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

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New Edinburgh Essays I published

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Robert Louis Stevenson, Virginibus Puerisque and Other Papers ed. by Robert-Louis Abrahamson, The New Edinburgh Edition of the Works of Robert Louis Stevenson  (Edinburgh: Edinburgh University Press, 2018).

Published October 2018. £80 (and for around £77 from Amazon).

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Writing Explanatory Notes

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I don’t know about you, but when I pick up a new annotated edition I go straight to the explanatory notes—the salted peanuts of the volume as far as deliciousness and difficulty of stopping are concerned. Unlike salted peanuts, however, they are all different: more like a series of entries in that fascinating publication Brewer’s Dictionary of Phrase and Fable. It would seem that we are hard wired as a species to like random information—which might explain, to a puzzled observer like myself, the addictive nature of mobile phones.

When it comes to writing such notes, however, you are immediately aware of a series of problems, and it was to share ideas about this that Prof. Burkhard Niederhoff kindly invited fellow essay-editor Lesley Graham and myself to speak for a morning in June this year at the University of Bochum. This gave us an opportunity to think about our experience in writing notes; what follows are a few notes about what was said, followed by a summary of a recent article and information about a conference on this very subject.


General considerations (Lesley Graham)

1. What we annotate. 1. literary, biblical and historical allusions; 2. words that are not immediately understandable; 3. words in a foreign language; 4. proper names; 5. cross-references to themes covered by Stevenson elsewhere; 6. biographical details; 7. facts that can be checked.

2. The imagined reader. Someone a little like ourselves. Not a school child, but not a literary expert either. Not an expert in either essays, history, philosophy, the life of Stevenson or 19th Century philosophy, but someone with a curious mind. Not necessarily a Westerner, but someone with at least a basic knowledge of the Western literary canon. Not a fluent speaker of French or Italian or Scots, or German, nor a reader of Latin, but someone that knows what voilà and al fresco mean. And probably someone who will occasionally like to take some of these notes a little further.
[RD: 1. For the essays in particular, we imagine a range of readers: the notes here, apart from as a way of understanding the text, are going to be read for a wide range of documentary reasons, so, for example, it’s a good idea to provide relevant background biographical information.]

3. Wouldn’t digital annotation be better? Hyperlinks can be detrimental to a profound reading experience; the affect is engaged in different ways when we see an essay as a whole self-standing thing with its own current and internal logic rather than an organic, pulsing jump off point. Our job in the volume is to accompany the reader, without allowing him/her to go off on long detours, in a reflective reading experience, to facilitate the reading of the work, to accompany the reader’s understanding and appreciation of it but doing some of the hard work of establishing context, definition, and allusion but none (or very little) of the joyful, heuristic work.

4. Restraint. There are so many fascinating facts to be found and that may seem highly relevant but when you step back and look at the whole thing again, you realize you have to cull the extraneous material if you want to preserve the joy of discovering the essay for the reader.

5. Some problems found while annotating the essays.
1. Stevenson writes either two or three parish churches: should we supply information where the author is deliberately vague? (in this case, no).
2. Obscure terminology, e.g. travellers, and headers, and rubble, and polished ashlar: should we define terms that Stevenson did not expect his readers to know? (we decided, yes in this case).
3. Avoid self-indulgent additional information, e.g. Turnberry Point: should we mention the Trump golf-course there now? (no; restraint required). Dunfermline, in whose royal towers the king may be still observed (in the ballad) drinking the blood-red wine: in supplying the allusion to the ballad should we add historical information about royal connections of the town (we thought not).
4. And a lord he was (reading a Greek New Testament on the beach of Fair Isle): do we need to identify him? (yes;  Stevenson does so in his letter from Fair Isle).
[RD: Item (iv) is a case of Stevenson’s use of allusions that are known to only a small number of readers or often only by himself. The essay editors in their discussions have called these ‘bald allusions’ and Barry Menikoff, with reference to Kidnapped, has called the phenomenon ‘subtextual meaning’: ‘Stevenson actually defies rather than helps his real readers. He forces them to uncover the allusions for themselves, but nothing is lost if they do not. For the surface prose is sufficient unto itself; the literal meaning of the text can be followed with no difficulty whatever’ (Narrating Scotland, 60; see also 59-60, 91-2, 109). I think it’s clear that the reader of an annotated edition will want to have these allusions explained.]
5. My business lay in the two Anstruthers: do we provide date and Stevenson’s reason for being there? (yes: the essays will be used by those interested in Stevenson’s biography.)
6. Shell House: should we supply more information about this place? (yes: the essay will be used by those interested in local history, so we need to explain the ‘snatches of verse’ and to point out that its location as an ‘outpost’ to Anstruther Wester is the result of a confusion with another shell-decorated house).

6. Excluded from Explanatory Notes in the essays.
1. any analysis of the structure of the essay, of its internal logic.
2.the editor’s personal reading, irrelevant in a scholarly edition. This is at once frustrating (I would love to tell you about how I believe ‘An Education of an Engineer’ is really about the difficulty of communication and the risk of miscommunication, but also humbling and affords freedom for follow up studies and analyses.)

7. Lightness (RD). 1. put first the most important and the relevant things; 2. put things in chronological (and other ‘natural’) order; 3. don’t use complicated series of subordinate clauses etc.; 4. give the most probable explanation without too much hedging.


Writing definitions (Richard Dury)

1. Place the gloss or definition first.
Scots law the legal system of Scotland: under the 1707 Act etc. [more information]
A medlar the fewer on the three-legged medlar-tree! one rotten fruit the fewer on the gallows tree; medlar: etc. [glosses and commentary on ‘medlar’ and ‘three-legged’].

2. Make the gloss syntactically equivalent to the lemma. Examples: check-string cord etc (not ‘a cord’); doubled … with played by the same actor as. The definition should ideally be able to replace the lemma in the text.

3. Don’t copy-and-paste the OED definition. This is difficult in our edition anyway, where the note starts with a lower case letter if preceded by an elided ‘is’ or ‘means’ (e.g. ‘Scots law [is] the legal system of Scotland’) and OED definitions always start with a capital letter; difficult anyway because you will often be glossing a noun or verb not in the dictionary citation form, so the ‘lemma’ followed by the OED definition would not make a coherent sentence (see previous item). Other reasons for adapting the OED definition or writing your own definition are given in the following points. [LG It may be useful to compare the OED definition with other dictionary definitions]

4. Make OED definition clearer and more concise if necessary. OED definitions will cover many cases, for the Explanatory Notes only the relevant parts should be included. You may also be able to make the formulation less wordy than in the OED: e.g. : check-string a string by which the occupant of a carriage may signal to the driver to stop (OED) / cord inside a carriage, pulled to tell the driver to stop.

5. Look critically at OED definitions and the citations. The OED, like all sublunary things, is not perfect; you may need to write a definition not found there, e.g. the entry for hold the candle does not mention its use (from French) of ‘assist in a love affair’, though Stevenson uses the phrase alluding to this meaning on at least a couple of occasions. In other cases, reading the citations carefully will reveal a meaning not listed. [LG: When the citation is the very sentence you seek to elucidate, give yourself a clap on the back]

6. Look elsewhere for help in defining a word or phrase. 1. Look elsewhere in Stevenson’s works, e.g. a puzzling use of motive may be resolved by finding that he sometimes uses the word to mean ‘motif’ (for this you will need a corpus of Stevenson’s writings; I’ll try and provide this asap). 2. Look in related entries in the OED, e.g. a reference to Henry James and his humorists of ordinary life may be solved by looking at ‘humour’ meaning ‘a particular disposition, inclination, or liking’. 3. Search internet (including using Google Advanced Book Search) so that, instead of the general OED definition, sinnet, for example, can be defined with relevance to its use in the text: ‘braided, rather than twisted, cordage, (here) the typical flat, plaited coconut-fibre cords of the Pacific islands’. 4. Take into account what the reader needs to understand, phenomena possibly assumed as known by the OED, e.g. aspects and connotations of vanished Victorian domestic life such as pass-key and area. 5. Inspect the cognate word in French (see next point).

7. Be aware that Stevenson often invents new uses of words. The context is of more importance than the OED in determining Stevenson’s ‘nonce’ meanings, e.g. a generic in the following: ‘Boswell’s is, indeed, a very special case, and almost a generic’. After studying the whole context very carefully it seems clear that Stevenson is using ‘a generic’ to mean ‘a case apart, i.e. a genus on its own’, not found in the OED. Stevenson’s nonce-words or -uses are often calques from French: checking in the online Trésor de la lange française is a good strategy in doubtful cases. Check with Google Advanced Book Search to confirm a suspected original use by Stevenson.

8. The OED may only provide negative information (show what is not possible). For example blowing in the key cannot mean ‘thrusting in the key’ as there are no examples of ‘to blow’ as a verb derived from (the etymologically unrelated) noun ‘a blow’ (it means ‘blowing to remove any dust from the key before inserting it’).


3. An article on annotation

Matthias Bauer and Angelika Zirke (2017), ‘Explanatory Annotation of Literary Texts and the Reader: Seven Types of Problems’, International Journal of Humanities and Arts Computing, 11.ii (2017): 212-232.

The second part of the article describes a model of layered annotations for digital editions, but the following notes are only on the first part, which examines seven ways that existing annotations  do not take into account readerly needs. The comments there are of interest to both print and digital annotation.

The authors propose not to attempt guidance by an imagined readership but to provide annotations that are of use to a variety of readers and do not think that interpretation should be discarded from annotations altogether. They then analyze a series of actual annotations by asking two questions: (A) What knowledge does the annotation presuppose? (B) What knowledge does it provide? Here are the seven types of annotation problems.

1. Stating the obvious: explaining something that any potential reader will know already or can gather from the text itself.

2. Inconsistent assumptions and unclear functions: where the explanation assumes lack of knowledge in an area but uses unexplained terms from the same area; or provides information which does not have a clear function in understanding the text.

3. Presupposing (expert) knowledge: the assumption of knowledge that is never made explicit, as for example in a quotation from the same author that supplies a wider context (an enriching rather than explanatory annotation), when this is not clearly related to the text being annotated (just introduced by something like ‘Compare’).

4. Sending the reader on the wrong track: for example, using a general definition from the OED that omits important contextual meaning in the text being annotated or meanings supplied by the author’s personal use elsewhere.

5. Delimiting interpretation: giving one definition/explanation where more than one is plausibly present.

6. Offering intuitions without evidence: giving personal reactions (in an essay-like fashion)—the text annotated ‘becomes an occasion to think about one’s experiences and feelings’

7. Missing annotations: a missing annotation tells us either that nothing is to be explained or that explanation is impossible—in the latter case the difficulty should be dealt with in a note anyway.

The second half of the article gives information about digital annotation using the ‘Tübingen Explanatory Annotation System’ (TEASys), using three levels of information and eight categories that classify the content. As NEd is not using digital annotation, this part is less directly relevant to us. But here are the eight categories of annotation content which could well be of interest:

A   linguistic (lexicon, syntax etc.)
B   formal (verse, narrative structure, iconicity etc.)
C   intratextual (motifs, recurring structures etc.)
D   intertextual (relations to other texts)
E   contextual (biography, history, philosophy, theology, etc.)
F   interpretative (synthesis of A–E)
G   textual (variants relevant to the understanding of the text)
H   questions (items that require annotation; comments on research already done relating to an item).


A conference on annotation

‘Understanding (through) Annotations’ (15th International Connotations Symposium): July 28 – August 1 2019, Eberhard Karls University Tübingen (Germany).

We invite papers that are concerned with annotations to specific literary texts written in English and address their functions. Papers may also reflect on the speakers’ own  annotation projects, analyse existing annotations, offer suggestions as to a more systematic approach to the practise of annotating texts, and/or discuss historical and theoretical dimensions involved, such as the relation of lemma and context, part and whole, the envisaged reader of annotations, etc.

Please send an abstract (300 words max.) to the editors of Connotations by October 15, 2018 at symposium2019@connotations.de








Written by rdury

27/09/2018 at 1:55 pm

New Edinburgh Amateur Emigrant published

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Robert Louis Stevenson, The Amateur Emigrant ed. by Julia Reid, The New Edinburgh Edition of the Works of Robert Louis Stevenson  (Edinburgh: Edinburgh University Press, 2018).

Published May 2018. £80 (and for around £65 from booksellers associated with Amazon).

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Written by rdury

17/06/2018 at 8:36 am

New Edinburgh Weir of Hermiston published

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Robert Louis Stevenson, Weir of Hermiston, ed. by Gillian Hughes, The New Edinburgh Edition of the Works of Robert Louis Stevenson  (Edinburgh: Edinburgh University Press, 2017).

Published 5 June 2017. £80 (and for around £62 from booksellers associated with Amazon)


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See also Gill Hughes’s thoughts on working from Stevenson’s manuscripts in the preparation of this volume: Following the author’s hand

Written by rdury

05/01/2018 at 3:40 pm

Some College Memories and the view from 17 Heriot Row / 2

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Stevenson’s Study

Following the contribution from Neil Macara Brown, we can confirm that Stevenson’s study, which he sketched out in a letter in 1873 (Letters 1, 323), was indeed on the west side of the front of the house:

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The bottom left (SW) room is the only one on the top floor with a window opposite and to the right of the door and with a fireplace on the right-hand wall as you enter. Stevenson has got the proportions wrong; he has also left out one of the windows and the one window he draws does not correlate to the either of the windows in the other plan. It is unlikely, however, that he would have made a mistake about the relative positions of door, window and fireplace.

Here’s Stevenson’s plan the right way up with his description of it:

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The long Bookcase (A. A. A) is only about 3 feet 6 [high], so it is nice to sit on top of, especially in the corner, for I have a thorough child’s delight in perches of all sorts. The Box [near the door] is full of papers. Of course you see where I sit—on the chair that I have cross-hatched [i.e. behind the table], shut i among books and with the light in front all the day and at my right [from a gas lamp over the mantlepiece?]. I am going to buy a wicker arm chair so I shall have three chairs soon. I may say that in my sketch it [the chair?] has somehow got bigger than three times its right bigness, which is very odd; for I wish it were just a little smaller. Don’t you like the arrangement? (Letters 1, 324; to Fanny Sitwell, 1 Oct 1873)

Some College Memories’ and the view from 17 Heriot Row

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A post contributed by Richard Dury and John Macfie

‘Some College Memories’

In 1886 RLS, along with other illustrious former students, was asked to contribute to an anthology, the submitted manuscripts for which were then auctioned at a ‘Fancy Fair’ to raise funds for a Students’ Union house (Teviot Row House, opened in 1889).  His contribution, ‘Some College Memories’, was then included in The New Amphion, being the Book of the Edinburgh Union Fancy Fair published in November 1886, and later in Memories and Portraits (1887).

In the penultimate paragraph of this essay he warns present-day students about studying too hard by means of a moral tale about a student who studied hard for an exam, revising all night, and who then, as morning approached, looked out from his high room—inexplicably, the sight of the dawn filled him with nameless terror; he ran into the street but still had the memory and fear of his past fear. He was unable to write anything for the exam, and that night he had brain fever.

Here is how he describes the night of study and the coming of dawn:

It came to the eve of the trial and he watched all night in his high chamber, reviewing what he knew, and already secure of success. His window looked eastward, and being (as I said) high up, and the house itself standing on a hill, commanded a view over dwindling suburbs to a country horizon. At last my student drew up his blind, and still in quite a jocund humour, looked abroad. Day was breaking, the cast was tinging with strange fires, the clouds breaking up for the coming of the sun; and at the sight, nameless terror seized upon his mind.

This story is one of several thinly-disguised personal anecdotes in Stevenson’s essays which the reader knows must be about the writer, but which the writer continues to write in the third person, keeping a straight face all the time (the most unforgettable one is in ‘A Chapter on Dreams’). (I find the word ‘camp’ quite useful to describe such a situation where speaker and listener both know the joke but no-one is going to admit it.)

The many details of what was went on in the students mind are enough to show this is a personal anecdote, and the reference to ‘my student’ may (if you’re with me on this) be equivalent to a wink at the reader. But the point of the present post is not this: rather it is about the student’s house and the views from it—do they actually correspond to the views from Stevenson’s home at 17 Heriot Row?

The view from Stevenson’s window

This house has front windows looking approximately south from which the dawn could be seen, and back windows looking downhill over ‘dwindling suburbs’. Where was Stevenson’s room situated and with what view? and how can we square this with the view seen by the student? At this point we have the pleasure—and honour—to include a contribution from the present resident of the house, John Macfie, whose letter on the matter I here copy into the post.

Stevenson’s rooms, on the south

The front of the 17 Heriot Row faces southeast by south, the back northwest by north. Traditionally, the two rooms at the front of the second floor, the bottom two bedrooms on the plan below, were Louis’s rooms.

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These correspond to the top three windows in the following drawing:

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As I understand it, Thomas Stevenson raised what was originally an attic-and-dormer storey on the south front to full height, so Louis could have a proper pair of rooms. It is certain that the present frontage is an alteration, as it breaks the symmetrical pattern of the original facade. There is in fact a connecting door between to two rooms not shown on the plan.

The second-floor rooms

The arrangements for the other rooms on the top floor are a little speculative, but this is what seems likely to me, reading from the top left of the plan:

  • Top left bedroom: visitors or servants?
  • Between the top left and top right bedrooms, not on the plan, a w.c., there by at latest 1890.
  • Top right bedroom: this originally connected (the blocked door itself was there until a few years ago) to the room to the south, the present bathroom, to form a suite of sitting room and sleeping box that was quite a common pattern in houses like this until it was forbidden on safety grounds (fumes from gas lights in confined spaces being potentially lethal) on the early 1900’s. My guess is that this was Cummy’s room after she stopped sleeping in the same room with Louis.
  • Store: this has the feel of a sleeping box as well, with light borrowed from the skylight-lit bathroom via windows high in the wall, and ventilation slots in both the windows and the door. It may originally have been associated with the bottom right bedroom.
  • Bottom right bedroom: traditionally Louis’s night nursery then bedroom.
  • Bottom left bedroom: traditionally Louis’s day nursery then study.

Views from the windows

Though dawn’s early light would have been visible from the two front rooms, there would have been no dwindling suburbs or country horizons visible from here: allowing for the trees in the gardens being a century and a half smaller, the view would have been up the hill to the house-fronts of Queen Street.

The best candidate as the source of the country view described in ‘Some College Memories’ is the upper right bedroom, ‘Cummy’s room’. The photograph below was taken from that room and looks northwest by north down to Newhaven and Granton. The land falls away as described.

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If you look at the 1877 Ordnance Survey 6-inch to the mile map here, from the NLS map archive, you will see that while not exactly open country, much of the intervening space was green. In the photograph, the white arcaded buildings are in the Botanical Gardens.

As for the sunrise, an early summer sunrise (exam time) would certainly have been visible from the windows at the back. According to timeanddate.com, the sun rose in Edinburgh on 21st June at about 4:25 am and roughly in the NE, definitely within your field of view from up there.

And the window in the essay?

The view of the dwindling suburbs and the country horizon corresponds to the view from one of the  back rooms on the top floor of 17 Heriot Row. RLS could go into one or both of these back rooms if no-one else was there, and Cummy’s old room was possibly unoccupied after she left the family in 1871. It seems, then, that during his ‘all-nighter’ he stared out of the back window as well as the front, and it was from these he surveyed the distant countryside and saw the sun rise. So he description in the essay is not of what he saw from his rooms at the front, but what he saw from one of the back rooms, which he possibly also used or anyway had access to.


Following the author’s hand

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A post contributed by Gill Hughes
editor of Stevenson’s Weir of Hermiston in the New Edinburgh Edition

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A series of speculations

It is in working on a manuscript that an editor comes closest to the author, and in the case of Weir of Hermiston the manuscript record is unusually rich and full, comprising a wealth of draft material in Stevenson’s own hand as well as a final (though not finished) manuscript dictated by him to his step-daughter and amanuensis, Belle Strong. Following the author’s progress exerts an irresistible charm.

Stevenson himself, that great collaborator, plainly understood the attractions of watching the writer at work, for he invites the reader close to the narrator in the final text of Weir of Hermiston. The narrator’s account of the unpopularity of Frank Innes at Hermiston, for example, proceeds as a series of speculations, a gradual approach to the most plausible explanation.

Firstly the narrator posits that Frank’s technique of depreciation by means of a confidential conspiracy fails because of the admiration felt by the estate folk for both Lord Hermiston and Archie himself. Subsequently he reconsiders, deciding that in Frank’s condescension as displayed to Dand Elliott, ‘we have here perhaps a truer explanation of Frank’s failures’.

The reader is invited to participate in the narrator’s working out of the situation, the gradual evolution of an accurate apprehension.

A succession of drafts.

This process forms a curious parallel to the way in which Stevenson’s draft manuscript revisions operate. A situation envisaged by the author is reiterated and reassessed in a succession of drafts until he is satisfied with his representation and only then does he move forward again in his story. None of the draft material for Weir moves very much past the point at where the final manuscript breaks off, but there are multiple surviving attempts at earlier key passages—at least five, for instance, for the start of the first chapter where Stevenson was getting his narrative underway, and several for subsequent key points in the narrative that required peculiar care.

Chief among these are the interval between the execution of Duncan Jopp and Lord Hermiston’s confrontation of his rebellious son, and the forming of a bond between Archie and the younger Kirstie after their initial sighting of one another in Hermiston kirk. Stevenson’s revisions show how very far he is himself from the leisurely speculations of his narrator. He moves always from the explicit to the implicit, cutting out details that would make any writer of realist fiction proud. His draft description of Archie’s motherless childhood in the house in George Square, for instance, sticks in the memory:

That was a severe and silent house; the tall clocks ticked and struck there, the bell rang for meals; and beyond these periodic sounds, and the clamour of an occasional deep drinking dinner, it was a house in which a pin might be heard dropping from one room to another. […] When my lord was at home, the servants trembled and hasted on noiseless feet, the child kept himself trembling company in the tall rooms, and had but one concern—to avoid his father’s notice. (Morgan MA 1419, f. 17)

The child’s isolation in the tall rooms of a house could not be more vividly portrayed and yet Stevenson ultimately judged it inessential to the novel.

An editor’s experience

In editing Stevenson’s Weir of Hermiston one is brought close to a narrator who can seem prolix and provisional, an amiable and indulgent fellow-traveller through the story, but standing close beside him is a most painstaking and most uncomfortably ruthless artist. ‘That’s wonderful!’ I wanted to say to Stevenson of this passage in his draft material and of that. ‘Couldn’t you have left that bit in?’ But he pared back his own imaginative fecundity with an unsparing hand, and here and there in the editorial material I’ve tried to indicate where he has done it.