, more specifically, ‘a wall rack or shelf for dishes; a kitchen dresser’ (late 18-early 20 cent), also (meaning 3) ‘a hob on a freplace; a shelf, ledge etc. at the side of such’. (Perhaps we should see it as a dresser, since RLS replaces it with ‘shelves’.)

Jeremy thinks that the change was an example of Colvin ‘bowlderizing’, but actually we have no evidence of Colvin substituting one word for another off his own bat (punctuation and spelling was another matter), and anyway RLS was in full control of the proofs in 1886: this must be a change that RLS decided when going over the Young Folk proofs.

Written by rdury

08/11/2011 at 12:47 pm

News from the volume editors: Kidnapped

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by Caroline McCracken-Flesher

We know that in December 1893 Stevenson marked changes in a first edition of the novel for the braille translator Harriet Baker, but the braille edition has so far never been located.

Volume editor Caroline McCracken-Flesher has now corresponded with Philip Jeffs, Archivist of the Royal National Institute for the Blind, who answers as follows:

Not located
I am aware of the braille connection with the early edition of Kidnapped and have been asked the question by researchers in the past, unfortunately, as far as I am aware the manuscript copy of Kidnapped produced by Harriet Baker has no known location, if it still exists.

Harriet Baker, the transcriber
I am afraid that we also have next to no details of Harriet Baker, there is a Mrs. Charles Baker listed as a member of the Auxiliary Union of the British and Foreign Blind Association (RNIB), this union was established to ‘firstly, write or correct embossed manuscripts, secondly, to encourage the employment of the blind by any means in their power, and thirdly to form centres for obtaining employment for the blind as individual circumstances and opportunity may suggest’ and finally for promoting knowledge of the aims and operations of the Association in circles where these were not already sufficiently known. Mrs. Baker first appears as a member of this Auxiliary Union in the annual report of 1893/94 and last appears in the report of 1899/1900.

The Braille Kidnapped
Kidnapped is first issued by the RNIB in 1893 as a manuscript copy, the following extract is from the beginning of the Manuscript Book list for that year ‘The British and Foreign Blind Association has had the following Books embossed by hand within the last four years, as there is not yet sufficient demand for them to make it desirable to print them.’  The earliest edition we have here is a grade II braille edition printed 1915, but states that it is produced from a 1914 edition, so not likely to be relevant for you. We also have a Moon edition printed in 1914.

One single copy!
The Baker edition would therefore have been a unique, hand produced, manuscript copy. A handframe and style would have been used and Harriet would have written out the entire volume producing each braille dot one at a time. We do not have a copy of this manuscript in our historic collections, and it is quite possible that after a lifetime in public circulation, that when withdrawn from the library’s stock it was disposed of. We can of course hope that somebody had the foresight to preserve the copy, or that it may have been given to a member of the public when withdrawn and be in somebody’s loft. Many volumes have no standard print on them whatsoever, so it is easy for people not to know what they have.

Hope remains
I am still in the infancy of sorting through the very large historic collections here, so some information may eventually turn up, we also have the records of the National Library for the Blind here, which may give some clue as to where you should search. As well as Harriet’s original it may well be possible that a version was stereotyped from the manuscript, sometimes plates were produced from braille originals and sometimes from standard print, depending on the workers available

Written by rdury

04/03/2011 at 8:29 pm

News from the volume editors: Kidnapped

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The Kidnapped manuscript

Caroline McCracken-Flesher (University of Wyoming) is now at work on one of Stevenson’s masterpieces, Kidnapped. She reports that interesting problems with the manuscript start right from p. 1:

Just where did young David Balfour set out from? Generations of schoolchildren know that David’s travels began in Essendean—or did they? Without giving the game away, let me say that this is a matter of some doubt in the manuscript held at the Huntington Library. So what name will appear in the New Edinburgh Edition? This depends on some editorial choices yet to be made. So watch that space … ‘Mr. Campbell, the minister of [?         ] was waiting for me by the garden gate.’

Various editions of the text

Another problem with Kidnapped is the later changes made to the text, especially since we can’t be sure which of these came from Stevenson himself:

We know that RLS began to think about alterations to Kidnapped immediately after its publication. For example, he told his friend Edmund Gosse (in a letter five days after publication) that the conventionally poetic ‘ferny dells’ (ch. 17) should be Scotticized to ‘ferny howes’.

But between these changes, and those that appear in the 1895 Edinburgh Edition, we have little to go on. We know that in December 1893 Stevenson marked changes in a first edition of the novel for the braille translator Harriet Baker, and asked her to forward it to Cassell for the two-volume publication with David Balfour. Unfortunately, we currently lack the marked-up copy, nor has the braille edition yet been identified, though the search continues …

The changes Stevenson made in the marked-up copy were presumably incorporated in the Braille transcription, in the 1895 Cassells edition and then in the Edinburgh Edition (1895). But we do not know for sure what, in these editions, derives from Stevenson and what from the transcribers and editors.

The clincher would be that copy of Kidnapped with Stevenson’s markings—surely such an artefact would not have been thrown away in in 1893: Stevenson was then one of the most admired writers in English. If Cassells sent it on to Sidney Colvin then there’s a good chance that it has survived somewhere. But … if it was kept by Cassells … then it would have been destroyed—along with all their Treasure Island archive—in an air-raid which hit the Cassells offices in 1941.

Written by rdury

06/11/2010 at 4:39 pm