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

Posts Tagged ‘Charles Baxter

Charles Baxter returns home with Manuscripts from Vailima

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The following post is from Gill Hughes, editor of the EdRLS volume of Weir of Hermiston, (with contributions from Glenda Norquay and Richard Dury)


Charles Baxter travelled to take the first two volumes of the Edinburgh Edition to his old friend but arrived too late, on 31 January 1895. He then stayed a couple of months at Vailima going through Stevenson’s literary papers before travelling back via San Francisco. In Chicago he agreed to be interviewed by a local newspaper reporter; as this interview seemed to be of interest for the story of the publication of Weir of Hermiston and St. Ives, my daughter Rachel Sweet very kindly looked up the number in the Chicago Public Library and has sent me the transcription printed below.

One thing that puzzles me is that, from letters I saw at the Beinecke, Fanny and Lloyd seem to have been offended by something Baxter had said to newspapers in Chicago but I can’t see anything in this to offend them (though Andrew Lang certainly would not have been too happy about it, had he seen it).

Has anybody any ideas? Is it simply that Baxter is putting himself prominently as the person to get Stevenson’s work published and an Edinburgh memorial arranged, rather than the widow and step-son perhaps?

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Belle’s sketch of RLS giving Austin a history lesson

Another point of interest is the ‘series of history letters written to his small friend, Austen [Austin] Strong’, which Baxter expects will be published by the Youth’s Companion (though someone in England claims some right to publish them—if that is the meaning of ‘England, selfish as usual, wants it badly’; possibly ‘England’ is less amenable to the auctioning of Stevenson’s works, a practice which Baxter favoured — at the same time perhaps Baxter was trying with this comment to encourage the Youth’s Companion to offer a good price).

At least one of the history lessons exists, probably the first of the series, in the Huntington Library (HM 2393; it starts “The study of history is to learn how the world has moved and changed in former ages—how men have come together and separated and wandered”).

The Youth’s Companion was published by N. Willis of Boston between 1871 and 1929. There must be some chance that Baxter did indeed place the MSS with this periodical. Unfortunately I haven’t been able to locate a library with a collection that covers a likely period (say, 1895-97). There is an Index to the Youth’s Companion, 1871-1929, 2 vols (Metuchen, NJ: Scarecrow Press, 1972), but I haven’t been able to locate that either.

Does any reader of this blog happen to know of a library that has either the magazines or the index?


[From Chicago Evening Post, 25 April 1895]



Charles Baxter Here with Several Valuable Manuscripts.




The Writer’s Literary Executor Talks of Other English Poets—First Editions of Lang.


Charles Baxter, W. S. of Edinburgh and London, has arrived in Chicago from San Francisco.

“I am, or, I am sorry to say, was, the life-long friend and legal and literary agent of Robert Louis Stevenson,” said Mr. Baxter today to a reporter for THE EVENING POST. “On Dec. 7, in fulfillment of an old promise, I left London to pay him a visit at Brindisi. [should be ‘…visit. At Brindisi…’] I received a letter full of joyous anticipation of our meeting. At Port Said three cablegrams told me that he was dead. From what I now know I believe the terrible blank to me has been felt as a terrible blank by the civilized world. The French literary men especially have mourned his loss. I remained two months at his home in Samoa. As his executor, appointed along with Henry James, Jr., the novelist, who felt unable to act, I have been able to arrange his affairs. His family was kindness personified. I am now on my way back to his, and my, old country.

“Yes, I am taking with me several unpublished works, the first of which will be “The Vailima Letters,” being a species of diary sent monthly to his best friend, Sidney Colvin, keeper of the prints in the British Museum. Mr. Colvin introduced Stevenson to the world of letters and has ever since been his warmest admirer, severest critic and truest friend. Great competition has taken place for this book. It will appear in book form only, in England and America.

Two Uncompleted Works.

“Then I have “St. Ives,” which wants two chapters of completion. These explain the plot, but we shall leave the explanation, which is known only to one living person, as an exercise for the ingenuity of future readers. A splendid fragment (about 50,000 words), complete in itself, will be published as the first episode of what was to be his masterpiece, “Weir of Hermiston.” “The Great North Road” is a minor tale, of romantic interest, comprising about 15,000 words. A small volume of “Fables,” long ago contracted for, goes to the Longmans of London. And a charming little series of history letters written to his small friend, Austen Strong, suitable for children, will, I expect, be published by the Youth’s Companion. That is, if we arrange terms. England, selfish as usual, wants it badly.

“Stevenson’s biography will be written by Sidney Colvin, and I know he will approve of my saying that any letters of interest written to persons in the United States will be thankfully received and acknowledged by him and carefully returned. Certified type-written copies will do equally well.”

“Now, Mr. Baxter, as to your own future movements?”

“I go to-night to New York, and thence straight to Washington.”

“What about Samoan politics?”

“I decline to discuss politics.”

Mr. Stevenson’s Successors.

“Is there any successor to Stevenson as a stylist in English letters?”

“In prose—no. In verse, in which he was conscious he took but a secondary place, I will name three—Gosse, Andrew Lang, LL.D., and William Ernest Henley, LL.D., [this doctorate is a mistake of the journalist’s] all intimate friends of Stevenson. Dr. Henley is masculine and vigorous, full of new thought and invention in rhythm. He introduced the lighter French forms of verse into our country about eighteen years ago. He has had many imitators—few successful. He is my intimate friend. I reckon Poet Henley will live fifty years.

“Gosse is refined, cultivated, tuneful and sings a sweet note; but sometimes he recalls the voice of a past or present songster. He will live twenty-five years. Dr. Lang is the most curious problem of all. Industrious to a miracle, he envelops the world of broadsheets in that which looks like thought, but, as far as I can make out, is simply the result of an incredible memory. Not dull, not smart, far from a dolt, equally far from a genius, he, like a once famous rivulet, goes on forever. It was but last night I heard it complained that the English-written journal was being assimilated by Dr. Lang, and this, mind you, all over the world. His ‘first editions’ are innumerable. But now I am tired so I must really go to my friends, so you will excuse me. Before I go, however, let me give you one little sketch from real life.

“About six months ago I was travelling in the evening by a suburban train in the near neighborhood of London. A little vulgar man, with a large head and a sad eye, sat opposite. The carriage was what we call in England third-class. I was reading the first number of the ‘New Review,’ in which I held some very valuable 7 per cent preferred shares credited by my friend, W. E. Henley: I recommend them as an investment to some of your capitalists.

“ ‘You are literary, sir?’ said he, with a gasp. ‘I can read and write, but not spell,’ said I, severely. ‘Like first editions?’ said he. ‘That depends,’ said I, to cut him short. ‘Will you look at some of mine?’ he urged. ‘All right,’ I replied. The train stopped, and, seizing my arm, he rushed me down a dim village street, through a small grocer’s shop, into a back parlor, lined with shelves, each one of which was crowded with books. ‘Well, my man, what’s all this?’ I asked, really somewhat taken aback. ‘Every one of ‘em Andrew Lang’s first editions,’ he whispered, gazing at me with wide-pupiled eyes.

Andrew Lang’s First Editions.

“Then I realised the sorrow and the haunted look of my little grocer, but presence of mind came. ‘How much?’ said I ina low tone. ‘Two and sixpence per volume, taken by the load; dirt cheap,eh?’ says he anxiously. ‘Yes,’ I replied emphatically, ‘a magnificent investment. Take good heart. In five years they will be worth only one shilling and sixpence. Do not despair! Tie them up for 100 years. Your great-great-grand-children will then be lord mayors, marquises or earls and these will be priceless, because unique, the only known examples of Poet Andrew Lang.’

“Thank God, sir; thank God. Tell the wife that! She’ll be kinder, I think! What may I offer you to—’ ‘Nothing, man! In the name of heaven.” and I fled through the little shop, up the terrace, under the great railway bridge, and at last, alone, I sat me down and sighed beside the great moaning river and mused for hours on the futility of human aspiration.”

Mr. Baxter, with a cheery nod, remarking he was getting thirsty once more, left.

“By the way,” he shouted merrily as he passed up the pretty staircase of the Victoria. “I am just cabling Major Pound, in New York, to arrange a meeting of a few Scotsmen and women to hear me read Stevenson’s Scots poems in the vernacular, several addressed to me. Proceeds to put up a memorial in Edinburgh. I think it a good idea. What do you say? Good-by.”

Written by rdury

16/05/2013 at 5:44 am

News from the volume editors: St Ives

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by Glenda Norquay

The parts played by Stevenson’s friends, as editors and business negotiators, particularly after his death, was one area of focus in my recent research trip to Princeton and to the Beinecke Library at Yale working on St Ives.

Baxter takes on American publishers and gives it to them straight
One of the unexpectedly fascinating aspects of this research has been the complicated publishing history of the material, with American and British publishers wrangling over book publication and serial rights, a debate made difficult not just by Stevenson’s death but also by the ‘disappointment’ (to put it mildly) of Charles Scribner at The Ebb-Tide going to Stone & Kimball and their claim to have rights to future works.

Scribner’s had been Stevenson’s publishers since 1885, when Stevenson had been delighted at receiving any money at all from US sales. He was, however, disappointed at sales of The Wrecker in 1893 in the US (where it had sold about a third of the number sold in the UK) and suspected them, with Baxter’s encouragement,  of dishonesty or incompetence. He therefore made Baxter his business manager and asked him to get the best offer for future items.

The Americans are highly suspicious of Charles Baxter and his deal-making. And perhaps with some justification: in a letter of July 1894 he writes to RLS: ‘There is no being sentimental with American publishers […] If you want their respect, you must “do” them, and they will think you real smart’. Cultural differences and prejudice, combined with the need for income to keep Vailima going, seem to have created a difficult situation.

Colvin’s helpful ideas for a historical novel
Colvin is not exactly a business intermediary (Baxter had warned Stevenson in February 1893 that Colvin ‘is not much use at selling’) but becomes the more acceptable face of Stevenson’s representatives to the Americans. Colvin’s role, however, is more than a mediator. His contribution to St Ives includes the suggestion: ‘Couldn’t you let Scott walk across the stage in one or other of your 1812 novels? Also I want Boney, why not, in St Ives.’ (1 Dec 1893) Stevenson doesn’t seem to have been too enthusiastic about the Napoleon suggestion but a cameo of Scott provides one of the book’s most memorable chapters.

Colvin, Quiller-Couch and the conclusion of St Ives
It was also Colvin who negotiated the ‘Conclusion’ to the novel, first approaching Conan Doyle who declined by asserting ‘I’d as soon think of putting a new act on to Hamlet’ (n.d.) then working with Arthur Quiller-Couch.

The extended correspondence over the ending, which Quiller-Couch was working on while chapters were appearing in the Pall Mall Magazine, shows Colvin as recipient of all ‘Q’s anxieties over the impossibility of the ending apparently planned by Stevenson. The correspondence between them is an unusual one, in that Colvin is an editor of the material, responsible for the revisions that went to the publisher, while Quiller-Couch is both author and a reader. So in April 1897 he notes that: ‘I have just read the May installment in the P.M.M. [chapters 19–21] Alain doesn’t work out as I had expected—or perhaps a very bad illustration has something to do with it. At any rate I had expected a grander air with him and more gusto in his villainy.’

Colvin’s editorial role is also an important one, although he is dismayed to find that revision notes incorporated in the English version by Heinemann did not reach Scribner in time for the American edition. It is, nevertheless, his approved version of the novel that dominated for over a hundred years.

Work continues
Of Quiller-Couch’s role in shaping the ending, of the mystery of the American Privateer and of my first encounter with the 800 manuscript pages for St Ives, more to follow.