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

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Not ‘To Schubert’s Ninth’

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The present contribution has been kindly provided by John F. Russell

Beginning around 1890 Stevenson began compiling lists of contents for Songs of Travel like the following included in a letter to Edward Burlingame:

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Letters 6: 371

One manuscript similar to the eleventh title on that list, To Schubert’s Ninth, is described by George McKay:

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George L. McKay, A Stevenson Library (New Haven: Yale UP, 1961)

The title of what is probably the actual manuscript he describes is slightly different, however:

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Yale, GEN MSS 664 Box 29 Folder 681

The underlined word McKay transcribed as “Ninth” lacks the dot over the letter “I” and the first letter is “M” not “N”. The correct transcription is the German word “Muth” (courage) and refers to song number XXII in Schubert’s song cycle Winterreise.

Booth and Mehew also transcribed the word incorrectly in letter 2211. In manuscript, the list for Songs of Travel appears as follows:

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Yale, GEN MSS 664 Box 1 Folder 17 (= Letter 2211)

Enlarged, entry XI appears:

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Shown side by side, the two words in manuscript are almost identical:

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Title XI in the list of contents for Songs of Travel in letter 2211 therefore should read “To Schubert’s Muth” not “To Schubert’s Ninth.” Together the two manuscripts show conclusively that Stevenson’s poem ‘Vagabond’ was written to Schubert’s music for ‘Muth’ (in Winterreise) and not to any melody from Schubert’s Ninth Symphony.

The Stevenson Manuscripts Collection at Harry Ransom Center

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The launch (on 30 June 2015) of a new online resource of manuscript images by the Harry H. Ransom Center (HRC) in the University of Texas at Austin, provides an outstanding resource for scholars and is a welcome policy of access to out-of-copyright materials. Even the HRC, a centre of expertise in this area, has to say ‘manuscripts … believed to be in the public domain’—so complicated and unknowable are the laws of copyright. Hence this new policy of is all the more welcome to those of us who know somewhat less about it all.

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The “Robert Louis Stevenson Collection” contains images and information of all the HRC’s 48 Stevenson and Stevenson-related MSS. By clicking the link Browse all items in the collection, you will see them all listed and with links to images.

Immediately we see another benefit of the new resource: it makes the wealth of resources of the HRC more visible, less easy to miss. If we choose to browse the 12 Works by RLS, we see it contains for the most part interesting MSS of works already published that will be of great interest to our Edition, and previously classed as ‘untraced’. I personally did not know of the location here of any of these MSS before opening the page yesterday and seeing fascinating list of titles and thumbnail images. Nor are any of them listed as located here in Roger Swearingen’s The Prose Writings of Robert Louis Stevenson (1980).

The 13 Letters from RLS are all in the Yale Letters, identified as ‘MS Texas’ (unless they have recently changed hands), so all merit to Ernest Mehew for finding this  part of the Collection. Having these items so conveniently available will be of a help if we have to use handwriting to date another MS.

The 23 Miscellaneous items contain many things of interest, including music, an early list of favourite books, University lecture cards, receipts for payments and letters about RLS.

It is amazing that much of this remained both ‘known’ as in some way available and ‘unknown’ because not found by anyone interested in it. And it is not the case that these items were only recently acquired.

The MS of one of Stevenson’s most witty essays ‘The Ideal House’, sold in 1914, and of ‘Virginibus Puerisque’ and ‘On Falling in Love’, sold in 1918 to raise funds for the British Red Cross, were considered ‘untraced’—until yesterday. Yet they were part of the collection of eccentic bibliophile T. Edward Hanley (1893-1969), whose collection was acquired by the University of Texas in 1958 and 1964, and therefore have presumably have been catalogued there for over fifty years. The MS of ‘A Winter’s Walk in Carrick and Galloway’,  which no-one has even located in a sale catalogue, was in the John Henry Wrenn collection, purchased by Library as long ago as 1918, so has been here for almost a century.

‘Talk and Talkers’ MS (again, not located in any sale catalogue so far) was transferred to the Ransom Center in 1960 from the University of Texas Rare Book Library. The leaf frm the Notebook draft of Strange Case of Dr Jekyll and Mr Hyde, sold in 1914, was received in the Manuscripts department, again internally transferred, in 1974.

Hats off then to the Harry Ransom Center and the REVEAL team for providing not only an unparalleled resource but also a network of references that has allowed its items to be discovered.

 

 

On Board the Old Equator

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This post is contributed by John F. Russell, author and editor of The Music of Robert Louis Stevenson.

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Summary: In this post, John F. Russell argues that the comic song “I’ll sing you a tale of a tropical sea” was not composed by Fanny Stevenson and Lloyd but by Stevenson himself; he explains some of its allusions, and links it to the music for Thomas Moore’s “Believe me, if all those endearing young charms”.

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A storm at sea

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The Equator (From MacCallum, Thomson Murray. Adrift in the South Seas. Los Angeles: Wetzel, 1934)

 

Sometime between the 4th and 11th of November, 1889, the schooner Equator, all sails standing, was becalmed in the South Pacific a few hundred miles south of Butaritari. The Stevensons were asleep in their specially fitted stateroom when a sudden squall tore off the schooner’s fore topmast, ripped the sail, tipped the Equator on its side and threw Louis and Fanny against the wall.

No one was hurt and the ship was soon righted, but RLS was so impressed that he wrote two poems and two letters about the event. On approaching Samoa a couple of weeks later, he rather calmly told his mother:

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The next day and fifty miles farther south he recalled the incident with a little more excitement:

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To further commemorate Mrs. Stevenson’s “bearing up wonderfully,” he wrote the poem To My Wife, where the last stanza recalls the storm:
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Songs of Travel XXXIV

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Finally, he satirized the event in some unpublished lyrics used as an entertainment for his shipboard birthday celebration on November 13th. He had already written ‘Tis Years Since He Was Born for fellow passenger Adolf Rick’s birthday on the 12th.

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Huntington Library, Rare Book 45074

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The complete lyrics read:

I’ll sing you a tale of a tropical sea,
On board of the old Equator.
There never were passengers better than we,
On board of the old Equator.

Chorus:
Captain, darling, where has your topmast gone pray?
Captain, darling, where has your topmast gone?

Of chequers the captain did blow and boast,
On board of the old Equator.
The passengers did him as brown as a roast,
On board of the old Equator.

Chorus

In Santo Pedro was our delight,
On board of the old Equator.
When bobbery struck us along in the night,
On board of the old Equator.

Chorus

The captain he ran from a fifteen hand,
On board of the old Equator.
I’ll be damned if that old jib-topsail will stand,
On board of the old Equator.

Chorus

The sail was the rotteness’d ever was bent,
On board of the old Equator.
But blamed if it wasn’t the stick that went,
On board of the old Equator.

Chorus

The captain he turned to the mate, and he laughed,
On board of the old Equator.
I guess you are learning some sailor craft,
On board of the old Equator.

Chorus

There’s one thing you know at the least and the last,
On board of the old Equator.
You know how to lose a fore-topmast
On board of the old Equator.

Chorus

Some of these lyrics may benefit from an attempt at explanation.

  • There never were passengers better than we

 According to the Equator’s 20 year old novice cook Thomson Murray MacCallum (1869-1957), “Quite a few changes were made in the cabin … for the accommodation of the passengers,” including extra bunks and other conveniences. These changes were necessary because the Equator was a copra trading schooner, not a cruise ship. The Stevensons were its first real passengers and therefore there were none better.

  • In Santo Pedro was our delight,
    On board of the old Equator.
    When bobbery struck us along in the night,    

 The sense of the stanza is that the storm struck at night while they were near Santo Pedro.

San Pedro (Motane, Moho Tani) is an island which RLS visited on the Casco in August of the previous year. In the Marquesas section of In the South Seas he writes, “I was amazed to behold so deep a view behind, and so high a shoulder of blue sea, crowned by the whale-like island of Motane.”

In his letter to his mother, Stevenson said they left Butaritari Island in the Gilberts on November 4th and that the storm occurred after this and before his and fellow passenger Adolf Rick’s birthdays on the 12th and 13th. The storm must then have occurred within a week’s sailing distance, or around 300 miles from Butaritari.

Since San Pedro Island is in the Marquesas thousands of miles away and the storm occurred in the Gilberts, RLS must have been mistaken about the name. According to the British Hydrographic Office‘s The Pacific Islands (1885) there is no island in the Gilberts called Santo (or San) Pedro. Perhaps because this one Spanish name stood out among so many Polynesian ones, he confused it with Peru Island, 378 miles from Butaritari. This may be where the storm actually occurred.

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  • The captain he ran from a fifteen hand,    

 Because it was night, everyone except the watch was probably sleeping when the storm hit. Stevenson says there were 15 men and one woman (Fanny) on the boat. The captain, then, ran from where the men were sleeping to save the ship. If the letter “a” is actually the Scots word for “all,” this may be some small evidence for Stevenson’s authorship.

Celebrating the Storm

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Thomson Murray MacCallum recalled Stevenson’s birthday celebration in his book Adrift in the South Seas (1934):

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Fellow passenger Paul Leonard, also known as Paul Höflich, described the same storm and celebration in Nellie Sanchez’s The Life of Mrs. Robert Louis Stevenson (1920):
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On the day of the party, Lloyd photographed the participants. Wearing a hat with a band, Fanny sits to the left of Scotch-Irish Captain Edwin Dennis Reid (1865?-1920) in a Tam O’Shanter. RLS stands at the far left.

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MacCallum, T.M. Adrift in the South Seas. Los Angeles: Wetzel, 1934

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Considering that Stevenson had already expressed himself multiple times in poetry and prose regarding the squall, it seems most likely that he also wrote On Board of the Old Equator, especially since he had just written lyrics for Adolf Rick’s birthday. Neither Fanny nor Lloyd ever published any verse.

One particular word in the third stanza of the song reinforces Stevenson’s authorship. In Booth-Mehew letter 2153 from Honolulu around April 2, 1889 to Edward Burlingame, RLS asks him to send 11 novels of Frederick Marryat. Stevenson first mentions Marryat in Booth-Mehew letter 849 (September 1881) and then in letter 1733 (Dec. 23, 1886) where he quotes from Mr. Midshipman Easy. Marryat uses the unusual word “bobbery [hubbub]” in Midshipman Easy and also in two other works Stevenson requested, Peter Simple and Newton Forster.

In a letter to Colvin as recent as the previous January Stevenson wrote:

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He uses the same word again in a letter to Colvin two years later:

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Neither Lloyd nor Fanny appears to use the word in any of their works.

Other Darlings

Both MacCallum and Leonard claimed that On Board of the Old Equator was written by Fanny and Lloyd and at first the words of the chorus appear to favor Fanny.

Captain, darling, where has your topmast gone pray?
Captain, darling, where has your topmast gone?

It seems appropriate only for Fanny to call the captain “darling.” The lyrics never refer to RLS in any way, so she was not addressing him, even though MacCallum and Leonard called it a birthday song.

After Fanny and Louis had been thrown against the wall, Stevenson asked Murray MacCallum to give a message to the Captain.

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MacCallum, T.M. Adrift in the South Seas. Los Angeles: Wetzel, 1934

MacCallum, T.M. Adrift in the South Seas. Los Angeles: Wetzel, 1934

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If the Captain was on familiar enough terms with Stevenson to give him his “love,” perhaps Stevenson might also call him “darling” for fun in return. RLS stated his affection for Captain Reid in A Footnote to History (1895):

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However, it may be more accurate to treat the term “darling” as a surname rather than an endearment. Throughout the centuries there has been no lack of Captain Darlings, but one in particular could easily have been familiar both to Stevenson and Reid.

Built in Glasgow, the intriguingly named barque Edinburgh Castle was launched in 1863. The last captain of this 175 ft., 627 ton, three-masted, iron-hulled ship was J.B. Darling. The California Digital Newspaper Collection records it’s presence at San Francisco multiple times after 1872. Of course RLS was in that city in 1880 and 1888, and the Equator itself was built for the San Francisco based Wightman Brothers in 1888 with Reid as its first captain. The Edinburgh Castle and Captain Darling may have come to the attention of Reid and Stevenson by the fact that on January 15th, 1888 it was stranded in the harbor at Warnambool, Australia and wrecked there by a storm.

It should also be noted that by 1888 the boys’ adventure novelist Frank H. Converse (1843-1889) had already written two works with the suspiciously familiar titles Island Treasure and In Southern Seas. The last featured a character called Captain John Darling.

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Golden Argosy. New York, Saturday, June 11, 1887

Golden Argosy. New York, Saturday, June 11, 1887

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In another story by Converse, Darling is described as being in the same business as Captain Reid.

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Finally, in an article about the Equator by MacCallum in Robert Louis Stevenson: Interviews and Recollections (1996), “Captain Darling” is printed as if it were a proper name.

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Young and Old Charmers

Murray MacCallum said On Board of the Old Equator was written to the melody of a popular song and that Lloyd sang it. Paul Leonard said he joined in the singing. However no one ever actually names the tune.

There is no obvious clue to the music in Stevenson’s lyrics, but an examination of the more than 120 manuscript copies of his own compositions, arrangements and favorite tunes provides one match which requires only, as RLS said of Alan’s Air in Catriona, “a little humouring to the notes in question.”

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Princeton University Library, Morris L. Parrish Collection, Box/Series/Folder/Thesis #: Bd MSS 113, 114, Code/Call Number #: C0171 1B

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New lyrics are often supplied to old songs to take advantage of the irony that results from the contrast, and On Board of the Old Equator is no exception. The music among Stevenson’s manuscripts that best fits “I’ll sing you a tale of a tropical sea” is “Believe me”, a transcription of the traditional melody normally associated with Thomas Moore’s very different lyric “Believe me, if all those endearing young charms”.

According to the Historic American Engineering Record of the United States National Park Service, the 78 foot, 72 ton schooner Equator entered the South Pacific copra trade in June 1888 under 23 year old Captain Edwin Dennis Reid, so when Stevenson began his journey from Hawaii on June 24, 1889 the boat had been in the water for only a year and hardly deserved to be called “old.”

Reading the lyrics while keeping Captain Reid, the Equator or RLS in mind, it is an appropriately ironic song for a 39th birthday, a damaged new schooner and a very young captain.

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This image of Thomas Moore’s (1779-1852) lyrics was scanned from the 1872 edition of his Poetical Works, which RLS owned, according to the Stevenson’s Library Db. The melody sung with Stevenson’s lyrics can be heard by clicking here.

After its six month Pacific cruise with the Stevensons, the Equator went through many metamorphoses. In 1897 it was converted to a steam tender for work in the Alaskan salmon trade, and then became a tugboat for charting underwater hazards in southeastern Alaska in 1915.

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MacCallum, T.M. Adrift in the South Seas. Los Angeles: Wetzel, 1934

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In 1923 it ran aground and sank off the Washington coast but was refloated. It was converted to diesel in 1940, and in 1956 after 68 years of service it was finally abandoned near the mouth of the Snohomish River at Everett, Washington. In 1967 it was hauled out and in 1980 moved to the Port of Everett in Washington State.

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The endearing young charms of the old Equator clearly have faded away but must still be dear to our memory of Stevenson.

The Lost Stevenson

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This post is contributed by John F. Russell, author and editor of The Music of Robert Louis Stevenson.

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Summary: In this post, John F. Russell confirms that the music of ‘God Save the Queen’ underlies Stevenson’s 1875 poem ‘Voluntary’, and argues why it is important to identify the poems of Stevenson that were written with reference to existing melodies.

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Voluntary

Because Stevenson rarely indicates which of his poems are also lyrics, it is possible to read through entire volumes of his verse and remain innocent of its dual nature. Without an awareness of the music for which those lyrics were written much of their meaning and emotional context is lost.

In two letters from December of 1887, RLS expressed how he felt about writing for music:

I find this setting words a delightful operose task, which passes time like none other, in a kind of passionate occupied idleness. The difficulty of the job is most entrancing. [Booth-Mehew letter 1962]

All my spare time is spent in trying to set words to music. [Letter 1971]

The conjunction of three major events in July of Stevenson’s 25th year resulted in lyrics which expressed, intentionally or not, the essential meaning of all three.

The first of these was July 4th, 1875, the last celebration before the centennial of American independence in 1876. Stevenson’s attitude toward this can be inferred from his remarks on the Franco-Prussian War, 1870-1871 and George III in An Inland Voyage (1878),

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More important for Francophile Stevenson was July 14. RLS must have thoroughly savored this anniversary of the French Revolution and freedom from monarchy because it was the same day he passed the Scottish Bar exam. From then on he was liberated from the University and within a few months was completely free even from the charade of practicing law.

He celebrated that freedom in these lyrics:

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The editor tells us it was written in July at Swanston, and it appears among verses from 1875 in Poems Hitherto Unpublished (1916). More than “a poem of quiet and of peace,” it is a celebration of freedom and independence by a volunteer soldier in a different kind of war. We know this because the editor says in the last sentence of his comments that Stevenson “used the metre of the National Hymn.”

Reading the first stanza of the poem is enough to identify the music as God Save the Queen, the British national anthem, or America, the same tune with different lyrics by Samuel Francis Smith (1808-1895).  Smith’s lyrics read,

My country tis of thee,
Sweet land of liberty,
Of thee I sing.
Land where my fathers died!
Land of the Pilgrim’s pride!
From every mountain side,
Let freedom ring!

My native country, thee,
Land of the noble free,
Thy name I love.
I love thy rocks and rills,
Thy woods and templed hills;
My heart with rapture fills
Like that above.

Let music swell the breeze,
And ring from all the trees
Sweet freedom’s song.
Let mortal tongues awake;
Let all that breathe partake;
Let rocks their silence break,
The sound prolong.

Our father’s God to, Thee,
Author of liberty,
To Thee we sing.
Long may our land be bright
With freedom’s holy light;
Protect us by Thy might,
Great God, our King!

Those lyrics share with Voluntary themes of love of nature, music and freedom, but the British National Anthem as it was sung in the 19th century makes no mention of them:

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White, Richard Grant. National Hymns. New York: Rudd, 1861

Not only is the text of America more relevant than God Save the Queen to RLS’s poem, but it uses the same syllabification, rhythm and rhyme scheme throughout, while the British version is less consistent.

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Voluntary and America both strictly observe the rhyme scheme AABCCCB, and Voluntary follows the same rhythmic pattern as America exactly except for an extra syllable in the word “toward” in the second stanza.

As a noun the word “voluntary” has so many meanings that it is hard to know which was intended. “Free will” is the most appropriate general term. More narrowly, a voluntary is a musical prelude preceding a church service, and the poem itself is a prelude to Stevenson’s life as a professional writer. It might also be understood in an even narrower musical sense as an extemporaneous (but in this case verbal) accompaniment to an already existing piece of music, America. “Volunteer soldier” is similarly an apt interpretation, and the richness of meaning may be the reason RLS chose the title.

Those who are moved to stand whenever they hear a band strike up God Save the Queen or America will be disappointed to hear Stevenson’s peaceful lyrics applied to that stirring melody, since it is difficult to divorce it from its patriotic context. For this reason Stevenson’s simple, personal declaration of independence has additional significance.

Voluntary is the only verse in the two books of Hitherto Unpublished Poems where the editor has actually identified the music to which it was written. Even when Stevenson gives him adequate information to make an identification, as in the case of Home from the Daisied Meadows (to Beethoven), Air de Diabelli and others, he merely notes some relationship to music. The editor identified the tune for Voluntary this one and only time probably because Stevenson actually named the melody in a note on the manuscript.

What would have been lost if “the national hymn” had not been mentioned? Reading just the first two stanzas as if we were ignorant of the music gives some idea.

Here in the quiet eve
My thankful eyes receive
The quiet light.
I see the trees stand fair
Against the faded air,
And star by star prepare
The perfect night.

And in my bosom, lo!
Content and quiet grow
Toward perfect peace.
And now when day is done,
Brief day of wind and sun,
The pure stars, one by one,
Their troop increase.

Without the music, we read too fast. The words no longer receive mostly equal weight, the articles and prepositions are rushed and the leisurely, noble walking pace of the poem is lost. The triple rhymes fall too quickly and heavily on the ear, and the three repetitions of the word “and” seem awkward. It is a poem that is meant to be sung, and when it is, what seem to be artistic errors either pass unnoticed or in fact enhance the music.

Without knowing the melody, we miss Stevenson’s irony in setting a grandiose, bellicose national anthem, normally blared out by a brass band and sung by hundreds or thousands of people, to a poem whose first sentence begins, “Here in the quiet eve.” We miss understanding that his new freedom is so important to him that he magnifies it to a national scale, but leaves out all mention of nationality, King, Queen or God. We miss knowing that his idea of freedom has nothing to do with war or glory or exaltation of leaders. It is instead the freedom simply not to be an engineer or a lawyer, but to be himself.

If it is possible for an editor to assemble entire volumes of poems without making essential references to the music that underlies them, how many among Stevenson’s thousands of verses remain only half understood and their complete significance still unsuspected?

Written by rdury

06/12/2014 at 5:06 am

Wandering Willie Changes His Tune

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This post is contributed by John F. Russell, author and editor of The Music of Robert Louis Stevenson.

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Summary: In this post, John F. Russell shows that Stevenson’s poem ‘Home, no more home to me’ (Songs of Travel XVII) with its subtitle ‘To the Tune of Wandering Willie’ was not written to the tune generally known by that name and used by Burns for ‘Here awa’, there’s awa’, Wandering Willie’ (the words of which clearly inspired Stevenson for his poem).
Stevenson used a different tune given the title of ‘Wandering Willie’ in a music book he possessed—the tune of ‘The Cooper O’ Dundee’, used by Burns for his song ‘Bonie Dundee’.

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Common Ground

“To write with authority about another man, we must have fellow-feeling and some common ground of experience with our subject,” Stevenson writes at the very beginning of “Some Aspects of Robert Burns” (1879). This common ground is revealed throughout the essay and is first evident in a description of Burns’ appearance as a young man:

Already he made a conspicuous figure in Tarbolton church, with the only tied hair in the parish, and his plaid, which was of a particular color, wrapped in a particular manner round his shoulders. Ten years later … we shall find him out fishing in masquerade, with a fox-skin cap, belted great-coat, and great Highland broadsword. He liked dressing up, in fact, for its own sake.

In The Quest for Robert Louis Stevenson (2004), John Cairney quotes a fellow-student of RLS as saying,

His whole appearance was a shock to a puritan neighbourhood. His chestnut hair fell in limp strands over his shoulder. He did not hesitate to dress as a Bohemian; he wore a velveteen jacket like a workman and a grey, flannel shirt to hide his thin arms. And to warm his thin body, he swathed himself like his claimed ancestor, Rob Roy Macgregor, in a dramatic mantle with flowing folds.

According to Rosaline Masson in I Can remember Robert Louis Stevenson (1922), he delighted in dressing up for the Jenkin theatricals:

 I play Orsino every day, in all the pomp of Solomon— splendid Francis-the-First clothes, heavy with gold and stage jewellery. I play it ill enough, I believe ; but me and the clothes, and the wedding wherewith the clothes and me are reconciled, produce every night a thrill of admiration. Our cook told my mother (there’s a servants’ night, you know) that she and the housemaid were “just prood to be able to say it was oor young gentleman.” To sup afterwards with these clothes on, and a wonderful lot of gaiety and Shakespearean jokes about the table, is something to live for.

Burns and Stevenson declared their individuality and altered their identities with their clothes, and this is also reflected in their name changes. At the age of eighteen Stevenson went from Lewis to Louis, and he says of Burns,

 His father wrote the family name Burnes; Robert early adopted the orthography Burness from his cousin … and in his twenty-eighth year changed it once more to Burns.

Both had unconventional views on religion and both died young, Burns at 37 and Stevenson at 44.

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Fellow-Feeling

RLS was a whistling vagabond, not a fiddling philanderer, but Burns and he were both tone poets and it is their songs that demonstrate their fellow-feeling. Those who are familiar only with Stevenson’s original lyrics to  Over the Sea to Skye or To the Tune of Wandering Willie should know that he also wrote verse to at least 25 other tunes, even supplying original words to Auld Lang Syne. This is nowhere near Burns’ 361 lyrics, but he wrote over a twenty year period, while Stevenson only began in earnest to put words to music at the age of 37.

Burns always associated music with his songs and never wrote a lyric until he could sing the melody. Stevenson was a modern poet, so not all his songs were meant to be sung, and he made it a challenge to find the ones that were by generally not identifying the music at all.

Although Burns was competent on the violin, an instrument that requires an excellent sense of intonation and relative pitch, biographer James Currie said the poet’s voice was “untunable, and that it was long before he learned to distinguish one tune from another,” while Evelyn Blantyre Simpson in Robert Louis Stevenson’s Edinburgh Days (1898) makes a similar comment about Stevenson:

Many of the artists were musical, but Louis Stevenson took no part in their impromptu concerts. He liked their songs and rattling refrains, but he was no singer, nor had he much of an ear for music.

In Songs of Robert Burns (1903) James C. Dick says,

His songs are the epitome of Scottish music, still known and still admired. Considering this it is the more remarkable that Burn’s biographers should with one accord have ignored or omitted a description of his musical perception and his treatment of music.

If Stevenson’s biographers mention his music at all it is limited, as Simpson’s remarks indicate, to a sentence or two about supposed poor musicianship. Stevenson wrote more than 120 short pieces, almost 1/3 of which were original. His compositions consisted of songs, dances, instrumental works, counterpoint exercises and at least ten pieces that used piano. He wrote in 19 different keys, including five modes. Using six different meters he wrote at least 65 solo pieces, 27 duets, 14 trios and two quartets for various combinations of flute, flageolet, clarinet, violin, piano, guitar, mandolin and voice. He frequently transposed pieces and knew how to modulate from one key to another. He played piano, Boehm flageolet and penny whistle. Never having studied music or any musical instrument as a child, and never having studied music formally in any way as an adult, he accomplished all this in about six years. This is not a description of someone who, as Graham Balfour wrote in his biography, “failed to master the rudiments” and whose “knowledge of music was not very profound.”

Although RLS did all that, his music was completely ignored until  Robert Murrill Stevenson’s essay “Robert Louis Stevenson’s Musical Interests” (PMLA, 72.iv (1957), 700-04) nothing has appeared in print since.

Dick says Burns “never heard a symphony or a string quartette” and his musical education began in his youth during church music rehearsals. For Stevenson, “wealth is only useful for two things: a yacht and a string quartette,” and as a young man he went to concerts at the Edinburgh Choral Society and heard music in friends’ homes but only studied theory and harmony when he was 36. Burns destroyed the music for the single song he composed at 23 because it displeased him so much, but a third of Stevenson’s works are original and accessible.

Both their lyrics were written to fit the music, but Burns only used popular airs. Stevenson’s verses in this genre include:

1.     Come Here is Adieu to the City (Rosin the Bow)

2.     Early in the Morning  (Early One Morning)

3.     Fine Pacific Islands (British Grenadiers)

4.     Madrigal (The Harp that Once)

5.     Nous n’ron plus au bois (children’s song)

6.     Over the Sea to Skye (Scottish folksong)

7.     Over the Water wi’ Charlie (Scottish folksong)

8.     She Rested by the Broken Brook (Drink to Me)

9.     Song of the Road (Over the Hills and Far Away)

10.  Stormy evening (Oldfield)

11.  Student Song (Auld Lang Syne)

12.  Topical Song (Poor Old Joe)

13.  Wandering Willie (Scottish folksong)

More broadly educated than Burns, Stevenson also wrote to European art music:

1.     Air de Diabelli (Diabelli Sonatina)

2.     Come My Little Children (anonymous gavotte, 1700)

3.     Ditty (Bach keyboard suite)

4.     Early in the Evening (Rinaldo, Handel)

5.     Infinite Shining Heavens (Bach, Pentecostal Air)

6.     Home from the Daisied Meadows (Beethoven piano variations)

7.     I Will Make you Brooches (Schumann, Ländliches Lied)

8.     In Lupum (Schumann, Happy Farmer)

9.     Tempest Tossed (Beethoven piano variations)

10.  To You Let Snow and Roses (Mozart, Clemenza di Tito)

11.  Vagabond (Schubert)

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Wandering Willie

Since Stevenson rarely indicated what music inspired his verses, the fact that he occasionally did must mean something special. Number XVII in Songs of Travel has the subtitle To the Tune of Wandering Willie in parentheses, so there should be no doubt about what music inspired it. The standard lyrics to the tune, more properly known as Here awa’ there awa’, are by Burns, so in boldly naming the song, Stevenson implies that he is not afraid to be compared.

To the Tune of Wandering Willie was written in 1888 at Tautira, Tahiti, where Stevenson suffered a long illness. He sent the poem to Charles Baxter in a letter that explains his motivation:

image 01 my dear charles

That he is familiar with the music called Wandering Willie is assumed from his references to it in his writings throughout his life. He first mentions it in a letter to his mother in 1874 while staying at Mentone.

image 02  i have a great pleasure

Booth, Bradford A. and Ernest Mehew. Letters of Robert Louis Stevenson. New Haven: Yale University Press, 1995. Letter 236, 5 February, 1874.

Willie reappears in the essay “A Night in France” (1875):

image 03 to these airs

It is sung in Deacon Brodie (1888):

image 04 brodieFinally it appears in The Master of Ballantrae (1889), where Stevenson quotes his own lyrics.

image 04a mr mackellar

With so many references to Wandering Willie in his works, we must believe that RLS had no doubt he was referring to the version made famous by Burns, especially since he challenges him outright in his letter to Baxter.

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The Real Willie

Every major source of Scots songs, Wandering Willie shows some variation of the tune found in James C. Dick’s Songs of Robert Burns. An arrangement by Haydn can be heard by clicking here, and a portion of a recording from the Linn edition of complete songs by clicking here.

image 05  tone poetry

Probably as a reference for his own poem, RLS wrote out what he assumed was the music. Click here to listen to a recording.

New York Public Library, Robert Louis Stevenson collection of papers, [1873]-[1944] bulk (1881-1917), Berg Coll MSS Stevenson

New York Public Library, Robert Louis Stevenson collection of papers, [1873]-[1944] bulk (1881-1917),
Berg Coll MSS Stevenson

A comparison of the first four bars of both tunes shows they are not the same. The difference is clear when both melodies are in the same key.

image 08   here a wa home no more

Burns’ song is in waltz time, while Stevenson’s has a two beat measure. The pitches and the shapes of the melodies are different. Even though he mentions the song many times throughout his life and seems to be thoroughly familiar with it, Stevenson is obviously not using the same tune as Burns.

RLS wrote Wandering Willie while recovering from a severe illness. It is easy to believe he was not always in his right mind. The simplicity of the melody he notated indicates he may have written it from memory and this could also have led to mistakes, but the inconsistencies in the two songs are greater than what would be caused by illness or bad memory.

This is not the first time RLS has mistaken a piece of music. In Hammerton’s Stevensoniana (1903) J. Cuthbert Hadden quotes Stevenson as remarking,

He never could remember the name of an air, no matter how familiar it was to him.

Proof of this assertion is found in a letter he wrote to his mother in 1872:

Booth, Bradford A. and Ernest Mehew. Letters of Robert Louis Stevenson. New Haven: Yale University Press, 1995: Letter 105, August 1, 1872.

Booth, Bradford A. and Ernest Mehew. Letters of Robert Louis Stevenson. New Haven: Yale University Press, 1995: Letter 105, August 1, 1872.

Unfortunately Lang, lang ist’s her is not the German version of Auld Lang Syne but of Long, Long Ago.

Deutsche Weisen

Deutsche Weisen

In Stevenson’s defense it should be noted that in German, English and Scots the words “lang” and “long” sound alike and the association could easily have misled his hand in a hurried letter.

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Beauties of Caledonia and the Caledonian Companion

However, it is not because of illness, a faulty memory, or a confused hand that Stevenson worked from the wrong melody.

Probably in June of 1888 when he was in San Francisco preparing for his journey across the Pacific on the yacht Casco, he bought a music book called Beauties of Caledonia, first published in Boston by Oliver Ditson in 1845. Stevenson’s Library Database identifies it as part of his personal library and says that,

According to the Journal of the Robert Louis Stevenson Club (London), no.15, (Feb 1954), pp.9-10, this has the stamp of Gray’s Music Store, 623 & 625 Clay Street, San Francisco, and is one of the nine books previously in RLS’s library at Vailima that were returned to Samoa in celebration of the coronation of Queen Elizabeth II.

Beauties of Caledonia contains all but one of the tunes Stevenson said he knew and loved in his letter to his mother in 1874; Auld Lang Syne, My Boy Tammie, Jock  O’ Hazeldean, and Scots wha’ hae. Wandering Willie was listed in the table of contents both as Here awa’ there awa’ and under the title:

image 11  wandering willie

The note in small print reads,

The beautiful air of ‘Here awa’, there awa,’ is preserved in Oswald’s collection of Scots tunes. Burns, who was fond of the melody, wrote the following fine verse to it.

The collection referred to is James Oswald’s Caledonian Companion, and the tune appears as the first piece in volume eight.

image 12  here awa willie

One glance at the melody called Wandering Willie in Beauties of Caledonia shows they are different. The tune in Caledonian Companion is the same one referenced in every major source of Burns songs, but the one in Beauties of Caledonia does not appear in any source as Wandering Willie.

Below is a comparison between the melody Stevenson used, the melody from Beauties of Caledonia (BOC), and the tune Burns used from the Caledonian Companion (CC).

image 13 home no more

Stevenson’s rhythmically simplified melody is the same as that in Beauties of Caledonia. Burns’ tune from Caledonian Companion is completely different not only in rhythm but in melody.

As previously mentioned, the note under the title of Wandering Willie in Beauties of Caledonia reads, “The beautiful air of ‘Here awa’, there awa,’ is preserved in Oswald’s collection of Scots tunes. Burns, who was fond of the melody, wrote the following fine verse to it.” Although it is the inappropriate melody for Here awa’, there awa, it is in Oswald (CC), it is still a beautiful air, and in fact Burns was fond of it because he wrote lyrics to it called Bonie Dundee (first version, 1792), which appears in volume one of Scots Musical Museum:

image 14 bonie dundee

O whar did ye get that hauver-meal bannock?   [oatmeal cake]

O Silly blind body, O dinna ye see?

I gat it frae a brisk sodger laddie,

Between Saint Johnstone and Bonie Dundee.

O, gin I saw the laddie that gae me’t!

Aft has he doudl’d me on o’ his knee.

May Heaven protect my bonie Scots laddie,

And send him safe hame to his babie & me.

Because the lyrics hint at illegitimacy, the Boston music publisher Oliver Ditson may have found them offensive and so substituted the words of Here awa’ there awa, or he may have known the music from another version called The Cooper O’ Dundee in the Burns collection Merry Muses of Caledonia, shown below in a transcription by MacColl in Folk Songs and Ballads of Scotland (1965).  A few moments spent reading the lyrics will explain why Ditson would never have used them.

image 15 cooper o dundee

Why Ditson did not use the appropriate tune for Wandering Willie remains a mystery, but it must have been unthinkable in 1845 to include the scurrilous text from The Cooper o’ Dundee. Perhaps he felt that even though the lyrics were changed, the tune would remind people of the The Cooper o’ Dundee and he decided to disguise the melody too. He did this by changing the meter from 6/4 to 2/4, altering some pitches, and imposing characteristic Scotch rhythms.

image 16 bonnie dundee

The result was that in Beauties of Caledonia Ditson fitted Burns’ text from Wandering Willie to a highly altered version of the melody of Bonie Dundee. For mistakenly writing his poem from a memory of this corrupted music while recovering from a severe illness, Stevenson deserves understanding.

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The Texts

Although written to a different melody, RLS’s poem is still related to Burns’.

image 17 rls burns

      [roof-tree=ridgepole, highest horizontal timber in a roof]

The similarities between the two lyrics include:

image 18  rls burns similarities.

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The principle technical differences between the works are the rhythm and language. Burns’ poem is in Scots and a four beat triplet rhythm (dactylic tetrameter) that gives it a feeling of warmth and the effect of Nannie rocking Willie in her arms or of a boat swaying on the water.

Stevenson’s work is in an eight beat, duplet rhythm (trochaic octameter) and in English. The lines are twice as long as Burns’, many begin with monosyllables, and there are pauses at the middle and end of each, resulting in a hesitant, plodding feeling and an appropriate sense of wandering, weariness and desolation.

RLS never mentions Willie in his poem, but Burns repeats the name six times. Stevenson’s wanderer narrates while the loved ones are absent; Burns’ lover narrates and the wanderer is absent.

By their titles the two lyrics indicate some association with Sir Walter Scott’s poem Wandering Willie (1806) or  Wandering Willie’s Tale in Redgauntlet (1824). In the story the blind fiddler Wandering Willie recounts the inability of tenant Steenie Steenson to prove that he has paid his rent until he is given the receipt and is guided to the money by the ghost of his former landlord Sir Robert Redgauntlet. Stevenson knew Redgauntlet, and though not a ghost story, his poem has its own eeriness and a theme of loss.

Scott’s poem is essentially a longer version of Burns’ with similar themes and description. A woman’s heroic lover goes to sea to do battle, but her natural doubts about his faithfulness are resolved when he returns.  The similarities of Scott’s and Burns’ poems emphasize the difference with Stevenson’s. His bleak, unnamed wanderer never leaves land, never performs any heroics, never unites with his loved ones, and is finally left hopelessly alone amongst the desolation of his house.

Both poets read themselves into their verse. Burns is Willie, and Bonie Dundee, Here awa’ there awa’ and The Cooper o’ Dundee are all about unfaithfulness, the particular Burns trait of “professsional Don Juan” that Stevenson objected to most in his essay.

Stevenson is the wanderer in his poem, although in real life illness and hunger for adventure drove him from home. The poem was written in “the most beautiful spot,” warm, luxuriant Tautira, yet he repeatedly longs for the hills, heather and moorland of Scotland. In Scott’s story Steenson is threatened with the loss of his home, while Stevenson is in fact homeless, ill and stranded in Tahiti, pitifully regretting the loss of his former friends. The prophetic last line defies any hope of a return,

But I go for ever and come again no more.

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Though their poems were written to different music and different stories, Stevenson and Burns shared common ground in their conspicuous clothing, individualism, conversational ability and writing. They shared fellow feeling as amateur musicians, collectors of melody, and in their devotion to molding words to the music they loved.

Their lives were entangled in their texts, but while Burns was consistently the Wandering Willie, Stevenson not only changed his tune but altered his identity from that of an unfaithful, absent lover to a lonely, pining, remorseful adventurer.

Written by rdury

26/09/2014 at 2:39 pm

New Light on Dark Women

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This post is contributed by John F. Russell, author and editor of The Music of Robert Louis Stevenson.

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Song: ‘Dark Women’

Dark Women is a long poem in which Stevenson contrasts women of opposite hues, wonders at the shades of one particular woman’s nature and welcomes the consolation of her embrace.

Fanny is not mentioned by name in the verse, but in a letter to Colvin concerning the preparation of Songs of Travel (published in Scribner’s Magazine 75.iv, April 1924, p. 419), she says that in addition to the poem My Wife (”Trusty, dusky, vivid, true”), “There was another that Louis rather liked–I think it was called, ‘In praise of dark women’; what do you think of adding that? I only suggest the looking at it.”

Colvin chose instead to include in Songs of Travel only stanzas 2-3 of Dark Women:

Because of the poem’s personal nature Janet Adam Smith assumed that Colvin suppressed the remainder, which has since been published in varying six-stanza versions and by Lewis (2003) in an eight-stanza conflation of the various versions because no single manuscript represents the work in a clearly finished state.

 In 1890 Stevenson wrote to the editor of Scribner’s Magazine concerning poems he wanted to publish under the titles Ballads and Songs of Travel.In a following letter he mentioned that many of them were written to music, and that he thought it would be a good idea to include the voice parts:

image 2 page 2 to edward l burlingame

Booth, Bradford A. and Ernest Mehew. Letters of Robert Louis Stevenson. New Haven: Yale University Press, 1995

In addition to other items, Beinecke manuscripts 5865-9 contain four versions of a list of poems intended for Ballads and Songs of Travel.

The list headed Posthumous Verses (apparently intended for publication after his death) contains 48 titles divided into four sections: Vailima, Underwoods, Verses and Songs:

image 3 page 3 posthumous verses

Yale Gen MSS 664 box 43 folders 943-945 (Beinecke 6896)

image 4 page 4 songs

Yale Gen MSS 664 box 43 folders 943-945 (Beinecke 6896)

 

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In the section “Songs,” number 43 has the title To You, Let Snow and Roses and is followed by a line count of 16 (which would seem to correspond to the version published in the Edinburgh Edition). It appears in the list together with titles such as Ditty, To an Air of Diabelli’s, To the Tune of Wandering Willie, and 16 others, 9 of which have been found to be associated with music and are listed in the index of the Music of Robert Louis Stevenson website.

Stevenson said on several occasions that he enjoyed the challenge of writing lyrics to music, and so it seems apparent that the reason To You, Let Snow and Roses appears in the section titled “Songs” rather than the other three sections is that it too was written to music.

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image 5 page 5 dark women highlighted

Yale Gen MSS 664 box 43 folders 943-945 (Beinecke 6894)

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A different (and clearly later) version of the list (B 6894) has 61 titles. Number 53 is Dark Women and has a line count of 24. RLS apparently considered To You, Let Snow and Roses complete enough to publish at the time but later expanded it to three stanzas and retitled it. Three varying six-stanza versions have been published (Strong 1899, Gosse 1908, Hellman 1925) and an eight-stanza (64-line) conflated version appears in Lewis’s Collected Poems (2003).

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A song—with music

Stevenson’s musically inspired poems occasionally contain clues to the melody in the title, subtitle or body of the poem, but in this case the only clues are the rhythm and meaning of the verse. Identifying the tune for this particular work would be hopeless, except that many of the scores Stevenson acquired for his musical studies have been identified and most of his original manuscript musical compositions and transcriptions are available. The proper place to begin searching for music he might have used for a poem is in the scores he collected and the manuscript copies he made, and so it is not haystacks that need to be looked in for this particular needle but in “those great stacks of music,” as Lloyd Osbourne called them.

Out of Stevenson’s more than 140 manuscript transcriptions of music, only one fits the poem properly. He called it Mozart, but its actual title is Duettino from Clemenza di Tito, Act I, Scene 3. Although it is a duet, Stevenson generally copied only from the first part, simplifying some rhythms, changing a few notes, and shortening the whole by six bars.

image 6 page 6 mozart rls facsimile

University of Rochester River Campus Libraries, Melodies for the flute by RLS, CX 2

A recording using the first stanza of Stevenson’s lyrics can be heard by clicking here. In the opera, Sesto and Annio sing these words:

Deh, prendi un dolce amplesso, / Amico mio fedel;
E ognor per me lo stesso / Ti serbi amico il ciel.

Ah, let me embrace you dearly, / My faithful friend,
And may heaven ever keep / Your friendship constant for me.

 

The texts of the opera and poem share the theme of friendship, and Stevenson even seems slightly surprised that it is “her of duskier lustre whose favour still I wear.” Although To You, Let Snow and Roses is a song for one voice, its two stanzas comparing two kinds of women produce a duet of its own kind. That the poem fits so well with the opera melody and that the two works share a similar theme should be proof enough that Mozart’s music inspired the poem; however some small details in Stevenson’s transcription add further evidence.

image 8 page 7 larghetto

Transcription of RLS’s Mozart with the words of To You, Let Snow and Roses

 

RLS has written the expression mark “dolce” (sweetly) in the middle of the second line. The two bars of music that follow are alterations by Stevenson of Mozart. At this point in the opera the two voices sing separately and echo each other:

image 9 page 7 mozart duet section

Mozart’s version of the highlighted section changed by RLS

If Stevenson had chosen to copy Mozart’s music exactly, he would have written the following, which is a compilation of the two voices:

image 10a page 8a mozart

Mozart

Stevenson

Stevenson

However, this particular line of the poem has too few syllables for too many notes, so he leaves some out and changes others. The result is a sweeter version of the melody which the lyrics implicitly dedicate to Fanny: “For her of duskier lustre.”Other changes RLS made in Mozart to accommodate his lyrics can be found in the last three bars of the song. To set the words “The rose be in her hair,” he added extra notes specifically for the words “be” and “her.” Because the first stanza of his lyrics finishes at this point, he ends his song and discards the remaining six bars of Mozart’s music:

Stevenson

Stevenson

Mozart

Mozart

 

 

In To You, Let Snow and Roses Stevenson fused the two melodies of the Duettino into one air on the themes of friendship and color, but later he seemed to realize that by leaving out the operatic image of the embrace, he expressed only half the meaning he intended. Long after the music is silent, verse after searching verse follows in praise of a multitude of shades and colors, but the poem can only end when once again Lou finally embraces Fanny.

The Duettino reads,

Ah, let me embrace you dearly,
my faithful friend,
and may heaven ever keep
your friendship constant for me

The last stanza of Dark Women reads:

The defeats and the successes,
The strife, the race, the goal,
And the touch of a dusky woman
Was fairly worth the whole.
And sun and moon and morning,
With glory I recall,
But the clasp of a dusky woman
Outweighed them one and all.

John F. Russell

Written by rdury

24/06/2014 at 9:41 am

Poem dated

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John Russell’s impressive work on RLS’s music can be seen on his Music of Robert Louis Stevenson site.

A recent addition is the page on a hymn written by RLS, ‘Tempest Tossed’ (‘Tempest tossed and sore afflicted, sin defiled and care oppressed, / Come to me, all ye that labour; come, and I will give ye rest….’), which he set to the music of Beethoven’s Sechs Leichte Variationen, WoO 77. Here the identification of the musical setting has enabled an accurate dating of the poem.

tempest tossed

Yale, Beinecke GM 664-43-962 (B 6962)

The text was first published by George Hellman’s in Poems Hitherto Unpublished (Boston: Bibliophile Society, 1916), as one of the poems of uncertain date. Hellman says that Stevenson wrote four titles at the top of the manuscript: Starry Evening, Adieu, Du Bist and Ständchen and claims these are poems by Heine. (This clearly refers to another MS than the one illustrated above: probably to B 6961, a second MS of ‘Tempest Tossed’ listed in McKay.)

John Russell writes:

Stevenson wrote down the four titles not because they were poems by Heine, but because they are all music by one of Stevenson’s favorite composers, Schubert. (‘Starry Evening’ is probably ‘Nachthelle’, op. 134 and uses a poem by Seidl. ‘Adieu’ is probably ‘Abschied’ from Schwanengesang, with lyrics by Rellstab, although there is also a melody attributed to Schubert called ‘Adieu’. ‘Du Bist die Ruh’ is Schubert’s op. 59, no. 3, on a poem by Rückert, and the famous ‘Ständchen’ is also from Schwanengesang, with lyrics by Rellstab. Stevenson arranged ‘Du Bist die Ruh’ for flageolet and also arranged two other songs from Schwanengesang not on Hellman’s list, ‘Ihr Bild’ and ‘Liebesbotschaft’.)

Hellman implies that ‘Tempest Tossed’ was written in the 1870’s, but in a letter of 6 December 1887  (L6, 76) Stevenson first asks Henley to send him Beethoven’s variations that he has chosen to set words to, but then decides he can send out for them himself from Saranac. Then on 18 December (L6, 84) he writes that he likes putting words to music and that “my last attempt is the divine theme of Beethoven’s Six Variations Faciles.” So apparently Stevenson had finished the poem and the musical setting between December 6th and December 18th, 1887.

In From Saranac to the Marquesas and Beyond, Stevenson’s mother Margaret writes in her entry covering the period from  19 November 1887 through 13 January  1888 that Lou “was busy all last Sunday afternoon arranging the words ‘Come unto me, all ye that labour’, etc. to an air of Beethoven’s.” “Come to me, all ye that labour” is part of the second line of ‘Tempest Tossed’ and comes from Matthew 11:28-29.

Between December 6th and the 18th there is only one Sunday, the 11th. So the major work on the poem must have been done on Sunday, 11 December, 1887 and was certainly finished by the 18th.  Margaret’s statement that RLS “was busy all last Sunday afternoon” suggests a solution to another problem. On 6 December, Stevenson didn’t have the music but by 11 December he did. It seems unlikely that he would have been able to write to New York for the music and get it back in five days, although the train depot in Saranac was opened on 5 December. More probably Stevenson went to church on the morning of Sunday the 11th, got the music from the organist, and started work on it that afternoon.

Margaret confides in the same entry that the song said nothing to her (she wasn’t very musical), but that Louis was anxious to have it played in church. Certainly if it had been sung on December 18th he would have mentioned it in his letter to Ida and Una, but he doesn’t. The next Sunday after the 18th would of course have been Christmas, so he may have intended all along to have it performed at St. Luke’s Episcopal Church in Saranac on Christmas day.

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The letter of 6 December has a nice formulation of work that both requires attention and is relaxing—it reminds me of some of the meticulous work required in textual editing:

I find this setting words a delightful operose task, which passes time like none other, in a kind of passionate occupied idleness. The difficulty of the job is most entrancing.

Written by rdury

31/03/2013 at 7:10 pm