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

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Mehew Library comes to Edinburgh

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We are pleased to publish here the following press release from Roger Swearingen and Nick Rankin.


(1) The National Library of Scotland and Edinburgh Napier University have jointly agreed to accept, as a donation, the Ernest and Joyce Mehew Archive of Books and Papers Related to Robert Louis Stevenson and a number of other books from their extensive collection, built up over 50 years. Exact partitioning and other details of location and access are to be arranged.

(2) The donation was proposed by Nicholas Rankin, Administrator of the estate of the late Dr Ernest James Mehew, FRSL, editor of the eight-volume Letters of Robert Louis Stevenson, (Yale, 1994-95), who died last October, aged 88, and agreed by Maxine Barnes, the lawyer soon to be appointed by the Court of Protection as Deputy of his widow, Mrs Joyce Elizabeth Mehew, who now lives in a care-home in England.

(3) The process was helped by a detailed descriptive and photographic catalogue of the collection that was prepared by the American Stevenson scholar Roger G. Swearingen, a friend of the Mehews for more than forty years, during a one-month survey trip to England during January and February 2012.

(4) The Ernest and Joyce Mehew Library consists of more than 40 boxes of papers and some 2000 books by and relating to Robert Louis Stevenson and his friends and associates in the late nineteenth century. The Mehew papers include a wide range of articles, cuttings, diaries, ephemera, notebooks, page-proofs and extensive scholarly correspondence, as well as material from the now defunct Robert Louis Stevenson Club of London. They will complement the National Library of Scotland’s holdings of Graham Balfour (Stevenson’s first biographer) and Janet Adam Smith (editor of Stevenson’s poems).

         The Mehew collection of books is a comprehensive library of Stevensoniana that has few rivals in the world. It includes first editions, rarities, biographies, collections of letters, reference books, critical studies and bound copies of the magazines where Stevenson’s work first appeared, including Cornhill, Century, Scribner’s, Black & White, etc, as well as background works on Scotland, America and the Pacific. In addition, there are books by and about Edmund Gosse, W.E. Henley, Henry James, Max Beerbohm, George Bernard Shaw and Oscar Wilde, all of which will increase Edinburgh Napier’s importance as a locus for RLS and late 19th century research.

(5) Ernest Mehew’s interest in Robert Louis Stevenson began when he was at Huntingdon Grammar School before the second world war. He began by collecting the thirty-five blue volumes of the Tusitala Edition and by 1950 had made himself such an authority on Stevenson’s manuscripts and handwriting that he could help Janet Adam Smith with her edition of Stevenson’s poems. She introduced E.J. Mehew, now beginning his career as a civil servant in the Ministry of Food, to her publisher, Rupert Hart-Davis, who, recognizing his research talents, put him and his new bride, Joyce Wilson, to work on The Letters of Oscar Wilde.

In 1964, Yale University Press asked Mehew to look over an early draft of The Letters of Robert Louis Stevenson, prepared in the USA by Professor Bradford A. Booth.  His critique was so cogent that they invited him to become assistant editor. When Booth died in 1968, Mehew became the sole editor and carried the whole project through to fruition.

Working as an independent scholar, with only his wife Joyce as his assistant, and never using a computer, Ernest Mehew located, sorted, transcribed, dated, annotated and linked some 2,800 letters, many of which had never been published before.

When the eight volumes were published in 1994-1995, they were met with universal acclaim and Mehew’s editing was recognised as a model of clarity, concision and good sense. The Letters elevated and enhanced Robert Louis Stevenson’s literary and personal reputation, as well as transforming the factual basis of Stevenson studies. As a result of his lifetime’s dedication, Ernest Mehew was elected a Fellow of the Royal Society of Literature and was awarded an Honorary Doctorate by Edinburgh University in 1998.

24 May 2012 – RGS, NR

The Library and Papers of Ernest and Joyce Mehew

Description by Roger G. Swearingen
March 2012


The Library and Papers of Ernest and Joyce Mehew consist of somewhat more than 1,000 books by and about Robert Louis Stevenson; another approximately 1,000 books on other late-nineteenth and early twentieth-century writers including Lewis Carroll, Oscar Wilde, Max Beerbohm, Arthur Conan Doyle, Robert Graves, and many others; and perhaps another 1,000 books of lighter reading, including hundreds of early Penguin Books. The papers are now stored in approximately two dozen archive boxes and, unpacked, would occupy 20-25 linear feet (approximately 7.5 metres). There are also approximately 100 off-the-air audio and video tapes mostly from the 1980s on or showing works by Robert Louis Stevenson and many others.

The Stevenson items in the collection – books and papers together – make up an incomparable research archive on every aspect of the life and works of Robert Louis Stevenson. The other books are complementary and in addition to their reference value show the wide range of literary projects in which the Mehews were involved over the span of fifty years.

This is a working scholarly collection, used above all in the creation of the eight-volume edition of Stevenson’s letters published by Yale University Press in 1994 and 1995. As a result there are only a few books of much monetary or collector value, the value of the collection lying instead in its usefulness to scholars.

Written by rdury

26/06/2012 at 7:15 am

Ernest Mehew’s library goes to Edinburgh

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The library of the late Ernest Mehew has been donated to Edinburgh Napier University where it will housed in a special RLS room on the Merchiston campus, which it is planned to make available to researchers in 2013.

The Library consists of three main collections: RLS, Oscar Wilde and Bernard Shaw.

Mehew’s papers and journals have gone to the NLS, so the whole collection will be available centrally in Edinburgh.

Written by rdury

25/06/2012 at 11:05 am

from the EdRLS office

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Steffi Grimm is our current 6-month intern from Germany and here she gives some insight into her work for us.  The  edition is transcribing all manuscript material to make sure that we have a record of Stevenson’s first thoughts.   Steffi is working on manuscripts from Stevenson’s Fables.

My name is Stefanie Grimm and I am the new research assistant with the EdRLS project.

A few days ago I started transcribing the manuscript of “The Scientific Ape” which will be part of Volume 4 of Stevenson’s stories.  As this was my first experience of transcribing Stevenson’s hand,  I stumbled over words and phrases that were difficult to read and to make sense of.

We want to give you an example how to figure out an unusual phrase by referring to historical usage.  This is a point in the story where the Chief Ape calls a halt to the experiments of the Scientific Ape. Reading the clip below we could not figure out what the words after “physical-“ could mean.

First we had to figure out if it is supposed to be one word or two because of the big space in between and the hyphen after the word “physical”. We were certainly sure that the last letter is a y, that in the middle there is a t, and that the first letter is an f. But the letters in between could have had several meanings.

After a while we settled on the transcription “physical-force tory”. But we were not sure if that expression existed, so we started looking for a description of the term “physical-force”.

We found that the term “physical-force” to describe a political idea had been most commonly used to describe a branch of Chartism—very far from the “Tory” position of the Chief Ape. But when we looked a bit closer, we found the term associated with Conservatism and with Unionist resistance to Home Rule in Ireland. Of course we will be able to leave it up to the volume editor, Bill Gray, to work out the precise significance of the term, but its use as a political category was enough to confirm the reading.

Written by pennyfielding

13/06/2012 at 6:00 pm

Talks by the EdRLS Essay Editors

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The Literary 1880s: James, Stevenson and the Literary Essay

As part of the Literary 1880s workshops, the editors of the new EdRLS edition of Stevenson’s essays were invited to present aspects of their work on 23rd March 2012, in the Conference Room of David Hume Tower, in the University of Edinburgh.


James and Beerbohm

First, we heard from two people on other 1880s essay topics. Workshop-organizer Andy Taylor explored the changing position of Henry James in his 1883 essay on Trollope. This enters the 1880s area of debate over Realism, French Naturalism, and the art of fiction to which RLS made important contributions in essays such as “A Note on Realism” and “A Humble Remonstrance”, but the focus here was on James’s shifting attitude to Trollope and his position in the cultural rivalries of Britian and the USA.

Then Sara Lodge talked on Max Beerbohm and “camp aesthetics”, in which she made many points of interest to our exploration of Stevenson’s essays, starting with her thoughts about the essay as a literary genre, identifying it as a performative form associated with the creation of a persona, and so related to the dramatic monologue.

This she saw as developing from the 1820s onwards, citing Lamb and Hazlitt — though my view of Stevenson’s essays is that he revives this tradition after it had disappeared under the oratorical and earnest emphatic style of the mid-Victorian monthly magazines. So in what way was the obvious “performance” of the high-Victorian sages different from that of Lamb, Hazlitt and Stevenson? Perhaps readers of this blog would like to comment.

The essay, Sara continued, is also like a confession — and here she referred to Adam Phillips, who the essay editors had seen speaking on this very subject (the affinities of the essay with the psychoanalytic narrative) at the Literary Essay conference at Queen Mary in London a few months before.

In any case, the essayist keeps a distance between the apparent and the real object of the writing, and this can be seen as either deliberate and artful, or unintended. The same can be said of performing in general: we are always performing, but we don’t realize it most of the time. One form of very self-aware performance, is “camp” behaviour.

(Sara sees the origin of “camp” in a distancing from aestheticism and as being created by Wilde. I feel that, although “camp” as “homosexual codes of signifying behaviour” is very probably modelled on Wilde, it has, however, a wider and non-homosexual meaning, deriving, as Susan Sontag suggests, from “the eighteeth-century pleasure of over-refinement”. Stevenson’s New Arabian Nights can be seen as a camp text, and was written in the 1870s before Wilde appeared on the London scene, and the reported behaviour and the discourse of RLS, Bob and Simpson also have, to me, clear campish aspects.)

Sara then illustrated self-mocking camp “failed seriousness”, the celebration of the absurdity of things, in the early essays of Beerbohm, such as “1880” and “An Infamous Brigade”.


The Essays of Robert Louis Stevenson

Robert-Louis Abrahamson opened the session on Stevenson’s essays with an overview of Stevenson’s career as an essayist. He made the point that the 1879-80 journey to California was not an immediate turning point. His essay-writing career falls into two main periods 1874-82 (with one essay in 1873) and 1883-88 (with one final essay in 1894).

His first essays were aesthetic, to fit their destination, the fine-art magazine Portfolio; and a focus on the visual arts also marked his group of essays for Henley’s Magazine of Art in the early 80s. Sidney Colvin steered him away from heavy subjects (the essays on Knox and Savonarola he had planned), seeing him as an irreverent ally in the Darwinian cultural wars. He also introduced him to Leslie Stephen’s Cornhill Magazine, which became his “home” for twenty essays  in the first part of his career, including most of those collected in Virgninibus Puerisque in 1881 and in Familiar Studies in 1882.

The magazine associated with later part of his career was the New York Scribner’s, where he published thirteen essays, including the monthly series published in 1888. These twelve essays have, strangely, never been published together in a sequence before, but will be so in our edition.

Alex Thomson then talked about Memories and Portraits (1887), the collection of essays that he is editing, characterizing it as an “Edinburgh book”, significantly placed in 1894 in volume 1 of the Edinburgh Edition, together with Edinburgh: Picturesque Notes.

The “Memories” of the title can be seen in the context of a Scottish tradition of “reminiscences” (for example, Ramsay’s Reminiscences of Sottish Life and Character) and of commemoration, linked to the desire to preserve the memory of a disappearing culture. The “Talk and Talkers” essays can also be seen in a Scottish Enlightenment tradition of conversation and sociability. “Portraits”, on the other hand, suggests more a London-based tradition of aestheticism (e.g. Pater’s Imaginary Portraits).

Examples were given of the changes between 1871 and 1887 in “An Old Scotch Gardener”, showing how Stevenson mostly deleted, allowing anecdotes to stand on their own without the earlier chatty interpretation.

These essays are self-reflexive (both about memories and the reflecting subject, as RLS admits in the prefatory “Note”), and so have interesting affinities to the romantic lyric poem. They also reveal a subject that is both detached from his culture, attracted to a wider cultural context outside Scotland, distrustful of nostalgia, yet desiring to get back into contact with his own cultural identity (a quandary suggested by the key concept of “the foreigner at home”).

Richard Dury: I talked on style and its important persuasive and relation-creating function in the personal essay. An indication of  its prominence is the way commentators illustrating Stevenson’s style in general have taken most of their quotations from the essays. His was a new voice in the 1870s, a reviver of Montaigne’s scepticism and an essayist who broke with high Victorian seriousness and emphasis.

I then went on to charactize Stevenson’s essay style through six broad characteristics: lightness, enthusiasm, variousness, playfulness, strangeness and “charm” — used merely as tools to understand an elusive and mobile set of features, and as a way to understand why reading these essays is a source of pleasure.

The playful, complex and unexpected linguistic form of Stevenson’s essays can be seen in terms of Stevenson’s own concept of the “knot”: a slight delay in understanding, and also an interweaving of strands. This form is interwoven with an equally fascinating play of thought, both of them working together in the exploration of a world that has no centre or essence, where language is mobile and malleable. The effect of “a lot going on” in form and meaning is to make the reader more aware of text as performance and reading as an event in time. Stevenson’s essays are works of great value in themseves: elusive, fascinating and memorable reading experiences.

Lesley Graham ended the afternoon with an overview of the history of the reception of the essays. Often appreciated above all as a brilliant essayist in his lifetime, in the early years of the twentieth century the essays were quarried for quotations (collected in slim self-help volumes), especially those emphasising on happiness and friendship and the importance of courage to face the struggle of life. These very aphorisms were then used to condemn the essays after the First World War.

In the USA, where the teaching of literature was associated with the teaching of writing, essays were a privileged genre and Stevenson’s  widely used as models. Then, however, there was a turn away from the literary essay in both Britain and the USA, “the death of the essay”, reinforcing Stevenson’s general decline in critical favour.

With perhaps the single exception of Furnas in 1951, critics then continued to mainly criticize and downplay Stevenson’s essays, including Daiches in 1947 and Saposnik in 1974. A significant moment of change comes in 1988, a year which saw the publication of three anthologies of Stevenson’s essays by Treglown, and (in translation) Le Bris and Almansi.


Manuscript transcription: volunteer helpers

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Neil Macara Brown

A ‘forty-niner’, that’s me in a Bruntsfield primary photo ten years later – around the time my not so Gradgrind teacher father ‘tipped’ me the Mervyn Peake illustrated Treasure Island, and I was never so innocent again. An early memory is of a visit with him to the house where RLS was born at Howard Place, when still a museum.

A good wind took me to Heriot’s School in Edinburgh, reeking of history and classical architecture, both of which remain passions. After embarking on a B. Ed. course in geography and history at Edinburgh in 1969, I changed tack midway, graduated as a youth and community worker from Moray House College of Education in 1974, and worked in centres in east Edinburgh for Lothian Regional Council from 1975.

In 1981-2 I did a post-graduate in Outdoor Education at Moray House, and then conducted environmental projects in Edinburgh, notably on the Water of Leith, organising the city’s Beautiful Britain project in 1983 and establishing the river’s Heritage Centre in 1988. I returned to community education work during 1990, but left the following year for child-care reasons. While a freelance writer I was asked contribute the Edinburgh section and other entries, some literary, to the Collins Encyclopaedia of Scotland first publication in 1994 and its revised edition in 2000.

My first serious attempts at writing on RLS began in the centenary year 1994, when items of his, which I inherited, were displayed at the ‘Treasure Islands’ exhibition in the Royal Scottish Museum; a chance meeting at Tollcross with the editor of Scottish Book Collector resulted a series of articles detailing RLS’s library – the start of a trail which many years later eventually led to an invitation from Richard Dury through Glenda Norquay to help compile the RLS Library database for assisting the Edition.

Several transcriptions, including ‘Colinton Manse’ and ‘The Water of Leith’, have come my way, but the most recent, ‘Winter’s Walk’ with its unpublished passages – very much a group effort along with Mafalda, Robert and Richard – has been the most enjoyable. There is something very satisfying about cracking the complicated code, which RLS, with all his knowledge and intelligence, hurriedly scribbled down in his notebook long ago and faraway; reading his vivid descriptions, his touching record of voices unheard for 150 years.

Written by rdury

05/04/2012 at 5:40 am

Fanny Stevenson’s short stories

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Sarah Ames, research assistant for New Arabian Nights: The Dynamiter, has this request for anyone out there interested in Fanny Stevenson:

Work is currently well underway for the EdRLS edition of More New Arabian Nights: The Dynamiter, which is being edited by John Lyon (University of Bristol). This was Stevenson’s only prose narrative collaboration with Fanny Van de Grift Stevenson (they also collaborated on a play, “The Hanging Judge”), and the Introduction of our edition will naturally examine the nature of that collaboration, and the question of Fanny’s contribution to the text. In order to do this we will be comparing samples of Fanny Stevenson’s writings with the text of The Dynamiter, to see if there are any similarities between the language in the texts, such as distinctive choices of words and sentence constructions.

With this in mind, we are currently working on digitizing Fanny Stevenson’s published short stories, with the aim of publishing them certainly as an on-line resource, and possibly as an appendix to the edition. Tracking these down, however, has been difficult, and has involved searching for a number of ‘different’ authors: ‘Fanny Stevenson’; ‘Fanny Van de Grift’; ‘Fanny Van de Grift Stevenson’ (with ‘Vandegrift’ variants); ‘Fanny Osbourne’, ‘F. M. Osbourne’; ‘Mrs Robert Louis Stevenson’…. With the help of Roger Swearingen and Richard Dury, our list now stands as follows:

‘Too Many Birthdays’ (St. Nicholas, 1878)
‘Chy Lung, The Chinese Fisherman’ (St. Nicholas, 1880)
‘The Warlock’s Shadow’ (Belgravia, 1886)
‘Miss Pringle’s Neighbors’ (Scribner’s Magazine, 1887)
‘The Nixie’ (Scribner’s Magazine, 1888)
‘The Half-White’ (Scribner’s Magazine, 1891)
‘Under Sentence of the Law: The Story of a Dog’ (McClure’s, 1893)
‘Anne’ (Scribner’s Magazine, 1899)

So far, we have digitized about half of these; we are still looking for scanned copies of: ‘Too Many Birthdays’, ‘The Warlock’s Shadow’ and ‘Chy Lung’.

Any help with our hunt for Fanny Stevenson’s texts would be gratefully received: does anyone possess scanned copies or scannable photocopies (or original magazines) of the two texts mentioned above? And does anyone know of any other of her short stories, besides the ones listed above, which were published?

Manuscript transcription: volunteer helpers

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Elaine Greig

Elaine will be familiar to many as the former curator of the Edinburgh Writers’ Museum, battling gallantly with the city corporation’s apparent indifference to a unique institution. She has recently been transcribing “On the Choice of a Profession”. She writes about her involvement in EdRLS:

“Like Stevenson, I was born and raised in Edinburgh, attending both school and university (MA Hons, Scottish Historical Studies, 1983, Edinburgh University) here.   Unlike him – although I have travelled widely in North America and Europe (including Russia) – I have always returned home to Auld Reekie where I live with my husband and two children.

I was always aware of Stevenson’s influence as a writer, having read Child’s Garden, Kidnapped and Treasure Island, but I only became more immersed in his life and writings when I became responsible for the collections of The Writers’ Museum as a curator with the City of Edinburgh Museums Service.  For over 20 years, Stevenson was a daily part of my life – while I received many enquiries relating to Burns, Scott and other Scottish writers, by far the most had a Stevenson connection. These came from people of all walks of life and from all over the world. A very interesting and rewarding occupation!

Due to family commitments, I left the Writers’ Museum at the end of 2008 but was keen to maintain my involvement with a man who had been part of my life for so long (my husband sees him as a serious rival!!). I am still a committee member of the RLS Club (and have been for over 20 years), and the opportunity to help transcribe Stevenson’s work was one I couldn’t miss! However, even with a good knowledge of Stevenson’s handwriting (and the benefit of having studied palaeography while at university) some of his writing can present a challenge!!

A definitive edition of Stevenson’s many works is long overdue and I am privileged to be able to play a small part in its achievement.”

Elaine Greig

Written by rdury

18/02/2012 at 9:13 am