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

Archive for the ‘Resources’ Category

The Stevenson Manuscripts Collection at Harry Ransom Center

leave a comment »

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.


Screenshot 2015-07-07 14.06.50




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.



Weir of Hermiston MS in Philadelphia

leave a comment »

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’s Library

with 4 comments

Title page of Montaigne's Essais, the asame edition that RLS owned: see below "xxx"

Title page of Montaigne’s Essais, the same edition that RLS owned: see below “Good news: recently located items”

Reconstructing Stevenson’s Library

As part of the groundwork for the re-launched edition of Stevenson’s works by Edinburgh University Press a small group of volunteers, headed by Neil Macara Brown, are trying to list all the books in Stevenson’s Library, mainly by reference to Auction and Library catalogues. The Stevenson’s Library Database will include all books owned by Stevenson at some period of his life, the majority of which would have been present in the Vailima Library.

The Lost Books of Robert Louis Stevenson

At the moment, the main listing contains 1169 items, just over half of which have unfortunately disappeared from public view, still in private collections, not yet identified in Library catalogues, or (not too many, one hopes) destroyed. These 618 ‘lost books’ include the following items that it would be interesting to look at:

  • Stevenson’s copy of Sensations d’Italie (sold in New York in 1926) by Paul Bourget (the only person unknown to him to whom he dedicated a book) with “scorings and underlinings (approving)”
  • his childhood copy of Little Arthur’s History of England (1855) with (according to the 1914 New York auction catalogue) “hand-coloured illustrations and text forcefully obliterated where (re surrender of Charles I by the Scots) reads: ‘You will hardly believe, however, that those mean Scots actually sold the king to the English parliament: but they did so!'”
  • his edition of one of the authors he read most assiduously, Honoré de Balzac. This item did not apparently pass through any auction: when Oscar Wilde’s friend, Robbie Ross “came into the possession of the edition of Balzac which Stevenson had owned and  annotated he gave the whole set to Sidney Colvin” (E.V. Lucas, Reading, Writing and Remembering (3rd ed, London: Methuen, 1933), pp. 84-85 (so what did Colvin do with it?)
  • his copy of ‘Bagster’s Pilgrim’s Progress‘ (sold in New York in 1952), the subject of one of his essays, with the inscription: “Robert L. Stevenson. From Papa and Mamma, Jan. 1, 1858”
  • his copy of Pepys’ Diary (sold in 1914) “with many marked passages”
  • his copy of Samuel Richardson’s Works (sold in 1914) with “many pencil notes in the margins”
  • his copy of Spenser’s Complete Works (sold in 1914) with “pencil markings and notes throughout” including: “the Sea God’s ‘Bunket’ is a divine nut. R. L. S.”

Good News: recently located items

Thanks to the good work of Neil Macara Brown and Roger Swearingen, two important items have recently been located in public collections:

  • Stevenson’s copy of Montaigne’s Essais (Paris, 1865-66, 4 vols.) with “numerous annotations and critical remarks throughout; on fly-leaf: ‘The dispassionate Shakespeare of one character: himself'” – now in Columbia University Library.
  • his copy of The Globe Edition of the Works of William Shakespeare (London, 1873), with “numerous underscorings and marginal markings throughout”, in the Folger Shakespeare Library in Washington DC. According to Roger Swearingen, the Twelfth Night is “marked by RLS for the Jenkin theatricals” (i.e. with the cut lines marked).

More about the Stevenson Library project

Written by rdury

05/02/2013 at 10:06 am

Education of an Engineer: Stevenson and the diving suit

leave a comment »

In ‘The Education of an Engineer’, RLS talks about his attraction for the activity of the sea divers and their diving suits:

Only one thing in connection with the harbour tempted me, and that was the diving, an experience I burned to taste of. But this was not to be, at least in Anstruther; and the subject involves a change of scene to the sub-arctic town of Wick…. To go down in the diving-dress, that was my absorbing fancy

In a small sketch book used as a notebook now in the Beinecke Library (Notebook V), there is a crude drawing (right), showing a diver’s helmet. RLS was in Anstruther and Wick in the summer and autumn of 1868. The notebook is later: it contains material from the years 1875-77.

(The Beinecke now allows readers to take photos with their own digital cameras – this is one of the first I took; I hope to improve.)

Written by rdury

05/09/2012 at 11:39 am

Mehew Library comes to Edinburgh

with one comment

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

leave a comment »

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

The Music of Robert Louis Stevenson

leave a comment »

John Russell’s impressive ‘Music of Robert Louis Stevenson’ site has moved to music-of-robert-louis-stevenson.org. Latest additions are music for ‘Tempest Tossed’ and ‘My Ship and I’.

The site contains an essay on Stevenson and music, indexes of his compositions, charts and databases of the various forms and a bibliography. It is of importance to editors and readers of his poems, but it also illuminates the many references to music in letters and prose works.

John Russell is now finishing a print version of all his work, The Complete Musical Compositions and Arrangements of Stevenson. News of publication will be given in this blog.

Written by rdury

26/03/2012 at 7:48 am