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

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The Stevenson Manuscripts Collection at Harry Ransom Center

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Screenshot 2015-07-07 11.58.21

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.



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 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.

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)

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This sounds like Henley not apologising for having changed a poem by Stevenson (the person who might ‘tax’ him about it). Here it is: on 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

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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: Here, 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). (This supposition is confirmed in a later post.)

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.

Stevenson’s Montaigne, part 2

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part 1 | part 3


Columbia University


Columbia University


La Città Ideale

Columbia University, situated on the upper west side of Manhattan, north of Central Park, has a campus of lawns and wide pedestrian avenues that has the feel of a garden suburb, while the calm spaces around the monumental buildings are reminiscent of Piero della Francesca’s ‘Città Ideale’. One of these buildings (below) is the Butler Library, beaux-arts neoclassical in style, where I was headed in order to look at Stevenson’s copy of Montaigne.butler libraryUp on the top floor, in Rare Books and Manuscripts, I went through registration pleasantly enough thanks to a young lady with public relations skills, received a locker key on a large, slender iron ring (like that of an old-fashioned gaoler), stowed my things, entered the corridor-like reading room with a couple of dozen tables, handed in my request and was “all set”, waiting for the books to arrive.

Stevenson’s Montaigne: First impressions

The edition consists of four volumes in good condition (stoutly bound, well-printed, on good paper) that have been much marked by Stevenson: his typical vertical lines in the margin, occasionally double (very occasionally triple), some underlining, and a few comments written in the margin or (for translations) between the lines. I immediately realized there were too many markings to log them all, so decided to note only double lines, underlinings and comments.

I started on volume 1 (containing Montaigne’s Book I) and immediately finished it: there are just two markings: a double line marking of a passage of ‘To the Reader’ and one single marginal mark on the first page of the first essay.

Volume 2, containing about half of Montaigne’s Book II (including the very long ‘Apology for Raimond Sebond’), shows many signs of having been read: there are markings on 12 of the 18 essays.

Strangely, the second half of Montaigne’s Book II in the following volume has markings for only 2 of the 19 chapters. But this volume 3 contains the beginning of Montaigne’s Book III, every essay of which is marked, both here and in its continuation in volume 4 (which has the last four essays and then other matter).

From the evidence here, it looks as if Stevenson skipped his volume 1, carefully read volume 2, and then concentrated on Montaigne’s Book III. This squares with what he says about often reading Montaigne without any attempt to read him from cover to cover: in ‘A Gossip on a Novel by Dumas’ (1887), he confesses

I have never read the whole of Montaigne, but I do not like to be long without reading some of him, and my delight in what I do read never lessens.

He remains one of six ‘continual literary intimates’, his Essays among ‘the books that we re-read the oftenest’:

One or  two of Scott’s novels, Shakespeare, Molière, Montaigne, The Egoist,  and the Vicomte de Bragelonne, form the inner circle of my  intimates.

His ‘Ideal House’ (1883) has a ‘little room for winter evenings’ containing ‘three shelves full of eternal books that never weary starting’; the list that follows is longer, but starts ‘Shakespeare, Moliere, Montaigne…’.

Selective reading of Montaigne

Unmarked essays were not necessarily unread by Stevenson: he may have read them in the Cotton translation (which—I kick myself—was there in the Columbia Rare Books—overlooked by me); he could also have read them in another unrecorded edition, or read them without marking them. This said, marked essays certainly were read by him and found of interest.

Book I

The lack of markings in Book I is not totally surprising: Montaigne is here still groping for his method; the essays contain many classical exempla with an emphasis on stoicism (this evolution of Montaigne’s ideas—from the stoicism of the early essays to a position in the later essays that it is ‘in living happily, not […] dying happily that is the source of human contentment’—is one of the threads of Saul Frampton’s recent study When I am Playing with My Cat…).

It is a little surprising, however, to find no markings at all, given the affinity pointed out by Cinzia Giglioni (in European Stevenson, ed. Ambrosini and Dury, 2009) between Stevenson’s own ideas and interests and essays in Montaigne’s Book I with titles like: ‘Of Idleness’, ‘That to Study Philosophy is to Learn to Die’, ‘Of the Force of the Imagination’, ‘Of Pedantry’, ‘Of the Education of Children’, ‘Of Friendship’, ‘Of Cannibals’ (containing the epigram ‘Chacun appelle barbarie ce qui n’est pas de son usage’, which must surely have inspired Stevenson), and others.

The Stoic acceptance of death at the end of ‘Ordered South’ (1874) does indeed seem very close to one of these essays:

Montaigne, from ‘To Study Philosophy is to Learn to Die’ (I.19):
nature, leading us by the hand, an easy and, as it were, an insensible pace, step by step conducts us to that miserable state [death], and by that means makes it familiar to us, so that we are insensible of the stroke
Stevenson, from ‘Ordered South’ (1874):
in this dulness of the senses there is a gentle preparation for the final insensibility of death. And to him the idea of mortality comes in a shape less violent and harsh than is its wont, less as an abrupt catastrophe than as a thing of infinitesimal gradation, and the last step on a long decline of way


Perhaps if I had looked Stevenson’s copy of  Cotton I might have found that passage marked… [But see Neil Brown’s comment to this post.]

The same essay by Montaigne contains a call to live life without regard to death, a theme of ‘Æs Triplex’ (1878). Here the possible influence is less direct. Montaigne’s humble image of planting cabbages is perhaps transformed to the more noble writing of a folio, and it may have inspired the striking reference to everyday objects elsewhere in the essay: umbrellas, salad, cheese and ginger-beer bottles.

Montaigne, from ‘To Study Philosophy is to Learn to Die’ (I.19):
I would always have a man to be doing, and, as much as in him lies, to extend and spin out the offices of life; and then let death take me planting my cabbages, indifferent to him, and still less of my garden’s not being finished
Stevenson, from ‘Æs Triplex’:
It is better to live and be done with it, than to die daily in the sick-room. By all means begin your folio, even if the doctor does not give you a year

That he had certainly read and knew Book I is shown by the quotation here in ‘John Knox’ (1875) to ‘the “two or three children” whom Montaigne mentions having lost at nurse’ , which is a reference to Montaigne’s Book I essay (with a long title) ‘That the relish for good and evil depends in great measure upon the opinion we have of them’.


Book II

In Samoa Stevenson reports that he is reading the second book of Montaigne and ‘This morning I have read a splendid piece of Montaigne’ (L7, 179; Oct 1891). We know that this was a book already familiar to him:

  • ‘The English Admirals’ (written late 1877) incorporates a long quotation from Montaigne’s ‘Of Glory’ (Book II.16) in Cotton’s translation.
  • In a letter of 1885 he alludes to a passage in ‘An Apology for Raimond Sebond’ (Book II.12): ‘as Montaigne says it [literature] is a pot with two handles, and I own I am wedded to the technical handle’ (L5, 91-2), a passage marked by by two vertical lines in vol 2 of this edition.

Book III

The markings on every one of the essays in Montaigne’s Book III after sparse markings in the second half of Book II shows that he read this Book through from start to finish. It is probable that this was what wanted to read (divided as it is between volumes 3 and 4 in his edition) when he wrote to his parents from Bournemouth in December 1884 to ‘bring […] my Montaigne, or, at least, the two last volumes’ (L5, 45). To be more exact, this was the section he wanted to re-read:

  • In the letter of October 1873 in which he tells Fanny Sitwell he has been reading Montaigne as he dined alone, he quotes in French from ‘De la Physiognomie’ (Book III.12) (L1, 339).
  • In ‘François Villon, Student, Poet and Housebreaker’ (written April-May 1877) ) he quotes from ‘De ménager sa volonté’ (Book III.10),  using Cotton’s translation: ‘Shall we not dare to say of a thief,’ asks Montaigne, ‘that he has a handsome leg?’
  • In ‘Crabbed Age and Youth’ (written just afterwards, July–August 1877) he writes: ‘While Calvin is putting everybody exactly right in his Institutes, and hot-headed Knox is thundering in the pulpit, Montaigne is already  looking at the other side in his library in Perigord, and  predicting that they will find as much to quarrel about in the Bible as they had found already in the Church’. This seems to be an allusion to a passage in ‘De l’expérience’ (Book III.13): ‘they but fool themselves, who think to lessen and stop our disputes by recalling us to the express words of the Bible: forasmuch as our mind does not find the field less spacious wherein to controvert the sense of another than to deliver his own; and as if there were less animosity and tartness in commentary than in invention’ (Cotton’s translation). Against this passage in this French edition, Stevenson has written ‘Calvin?’
  • He quotes from ‘De l’expérience’ again in ‘A Night Among the Pines’ in Travels with a Donkey (written December 1878–January 1879), using Cotton’s translation again: ‘We are disturbed in our slumber only, like the luxurious Montaigne, ‘that we may the better and more sensibly relish it.’  We have a moment to look upon the stars.’

This concentration is unsurprising: Book III contains Montaigne’s profoundest insights, in its affirmation of the value of experience, the unity of man and animals and nature, the need for toleration and sympathy, the relative nature of cultural norms. So, in his reading of Book III, Stevenson was concentrating on the most original and revolutionary aspects of Montaigne’s philosophy.

Part 3 of the posting

But this is getting over-long. A concise summary of markings will be the subject of a (I hope shorter) third posting.

Elusive London

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Missing book

Have you ever had that experience of approaching open-stack shelving, and seeing a gap at about the point where the book you want should be, and—first fearing, then hoping against hope, then knowing—as you reach the spot and trace your finger right and left along the call-numbers on the spines that, yes: the gap corresponds to that very book?

I had a similar experience the other day in the Beinecke Library with Robert-Louis Abrahamson, when we called up their copy of London (remember: the only copy outside the British Library and that one now “in quarantine”). The months from July to September, we had discovered, possibly contained four ‘articles’ by RLS. HScreen shot 2013-10-20 at 07.18.39ere are the holdings—a full set, you might think, covering 1877-79. But when the ponderous volumes arrived and I asked for the one covering July to September 1878, I discovered that there is a curious gap in the series: that very period.

(By the way, if the image comes out ‘squashed’, just click on it and then use the back button: this works for me.)

Presumably Edwin Beinecke had these copies made (they are negative photographic prints but perfectly legible) and would have had the whole series. Has one been lost? But how does you lose such a bulky and weighty item?

After this, I sent an email to the British Library Newspaper Division, on the off-chance—but they replied saying there’s no chance of having a look at London before March 2014.

Slight compensation

RLA and myself are working in the Beinecke on adjacent tables and the day after this disappointment he handed me this letter from Bob to Henley of December 1878:

Much obliged for London and Article on the Pictures by you of course. There was one on evidence in Court which I concluded Louis to have written or suggested for many reasons.

So here we have something to look at in one of the volumes at Yale—not seriously expecting anything but curious to see why (apart form the subject-matter) Bob might have thought it was by RLS. …Except that I had already checked in the volumes, and the full catalogue entry now reads:

Screen shot 2013-10-20 at 07.05.05“v. 4 1878: Oct.-Dec. Checked Out – Due on 04-16-2014”! No, I don’t believe it: already checked out again and due back on 16 April? No, that must refer to the period we were given to consult the volumes, with the record not yet updated. Mustn’t it?

Written by rdury

20/10/2013 at 12:43 pm

Weir of Hermiston MS in Philadelphia

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

Free Library of Philadelphia

image: Quondam – a virtual museum of architecture


While in Princeton I took a day’s excursion to The Free Library in Philadelphia to look at the manuscript fragment from Weir of Hermiston that I had uncovered through scrolling through their rather labyrinthine finding aid. The Rare Books collection holds a surprising amount of RLS, as Richard noted in his previous post (Stevenson MSS in Philadelphia). I could, however, only secure a two and a half hour slot in their tiny (two desk) reading room.  The  Free Library building on Vine Street is wonderful: enormously grand and imposing both outside and within, but also clearly a very well-used building, with a range of public reading rooms and plenty of people using them.

The Rare Books collection is housed on the third floor, accessed only by lift, and I had to wait some time (standing under the scrutiny of a video camera) before someone came to answer my call on the bell. The reading room is, as they said, a city block’s walk away from the entrance. The staff however could not have been more welcoming or helpful.

‘Weir’ fragment

I was given space, time, and a magnifying glass with which to study the single sheet fragment, folded into four pages. The pages are stained and creased, once folded into a pocket-sized package. The content is draft of a key episode in the novel : the ending of the chapter entitled ‘A Leaf from Christina’s Psalm-Book’, and details Kirstie’s return from meeting Archie and her mixed feelings of guilt, pleasure – and anxiety when Dand notices her pink stocking.  I will leave it to Weir’s editor, Gill Hughes,  to report on the significance of the pages but it is clearly a useful addition to our understanding of the novel’s composition.

FLP Rare Books Department

Time, of course, flew past in the reading room but just before the Rare Books Department was closed for the day Reference Librarian Joseph Shemtov very kindly took me for a tour of their magnificent William Elkins room. As their website notes:

The bequest of William McIntire Elkins, who died in 1947, brought his entire library, containing major collections of Oliver Goldsmith, Charles Dickens and Americana, as well as miscellaneous literary treasures. With the Elkins bequest came the gift of the room itself with its furnishings, through the generosity of his heirs. The installation of the 62-foot-long paneled Georgian room in the third floor of the Central Library at Logan Square took place over the next two years, and the Rare Book Department opened in 1949.

I was able to see Charles Dickens’ desk, the wonderful collection of books, and even the stuffed raven owned by Dickens that had inspired Edgar Allen Poe.  The Library runs a tour of the room once a day.

Although it can be a challenge to navigate their website, the Free Library is well worth a visit.  I was even able to purchase an Edgar Allan Poe finger-puppet with which to converse in those evenings after the Princeton Reading Room closes.  Have I been here too long…?


Stevenson MSS in Philadelphia

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A few days ago, Glenda Norquay, researching in Princeton for her edition of St. Ives,  came across the Literary MSS finding aid of the Free Library of Philadelphia, and saw that it contains, unexpectedly, sixteen RLS manuscripts. A few of these were catalogued by the Library when Roger Swearingen’s compiled his Prose Works of Robert Louis Stevenson and are found there (the Earraid sketchbook, the fragment of Sophia Scarlet), but this new finding aid (published 2012) reveals a number of items (subsequently acquired or catalogued) that came as a complete surprise:

Autograph manuscript signed (fragment) of Weir of Hermiston. 4 pages

Two copies of Deacon Brodie with corrections in Stevenson’s hand

Corrected proof sheets of Memories and Portraits (‘1 volume’—no information on the number of pages; could this be proofs for the whole volume?)

South Seas material, from “Part V. The Gilberts. XLVIII. Butaritari”, 2 pp.

MS of part of ch XIX of The Wrecker (probably precede the 5 leaves at Princeton), 19 leaves, making this the most important fragment of MS material of this work

Corrected copy of Father Damien

Fragment of Weir of Hermiston, 4 pp.

Autograph manuscript signed (draft) of several verses and revisions, with a sketch, 1 page (“Previously identified as intended for A Child’s Garden of Verses, but unpublished there.”)

A finding aid to finding the finding aid

Archive material may be fully available and exhaustively catalogued, but sometimes the catalogue (or the MS finding aid) is very difficult to find. When Gill Hughes told me about Glenda’s discovery, I went to the home page of the FLP and searched for ‘special collections’, ‘rare books’ and manuscripts’—no joy. Then I tried the green side-tab ‘Explore’, and then the top-tab ‘Find a location’—but for all my exploration, never a thing did I find. So I tried ‘Programs and Services’ (could that cover library departments?) and finally found ‘Rare Books Department’. Hooray! So I clicked on that, clicked on ‘Collections’ and then on ‘Literature – Learn more’ which contained links to… only two finding aids: Dickens and Poe. No mention of Stevenson. I’d reached a dead-end.

Research in these labyrinths his slaves detains…

In the meantime a kind friend sent me the pdf, but I was determined to find the dang thing myself. This is how I did it: I clicked on Ask,  made a desultory stab at Browse or Search FLP Knowledge Base (who knows?), browsed, searched, then found and clicked ‘Rare Books’ (I’d been given a help: Gill had told me the department was called by that name); this took me to Rare Books FAQ, where FAQ-18 is ‘Does the Rare Book Department have any finding aids?’ The brief answer to this has a clickable link which—unlike that decoy Rare Books page with only two finding aids—had the whole list. I’d finally reached the centre of the maze with the champaign luncheon! And there it was: Literary Manuscripts Collection, readable online or downloadable as pdf.

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)