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

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Stevenson’s David Balfour: a new edition edited from the MS by Barry Menikoff

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Robert Louis Stevenson’s David Balfour, the original text, edited with an introduction and notes by Barry Menikoff (San Marino, CA: Huntington Library, Art Collections, and Botanical Gardens, 2016).

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1. Sample pages






2. Editorial principles and practices

The present posting aims to be informative, not a review. The following will be of interest to other EdRLS editors. We may not always follow exactly the same practices, but it is always interesting to see how someone else does it.

1. Stevenson’s changes are assimilated without comment. Deleted earlier wordings are not generally recorded in the Notes, though a facsimile page on p. 236 enables us to see that the fair copy manuscript had a final deleted sentence:

For the life of man upon this world of ours is a funny business. They talk of the angels weeping; but I think they must more often be holding their sides as they look on; and there was one thing I determined to do when I began this long story, and that was to tell out everything as it befell. <If your father was something of a simpleton and your grandfather not better than a rogue, no harm that you should know it.>

2. Corrections are silently made of spelling and apostrophe use, and superscript letters have been dropped. However not all spellings are given standard form, e.g. ‘falsness’ (p. 41) (marked by the OED  as found only up to the 16C).

There are also forms such as ‘dis-cretion’ (p. 115), which shows that the handwritten line between ‘s’ and a letter with left-facing bowl (c, d, g, o or q) has been interpreted as a hyphen. [For EdRLS, these marks have been interpreted as a non-significant link line; see this post in the blog and this one for a discussion. Barry defends his view in one of the comments to another post].

3. Unchanged are idiosyncratic capitalization of words not usually capitalized (e.g. ‘a Soft Tommy’), and the reverse case (latin, dutch, christian), in many case varying between the two usages (duke and Duke) as ‘this usage is so pervasive in the autograph, and poses no impediment to reading’ (p. lxvi). We therefore have ‘Tam Dale’ and ‘Tam dale’ in the first paragraph of ‘The Tale of Tod Lapraik’ (p. 107). To be honest, I must admit this did not cause me any problems in reading—and neither did examples like ‘I ken nae French and nae dutch’ (p. 106).
[This, like other editorial choices, is an area where each editor has to decide one way or another according to the aims of the edition. Menikoff gives us what the author wrote, while EdRLS (conservatively) emends MS texts—acting as publisher in a way accepted repeatedly by the author in other cases.]

3. Apart from supplying missing periods and question marks Stevenson’s punctuation has not been changed, e.g. a comma, semicolon or question marks followed by a dash, question marks followed by a lower-case letter. When punctuating ‘[t]he objective [for Stevenson] was to reproduce thought processes and heightened conversation informally, without slowing it down with arbitrary stops and formal new sentences’ (p. lxxv).
[In EdRLS transcribed texts we have sometimes supplied a missing comma that is so common (e.g. before ‘isn’t it?’) as to be considered codified and that would almost certainly be provided by a printer. Presumably this happened here too.]

4. Stevenson’s substantive mistakes are not corrected; I am thinking here of the first paragraph of ‘The Tale of Tod Lapraik’: ‘there were whiles when they but to fish and shoot solans for their diet’—’they but’ doesn’t seem right, a verb seems to be missing. (The sentence is identical in all editions, however. Can anyone solve this problem?)

5. Explanatory Notes: these are brief; they log all the citations of David Balfour in the OED, SLD and EDD (English Dialect Dictionary); most usefully, they indicate omissions in the first printed editions and also quote in full new passages supplied by Stevenson for the book edition at Colvin’s request.

6. References: Beinecke references to letters not by RLS are by date and  McKay numbers, e.g. ‘July 13, 1892, Beinecke Library (B 4219), Yale University’.

3. Differences between the MS and the first printed editions

In the editorial part of the volume, the preparation of the first printed edition is discussed only briefly (though there is a reference to Menikoff’s article ‘Towards the Production of a Text: Time, Space, and David Balfour‘ in Studies in the Novel 27.3 (1995)). It is mentioned in the Introduction (‘The Lonely Trials of David Balfour’) on pp. xliii-xliv, and p. xlvi (‘Colvin had his hand on the manuscript and in his fashion excised a number of choice expressions and incidents. These have been restored and appear for the first time in this edition’). The subject returns again in the ‘Note on the Text’, pp. lxiv-lxv, which discusses ‘absurd cutting’, ‘deliberate censorship’ and ‘mangled phrases’. The latter is illustrated by how ‘the warsling of the sea [and the breaching of the sprays]’ in the MS (ch. 22) becomes a mis-reading, ‘the sailing of the sea’, in Atalanta and ‘the whistling of the wind’ (ch. 22) in the Cassell’s book edition. As the latter cannot be a misreading of the MS, it was a change presumably made in proofs, though we don’t know by whom. However, as ‘whistling of the wind’ is so much weaker than ‘warsling of the sea’, it just might have been made by Colvin, going to press, unable to decipher the MS, and unable to get a reply from Stevenson in less than two months, perhaps included in the proofs, but not picked up by Stevenson. Thanks to Menikoff’s work, it could be a good case for emendation in any edition of the text. Similar differences between MS and printed edition (‘innocency’ and ‘indifferency’ in the MS becoming ‘innocence’ and ‘indifference’) are also noted, though we cannot tell if the change was made by Stevenson or not (though probably not).

The notes contain significant differences between the manuscript and the periodical and Cassell publications and also ‘four summary paragraphs that are not in the manuscript or Atlanta but that Stevenson wrote for the book at Colvin’s urging’ (p. lxiv).

Changes to single words in Cassell 1893

To give an idea of the number of changes between MS and first book edition, here are the significant differences given in the notes to the first two chapters (pp. 1-15), set out as for a textual apparatus with the MS reading on the left and printed variants on the right (a swung dash standing for words identical in MS and printed edition):

p. 2 Thence to an armourer’s, where I got a stout, plain sword, to suit with my degree in life (MS and Atl) ] ~ a plain sword ~ (Cassell)
p. 2 cla’es (MS) ] claes (Atl, Cassell)
p. 10 Get a ship for him, quoth he! (MS and Atl) ] ~ quo’ he (Cassell)

Going by this sample, the printed texts are very close to the manuscript and all three changes could well be the author’s second thoughts expressed on the proofs of the book edition:

  • the omission of ‘stout’ could be authorial: David wants a ‘walking sword’ to show his status, it’s not intended for fighting so does not need it to be ‘stout’;
  • claes could be seen as a acknowledging the word as an independent Scots form, not an English word with ‘th’ missing. As the note says ‘There is no other form in the DSL‘, i.e. the Scottish national dictionary uses only the form without an apostrophe;
  • the change to quo’ could be seen as a change to a more Scots form (the DSL headword is quo). Both DSL and OED actually give the form in this quotation from David Balfour as quot’, not found in any other of their citations, although there is also a common Scots form quod. It is possible that Stevenson’s quot’ (if this is the form used in Cassell) is a variant on quod — Stevenson’s attempt to discourage a pronunciation of ‘quod he’ as ‘quo dee‘ and a suggestion that in Scots use the ‘d’ was a voiceless flap of the tongue (like US English pronunciation of the ‘t’ in utter). In any case, it does seem a change to a more Scots form.

Many other changes to single words in Cassell 1893 must come from Stevenson and are clearly motivated, e.g. ‘Rhone wine’ drunk in Rotterdam (thus in the MS, p. 173, and Atalanta) is changed to the more appropriate ‘Rhenish wine’ in the first book edition.

An important point is where Catriona in the MS says to David ‘I am thanking the good God he has let me see you naked’ (p. 209), which is changed to ‘[…] see you as you are’ in Atalanta, a story magazine for girls, and to ‘[…] see you so’ in Cassell 1893. Though the meaning of ‘naked’ here is intended as ‘plain, undisguised’ (but surely with an intended frisson of associated meaning for the reader), I could imagine the author having second thoughts about it in proofs.

There seems to have been no attempt to change Scots to standard English in the proofs, if anything (and this is interesting) the reverse (as we’ve seen with quoth’);  MS ‘I knew the answer‘ (p. 156), and ‘Well’ (p. 217) were changed to ‘I ken the answer‘ and ‘Weel’ in both Atalanta and Cassell. ‘Ye cannae tell which way it is’ in the MS (p. 217), is identical in Atalanta but becomes ‘Ye cannae tell the tane frae the tither’ in Cassell—clearly in intervention of the author on the proofs.

Passages omitted from Cassell 1893

It is good to have the long interpolated story about shipwrecking in the chapter ‘The Bass’ (pp. 99-100) that was omitted from the book edition, yet one could understand Stevenson deleting it in proofs as too much like the explanatory back-story inserted by a historical novelist.

The other, short passages omitted in Cassell 1893 can for the most part be seen as possibly authorial. For example, in the first paragraph of ch. 9 David describes his state of mind:

And when I remembered James More, and the red head of Neil the son of Duncan, I thought there was perhaps a fourth in the confederacy, and what remained of Rob Roy’s old desperate sept of caterans would be banded against me with the others.<Yet there was that force in my innocency, that this league was driven to attempt my destruction underhand! I thought I would beat them all, and my blood heated with the thought.> (p. 60)

This could well have been omitted (and surely could only have been omitted by Stevenson) because considered inappropriately fiery for David.

At the beginning of ch. 10 another omission in Cassell 1893 can be seen as motivated by a desire for concision:

It was about half-past three when I came forth on the Lang Dykes <; and being now abroad again upon the world, began considering to what part of it I should first address myself. Not that the consideration held me long;>^.^ Dean was where I wanted to go.

Passages added to Cassell 1893

It’s also good to have transcribed in the notes the four summary paragraphs written by Stevenson at the suggestion of Colvin and included in the first book edition. To tell the truth, the story at this point is on the complicated side, and I think the readers of the book found it useful—as I did—to have these additional guides.

4. Barry Menikoff’s vigorous prose

I have tried to keep my comments as neutral as possible, wanting to avoid writing a full evaluative review of the volume. The reason for this is that this a posting about an edition of Stevenson for a Stevenson edition blog. Any edition involves many subjective decisions, and naturally everyone thinks their own subjective decisions are the best and defends them doggedly (with justifications that we delude ourselves are rational). It’s a bit like furniture arrangement in the home: we all know that it doesn’t really matter if the umbrella stand is placed inside, or outside, the front door, and yet we all want it where we want it. Such things can even lead to divorce. So this is me aiming at a calm tolerance above and beyond all that. Let me simply welcome this edition as a most valuable resource to have, the work of many years wrestling with manuscript transcription (I know how difficult this is in a small way, so can only respect this vast undertaking), and of course a welcome invitation to read David Balfour/Catriona once more.

As someone who has been involved in MS transcription for Essays IV in the new Stevenson edition, I can appreciate the vast amount of work involved and heroically undertaken by one editor. One can imagine that the following comment in ‘The Note on the Text’ incorporates an acquired personal understanding from Menikoff himself:

I have opted to print these words as he wrote them—as he wrote them, one hundred thousand words by hand, not once but twice. The sheer labor of the thing is almost unimaginable in a word-processed culture. […] He never complained about the physical labor, even if he did get writer’s cramp while composing Balfour; he regularly shifted the pen to his left hand, manifest in the painful scrawl on the pages, and reflected in Davie’s comment on his scribal work for Prestongrange—”The copying was a weary business.” (p. lxvi)

I can only envy Menikoff’s vigorous prose style:

he considered Le Vicomte de Bragelonne unequaled in its fusion of story and action, which is another way of saying adventure. (p. xxv)

we live through experience, which is our adventure, but our adventure lives only through art. A life of action, however grand, leads but to the grave; a life drawn in ink, with a steel stylus, becomes indelible. (p. xxx)

David […] is like an actor in a play unfolding before him in real time and desperately in need of the script. (p. xxx)

courage is not the absence of fear but the presence of action (p. xlix)

Sometimes it sounds a bit like Raymond Chandler:

No man signs up to cross a choppy ocean in winter and traverse a continent in an iron horse to a raucous port city shrouded in fog in order to sit in a parlor and sing “Love’s Sweet Song”. (p. xliv)

Sometimes, in the energetic wrestling of words and ideas, there are echoes of Stevenson himself, as in the elegant end to the introduction:

For all life is a story, as in the pages if David Balfour, a tale told, and the only predictable thing about it is the ending. As for its meaning, even in the plainest if cases, it eludes us, as it does the more cunning wisdom of Stevenson, which is why the final sentence, of whatever pen, cannot decide whether the angels above are looking down with peals of laughter, or are turning aside, fraught with tears. (p. lxi)

Menikoff seems to write himself into certain elegiac passages:

But in the end, as is his way, idealism comes down to earth, for in this world as God made it, as Black Andie would say, we all grow old, and innocence loses out in the trampling of time, and the romance that made it lovely when young can never be recaptured but in memory. This is why a great book like David Balfour is told in retrospect, turning back and grasping for love and beauty in their freshest hours, before marriage and children make their clamoring claims, and the story jump-cuts to the end, when age installs itself in its inescapable place in our mortal lives. (p. l)

Just as he enshrined memory in the dedication to Charles Baxter at the front of the book, he embedded it in an interior landscape that he transcribed in prose and compressed into place-names. They can be likened to the “floating world” of the Japanese ukiyo-e, only instead of pictures they are words of evanescent beauty, captured and held for their own sake, but ultimately transitory and perishable like life itself. (lvi)

All the introductory matter is a pleasure to read—and now that Barry Menikoff has successfully completed his trilogy of three Stevenson editions from the manuscripts (Falesá, Kidnapped and David Balfour), I look forward to enjoying his first volume of familiar essays: I’m sure they too will be a great pleasure to read.


Black eyes

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Screenshot 2015-07-04 21.14.22

Dunoon, April 1870

Stevenson was in Dunoon, on the outer Firth of Clyde, from 26 April to 3 May 1870 to follow harbour works. In a letter dated 29 April 1870 from the Argyll Hotel, he wrote to his mother,

I have had my fortune told: I am to be very happy and get to be much on the sea: two predictions which my queasy stomach will hardly consider as agreeable with each other.
(Bonham’s Sale 17520, Los Angeles, 19 October 2009, now in the Robert Louis Stevenson Museum, St. Helena)

In the same period, probably while still in Dunoon, he began but then abandoned an essay in which he described the fortune-telling in more detail:

All that I could gather may be thus summed up shortly: that I was to visit America, that I was to be very happy, and that I was to be much upon the sea, predictions, which in consideration of an uneasy stomach, I can scarcely think agreeable with one another. […] She suddenly looked at me with an eager glance, and dropped my hand saying, in what were either tones of misery or a very good affectation of them, ‘Black eyes!’ A moment after she was noisily at work again. It is as well to mention that I have not black eyes. (‘A Retrospect’, Yale, GEN MSS 664 28, 668 (B 6173), pp. 5-6)

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‘It is as well to mention that I have not black eyes’, Beinecke B 6173, p. 6.

Bournemouth, August 1887

Stevenson came across this abandoned essay while he was packing up in Bournemouth before going to the USA in August 1887, and he added a note at the bottom of the page:

Screenshot 2015-07-04 18.48.57

written at Dunoon 1870 (?). And very strange | it is : the old pythoness was right : I have been happy, I did | go to America (am even going again—unless—) and I have | been twice and once upon the deep. Moreover I have (and had) black | eyes. R.L.S 1887.

twice and once: several times, often (‘I have been merry twice and once ere now’, 2 Henry IV, V. 3. 39)

 Black eyes?

In April 1870, Stevenson wrote ‘I have not black eyes’, but in August 1887 he wrote ‘I have (and had) black eyes’. How can we explain this?

Maybe his eye-colour darkened between 1870 and 1887 (and he forgot it had once been lighter). But is this likely? Can eye colour change in this way? The blue eyes of babies darken in most cases in the the first year of life and eyes grow paler in old age. But apart from this,

fluctuations in eye color do occur, but they are relatively minor. As a general rule, eye color may be thought of as a highly stable physical characteristic.
(Morgan Worthy, Eye Color: A Key to Human and Animal Behavior (San Jose : ToExcel, 1999), 81)

For me, a better explanation is that Stevenson had very dark brown eyes, and in 1870, inclined to take the prophecy as false, he classified them as ‘not black’; but in 1887, inclined to see the prophecy as true, he classified them as ‘black’.

And is this not a good example of how we place things in categories because we want to see the world in a particular way? In a way deceiving ourselves.

Written by rdury

03/07/2015 at 6:20 pm

Back in London for missing Stevenson articles in London magazine

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The story so far

Those who follow this blog will know of our search for possible unnoticed articles by Stevenson in London magazine—ending up with a closer analysis of a list of 1878 payments for work on London, after which I concluded that I would need to look more closely at the four numbers of 13 July to 3 August 1878. R.-L. Abrahamson and myself had already looked through these numbers, but found nothing that we thought was even possibly by Stevenson, apart from ‘A Story-teller’ and a note on George Eliot (for 13 July), and notes from ‘a correspondent in Paris’ (for 20 July). We suspected that a poem on 13 July (from comments in a letter by Henley) might be by Stevenson, but we were interested in prose. To tell the truth, I was prepared to let it rest there: if whatever was in the 27 July and 3 August numbers had not been distinctive enough to be visible to us before, and there was no guarantee that another trip to London would be accompanied by sudden enlightenment.

A (deceptive) letter from Lang changes the picture

Then I was looking through Marysa Demoor’s useful edition of letters from Andrew Lang to Stevenson and my eye was caught by an undated letter from 1877 in which he says, ‘I’ve sent for the new book on Villon’, which probably refers to Longnon’s innovative biographical study, which must have been published in February 1877, as the Academy gives a report of the publication in its ‘Paris Letter’ in the issue of 3 March (95–6). Andrew Lang seems to be indirectly praising Stevenson in this letter when he writes,

‘I wish your C. B. would get a political fellow as good in his way as the author of Balzac’s correspondence and George Eliot’ (Demoor, 42–3).

By ‘C. B.’ he meant the editor of London, Robert Glasgow Brown, who Lang thought was ‘Caldwell Brown’ (Demoor, 6n); by ‘Balzac’s Correspondence’ he is referring to the review article with that title in the second issue of London on 10 February 1877, p. 44. This is an article that R.-L. Abrahamson and myself identified as probably by Stevenson on our first look into London at the old Colindale Newspaper Library back in January 2013. It hasn’t previously been reported here—well, we’ve got to keep something for the album. When I saw Lang’s letter I thought: could he be indirectly praising Stevenson for the article on ‘Balzac’s Correspondence’—and for another on George Eliot too? That decided it: I had to go back to London to investigate this possibility for February 1877, and combine it with a closer look at the issues of the magazine for July and early August 1878.

britishlibrarycourtyard Return to the Newsroom

So it was that on a pleasant morning in June I crossed the British Library forecourt with RLA (who this time had to look at microfilms of Chatto records of Virginibus Puerisque—this will be the first of our essay volumes to appear, in the first half of next year). I went straight to the Newsroom, picked up the five hefty volumes of London and immediately turned to February 1877 and located the article on George Eliot in the issue of February 10, p. 43. Immediate disappointment: Stevenson could not begin an essay in this way:

The cultus of George Eliot is one of the great social facts of the age. Its adherents include nearly the whole of the reading public. For purposes of generalisation they may be classed under three headings—Conformist, Disciples, and Sceptics.

The article then continues with a humorous paragraph on the reception of Eliot by each of these three classes of reader and a final paragraph collecting some epigrams about her and her novels. Such a preliminary announcement of categories followed by a paragraph apiece is, as far as I remember, not to be found in any of Stevenson’s writings. In addition, the article contains no Stevensonsonian language-play (new meaning created by use, unexpected epithets, calques from French), no intelligently concise formulations, no typical use of semicolons etc. It is true that in the fourth paragraph contains the following:

With very, very few exceptions, he [the Sceptic] knows that all of them [‘the gay young fellows it has pleased her to put forward as men’] have a comb concealed among their back-hair.

This reminds us immediately of Stevenson’s ‘Virginibus Puerisque’, published in August 1876:

Even women, who understand men so well for practical purposes, do not know them well enough for the purposes of art. Take even the very best of their male creations, take Tito Melema [in George Eliot’s Romola], for instance, and you will find he has an equivocal air, and every now and again remembers he has a comb at the back of his head.

But the later passage in London must be Henley (who probably wrote the article) cheekily ‘borrowing’ from his friend’s recent essay. With no more internal evidence than this, we cannot take the article as by Stevenson.  Lang letter: red herring.

July—August 1878 again

OK—now for the 1878 volume. Henley, talking about the 13 July number says in a letter to Stevenson:

Don’t tax me with ‘Ce Que Se Dit’. I only brushed it up. In doing so, I’ve made it presentable, but I’ve broken the author’s heart. (Atkinson, 52)

This sounds like Henley not apologising for having changed a poem by Stevenson (the person who might ‘tax’ him about it). Here it is: Screenshot 2015-06-29 18.34.51on the strict Q.T., ‘confidential (quiet)’ (first Advanced Google Books Search hits: 1877; 1877 song by Lydia Thompson; called ‘a crude expression’ in George Moore’s A Mummer’s Wife (1884));
rather! ‘yes! I should think so!’ (OED (1904) calls this ‘vulgar’, the online OED identifies this as ‘Brit. colloq.‘; first OED citation 1836);
ripping! ‘great, excellent, stunning’ (first OED citation 1776).

My guess is that this may have been about Fanny Osbourne with the last line a piece of American slang, that Henley changed to British slang (to make it presentable)—absolutely no proof, except that ‘You feel you’re tripping’ doesn’t fit well into the previous two lines and seems inserted to rhyme with ‘ripping’. Well, it’s perhaps not worth losing any sleep about, whatever the story is behind it.

6 July number

This was a week with ‘an article also’ opposite the payment for the ‘Arabian’ episode but a payment that corresponded only to that episode. I looked again, but could find nothing

27 July number

Subtracting the estimated payment for the ‘Arabian’ episode from the total payment, left me looking for a contribution of about half a column. The ‘Whispering Gallery’ section has three items of news from Paris, one in particular about the Jurors of the Exposition (and Stevenson was nominal secretary to one of them, Fleeming Jenkins). It starts ‘The Exposition has developed inventions undreamt of by the carnal mind of the casual observer. For instance, amongst the Jurors hospitality reigns’ (where ‘carnal mind’ could have a Stevensonian epithet). It goes on to mention that dishes with new names have been invented and gives a menu with items like ‘Potage. Emaillé de Printanier’ and ‘Truits. Patinée à Génèvoise’. This could be the Stevenson contribution—nothing earth-shaking, as you can see.

3 August number

Here, again, I was looking for something of half a column or less. And, again in the ‘Whispering Gallery’ section there is a contribution ‘from a letter’ that sounds as if it might be from Stevenson, containing a nonsense rhyme: Screenshot 2015-06-30 18.17.17Here, the French word béquille ‘crutch’ and béquiller ‘walk with crutches’ has clearly touched the poet’s funny nerve (maybe because a homophone béquiller (from bec ‘beak’) is a slang word for ‘eat’) and he creates a calque in English ‘to beckle’ which he repeats and varies in a crazy progression that threatens to extend to infinity.

There is a good chance this is by Stevenson: it is from a letter (the origin of other contributions from Stevenson in this period), it involves play with French, which we often find him doing, the creation through use of a new meaning of ‘fulfilled’  at the end of the third stanza reminds one of Stevenson’s typical word-play, and Stevenson writes similar verse in other letters to Henley in this period (e.g. L2, 259).

That’s it

With that, I had more-or-less accounted for the four annotations of ‘an article also’ on the 1878 list of payments. That list, of course, only goes up to 10 August and it is possible that Stevenson continued contributing short pieces and poems after that. But this I generously leave to another researcher.

A Gossip on Prince Otto

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In 2008, Robert-Louis Abrahamson, Richard Dury and others agreed to read through Prince Otto and share our thoughts about it on the online discussion group ReadingRLS (topics 282, 293, 294, 296, 314).    What follows are a few strands of that conversation, a conversation with no pretence to academic rigour, copied out and re-arranged.


book_likeRLA: The distanced tone and reference to Florizel of Bohemia make us think we’re back with the New Arabian Nights. The Shakespearean references to Perdita and the Bohemian seacoast suggest a world of parody and playfulness.

The playfulness continues when we’re told the precise year doesn’t matter and is “left to the conjecture of the reader”. This feels like it’s going to be a comic tale, a game of some sort, where, in fact, we’re encouraged to take part in the creation.

YOU shall seek in vain upon the map of Europe for the bygone state of Grünewald. […] On the south it marched with the comparatively powerful kingdom of Seaboard Bohemia, celebrated for its flowers and mountain bears, […]; and the last Prince of Grünewald, whose history I purpose to relate, drew his descent through Perdita, the only daughter of King Florizel the First of Bohemia. […]

The precise year of grace in which this tale begins shall be left to the conjecture of the reader.

Then at the beginning of Book II ch. 11, we get the precise time reference, but only after a playful ‘feint’:

AT a sufficiently late hour, or to be more exact, at three in the afternoon

Toy Theatre

Screenshot 2014-05-28 21.16.56RD: The story opens with two minor characters fililng us in about the situation: naturally we think of the stage convention. Their dialogue is of the type found in a play-script, requiring us to fill in the details; part of the first dialogue could be re-written as follows with stage-directions:

There goes the government over the borders on a grey mare. What’s that? No, nothing—no, I tell you, on my word, I set more store by a good gelding or an English dog. That for your Otto!’

This could be rewritten as

First Huntsman: There goes the government over the borders on a grey mare. [Sudden noise] What’s that? No, nothing – no, I tell you, on my word, I set more store by a good gelding or an English dog. [snaps his fingers] That for your Otto!’

The reader is clearly being asked to recognise these conventional bits of stage ‘business’; the reading experience here depends if you want to enter the game or not. I’m reminded of Roxy Music’s LP Avalon with a cover of an Arthurian knight seen from behind and a misty lake: there’s no sign that this is ironic—you are supposed to think ‘This can’t possibly be serious. Or is it?’ and enjoy the artful way you are left in doubt.

The stage-play effect continues with the farcical dramatic irony of Otto in disguise in conversation with the people in the farmhouse about Prince Otto – for example, the following would be a splendid opportunity for a good actor to ‘milk the pause’ before ‘Indeed?’:

‘Not what you might call disliked,’ replied the old gentleman, ‘but despised, sir.’
‘Indeed,’ said the Prince, somewhat faintly.

RLA: Of course, Prince Otto started out as a play [as Bob irvine’s Introduction reminds us (added comment)]. In Book II, the chapter titles (‘Act the First’ etc.) explicitly take us into the theatre. And then there are continual allusions to theatre, acting etc.: ‘with a man like me to impersonate’ — ‘come buskined forth’ — ‘puppet’ — ‘Hoyden playing Cleopatra’ — ‘this gentleman, it seems, would have preferred me playing like an actor’ — ‘a scene of Marriage à la Mode’ etc. etc.

RD: Much of the exaggerated staginess reminds us of grand opera [and Bob Irvine’s Introduction to the New Edinburgh Edition comments on several direct influences from operas (added comment)], and the story in a way becomes an opera at one point, when (Book III, ch. 3) the Countess von Rosen sings the Handel aria ‘Lascia ch’io pianga’ outside Otto’s door in the Felsenberg. (This reminded me of Becky Sharp singing ‘Remember me’ in Andrew Davies’s BBC adaptation of Vanity Fair from 1988.)

Elsewhere we are reminded of the conventions of (campy) melodramatic acting:

‘It is very strange, Herr Cancellarius, that you should so persistently avoid my questions,” said the Prince. “You tempt me to suppose a purpose in your dulness. I have asked you whether all was quiet; do me the pleasure to reply.’ […]
The Prince waited, drawing his handkerchief quietly through his fingers.’

Drawing a handkerchief slowly (but I like ‘quietly’) through the fingers must have been a well-known piece of stage ‘business’.

‘Philosophical novel’

rasselasRD: Apart from being reminiscent of a play, the work also has the structure of chance meetings and conversations with a variety of people of the 18th-century philosophical novel (and is reminiscent of S’s own short stories with debates –‘Markheim’ and ‘Villon’).

RLA: One of the central moral issues concerns the possibility of forgiving. Otto says of Seraphina ‘I can, of course, [forgive her], and do; but in what sense?’  And Colonel Gordon replies ‘I will talk of not forgiving others, sir, when I have made out to forgive myself, and not before; and the date is like to be a long one”—in other words, the question of ‘not forgiving’ is not even to be put.

Gordon then links this to wider considerations to Otto and Gotthold:

And as for this matter of forgiveness, it comes, sir, of loose views and (what is if anything more dangerous) a regular life. A sound creed and a bad morality, that’s the root of wisdom. You two gentlemen are too good to be forgiving.

It is not by morally judging ourselves that we achieve greatness.

RD: Gordon also associates ‘this matter of forgiveness’ with ‘a regular life’ (=ruled by conventions?) and (we infer) a so-called ‘good’ morality (=conduct governed by fixed rules).

RLA: The meaninglessness of ‘forgiveness’ is also touched on  in ‘Truth of Intercourse’: ‘so far as I have gone in life I have never yet been able to discover what forgiveness means’.

RD: Other ‘philosophical’ discussions in the text centre on Otto’s ‘manly’ or ‘gentlemanly’ behaviour: his honesty, understanding of others, awareness of his own faults, sense of justice, lack of assertiveness.

Bibliographical postscript

RLA: At the end, just as he did in the New Arabian Nights, Stevenson undermines his whole narrative, this time during a summary of the later life of Otto and Seraphina based on close citation of printed sources.

RD: The Postscript starts with lots of real and probable names , then in the last few lines we get ‘Buttonhole’, ‘Lord Protocol’ and ‘Admiral Yardarm’ – S doesn’t pretend any more and says ‘it’s all a fiction’. I don’t know about anyone else, but I found that reading the first part I am lulled into the literary joke and enjoying the clever imitation documentary evidence – so when these last absurd names are produced, one feels the author is showing that he can still surprise us and that he’s in control.

RLA: This reminds me of formulaic ways of ending fairy tales in some cultures, where the storyteller adds a long jesting closing formula to bring us back to normality. Even the fairy-tale ‘Pretty Woman’ film ends with the crazy guy on the Hollywood sidewalk saying ‘This is Hollywood – the land of dreams’. A final twist – the last trick of the storyteller.

Written by rdury

29/05/2014 at 11:07 am

A Night in France

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My second to last day in New Haven, I was checking something in the 1923 Vailima Edition, so I thought at the same time I’d compare our transcription of a manuscript fragment about music at night in Mentone (see (L1, 477-78; 5 Feb 1874), called ‘A Night in France’ by Hellman (Prose Pieces… Hitherto Unpublished, 1921, and from there republished in the the Vailima, Tusitala and Skerryvore Editions).

It’s a rough pencil draft with a number of obscure words, so it’s not surprising there should be differences in transcription. The most important ones are the following, Hellman’s text on the left, our transcription on the right:

The sea trembles with light; white hotels and villas show lit windows far along the curved beach, and from above envy the silent stars. The strange night sky endues itself in monstrous space over all, the large moon beams forward.[…] For this is no squeak of southern fife, […] Clear sad voices sing in the gray dawn sadly; for a country made desolate, for the bold silver that shall no more clatter forth in pay, and the good King that shall come home no more. The sea trembles with light, white hotels and villas show lit windows far along the curved beach, and from above among the silent stars the strange night sky arches itself in monstrous space over all, the large moon beams forward.[…] For this is no squeak of southern pipe, […] Clear sad voices sing in the grey dawn sadly; for a country made desolate, for the bold riders that shall no more clatter forth on fray, and the good King that shall come home no more.

We had examined and debated all these points when our first transcription had been made (by Mafalda Cipollone, and then twice proofed by me), but seeing them there made me realize I had to look at the MS again. I had actually previously proofed our transcription against the MS: what was different now was finding out why Hellman had made his choices—a way of looking at the MS again with fresh eyes (very necessary in MS-proofing—as in other situations in life: it’s amazing how you see what you’re looking for and what you’re not looking for, you just don’t see).

Yale GEN MSS 664, box 34 folder 815 (B 6631)

Yale GEN MSS 664, box 34 folder 815 (B 6631)

So on my last day on the Beinecke, I called up the item. Was that ‘far along the curved beach’ or ‘along the curved beach’? Although grains of graphite are flying away each time this item is consulted, I convinced myself, finally, looking through the strongest magnifier available, that ‘far’ was deleted by a line sloping down a bit to the right; ‘among the silent stars’ was obviously right (there’s not ‘e’ for envy). But then I looked again: ‘stars’ is definitely followed by a full stop and then a capital letter (of a deleted ‘The’). AND, and… was it ‘stars’?: no crossbar for a ‘t’ was visible and the second letter had not trace of a bowl for ‘b’ or ‘d’, so it must be ‘l’… ‘slars’? No: there is definitely a dot which RLS almost never omits for his ‘i’: ‘slirs’…. What about that first letter? could it be ‘a’ or ‘o’: ‘alirs’, ‘olirs’. YES, yes, of course! ‘among the silent olives’. Followed by a full stop.

The ‘pipe’ was clearly right: Stevenson’s ‘p’ and ‘f’ are usually clearly distinct, and these are p’s with hooked beginnings.

So what about that third passage?

Screen shot 2013-11-06 at 08.57.16‘for the bold silver’ looks wrong, and the first letter is clearly Stevenson’s inverted-v ‘r’; there is a dot faintly visible above the second letter (but for how much longer? I had a sense that it was vital for me to correctly decypher the word this afternoon, before the evidence ‘dislimns’ and fades away). Screwing my eyes up, seeking the best light under the magnifying glass, I could see no left-bowl for a ‘d’. Not only that, the last letter was that inverted-v ‘r’ again with concave second stroke: clearly not the convex stroke of his ‘s’. But what else but a rider could ‘clatter forth’?

2006-01-01 00.00.00-102Then I remembered that RLA was sitting behind me in the Beinecke reading room and how useful it is for another person to look at these points: so I took the leaf and the magnifying glass to his table. He read through the sentence slowly, and then said: that third letter could be just a tall ‘e’… yes, it’s ‘riever’, usually spellt ‘ei’: a border raider. Hooray! We kept ‘on fray’: a bit strange, but perhaps acceptable RLS-strange, and it certainly isn’t ‘on pay’.

Also, on inspection, I changed the moon ‘beams forward’ to ‘leans forward’. I also confirmed our reading ‘hard knit faces’ rather than Hellman’s ‘hard thin faces’: the middle word is not clear but it is preceded by a deleted ‘gathered’, for which ‘knit’ seems to be a semantically-close substitution.

So here, below is the final, cleaned transcipt (with ‘riever’ spelt thus because the OED records it as a 19th-century Scottish spelling; the words in brackets must be alternatives that RLS was considering but hadn’t decided on).

A Night in France

The perfect southern moonlight fills the great night; along the coast the bare peaks faint and dwindle against the intense blue sky; and far up on the glimmering mountain sides the dark woods design their big (full shapes in black) fantastic profile. The sea trembles with light, white hotels and villas show lit windows along the curved beach, and from above among the silent olives. The strange night sky arches itself in monstrous space over all, the large moon leans forward. The still trees stand in relief aloof one from the other with the light all about them, naked (bare) in the moonlight.

Up in the room, the piano sounds and into the southern night, note follows note, chord follows chord, in quaint, sad, northland cadence. Do not the still trees wonder, and the flat bright sea, and the lonely glimmering hilltops far withdrawn into the purple sky? For this is no squeak of southern pipe, no light melody of provençal farandole; to these airs, brown feet never tripped on the warm earth nor boatman cheered his way across deep midland waters. Wild and shrill, ring out the reels. Dunbarton drums beat bonny. The wind sounds over the rainy moorland; Wandering Willie is far from home. Clear sad voices sing in the grey dawn sadly; for a country made desolate, for the bold riever that shall no more clatter forth on fray, and the good King that shall come home no more. The sun sets behind Ben Ledi. Macleod’s Wizard flag sallies from the gray castle. Faint and fair, in the misty summer afternoon, reach out the purple braes, where the soft cloud shadows linger and dwindle. At home, by the ingle, the goodwife darns her goodman’s grey breeks. And my love, up in the north, is like the red red rose.

O sound of the wind among my own bleak hills; the snow, and the cold, and the hard knit faces of steadfast serious people. The boats go out at even, under the moon; sail by sail they spread on the great uneven sea; at morn, in the rain plains, boat by boat comes back with its glittering burthen.

In brown grass fields, wander white sheep, patiently stand the shivering cattle.

Uncertain about gaslights: a notebook fragment

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The Beinecke Stevenson finding aid General Manuscripts 664 (created by Michael Forstrom) records the Yale collection of Stevenson’s notebooks for the first time. Previously, the McKay catalogue had listed the contents of the notebooks as separate items; but now, in ‘GM 664’, these McKay items are grouped together under the individual notebook headings.

Of course, listing the contents of a notebook is rather difficult, if not impossible: they contain many odd notes, sketches, addresses etc. Hence, it is still possible to come across odd unrecorded texts such as the following, found in a notebook that, appropriately as it turns out, I was looking at on 31 October.

This small notebook (GM 664 box 35 folder 833), its green card cover bearing the printed title ‘The Academic Exercise Book’, can be dated pretty accurately as it contains notes from James Lorimer’s lectures on Public Law and James Muirhead’s on Civil Law, which RLS followed between 3 November 1871 and 20 March 1872.

So here is RLS, 21 years old, up in his room at 17 Heriot Row, Edinburgh, writing this short piece—perhaps feeling sorry for himself, perhaps just wanting to to imitate someone like Edgar Allan Poe, perhaps wanting to work out some ideas on the feeling of doubleness, or to artfully combine sounds and ideas:

Screen shot 2013-11-03 at 06.09.02

Night after night, up here,[1] this hateful yellow gas looked on while white-faced pain and I played on at our endless game. He has become a personality to me. He cranes over my shoulder with a flaw[2] to see my hand and then advises my adversary with his lurid winks and flickers; and he sways his long fingers, with a loose crying sound, whenever white faced pain takes up a trick. So he shall do, too, when pain takes up the last.

[1] followed by ‘was’, undeleted by oversight. [2] in the sense of ‘sudden flare’ (like ‘a flaw of wind’).

Stevenson and London magazine

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RLA, me and Colindale

Screen shot 2013-10-01 at 05.58.46Last January two Essays Editors, RLA and myself, set off from Linton near Cambridge, to drive down to the Colindale Newspaper Library in North London. Our aims: to read through Young Folks (to see if the two MS papers for juvenile readers on Writing and Reading had by chance been published there—they hadn’t), and to try to identify possible articles by Stevenson in London: the conservative weekly journal of politics, finance, society and the arts.

Time passed quickly on the journey as we discussed a draft of the Edition’s General Introduction; we then successfully identified just the right place to turn for the Library, and (still feeling good about that) quickly found a parking place. The suburb and the Library building are from the 1930s and the Library had a certain old-fashioned charm: we registered at a ground-floor cloakroom window, then went up to a first-floor reading-room that reminded me of a 1950s town library in its slight workaday disorder.

Day in the Library

colindaleThe opening hours not being generous (10 am to 5 pm), we got down to work as soon as the sturdily-bound volumes arrived. I was surprised to see the London was actually in broadsheet newspaper format, and was impressed by the accurate printing on thick white paper. Each printed letter pressed, slightly but sharply, into the paper. Running your fingers over the surface, you could feel the indented shapes on your finger-tips.

All this I was unconsciously taking in as I started to rapidly leaf through the pages. I saw that the typical contents included foreign affairs, domestic politics, essays and miscellaneous articles. Section titles included ‘Capell Court’ (financial news), ‘The Whispering Gallery’ (gossip column), ‘Book of the Week’, ‘Mudies’ (short notices of books),  ‘Vanity Fair’, and ‘Bohemia’, though sections varied across the life of the magazine. We were looking for articles that may have been by RLS, but time was short, so all we could do was to scan for likely items, then rapidly try to ‘taste’ them, all the time making notes.

After a couple of hours we went for lunch in a “caff” on the local row of suburban shops, chatting all the while about likely items that each of us had found; then we returned to take up the unequal race against time. Before we knew it, the clock was touching 4.30 and we were hurrying to order photoreproductions before closing time.

London: the conservative weekly…

Screen shot 2013-09-30 at 11.08.31According to World Cat, London is only held by two Libraries in the world: here in the British Library and at Yale—and the volumes in Yale are photographic copies of the ones here. So this was a precious document.

Articles by Stevenson

We know that RLS contributed to the magazine from the very first number on 3 Feb 1877 (‘A Salt-Water Financier’ and ‘Mr Tennyson’s “Harold”‘) to November 1878 (‘Leon Berthelini’s Guitar’). The journal (edited by Henley from December 1877) did not itself continue much longer and the last number was issued on 5 Apr 1879.

Stevenson’s initial period of collaboration was short: from February to March/April 1877 (and in mid-May he writes, ‘I’ve been done with London, many’s the long day’ (L2, 210), but we know that he then contributed again from April to November 1878.

His seven items from 1877 had actually remained unknown for many years: Ernest Mehew identified six  articles from that year in 1965, and Stevenson’s first published story ‘An Old Song’ (Feb–Mar 1877) was discovered by Roger Swearingen in 1982. The introduction to his edition of the text begins stirringly:

Few scholarly discoveries are as exciting as finding an important, entirely unknown work by an author one has been studying for years.

Articles not by Stevenson

Scanning through the volumes, we came across some articles that seemed witty, intelligent and well-written but could not be by RLS, or might be, but did not contain enough clues to merit the label ‘possibly by Stevenson’.

One of those that we momentarily considered a candidate because of references to Herbert Spencer, Darwin and ‘arboreal ancestors’, and which we then agreed to exclude (because of its frivolity and the lack of good clues), was a humourous piece on ‘The Evolution of Valentines’ (8 Feb 1879) which begins:

Evolution, Mr. Herbert Spencer tells us, proceeds always from the homogeneous to the heterogeneous. What could more beautifully illustrate this truth than the development of the Valentine?

Another whose style excluded it was an article on Mark Twain (1 Feb 1879). It was first considered because of the sentence ‘Boys like him because he has been a boy and hates the whole Benjamin Franklin and Samuel Budget system of education with a rich, boyish hatred’—since Franklin and Budget ‘The Successful Merchant’ are criticized in Stevenson’s ‘Lay Morals’ from the same period. But then we thought it could well have been written by Henley (the style is rather laboured: ‘hated […] with a rich, boyish hatred’), and he could have easily picked up these names from conversations with RLS. The following sentence I thought particularly successful:

Solemnly, soberly, positively, impossibly fantastic, exaggerating exaggeration; winging an idea of entirely unforeseen absurdity with words of the straightest, soundest, strongest pattern to be found in the dictionary or out of it; he takes possession of his opposite from end to end, hurries him from fit to fit of chuckling fondness, hurls him bodily into such abysses of laughter as are perilous to sound, and only leaves him when he is exhausted, and when, though he is not able to laugh any more, he is in a state of happiness not less complete than idiotic.

Another reason we decided against these two items is because they are both from February 1879 when we have no other information of RLS writing for the magazine.

Another item that attacted our attention was a witty put-down of a novel Done in the Dark (3 Mar 1877): well-written and handled with lightness, it could be by RLS—but it could also be by someone else. As I enjoyed reading it, I’ve put it at the end of this post to share with other readers.

Eleven possible London items by Stevenson had, before Mehew in 1965, been listed by George L. McKay (they had very probably been proposed by Beinecke’s Stevenson researcher, Gertrude Hills), but most of them do not look very likely: the two series ‘Husbands’, ‘Wives’, ‘Sweethearts’, ‘Flirts’; and then ‘Gossip’, ‘Scandal’, and ‘More about Gossip’—not only seem improbable titles for Stevenson but date from the period immediately after late April 1877 when we know RLS had thankfully abandoned the unwelcome forced work for the magazine. Indeed, they were more probably by James Walter Ferrier, as Henley writes in February 1877, ‘Ferrier will contribute ‘a series of “Humorous” – brief essays, on Sisters, Afternoon tea & et., like the Saturday mind [The Saturday Review; ‘kind’?], only humorous, & not witty’ (Atkinson, 44 & n). Another title listed in McKay, ‘At the Lyceum on Monday’, was shown by Swearingen (1980, p. 25) to be by Henley.

Only two of McKay’s eleven seemed possible candidates to us, for style, content and date: one on Balzac and the other on Villon. These we marked for for pdf requests and further investigation.

Another clue

Screen shot 2013-10-01 at 11.29.01

Inland Voyage Notebook (Yale B 6452), bp. 16

Arabian Nights….£4 10s
………do…………….£4 an article also
………do…………….£5 an article also
…………………………£4 16s an article also
English Admirals £8 8s
……………………….. £5 6s an article
……………………….. £4 10s
……………………….. £3 10s

On back page 16 of the Inland Voyage Notebook, RLS has listed payments received in 1878, in chronological order, ending with the sequence above which comes in the list immediately after the payment for ‘El Dorado’ (published May 1878). Although only the first five payments are specifically identified as ‘Arabian Nights’, the arrangement suggests that, apart from ‘English Admirals’ (published in the Cornhill in July 1878), these are 9 payments for episodes of the ‘Latter-Day Arabian Nights’ (published 8 Jun–26 Oct 1878), four of which also include ‘an article also’. (‘do.’ stands for ‘ditto’, i.e. archaic Italian—probably borrowed into English through accountancy—for ‘[already] said’.)

Without attempting to link these payments to exact numbers of London, the list seems to suggest that RLS was paid for four articles in London roughly in the period late June–August 1878, articles so far unidentified. The significance of this list was only realized after we’d had our day in Colindale and by chance it was a volume of the magazine we hadn’t had time to look at.

Second chance at the Beinecke

Luckily both RLA and myself will be at the Beienecke Library, Yale University, in October. We have already reserved their copies of London, and we intend to look through the pages for this period with an open but receptive mind.

Colindale, adieu

But to Colindale we shall never return. This pleasantly old-fashioned instititution will close forever on 8 November 2013, the building—admittedly, no jewel of modern architecture—will be pulled down and the land used for housing. The newspapers will be taken to a new state-of-the-art warehouse in Boston Spa, Yorkshire. Access to the collection will be in a new Newspaper Reading Room at St Pancras in the form of microfilm, digital copies or (if these are unavailable and the volume can travel), exceptionally, by the actual printed periodical. But eventually all the collection will be on microfilm or digital copy and the periodicals will stay locked inside their low-oxygen warehouse. (See reports in the Guardian and Financial Times.) So perhaps no-one will ever feel the delicately indented printed letters of London again.

Bonus track: review of Done in the Dark

I thought it was a nice example of deadpan irony, so I’ll share it here; it could be by RLS—but also by someone else, and nothing in the text gives a good clue to authorship.

Done in the Dark (Samuel Tinsley), by the author of “Recommended to Mercy,” is in many ways a remarkable book. That it has any merit as a novel we cannot conscientiously aver. There does not seem to be any particular story. The characters are all curiously unlike human beings. As for the dialogue, let this serve as a sample, the speaker being Joy, the heroine, who has just had the misfortune to lose her brother: “Have I no feeling, that I can talk so quietly of Archie’s death? Do I believe, have I understood, that never more in this world of the next will his warm fingers close upon my own, nor his brother’s dear kiss be pressed upon my cheek? Is it nothing to me that my father, to whom Archie was dear as was ever son to parent, is standing bare-headed, with a gray, pinched look upon his face?” &c., &c. And in point of reflection there are few, we imagine, but will feel the force of such a pregnant fancy as “even the restless robin feels that there is a time for all things, and perhaps (for who dares limit the extent of his faculties which God has given?) hails with thankfulness the moment when ‘tired Nature’s sweet restorer’ will close upon his bright black eyes in welcome slumber.”
From a heroine who could make such a speech as that one quoted above, while people with hooks and poles were dragging the river for Archie’s body, the reader is entitled to expect a great deal. He naturally feels a little disappointed when he gets nothing but a couple of more or less uninteresting marriages. How each of these is brought about we do not pause to explain. Indeed, we feel a certain delicacy on the subject, and had rather it were dropped, for our own sake as well as that of the authoress.
Nevertheless, the book is a remarkable book, and will well repay perusal. Having created a reflective and literary robin, the creation of a peculiar language was, comparatively speaking, as easy task. As a stylist, the authoress of Done in the Dark is not without merit. A sentence of fifteen, eighteen, or twenty-four lines is to her a mere everyday feat. The trick is skilfully done; a greater artist in the use of dashes and parentheses has never tried to write English; only the result is sometimes a little perplexing to the average reader. For it is not pleasant, after all, to come to the end of a sentence, and, after escaping a whole army of supplementary clauses, now beaming openly on you from between commas, now lurking for you behind brackets, now smiling at you across a stretch of dash, to find that you have forgotten the subject, and are as innocent of the import of your predicate as you are of the doings of Father Beke. But still, one feels that one is in the presence of a person who has original ideas on the subject of English composition, and one goes on one’s way with a vague feeling of respect.
The authoress is evidently well read. She has a fund of elegant quotation. We have seen that even her robin is acquainted with Shakespeare and other authors of merit. Her citations are numerous and varied. One or two are made to do duty twice as chapter headings; possibly an emulation of the Leitmotive of Wagner. But a person who is as familiar with Arsène Houssaye as with Shelley, with La Rochefoucauld as with Chaucer, ought to know better than to sanction such an impropriety as “Sweet bells jangles and out of tune.” What would Mr. Furnivall say?

(London 3 Mar 1877, p. 116)