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

New Edinburgh Weir of Hermiston published

leave a comment »

Screenshot 2017-10-02 15.20.44

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)


Screenshot 2018-01-05 15.50.31

Screenshot 2018-01-05 15.50.57

Screenshot 2018-01-05 15.51.20

Screenshot 2018-01-05 15.51.47

Screenshot 2018-01-05 15.52.04

Screenshot 2018-01-05 16.33.28

Screenshot 2018-01-05 16.33.54

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

The Dynamiter and Queen’s Square

with one comment

Prof. Penny Fielding is at present preparing a  critical edition of The Dynamiter for the New Edinburgh Edition. In this post I follow up at greater length some aspects of the text that will be covered in her notes.

After the publication of The Dynamiter by Robert Louis and Fanny Stevenson, James Payn, editor of the Cornhill Magazine, wrote to RLS to say that his daughter had complained of recognizing ‘some features of her own house in Queen Square, Bloomsbury, in the description of that tenanted by the fair Cuban in the section of Stevenson’s Dynamiter which tells the story of the Brown Box’ (Tusitala 33: 72).

In reply, RLS wrote

Everything in the Dynamiter is not true; but the story of the Brown Box is, in almost every particular; I lay my hand on my heart, and swear to it. It took place in that house in 1884. (Letters 5: 173)

This is no doubt a teasing reply: instead of saying ‘your daughter can rest in peace as she hasn’t somehow shared a house with bizarre art-for-art’s-sake bomb-making terrorists, because it was all an invention’, he says: that particular part of the book was actually all true and took place in 1884 (the year of the peak in Fenian bombings in London).

But Stevenson is strangely insistent:  ‘I lay my hand on my heart, and swear’, he says, that it is true ‘in almost every particular’ and ‘took place in that house in 1884’. This insistence makes one think that there may indeed be some true elements in the story. And in fact, ‘Desborough’s Adventure: The Brown Box’ weaves in two moments of his own life: his meeting with his future wife Fanny Osbourne in 1876 (Section 3 below),and  his infatuation with Fanny Sitwell from 1873 to 1875 (Section 4).

1. The Story of the Brown Box

So what happens in the story of the Brown Box?

Desborough lives in a lodging house in Queen’s Square, Bloomsbury. His room looks onto the square but he has access to a terrace overlooked by the room a beautiful Cuban, Senorita Theresa Valdevia (Clara Luxmore in disguise). Desborough, immediately attracted to her, listens to her (again false) history. [Here follows the ‘Story of the Fair Cuban’.] Desborough, now obsessed with the woman, starts waiting for her in the square and following her. He notices the visits of a tall bearded man, who finally carries a brown trunk into the house. He confronts the Fair Cuban; she tells him that she is hiding from Cuban spies, and asks for Desborough’s help. He agrees to take the brown box, which she says contains everything connecting her to Cuba, from London to an Irish steamer at Holyhead. But when he arrives at the London rail terminus, Theresa catches up with him tells him to take the box back to their lodgings. Then she tells Desborough the  truth: she is Clara Luxmore, a dynamiter, and the box is a bomb. They hear a click of the timer; he flings her to the wall; but the explosion fails.

The fair Cuban is older than Desborough: ‘Her age, he durst not estimate; fearing to find her older than himself, and thinking sacrilege to couple that fair favour [=appearance] with the thought of mortal changes’.

The events that took place are therefore:

  1. A young man meets and falls in love with an alluring older woman in a house in Bloomsbury
  2. He waits for her in the square and follows her, frustrated and jealous
  3. She asks him to transport a trunk for her to Ireland
  4. She changes her mind and tells him to return the trunk to her house
  5. The trunk contains a bomb which fails to explode but which gives the two a fright.

Well, none of this happened in 1884, but the first two elements in the story have some connection with Stevenson’s own life.

2. The house in Queen’s Square

In Stevenson’s reply to Payn, he said that he only knew the houses on that side of the square from the street front and ʻfrom […] the back windows of Brunswick Rowʼ (Letters 5: 173-4). Brunswick row was where Fanny Sitwell had lodgings from 1874, and this comment shows that it must have been on the south side of this narrow street, overlooking the back gardens of the Queen Square houses, and that Stevenson must have been inside at least once (probably in spring 1874).

Screen Shot 2017-10-07 at 21.32.39

Greenwood’s Map of London, 1827: Brunswick Pl[ace] is Brunswick Row in other maps of the period; this was where Fanny Sitwell had lodgings and from which you could see the back of houses on the W side of Queen Square

The house that the Brunswick Row house overlooked, and that in The Dynamiter  Desborough unwittingly shares with a group of dynamiters, is described by the Stevensons as follows:

It was in Queen Square that [Desborough] had pitched his tent, next door to the Children’s Hospital, on your left hand as you go north: Queen Square, sacred to humane and liberal arts, whence homes were made beautiful, where the poor were taught, where the sparrows were plentiful and loud, and where groups of patient little ones would hover all day long before the hospital, if by chance they might kiss their hand or speak a word to their sick brother at the window. Desborough’s room was on the first floor and fronted to the square; but he enjoyed besides, a right by which he often profited, to sit and smoke upon a terrace at the back, which looked down upon a fine forest of back gardens, and was in turn commanded by the windows of an empty room.

Screen Shot 2017-10-07 at 21.29.50

Ordnance Survey 1895: Brunswick Row has now become Queen Square Place

Notes on the description in The Dynamiter:

The Children’s Hospital: in 1867 a hospital—from 1870 called the Hospital for Hip Diseases in Children—was established to treat children suffering from tuberculous arthritis, at No. 19 Queen Square, on the Corner of Brunswick Row. By 1873 the institution, had expanded to the next two houses (Nos. 18 and 17), and in 1881 it was renamed the Alexandra Hospital for Children with Hip Diseases.

So when Stevenson knew Queen Square the Hospital occupied the area as shown in the 1895 map, and ‘next door to the Children’s Hospital, on your left hand as you go north’ would be No. 16 (the house still stands and is still No. 16), the back of which would indeed be visible from the last three properties in Brunswick Row, where Fanny Sitwell  had her lodgings.   Here is a photograph of Nos. 13-16 as they were in 1956—the ground floor of No. 16 corresponds to the door and the two windows beside it on the right of the photo and the floors above):

Screenshot 2017-10-09 16.01.04

13-16 Queen Square (LCC Photograph Library)

Queen Square, sacred to humane and liberal arts: refers to the medical, educational and philanthropic institutions around the square. In 1874 and the following years these included: the Alexandra Hospital on the W side, the National Hospital on the E; the Alexandra Institute for the Blind (at No. 6); the Society of St Vincent de Paul (No. 31); the hospital of Anglican order of the Sisters of St Margaret (No. 32); and the English Presbyterian College, which trained candidates for the ministry (in the NE corner). In 1874 the square should also have been home to a number of educational establishments aimed at the poor or women: the Ladies Charity School at No. 22; the College for Men and Women—where Frances Sitwell was Secretary—at the S end; the College of Preceptors—an institution organizing and evaluating teacher training—at No. 42; and the Female School of Art at No. 43.

Queen Square […] whence homes were made beautiful: a reference to the office and workshops of William Morris at No. 26 (more-or-less opposite No. 16), which operated there from 1856 to 1881.

3. A young man meets and falls in love with an alluring older woman

Desborough has a room on the first floor and the use of  ‘a terrace at the back, which looked down upon a fine forest of back gardens, and was in turn commanded by the windows of an empty room’. This is probably the flat roof above a projecting part of the ground floor, accessed via a door by Desborough, but with the window of another room in the same house giving onto it, through which the occupant could step. Desborough is annoyed to see the other flat is occupied and his privacy gone and knocks his pipe on the terrace rail too hard and breaks it…

He threw himself savagely into the garden chair, pulled out the story-paper which he had brought with him to read, tore off a fragment of the last sheet, which contains only the answers to correspondents, and set himself to roll a cigarette. He was no master of the art; again and again, the paper broke between his fingers and the tobacco showered upon the ground; and he was already on the point of angry resignation, when the window swung slowly inward, the silken curtain was thrust aside, and a lady, somewhat strangely attired, stepped forth upon the terrace.

‘Senorito,’ said she, and there was a rich thrill in her voice, like an organ note, ‘Senorito, you are in difficulties. Suffer me to come to your assistance.’

With the words, she took the paper and tobacco from his unresisting hands; and with a facility that, in Desborough’s eyes, seemed magical, rolled and presented him a cigarette. He took it, still seated, still without a word; staring with all his eyes upon that apparition. Her face was warm and rich in colour; in shape, it was that piquant triangle, so innocently sly, so saucily attractive, so rare in our more northern climates; her eyes were large, starry, and visited by changing lights; her hair was partly covered by a lace mantilla, through which her arms, bare to the shoulder, gleamed white; her figure, full and soft in all the womanly contours, was yet alive and active, light with excess of life, and slender by grace of some divine proportion.

‘You do not like my cigarrito, Senor?’ she asked. ‘Yet it is better made than yours.’ At that she laughed, and her laughter trilled in his ear like music; but the next moment her face fell. ‘I see,’ she cried. ‘It is my manner that repels you. I am too constrained, too cold. I am not,’ she added, with a more engaging air, ‘I am not the simple English maiden I appear.’

‘Oh!’ murmured Harry, filled with inexpressible thoughts.

Robert Louis Stevenson (and we may suppose him to be the prime author of this passage) is clearly painting a picture of his wife and co-author and probably telling us something about their first meeting:

Her age, he durst not estimate; fearing to find her older than himself: Stevenson was ten years and nine months younger than Fanny Osbourne; when they met in September 1876 he was two months short of his twenty-sixth birthday, while she was already thirty-six.

there was a rich thrill in her voice, like an organ note: ‘Fanny Osbourne’s voice was low in tone, and she spoke with very little modulation’ and she would often recommend to her daughter: ‘A low sweet voice in a woman’ (Isobel Field, This Life I’ve Loved (1937), p. 106)

Her face was warm and rich in colour: ‘I was dark, like my mother’ (Nellie van de Grift Sanchez, The Life of Mrs Robert Louis Stevenson (1920), p. 13), she had ‘clear olive skin’ (p. 14). In one poem (‘Dark Women’) Stevenson described Fanny as ‘Dark as a wayside gypsy’ (Roger C. Lewis (ed.), The Collected Poems of Robert Louis Stevenson (Edinburgh, 2003), 175), and in another (‘A California Girl’) he says ‘her skin’s a sort of orange brown’ (London 7 Apr 1877, p. 238).

her eyes were large, starry, and visited by changing lights: ‘Her red-brown eyes are most unwinking / Deep-set, and with a dangerous light, / A feline gleam that sets you thinking’ (‘A California Girl’).

her figure, full and soft in all the womanly contours: ‘Quite excellently small and slim, / Yet round and hard with exercise, / The contour of her every limb / At once excites and satisfies’ (‘A California Girl’).

rolled and presented him a cigarette: Living with her husband at a silver-mining camp in Nevada in 1864, ‘Fanny had mastered the masculine arts of rolling and smoking cigarettes’ (Margaret MacKay, The Violent Friend (1970), p. 7).

Screen Shot 2017-11-02 at 21.39.42Fanny Osbourne when Stevenson met her at Chevillon’s inn at Grez-sur-Loing in September 1876


RLS rolling a cigarette, 1885

4. A young man in love frequents the places where his love will pass but annoys her with his insistence

Desborough finds himself infatuated with Theresa and he takes to stalking her:

What should he do, to be more worthy? by what devotion, call down the notice of these eyes to so terrene a being as himself?

He betook himself, thereupon, to the rural privacy of the square, where, being a lad of a kind heart, he had made himself a circle of acquaintances among its shy frequenters, the half-domestic cats and the visitors that hung before the windows of the Children’s Hospital. There he walked, considering the depth of his demerit and the height of the adored one’s super-excellence; now lighting upon earth to say a pleasant word to the brother of some infant invalid; now, with a great heave of breath, remembering the queen of women, and the sunshine of his life.

What was he to do? Teresa, he had observed, was in the habit of leaving the house towards afternoon: she might, perchance, run danger from some Cuban emissary, when the presence of a friend might turn the balance in her favour: how, then, if he should follow her? To offer his company would seem like an intrusion; to dog her openly were a manifest impertinence; he saw himself reduced to a more stealthy part, which, though in some ways distasteful to his mind, he did not doubt that he could practise with the skill of a detective.

The next day he proceeded to put his plan in action. At the corner of Tottenham Court Road, however, the Senorita suddenly turned back, and met him face to face, with every mark of pleasure and surprise.

‘Ah, Senor, I am sometimes fortunate!’ she cried. […]

Next day he resumed his labours, glowing with pity and courage, and determined to protect Teresa with his life. But a painful shock awaited him. In the narrow and silent Hanway Street, she turned suddenly about and addressed him with a manner and a light in her eyes that were new to the young man’s experience.

‘Do I understand that you follow me, Senor?’ she cried. ‘Are these the manners of the English gentleman?’

Harry confounded himself in the most abject apologies and prayers to be forgiven, vowed to offend no more, and was at length dismissed, crestfallen and heavy of heart. The check was final; he gave up that road to service; and began once more to hang about the square or on the terrace, filled with remorse and love, admirable and idiotic, a fit object for the scorn and envy of older men.

This painful episode seems to contain elements of Stevenson’s infatuation with Fanny Sitwell. She was married but estranged from her (possibly alcoholic) husband; she too was older than Stevenson (by eleven years); attractive too, but in a very different way from Fanny Osbourne: she was tender, understanding of others, freely expressive of her feelings and enthusiastic, ‘irradiating charm’. In the summer of 1873 something happened between her and Louis under the trees in Cockfield Rectory garden in Suffolk—a consoling caress, perhaps, an affectionate peck on the cheek, no more—yet something that knocked the paint off young Louis and was followed by two years of yearning and infatuation. Unrequited, as her affections were already engaged and with none other than Stevenson’s mentor, Sidney Colvin.

Fanny Sitwell, now finally separated from her husband, moved to 2 Brunswick Row in early July 1874 and RLS asked for her new address (L2: 29), but in early September still did not know it (47). On 22 September he wrote that he would be in London within a few days ‘and I think we shall pass a few happy days’; he arrived two days later and asked her to write to him with ‘orders’, adding ‘No fear. I shall be good’  (56-7). In October, still in London he writes with a poem about ‘this love of ours’ (58). In the same month, back on Edinburgh, he says ‘I wish to God I did not love you so much, but I do’ (69), and repeats this several times in November letters.

On 2 December 1874, apparently invited by Frances Sitwell—writing of it on 28 November he says ‘it takes my breath away to write it’ (85)—he went to London and stayed till 13 December. However the invitation must have been to clarify matters between them, as on his return he wrote ‘I will try to be what you would have me’; it is true he looks forward to a next visit (89-90), but closes this time with ‘a son’s kiss’ (94).

On 7 February he writes ‘But I love you, dear, and —O if I were with you!’ (115). In the same month he tells her that in Edinburgh he had seen a woman come out of a shop ‘and, dear, I thought it was you’ (118).

Then came another invitation to a meeting. On the 24 February 1875 he writes ‘God bless you for your letter. I will try and get down about 15th […] O how I long to see you’ (122). On 8 March he wrote ‘How, when, where would you like me. On Saturday evening or not till Sunday morning?’ and signs off ‘Yours from top to toe’ (124).  It seemed he travelled on Saturday 13 March. In an undated letter he said ‘I shall pay a visit to Brunswick Row, sometime in the course of Sunday’.

It seems, however, that once again Mrs Sitwell had asked to see him to face up to the reality of their situation, as the next surviving letter, from Barbizon c. 1 April, is much shorter than all his previous letters and very different in tone; it opens ‘My dear’ and finishes ‘Ever yours’ (126-7).

In that spring of 1875 which saw the end of his hopes of love he was staying in the Savile Club and, contrary to his high hopes, perhaps only saw her once or twice. The following year he gave some more information about this period:

I daresay you may fancy I had a curious time in London last spring; […] it was very odd, you may believe. I was several times near Queen’s Square, but went away again. I once went down Southampton Row, and felt in a fine flutter in case you should come out of Cosmo Place [a narrow street linking Southampton Row and Queen’s Square]. But you didn’t. (L2, 177; 7 July 1875)

There’s no indication that he waited for her in the Square and followed her as Desborough does, but it does seem that he deliberately walked nearby, hoping and wishing for a chance meeting.

In both episodes of the story of the Brown Box, Stevenson makes fun of the ingénu Desborough and his confusion at finding himself in love; and in both cases he seems to be laughing at himself and his own experiences. So it was that he could lay his hand on his heart and say the story was all true.

Written by rdury

04/11/2017 at 7:11 pm

Posted in News

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

with one comment

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:

Screen Shot 2017-09-27 at 22.24.10
Screenshot 2017-10-02 14.19.08

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:

Screen Shot 2017-10-03 at 05.26.32

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 in 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

with 3 comments

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.

Screen Shot 2017-09-27 at 22.24.10

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

Screen Shot 2017-09-27 at 22.27.07

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.

Screen Shot 2017-09-27 at 22.34.06

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

with 4 comments

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

Screenshot 2017-08-09 10.42.58

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.


Two stones: antiquarianism in St. Ives

with one comment

A post contributed by Neil Macara Brown

In ‘Going into St. Ives’ (JSS 10, 2013), I tried to show how Stevenson makes that novel ring true, even in its smallest details. On his many travels in the story, the eponymous hero visits two obscure places in Scotland featuring old stones: one near Merchiston in Edinburgh; the other, by a drove road somewhere in Ettrick Forest in the Borders. Sites for these stones are suggested here.

 The Douglas stone

The first stone is seen by St. Ives when returning to Edinburgh from Swanston, and his roistering encounter with the drunken Six Feet High Club at the Hunters’ Tryst inn.


‘Hard by Merchiston’ he chances, fortuitously, upon the lawyer, Mr. Robbie. ‘Merchiston’ was a villa suburb by Stevenson’s day, but in 1814 when St. Ives is set, comprised the policies surrounding Merchiston Tower, once home of mathematician, John Napier, and now Edinburgh Napier University, on Colinton Road.

St. Ives had spotted Robbie stooping low in endeavouring to decipher a stone, built ‘sideways’ into a wall and offering ‘traces of heraldic sculpture.’ Because the stone bears a chevron on a chief three mullets (i.e. five-pointed stars), St. Ives suggests it resembles the crest of a Douglas family. Robbie concurs, but states that without knowing the tinctures (colours) involved, and because the whole thing is ‘so battered and broken up’, no-one could venture a definitive opinion. Through this common interest in heraldry St. Ives contrives to ingratiate himself with the weekend antiquarian who, unknowingly, has business with the Frenchman the next day…

The stone in question appears similar to one recorded by John Geddie, in his ‘Sculptured Stones of Edinburgh III: Miscellaneous’ (The Book of the Old Edinburgh Club Vol. 3, 1910): one of a cache of such, mainly ecclesiastical, built into the walls of an outhouse attached to the then Bloomsbury Laundry in Grange Loan (Newbattle Terrace), near its junction with Canaan Lane, about half a mile from Merchiston Tower. He suggests that the ecclesiastical stones, mainly richly decorated canopies of altar-tombs, may have come from the chapel of St. Roque noted in Scott’s Provincial Antiquities, which was sited a short distance to the east in the grounds of the Astley Ainslie Hospital; but as to the origins of the secular stones no explanation is offered.

Screen Shot 2017-08-02 at 15.22.39

from a 1914 map of Edinbugh (NLS)

Geddie continues, however, that among the other sculptured fragments collected in this ‘nook’, beside a canopied recess, is a memorial panel. Bearing a long Latin inscription, this is defaced and made only partly readable on account of a strip of two or three inches on the right-hand side of the stone having been used in sharpening a knife. This, he says, commemorates “Thomas Douglasius [Douglas]” of the Cavers branch of that illustrious family, a man honourable in business, the holder of offices in the city and its suburbs, and the possessor, according to the inscription, of many virtues, who died on the 9th of August “MDC_”. Geddie adds it was erected by Richard Douglas, advocate, Robert Bennet, and Robert Blackwood, the lamenting heirs under his testament.’ His footnote fleshes out that in 1679 the ‘second bailie’ of Edinburgh was a Thomas Douglas, and, according to the Register of Interments in Greyfriars’ Churchyard, one Thomas Douglas, merchant in Edinburgh, was buried 15th August 1686. He was ‘second brother to Douglas of Cavers’, and the son of Sir William Douglas of Cavers and of his second wife, a daughter of Sir James Macgill.

Screen Shot 2017-08-02 at 15.44.57Most interestingly, Geddie also states that the arms of Thomas Douglas are recorded in the Lyon Office for 1680-87, and are shown in G. Harvey Johnston’s Heraldry of the Douglases (1907), p.94. There, the Douglas of Edinburgh arms are described as: Argent, a man’s heart proper, on a chief azure three mullets of the first, within a bordure of the second charged with [5] crescents of the field. The associated crest comprises: A dexter hand holding a broken spear endways proper. The motto: Do or die. 

The peculiar setting of the canopied recess (or, ogee-shaped niche) can be seen in a photograph taken by F. M. Chrystal in c1900, which can be viewed on the Canmore website.

My contention is that Stevenson was clearly describing this stone in St.Ives, despite his only partial recall of the Douglas arms, which he may never have been able to view fully anyway. Given his great interest in Covenanting matters, he is likely to have admired the long involvement of the Cavers family in that religious tradition, from its inception in 1638. As to how he knew of the actual Douglas stone, he possibly saw it almost thirty years before writing St. Ives, while staying in 1865 with George Norman Williamson, a fellow pupil at Thomson’s School in Frederick Street, at his home in Whitehouse Terrace, a part of Grange Loan lying eastwards of the stone. A photo taken in early summer 1865 shows Stevenson, aged fourteen-and-a-half and in a dark, top-buttoned jacket, standing in the bowered garden of 8 Whitehouse Terrace, a short walk from the Douglas stone.


Screen Shot 2017-08-02 at 11.31.11

8 Whitehouse Terrace, Edinburgh (between Morningside Road and Kilgraston Road)

Screen Shot 2017-08-02 at 15.34.20

Robert Thomson and H.C. Baildon (not clear which is which) and RLS, early summer 1865, 8 Whitehouse Terrace, Edinburgh (photograph posted on flickr.com by “rmanders” (Richard Anderson), from a family photo album which identifies the two men).

The central and southern parts of the former Bloomsbury laundry site were visited by me recently; the northern part only seen, unsatisfactorily, through a gate and over a wall. The laundry, marked on an OS map for 1914, is demolished, its blocked-up doors and windows ghostly reminders in the boundary wall to the street. The grounds hold four residences, one a block of flats. A helpful resident, of thirty years standing, directed me into the adjacent grounds of the Astley Ainslie, where the ecclesiastical stones are now displayed uniformly in a stepped, panelled wall setting, probably executed sometime within the last fifty or sixty years. At the base of this striking ensemble lies a forlorn, secular stone also recorded by Geddie; a lintel with the arms of Marjoribanks impaled beside those of Trotter of Mortonhall – also showing three mullets on a chief – but not, of course, the stone which so excited St. Ives. If the Douglas stone survives, might it lie in the old laundry garden at its north end?

The Cockburn stone

The second stone was seen by St. Ives in an earlier scene, when, during his flight south as an escaped prisoner-of-war with the two crusty drovers, he enjoyed briefly the company of Walter Scott and his daughter. They, being on on horseback, had overtaken the slow-moving droving party on a stretch of heath somewhere in the Ettrick Forest. Engaging St. Ives in conversation, Scott directed his attention to ‘a little fragment of broken wall no greater than a tombstone’, and told him the story of its earlier inhabitants. Scott was, of course, then utterly unknown to St. Ives, and it was only years after, when ‘diverting himself with a Waverley Novel’, that he says that he came upon ‘the identical narrative’ related to him by the ‘Great Unknown’ himself by the wayside. (No Waverley novel, however, makes mention of the place and historical incident described below.)

Screen Shot 2017-08-02 at 14.46.45This episode rightly for the reader recalls Scott’s own stirring tale ‘The Two Drovers’. However, it is also suggested here that this ‘broken wall’ is in fact the tombstone of the 16th century Border reiver, Piers Cockburn of Henderland, and his wife, Marjory. This is to be seen on Chapel Knowe, among the scant remains of the foundations of the Kirk of Henderland above the Megget Valley. Branching west from St. Mary’s Loch, this vale lies at the end of an old hill road running from the head of the Manor Valley, south-west of Peebles – an alternative droving route to the main one through the Gypsy Glen, south-east of that ‘heaven’ (as Stevenson calls it in ‘Popular Authors’), where he holidayed in 1864 and 1865. (The name ‘Henderland’ will be familiar from Kidnapped as that of the friendly catechist, whom David Balfour meets while wandering across Morvern.).

Screen Shot 2017-08-02 at 14.11.24

Screen Shot 2017-08-02 at 14.44.06

Nearby, Piers Cockburn was hanged over the door of his tower by James V, during the royal raid of the Borders in 1529. This was, as noted by Scott in his Border Antiquities (1814), also fatal to fellow freebooters like Johnie Armstrang, and Adam Scott of Tushielaw, Sir Walter’s own ancestor.

The tomb cover-slab was, according to the ‘Canmore’ online site, found within Henderland Kirk during the 18th century and, in 1841, its three broken pieces were repaired and erected on supporting stones, ‘table-wise’, above its original position. The whole resembles a short section of wall, as Stevenson has it in his tale, but it has since been enclosed by a railing. The inscription on the stone suggests that it was cut in the 16th century, on a 14th century memorial carved with a sword and other emblems. Although defaced and in a Gothic script, according to William Chambers’s Guide to Peebles and its Vicinity (1856), it reads simply ‘here lyis perys of Cokburne and hys Wyfe mariory’.

The execution of Cockburn and its aftermath are traditionally associated with the fragment of romantic ballad known as ’The Lament of the Border Widow’. Included by Scott in his Minstrelsy of the Scottish Border, it was, he claimed, collected from ‘recitation in the Forest of Ettrick’; but in cold fact, the ‘Shirra’ (Sheriff) had it from the shepherd, James Hogg. Close to the tower, where the Henderland Burn rushes through the rocky chasm of the Dow Linn, beside a cataract lies ‘The Lady’s Seat’, where Marjory Cockburn is said to have retreated during the execution of her husband – so as to drown out the tumultuous din which accompanied his dying.

I sew’d his sheet, making my mane;
I watch’d the corpse, myself alane;
I watch’d his body night and day;
No living creature came that way.

I took his body on my back,
And whiles I gaed, and whiles I sat;
I digg’d a grave, and laid him in,
And happ’d him with the sod sae green.






Written by rdury

02/08/2017 at 3:41 pm

Not ‘To Schubert’s Ninth’

with one comment

The present contribution has been kindly provided by John F. Russell

Beginning around 1890 Stevenson began compiling lists of contents for Songs of Travel like the following included in a letter to Edward Burlingame:

Senza titolo

Letters 6: 371

One manuscript similar to the eleventh title on that list, To Schubert’s Ninth, is described by George McKay:

Senza titolo2

George L. McKay, A Stevenson Library (New Haven: Yale UP, 1961)

The title of what is probably the actual manuscript he describes is slightly different, however:

Senza titolo3

Yale, GEN MSS 664 Box 29 Folder 681

The underlined word McKay transcribed as “Ninth” lacks the dot over the letter “I” and the first letter is “M” not “N”. The correct transcription is the German word “Muth” (courage) and refers to song number XXII in Schubert’s song cycle Winterreise.

Booth and Mehew also transcribed the word incorrectly in letter 2211. In manuscript, the list for Songs of Travel appears as follows:

Senza titolo4

Yale, GEN MSS 664 Box 1 Folder 17 (= Letter 2211)

Enlarged, entry XI appears:

Senza titolo5

Shown side by side, the two words in manuscript are almost identical:

Senza titolo6

Title XI in the list of contents for Songs of Travel in letter 2211 therefore should read “To Schubert’s Muth” not “To Schubert’s Ninth.” Together the two manuscripts show conclusively that Stevenson’s poem ‘Vagabond’ was written to Schubert’s music for ‘Muth’ (in Winterreise) and not to any melody from Schubert’s Ninth Symphony.