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

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Scribner’s and Weir: a premature ‘puff’

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This post is contributed by Glenda Norquay, presently working an edition of St. Ives for the Edition.


In my last few days at Princeton I found an interesting little twist to the tangled narrative of Stone & Kimball and Scribner’s and the competition for his late fiction.

So sure were Scribner’s that they were going to get the publication rights of Weir of Hermiston in the United States that their editor, E.L. Burlingame wrote to Sidney Colvin on the 5 September 1895:

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Edward L. Burlingame

There is one other great kindness that you could do us in this matter and that I think would be a great factor in the success of the publication. You have mentioned in your letters that both you and Henry James who had read “Weir of Hermiston” thought it beyond comparison the finest thing that Stevenson had done. If you were willing to let us quote you both as holding this opinion, and if you care to express it in words which imply a comparison, to let us quote you as saying that it reaches at least his highest level – I can think of nothing that would so quickly lead to the favorable recognition of our announcement of it.  “The Fables”, the paper of extracts from the “Vailima Letters”, and perhaps the beginning of “St Ives” all preceding it, and two of them being comparatively minor things (of course I do not speak of the “Vailima” book) it is most important for us to prevent in the public mind the idea that this is a small matter, and to make known the truth that it is really the one upon which his ambition was specially centred during his last two or three years.
(1894 November 15 – 1895 September 13; 1894 November 15 – 1895 September 13; Archives of Charles Scribner’s Sons, Box 901; Manuscripts Division, Department of Rare Books and Special Collections, Princeton University Library.)

While the evaluation of the other works as ‘small’ may be questioned (especially by the editor of one of them), the publishers were clearly aiming to make as much of Weir as they possibly could.  Yet by the end of the year (9 December) Charles Scribner has this to communicate to Lemuel Bangs, their London representative:

There is nothing further to record about Stevenson’s story; it has been sold to the Cosmopolis and Stone & Kimball will publish it in this country. Baxter’s contract  with Stone & Kimball knocked us out … but it was a high price to pay for an incomplete story and all things considered perhaps we are well off without it.
(L. W. Bangs; 1893 February-1900 January; Archives of Charles Scribner’s Sons, Box 972; Manuscripts Division, Department of Rare Books and Special Collections, Princeton University Library.)

As my earlier blog noted, however, this did not diminish Scribner’s eventual pleasure in gaining control of all Stevenson’s work in the U.S..

The Ebb-Tide, 1st ed., 1894, published by Stone & Kimble

The Ebb-Tide, 1st ed., 1894, published by Stone & Kimble

Weir of Hermiston, 1st ed., 1896, published by Charles Scribner's & Sons

Weir of Hermiston, 1st ed., 1896, published by Charles Scribner’s & Sons


Scribner’s and Stevenson’s posthumous works

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This post is contributed by Glenda Norquay, presently working an edition of St. Ives for the Edition.

With the kind support of a Friends of the Princeton Library grant, I have been working in the Rare Books Room, Firestone Library, on a larger project that has emerged out of the editing of St Ives. Although my focus is on a network of transatlantic conversations between writers and publishers, Stevenson is of course a key figure.

Baxter takes Stevenson business away from Scribner’s

One of the most difficult exchanges in publishing negotiations around St Ives relates to Charles Baxter’s selling the rights to Stone & Kimball rather than Stevenson’s established publishing house in the States, Charles Scribner’s Sons (see my previous post ‘Baxter takes on American publishers and gives it to them straight’).  Yesterday I found a typed letter from Frank Doubleday, Scribner’s Business Manager, dated 7 December 1895, describing an encounter with Kimball:


Frank Doubleday

I have just been in Stone Kimball’s offices and Kimball tells me he has signed the contract for “St Ives” and “The Weir of Hermiston”. I asked him if he paid so much for it that he will have trouble getting his money back.   He replied that I need not bother about that and that he got them at a very reasonable price. He also stated that the Vailima letters sold so well that he cannot print them rapidly enough, to all of which I listened to with attention. The serial rights of “Hermiston” he has sold to Fisher Unwin and the novel is to appear in English, French and German in his magazine Cosmopolis which I suppose you know.
[Archives of Charles Scribner’s Sons, C0101 Box 160, F. 11]

Although aware of the tensions around this particular deal, I enjoyed what appears to be a restrained bitterness in Doubleday’s account of a particularly galling situation for them.

Stone & Kimball go bankrupt

In the end of course Stone & Kimball suffered such significant financial losses, partly because of their Stevenson dealings, that their business collapsed. Scribner’s then had the satisfaction of publishing St Ives in its American book form.

A letter from Arthur Scribner , 24 March 1896, suggests some enjoyment of the situation:

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Arthur Scribner

From several sources we learned that Stone & Kimball were hard up, the elder Mr Stone is tired putting up the money, perhaps is a little short himself, and have more inclination that they might be willing to part with Mr Stevenson’s rights.
[Arthur Scribner sets out the terms of a possible deal, commenting:]
‘The price for The Weir & St Ives seems very high at this time now that the Stevenson’s boom has a little subsided, but it does seem to me that the whole amount secured by us would be most valuable in the end.
[Archives of Charles Scribner’s Sons, C0101 Box 160 F.16]



An old friend at Scribner’s, Edward L. Burlinghame

As the Scribner’s editor who  worked most closely with Stevenson, Edward L. Burlingame had also been deeply disappointed, on a personal as well as business level, with the apparent snubbing of Scribner’s. He remained, however, a staunch enthusiast for R.L.S. as a late letter (9 July 1914 ), reflecting on the dangers of a writing having too ‘English’ a frame of reference indicates: Galsworthy’s work, he thought:


Edward L. Burlinghame

seemed to me to have considerable difficulties, not only in his rather pronounced English environment and association rather than his point of view (you see what I mean by the distinction), but because he doesn’t have quite the appeal to the human being as distinguished from the literary reader which seems so essential to the full success of end–papers and similar month-to-month essays. Stevenson of course even in his most ‘literary’ moments had this in the highest degree.
[Archives of Charles Scribner’s Sons, C0101 Box 160 F.10]

Written by rdury

12/10/2013 at 7:01 am