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

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Sandbox: can an editor use a new title?

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Titles and terminology are protected by a certain sanctity: they are labels used by society and (to confine ourselves to written language) contained in an unknowable number of documents that would become, with any change, inexact.

Yet one would still like to change some of them. Of inadequate terminology, the young Stevenson himself had something to say in his ‘Numbered Notes’ of 1873-74 (the, ahem!, new title that—in this sandbox anyway—I wish to use for the, let’s admit it, rather inadequate title ‘Selections From His Notebook’):

Scientific language like most other language is extremely unsatisfactory, as being a series of petitiones principii—as being committed from beginning to end to former and less perfect theories. Look at the degraded terminology of Mechanics—the very name being a misnomer with its so-called mechanical powers and other misleading and incorrect expressions. Any attempt, again, to talk scientifically about heat or the variation of temperature involves, on the now proved dynamical hypothesis, a series of misstatements—a string of verbal confusions.


In the first volume of Stevenson’s uncollected essays, there are a few titles I am tempted to tweak. I hasten to add: only with minor works that seem to have been given inappropriate titles by other editors. Perhaps the best way to proceed would be to look at them one by one.

1. Dunoon

a.k.a. ‘A Retrospect’ (Edinburgh Edition; Swearingen); ‘Dunoon. Encounter with a Fortune-Teller, 1870’ and ‘Dunoon. Visit at a House in 1870 where R.L.S. had Spent a Week in Childhood’ (McKay and Yale finding aid)

Here we have an early manuscript (B 6174): five sheets written on both sides numbered 5–13, i.e. missing pp. 1–4 and, since the text started on p. 13 is truncated at the end of the page, missing following pages too. It consists of several separate pieces: on Hazlitt (abandoned), on Dunoon (the contrast between impressions on a recent revisitation and memories of a distant childhood visit) (which reaches a conclusion), on Imagination (just a paragraph, though possibly finished—a pensée) and Obermann (continued on lost sheets). These pieces are separated by short centred lines: apparently a collection of essay ideas written out neatly, on both sides of the sheets to save paper.

Then we have a later manuscript (B 6173—McKay thought it was earlier, hence the lower number), written on the same paper, in which RLS decided to link together his thoughts on Hazlitt and his anecdote about childhood memory (perhaps they were always intended to be linked, as he talks specifically of Hazlitt’s ‘On the Past and Future’ and adopts Hazlitt’s points in that essay that the future is nothing, while the past is a ‘real and substantial a part of our being’). However, he also decides to insert another element before the second part: the telling of his fortune by a crazy Highland woman on the occasion of the same recent revisitation Dunoon. Clearly, Dunoon had become a crossroads of timelines and an appropriate place for thinking about past and future. Unfortunately, he abandons the project shortly after starting to rewrite what is now the third section, the one about childhood memories, though the anecdote can be be picked up on the earlier draft, in front of RLS as he wrote.

A more accurate title would be perhaps ‘Dunoon: a prophecy and a recollection’ (‘recollection’ occurs eight times in the later draft), as this is announced in a summary sentence of the later draft:

What led me to the consideration of this subject and what has made me take up my pen tonight, is the rather strange coincidence of two very different accidents—a prophecy of my future and a return into my past.

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However, following a principle of least intervention, I propose to call the (fragmentary) essay ‘Dunoon’, which is a name used by McKay and is also contained in Colvin’s note placed under the title ‘(A Fragment: written at Dunoon, 1870)’. Colvin’s title ‘A Retrospect’ only refers to the anecdote about childhood memory and seems therefore to be based on a misunderstanding of Stevenson’s intentions as shown in the quotation above.

One might add that Colvin’s essay is also not exactly the same as the one we will publish, as he ends the anecdote of how childhood memories clashed with impressions on a return visit with a note ‘[Added the next morning]—’ and then continues with the pensée about, not memory, but the imagination, as if it were part of the same text, which it clearly is not.

Is the proposed title a legitimate intervention, or should I add the other title after it: ‘Dunoon (A Retrospect)’?

2. Scotland and England

a.k.a. ‘Differences of Country’ (Swearingen), ‘Differences of Country. Beginning of an Essay’ (McKay), ‘”Differences of country…”‘ (Yale finding aid, i.e. identifying it as an incipit rather than a title)

This, an unpublished fragment of an essay, starts with a series of notes to guide composition, each one separated by a dot with a space on either side (a sort of linear bullet-list):

Differences of country . The Channel & Tra los Montes . North and south
La verte Écosse et la bonne Italie . Skelts Dramas . Trees . Scotch Scene
Scotch & English houses . The Hill farm . &c.

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Unfortunately the MS ends in mid-sentence at the bottom of p. 3, so continued in a section now lost. What remains is a paragraph and a bit covering the first two points ‘Differences of country . The Channel & Tra los Montes’:

(Para 1) The individuality of a country that we remember depends on significant physical differences (for instance, ‘A country with a long bare seaboard must leave a very different impression from one into which the bright sea enters deeply, and the firths run far inland and lie about the roots of mountains for all the world like lakes, and the islands are so thickly scattered that they make the sea-run between them look shrunken and tortuous like a firth’) and differences of landscape created by different cultures and tastes , basically unchanged for centuries (and he cites a medieval French illumination with features of the countryside still typical today).
(Para 2) The Channel has done much to influence English thought; in Gautier’s Tra los montes we read of how a traveller going south sees a gradual change from France into Spain… (And here the MS ends.)

On 14 January 1875 RLS writes to Colvin:

I shall have another PRTFL [Portfolio] paper, so soon as I am done with this story [‘When the Devil was Well’] […] The Prtfl paper will be about Scotland and England.

‘When the Devil was Well’ seems to be written on the same paper as this fragment (I’ll be checking this in the Beinecke), which (another clue to dating) makes reference to the typical landscape of Romney Marsh—undoubtedly showing the influence of Basil Champneys’ A Quiet Corner of England, which he read in Oct-Nov 1874 (cf L2: 79), his review being published in The Academy of 5 Dec 1874. The ‘Prtfl paper about Scotland and England’ also fits in well with the summary notes at the top of p. 1 of our MS, which seem to sketch out an introduction about differences of landscape between different countries before moving on to specific landscape differences between Scotland and England (an interest already present in the obvious evocation of Scottish lochs and islands in Para 1). The reference to Skelt’s Dramas must be to the memory he includes in ‘A Penny Plain and Twopence Coloured’:

England, the hedgerow elms, the thin brick houses, windmills, glimpses of the navigable Thames—England, when at last I came to visit it, was only Skelt made evident: to cross the border was, for the Scotsman, to come home to Skelt; there was the inn-sign and there the horse-trough, all foreshadowed in the faithful Skelt.

So we have ‘Differences of country’, first item in a series of notes for the essay that is most probably the one ‘about Scotland and England’ referred to in the letter. I’d like to call it ‘Scotland and England’ Or should it be ‘Scotland and England (Differences of Country)’, or ‘Differences of Country (Scotland and England)’? Or no change at all?

3. Lay Morals (Man and Money)

‘Lay Morals’, an essay-treatise divided into four chapters, is a different case:  as it is a well-know work, changing the title is not advisable. However, RLS never refers to it with this title, written in pencil by another hand at the top of the 1879 MS.

The first two chapters seem to have been given the title ‘What We Teach’ (which covers the content of these chapters quite well) in an outline sketch in a notebook, and RLS refers in a letter to the whole project as ‘Man and Money’ (L2, 308; late March 1879) (and we find the following titles in lists of planned essays in the 1870s: ‘Morality and Money’, ‘Money’, ‘On Money’ and ‘Money and Morals’). Even though this latter title seems to apply most to Chapter IV, it also embraces Chapter II, sections 9 and 10 (the long personal anecdote and about living on unearned income and the explanation of how ‘stealing’ covers certain kinds of common economic behaviour), as well as the criticism in Chapter III of the conventional doctrine of profit.

The traditional title, apparently supplied by Colvin, provides a general title for a text that is occupied with more than money (criticisms of conventional moral education and hypocrisy, the impossibility of governing conduct by precepts because of the continually changing nature of life, the guiding of conduct by an internal sense of right, the importance of accepting bodily desires, and how the privileged classes should make service correspond to income and not waste money on undesired luxuries). The ethics of money is certainly a major interest but its development in ch. IV seems to be unsuccessfully attached to ch. I and II on moral education and ch. III on how conduct is to be judged in the absence of a divine moral guide. This latter is certainly a constant theme of the essay (making ‘Lay Morals’ an appropriate title), even if never explicitly stated.

Given Stevenson’s one explicit reference, I would like to use the title ‘Lay Morals (Man and Money)’.

This would also have the advantage of distinguishing the work from the untitled 1883 fragment, which incorporates parts of ch. III and seems to have the same aim of bringing together Stevenson’s thoughts on morality in the form of a guide to the young (and specifically states this in an Introduction) but does not mention money, a dominant element in the earlier work. It might possibly be referred to as ‘Lay Morals (Youth and Morality)’ using for the second part a title in a list of planned essay titles in a notebook of early 1882—but I leave this to the editor of the later volume.

4. At Sea, A Night in the South of France, Time

a.k.a 1. ‘A Note at sea’, 2. ‘A night in France’ (Mckay, Yale finding aid, Swearingen), ‘Fragment of an Essay on Time’ (Osbourne auction catalogue, 1914), ‘On Time’ (Swearingen)

These are three fragments (the third untraced since publication in the 1923 Vailima Edition). For the first, ‘A Note’ seems more of a description of the type of document, left over from the title in the auction catalogue, when ‘At Sea’ would be more elegant. It seems close in style to the 1875 ‘Prose Poems’.

The second, previously believed to be part of the ‘Forest Notes’ drafts (it was written in the same notebook) was actually written in Mentone and records thoughts of hearing a piano playing Scottish airs (also mentioned in a letter of February 1874). Various more accurate titles could be imagined, but a minimum intervention would be to add ‘the South of’ to the title.

The third, though only 309 words, could possibly be finished, and it looks very similar in topic and style to the 1873–74 ‘Numbered Notes’: thoughts on various mainly philosophical topics. ‘On Time’ suggests a longer treatise, while ‘Time’ would be a sufficient title for this short piece (and in line with the titles of the ‘Numbered Notes’). Indeed ‘Time’ is the title used in the 1923 Vailima Edition and the Tusitala Edition that derives from it. As Swearingen indexes the item as ‘Time, On’ it will cause minimum confusion to adopt the shorter title, the one used in previous editions that included it.

However, in the first two cases, I can see I am forcing matters. ‘A Night in France’ is perhaps a good enough title. If I am honest, I can also see that I want to call the first ‘At Sea’ because I want to make it like the Prose Poems. So, in the end I am inclined resist title tweaking and to keep these two titles unchanged. (Or does anyone think ‘At Sea’ would be permissible?)


Using this free area of play has been very useful: as I wrote I started to get second thoughts, to see matters from another side, started to suspect my own motives. Any helpful contributions to the debate will be welcomed.


Fanny Stevenson’s short stories

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

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

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

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

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

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

“What Are You Reading” Workshop, NLS Dec 7th 2011

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Insights into Scholarly Editing at the NLS


At the third “What Are Your Reading” workshop at the National Library of Scotland (7 December 2011), presented by EdRLS editors, Penny Fielding started by emphasizing the complexity and difficulty of choices in preparing a a scholarly edition, taking as an example the striking and memorable incident of Alison thrusting the sword into the frozen ground in The Master of Ballantrae, which Colvin did not include in the Edinburgh Edition (1896), where it is printed prefaced with the note “The present text follows a copy of the first edition corrected by the author before his death”.

Gill Hughes then talked about the three basic choices of ‘base text’ for an edition:  the final manuscript prepared by the author, the first edition, or the last lifetime edition produced with the author’s input.

Richard Dury: gave an overview of the history of composition and publication of Kidnapped, in particular of the difficult coordination of overlapping publication by Young Folks magazine and in book form by Cassells.


The particpants, in three groups guided by the presenters, studied the variant readings of a page of Kidnapped (from chapter 1, 2, and 3 according to group). The aim was to explain how the differences had arisen and – taking the role of volume editor – advise on any emendations to the base text.

For the purposes of the exercise the 1886 Cassells edition was taken as the base text and compared with the MS (a reading text version of the manuscript), and YF (the Young Folks serialisation). The aim was not to choose a base text, but to give the participants the experience of making editorial choices.

Chapter 1 group

Here are some observations of the group that was looking at the page from Chapter 1.

a certain morning early in the month of June: ”early” is not in the MS, but is in YF and Cassells (left). The group agreed that this must have been an addition by RLS on the YF proofs. One could see the reasons: it emphasizes the beginning of the story at the beginning of the day, the month and the summer, and it is vaguely reminiscent of a folk song.

“Well, Davie, lad,” said he: in MS and in YF this is “, Davie lad“, so the added comma looks like a change made by the Cassell’s printer and not noted by RLS–or made by the printer and accepted by RLS–or made by RLS himself on the Cassells proofs. (This shows the difficulty of reconstructing what happened.) One member of the group could see justification for the change, seeing “lad” as equivalent to “my lad”; the others saw “Davie lad” as a unit (like “Chrissie lass”, or “Davie bach” in Anglo-Welsh), with the “lad” part reinforcing the suffix of endearment. Here, the editors would want to look at other examples of the construction by RLS and others and possibly then propose an emendation to the base text.

Chapter 2 group

This group had some interesting points where the MS differed from the printed versions: in some cases the MS reading seemed better, in other cases it seems to contain an error that has later been corrected.

bats flew in and out: the MS has “flew in out“. This might seem a straightforward correction of an accidental omission of a small word while writing. However there was an interesting discussion about (i) whether “in out” was a possible phrase, or (ii) whether perhaps RLS wrote “in”, wasn’t sure about it, and wrote “out” and forgot to cross out the first alternative. Backing up this possibility was the suggestion that at dusk, bats would be flying out from their place of daytime rest.

I lifted my hand with a faint heart under my jacket, and knocked once: the MS has “hand” followed by a comma, removed in YF and Cassells. Participants here were split between those who could see this as the intervention of RLS not wanting too long a pause after “hand” (wanting the important pause to be after “jacket” as David hesitated), and others who thought this could be a mistake in copying the MS because the comma usefully removes the possible ambiguity of “lifted with a faint heart”.

Mr. Ebenezer Balfour of Shaws: MS has “Balfour of the Shaws”. Participants were not quite sure of the MS reading here: could it be an old Scottish expression? Could it show Davie’s uncertainty about the title? The group also had an image of the MS and could see that this also might have been a mistake, later corrected by the author: RLS writes in the MS “Balfour of the” and comes to the end of a line, then as he moves the pen across the page he imagines he’s written the words “house of” and starts the new line with “Shaws”.

Chapter 3 group

This group also had some interesting cases of differences in the MS that were changed for the printed versions.

Half-a-dozen dishes stood upon the shelves: MS has “stood upon the bink” (as recently discovered in preparation for this event), a Scots word meaning “shelf” or “dresser”. The feeling of the members of the group at the NLS was that this was probably a change made by the author, but they would like to emend the text to “bink”, on the grounds that the early proofing was not really part of “the initial creative process”.

I’ll take the ale, though: MS has “beer“; clearly a change made by the author to the YF proofs, the group thought. Some members noticed that earlier on (third paragraph of this chapter), when Davie enters the kitchen he sees on the table “a cup of small beer”. Some thought it was better to follow the MS, to keep consistency and use “beer” in both places; others saw “ale” as an older and more traditional word that was used here to show Ebeneezer’s more old-fashioned way of speaking in comparison with David.  So in the first case (“shelves” vs “bink”) the members of the group wanted to keep the MS reading, and in the second, some wanted to take the variant in the printed versions as better.


The discussion of the passages went on too long for a proper conclusion. But one general reaction was surprise that on every page there were so many and often important variants; another reaction was an understanding of the complexity of preparing a scholarly edition.

Written by rdury

12/12/2011 at 5:09 pm

Kidnapped and the copright edition

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The joys of making an unexpected discovery

For the “What Are You Reading” event at the NLS on 7th December I was trying, with Penny Fielding and Gill Hughes, to get as clear an idea as possible of the publication history of Kidnapped. We knew there had been a “copyright edition” of the first ten chapters produced by Henderson (editor of Young Folks) issued in April 1886, but I’d assumed such productions were slung together any old how and were not really relevant.

Copyright Edition is identical with Young Folks

But then I remembered that, of course, the NLS has a copy of this, so we could have a look and see what relationship it might have with the Young Folks and Cassells first ten chapters.

Gill Hughes and I called up the volume, and we saw that it corresponded exactly with all the typical word- and punctuation-variants of Young Folks, that it was indeed identical with it (Gill’s expert proofing skills came into play here). Then I thought the type size and column width looked familiar (it was in two columns to the page), so I suggested looking at the University of South Carolina images of Young Folks on their website.

Copyright Edition is Young Folks

So off we went to the catalogue computers, where you’re allowed to look at any websites, found the first chapter of Kidnapped in Young Folks on the USC site and saw that the lines all began and ended with the same words as in the Copyright Edition—that the typography was identical. They had just placed the lines of type into the different lengths of columns. (The only change was to the first paragraphs of each chapter in the magazine version, where a decorated initial meant the type had to be placed differently on the lines.) This fact immediately removed a couple of question marks from the provisional stemma we had sketched out. (A stemma is the tree diagram to show the relationship of the different ‘witness texts’.)

Just to make sure, that we hadn’t discovered something already known, I then looked in the various Stevenson bibliographies (conveniently on open shelves in the NLS Readng Room) and found that this indeed had not been noticed before.

Much research involves months of work before results start mistily to appear; this all took ten minutes. Great!

Written by rdury

08/12/2011 at 8:56 am