Posts Tagged ‘correspondence’
The ‘Inland Voyage’ Notebook
The ‘Inland Voyage’ notebook in the Beinecke Library contains a page of income for 1878, the first part drawn up in ink in early June 1878 (since the last item written in ink—the opening episode of the ‘Later-Day Arabian Nights’—was published on 8 June), and continued afterwards in pencil:
Generously leaving the pencil additions on the right of the page and the totals top right and bottom left to be explained by another researcher, the main list can be transcribed as follows:.
The first thing to note is that the list does not cover all Stevenson’s publications in 1878, as we can see if we look at the table below of 1878 publications in chronological order, with items on the Notebook list in bold:
The Notebook list is in chronological order, except for Inland Voyage in third place, probably because payment for this book was made before publication. However, the list does not name any titles after ‘English Admirals’; the three unnamed final payments in the Notebook list must be a continuation of the series of payments for ‘New Arabian Nights’.
Can we find evidence for 1878 payments in other documents?
Charles Baxter acted as Stevenson’s banker and investment manager, and kept a record of receipts and payments in his ‘Accounts Current between Robert Louis Stevenson […] and Mitchell and Baxter W.S.’ (these records in the The Harry Ransom Center at the Univesity of Texas). However, it seems clear that a number of payments did not pass through Baxter’s Accounts but were kept by RLS for his current expenses, so this record will not be complete. Additional evidence of payments comes from letters (in this case, Henley’s letters to RLS and to Baxter).
Baxter’s ‘Accounts Current’ for 23 August record a payment of £3 7s ‘Cheque from Mr Sutton [Alfred Sutton, the publisher of London], London’. This does not correspond to any item on the list, suggesting that the the latter ends before 23 August, or the number of London that the payment refers to: assuming this was a payment for the ‘Latter-Day Arabian Nights’, and since there was no episode on 24 August, it must have been a late payment for the episode of 17 August or an early payment, on receipt of the MS, for the episode of 31 August. We’ll look at this later when we’ve worked out the probable rate of payment made by London. [Added later: it’s probably for 17 August episode; £3 7s works out as 28 pence per hundred words, a very similar rate to that of the other ‘Arabian’ episodes.]
A letter written by Henley to Baxter dated 12 September 1878 (Yale, B 4555) mentions that it includes two payments of £3 5s and £2, but this does not correspond to any payment on the list and would confirm that the Notebook list covers only part of the year.
Baxter’s Accounts also have a payment dated 13 September of £8 8s. ‘in payment of contribution to “Cornhill”’, which although identical to the Cornhill payment for ‘The English Admirals’ on the list must be for ‘Child’s Play’, published in the same magazine that month.
In an earlier letter of Henley to RLS of 20 June 1878 (Atkinson 51), WEH send £4 in sovereigns and owes 7/6 because he ‘can’t post three half-crowns’, even though he has received them (from the publisher to forward to contributors): this must correspond to the £4 payment of item 10 on the Notebook list, corresponding to the ‘Arabian’ episode of 15 June (see below, ‘Payments for the “Latter-Day Arabian Nights’). The list, if this is true, records only actual payments received and could be seen as Stevenson’s way of keeping account of his limited income and expenditure while living with Fanny Osbourne in Paris.
Payments for articles in London
Let’s take ‘A Plea for Gas Lamps’ and its payment of £1 11s 6d or 378 pence, and see how this relates to the number of words (payment by column or column-inch would be proportionate to this). The essay has 1325 words, so this works out as 29 pence per hundred words. ‘Pan’s Pipes’ receives an identical fee, but is slightly longer: 1430 words (it is also longer in columns or column inches). This immediately tells us that any measurement of length was made roughly. The rate here is 26 pence per hundred words. ‘El Dorado’ is paid less, £1 6s or 312 pence, and is in fact shorter at 1166 words, which works out at 27 pence per hundred words.
It looks at this point as if these three contributions are paid by length at about 27 pence per hundred words or 19 pence per column inch, with length roughly measured or rounded up and down by a system we cannot know. We can get a better idea of the rate by looking at the payments for the ‘Latter-Day Arabian Nights’.
Payments for the ‘Latter-Day Arabian Nights’
If the payments without any title in the Notebook list all refer to the ‘Latter-Day Arabian Nights’ then there are 9 payments for ‘Arabs’. One of them, however, is for £9 so it must be for two episodes. If the list contains all the payments for the first ten episodes, then it goes from 8 June to 10 August, the date when the list was abandoned (soon after Stevenson returned from France), thus leaving 8 episodes unrecorded, including the £3 7s recorded by Baxter on 23 August:
If we calculate the rate per hundred words of these episodes, then the £9 covers episodes 3 and 4 very neatly and there is a close approximation of weeks with a higher rate per hundred words (56, 34, 33, 35) and the weeks (if this association of payments and episodes is correct) when the Notebook marks an ‘article also’:
The payment for the first five episodes comes out as 29, 27, 29 and 29 pence per hundred words, which looks very close to the payment for the three essays in London, 29, 26 and 27 pence per hundred words. The second payment has a slightly lower rate—but if this is the £4 which Henley paid on 20 June (Atkinson, 51), then the full payment owed would be £4 7s 6d, which works out as 29 pence per hundred words for this episode also. Hence, for the calculations of the payments we’ll take 29 pence per hundred words as the standard payment for ‘Arabs’. This will probably not be the actual rate (paid by page or column) but will give us results that are roughly correct.
It should be said that the words have been calculated from the sections published in London (the list of opening and closing words of each episode kindly supplied by Roger Swearingen), as they were reprinted in the 1882 volume New Arabian Nights—it may well be that these sections were slightly longer or shorter in the book version, so for the moment (and I am generously leaving the counting of the words in the London version to another researcher) these must be seen as rough calculations only, though probably not too far from the actual numbers.
Taking then these numbers of words for the episodes in London, we see that payments for episodes 6—9 (13 Jul—3 Aug) are clearly accompanied by payments for additional items. The notebook list, however, suggests the additional items were associated with episodes 5—8 (6 Jul—27 Jul). The first of these, 6 July, is one of the payments of £4. Could it be that this is the payment of £4 made by Henley on 20 June? £4, as we see, covers payment for ‘Arab’ episode six at 29 pence per hundred words (henceforth, I’m afraid: ‘pphw’); in this case—and the reader will here be aware that I am adding a series of possibilities one on the other, a structure which, like a house of cards, has its limits; but who knows, we may arrive at a single convincing hypothesis at the end covering everything satisfactorily—in this case, the 7s 6d that Henley owed Stevenson would be for that ‘article also’, published on the 6 July, and (using the rough rates discovered) just over 300 words long. This would be about 25 lines or a third of a column in length, so a very short piece, probably in the weekly odd items section called ‘Whispering Gallery’.
Unfortunately in looking through the 6 July number, RLA and myself had not noted anything that seemed to be by Stevenson. The only item that caught our attention in that number was ‘The Ethics of Lying’, which might have started him thinking about ‘Truth of Intercourse’—but, apart from the un-Stevensonsonian style, this is much longer, about 1800 words in length. Perhaps the short item in question was published on 13 July?
Additional Stevenson contribution to the 13 July number?
There was in fact an item in the 13 July number of London that both RLA and myself thought was almost certainly by Stevenson. It is unfortunately just under 300 words, 272 words to be exact. Anyway, here it is, from the ‘Whispering Gallery’ section of the magazine:
And by the way, what amazing devil (to quote the late Charles Dickens) is it that impels the distinguished lady who wrote “Adam Bede” to write such bitter dulness as “A College Breakfast Party”? Why should this woman of genius in prose imperil her soul by endeavouring to be also a woman of genius in verse? Surely if she be not all-wise herself, she has friends who are wise enough to save her from such a shame? Or is it true that the wicked world must approach her on its bended knees, and that her words are one and all oracular? I am not an enthusiast of hers, but I even am sorry. Her blank verse always reminds me of deals in a timber yard, or bricks stacked up for use at a builder’s; and never a whit of poetry. Before “A College Breakfast Party” even Professor Dowden and Mr. G. H. Lewes, I should think, would “tremble and turn and be changed.” But there’s no accounting for tastes, and no disputing them neither. What to you and me, dear reader of my heart, is only dulness and awkwardness and a mistake, may be to others one of the greatest works of the human mind. It is amazing how desperately a personal interest will modify one’s views! And let us not forget that while we (you and I, that is) are thanking heaven we are not as they are, they—the elect—are thanking heaven (or its equivalent) they are not as we are. And so the world wags on, and bad literature is let look for half a minute like good. (London, 13 July 1878, p. 36)
‘A College Breakfast Party’ had been published in Macmillan’s Magazine for July 1878. The view of George Eliot in this brief London note is similar to that expressed by Stevenson in a letter of December 1877, in which he also uses the phrase ‘woman of genius’:
George Eliot: a high but, may we not add? − a rather dry Lady.[…] Hats off, all the same, you understand: a woman of genius. (Letters 2, 228)
The piece also contains some unexpected phrases that sound Stevensonian: ‘bitter dulness’, ‘I even am sorry’, and ‘let look’ (‘bad literature is let look for half a minute like good’)—the second and third are examples of how Stevenson invents new syntactical combinations that are perfectly understandable but strange at the same time. The third-to-last sentence (‘It is amazing how desperately a personal interest will modify one’s views!’) and the sentence that follows are also reminiscent of the passage in ‘Virginibus Puerisque’ (from 1876) about how everyone believes their own opinions to be true:
The word “facts” is, in some ways, crucial. I have spoken with Jesuits and Plymouth Brethren, mathematicians and poets, dogmatic republicans and dear old gentlemen in bird’s-eye neckcloths; and each understood the word “facts” in an occult sense of his own. Try as I might, I could get no nearer the principle of their division. What was essential to them seemed to me trivial or untrue. We could come to no compromise as to what was, or what was not, important in the life of man. Turn as we pleased, we all stood back to back in a big ring, and saw another quarter of the heavens, with different mountain-tops along the sky-line and different constellations overhead. We had each of us some whimsy in the brain, which we believed more than anything else, and which discoloured all experience to its own shade. How would you have people agree, when one is deaf and the other blind?
The cheekiness of ‘thanking heaven (or its equivalent)’ is also reminiscent of Stevenson’s 1870s essays, as is the slightly crazy nonchalance of ‘Her blank verse always reminds me of deals in a timber yard, or bricks stacked up for use at a builder’s; and never a whit of poetry’.
Adding up possible Stevensonian contributions to the 13 July number
The payment of £5 (1200 pence) for an ‘Arabian’ episode and ‘an article also’ would correspond to 4138 words (at 29 pphw). If it refers to the 13 July number of London, does this payment correspond to Stevenson’s certain and probable contributions to that number? i.e. episode six of the ‘Arabs’, ‘A Story-teller’ (see Part 1 of this report) and this brief notice on George Eliots’s ‘A College Breakfast Party’? Let’s see:
We are still 749 words short of the quantity of ‘copy’ that should correspond to the £5 payment. Zut, alors! In our examination of the bound volumes in October, neither RLA nor myself identified anything else clearly by Stevenson in this number, and—alas!—we did not make scans (so inexpensive and so easy to make in the new British Library Newsroom!) which we could now be examining at our leisure. However, there is another clue from a letter by Henley to RLS dated 12 July. Talking about the contents for 13 July number:
Don’t tax me with ‘Ce Que Se Dit’. I only brushed it up. In doing so, I’ve made it presentable, but I’ve broken the author’s heart. (Atkinson, 52)
Atkinson’s footnote to ‘Ce Que Se Dit’ says ‘A three verse unsigned poem in the issue of 13 July’. Judging by Henley’s comment it could have been a poem by RLS that Henley revised without consultation and is now trying to pre-empt criticism by making a joke about it. Unfortunately, we don’t have a scan of this page, nor do we have any idea of the rate of payment for verse: it’s unlikely to be 749 words but perhaps it was paid by the column inch.
And the 20 July number?
RLA and myself identified several connected short items probably by Stevenson in the ‘Whispering Gallery’ section about Paris and the 1878 Paris Exhibition in the 20 July number of London. The series of short items begins like this:
On 7 June 1878, RLS had left Edinburgh for Paris, where he was secretary to Fleeming Jenkins, a member of the Jury for the Paris Exposition. He stayed in Hotel Mirabeau, moving to Hotel du Val de Grace, rue St Jacques in late June/early July. On 11 July he left Paris for Grez.
He must have written these notes just before leaving, as Henley writes to him on 12 July ‘I have received notes and Hansom Cabs. […] Shall print and pay for Whispers. Next week’ (Atkinson, 52). By ‘next week’ he meant the issue of 20 July, when the first part of ‘The Adventure of the Hansom Cabs’ appeared and also these Notes from Paris in the ‘Whispering Gallery’ section. The notes include a section about the good-natured festive crowd on what must be the Avenue de l’Opéra lit by electric lights; as he mentions the singing of the Marseillaise, this must be the celebration of the Republic on 30 June, which was also a popular expression of national pride after the defeat of 1870, with music and singing in the streets until late and much waving of flags (celebrated in a painting by Monet). He describes the hotel chambermaid preparing to go out into the festive streets (the opening comment is by Henley):
We can see Stevenson’s typical unexpected epithet in ‘the conspicuous morning’; the French way of proclaiming feelings is also commented on in ‘Forest Notes’ (1876)—people recommended Grez for its beauty, adding ‘ “Il y a de l’eau,” […] with an emphasis, as if that settled the question’.
The Notes also contain a description of the first post-Revolutionary 14 July celebrations—officially comemorating the centenary of the death of Rousseau, after the govenment had forbidden any street celebrations for the fall of the Bastille—including a description of the main celebration in the Cirque Myers led by Louis Blanc. This is perhaps not by Stevenson, who would have had to return to Paris from Grez and then send a supplementary note. Excluding this from his contribution also makes sense from the point of view of the payment.
In fact, 3414 words (for the ‘Arab’) and 575 words (Paris Notes without the 14 July event) make 3989 words. Paid at 29 pphw, this number of words would correspond to 1157 pence—practically identical with the 1152 pence paid (£4 16s).
This gets a bit embarassing. For 27 July, if our assignment of dates to the Notebook entries is correct, 3852 words (for the ‘Arab’) needs to be complemented by 534 words (‘an article also’) to make the 4386 words that correspond to the 1272 pence (£5 6s) paid. This is assuming that everything is paid at 29 pphw (the extra article would be 574 words if paid at 27 pphw).
Unfortunately, we only noted one item in the 27 July number that we thought could be by Stevenson, a review entitled ‘History of the Indian Mutiny’ (p. 90) and we gave it a vote of two out of five, so practically excluded it, though we know that Stevenson was interested in this episode of history. I have no record of its length, nor (alas!) a scan, which would have been so easy to make…
And 3 August?
Similarly for 3 August the payment of 1080 pence (£4 10s) covers the 3108 words of the ‘Arab’ episode and 744 words (or a bit more if the rate of payment was lower) of the extra ‘article’.
Here, we noted the following as possible candidates: ‘The Humours of “Bradshaw”‘ (pp. 111-12), ‘Bohemia: Emile Augier III. The Dramatist’ (pp. 112-13), ‘Modern Frenchmen’ (pp. 113-14). We gave a vote of two to the first; the same vote to the second (which, however, is the third of a series of articles), and one to the third. We did not make a scan for these pages either.
The assignment of dates to the ‘Latter-Day Arabian Nights’ episodes in the Notebook list finds a good correspondence between payments and the length of the ‘Arab’ episodes and has also helped us to identify three contributions by Stevenson.
The unique copies of London in the British Library contain much of interest: the many poems written by Henley and perhaps by Stevenson; the contributions by Katherine De Mattos and Walter Ferrier (much admired by Stevenson), possible contributions from Bob, as well as Henley’s important input. It deserves a study of its own, to which the present study has made a small and incomplete contribution. (If only we’d made those scans…)
Ernest James Mehew, editor of the Letters of Robert Louis Stevenson
23 September 1923 – 24 October 2011
by Roger G. Swearingen
Ernest James Mehew, the world’s pre-eminent authority on the nineteenth-century Scottish author Robert Louis Stevenson, died peacefully in his sleep on 24 October 2011, a month after his eighty-eighth birthday. For approximately the last year, he had resided with his wife of more than fifty years, Joyce, in an Edgware, Middlesex, nursing home to provide her with support and companionship in her progressive and losing struggle with advanced-age dementia. She survives him; the Mehews had no children.
Ernest Mehew was born on 23 September 1923 at Bluntisham, Huntingdon and educated at Huntingdon Grammar School. In June 1942, at the age of eighteen, he joined the British Army and served with the Royal Army Ordnance Corps in the UK, France, Belgium, and India. Already fond of Stevenson from his school days, it was Janet Adam Smith’s 1938 biographical study, Mehew later recalled, that in 1942 made him a serious student of the author. After his time in the army, Mehew joined the Civil Service in 1947 and served in the Foreign Office, the Ministry of Food, and (for most of his distinguished thirty-year career) the Ministry of Agriculture, Fisheries, and Food. He retired in 1983 at the level of Principal (G7).
He took advantage of his hour-long commute on the Bakerloo Line of the London Underground to and from his home in Stanmore to read not only everything that Stevenson himself wrote but practically everything that Stevenson himself had read and everything that had been written about him or about his family, his friends, and his times – whenever possible, from primary sources. Mehew’s knowledge was, as a result, encyclopaedic, not narrow, and besides frequent visits to second-hand bookshops in Charing Cross Road, he and his wife Joyce (herself a keen student of the period, and of the English author Maurice Baring) spent many a weekend searching bookshops for still more about Stevenson – notably in Peter Eaton’s sprawling establishment at Lilies near Aylesbury in Buckinghamshire and, later, in the many bookshops in Hay-on-Wye. The collection of books, periodical versions, reminiscences, and much else, soon filled every available corner of the house and attic.
From the early 1950s, in part from his letters to the Times Literary Supplement correcting errors and omissions and setting the record straight, often for the first time, Mehew became recognized not only for his knowledge of Stevenson but of the late nineteenth-century literary scene generally. Forming life-long friendships in the process, he helped with Janet Adam Smith’s editions of Stevenson’s Collected Poems (1950, 1971), with the British edition of J. C. Furnas’s biography of Stevenson, Voyage to Windward (1952), and with Rupert Hart-Davis’s major edition of Oscar Wilde’s letters (1962). ‘Mr. Mehew has unearthed several dozen letters unknown to me’, Hart-Davis wrote in his introduction, ‘besides doing the most acute detective work on behalf of the footnotes: any of them that seem particularly ingenious, amusing or recondite can safely be attributed to him, while Mrs Joyce Mehew’s extensive knowledge of the Bible has proved invaluable’. He was a mentor, too, to a younger generation of scholars, notably the Stevenson bibliographer Roger G. Swearingen, whom he first met in 1969 when Swearingen was in graduate school and with whom he maintained an active friendship and correspondence for more than forty years, practically to the day of his death.
In 1966, Mehew was asked by Yale University Press to comment on an edition of Stevenson’s letters then in preparation by Professor Bradford A. Booth. Mehew submitted a commentary so lengthy, useful, authoritative, and detailed that he was asked to become assistant editor of the Yale letters – a task which became his alone when Professor Booth died suddenly on 1 December 1968.
The eight volumes of The Letters of Robert Louis Stevenson, published twenty-five years later in 1994 and 1995, included more than 2,800 letters, almost two-thirds of them never before published. Mehew’s careful transcriptions, dating, and detailed and incisive annotations, together with his introduction and linking commentaries, not only placed the study of Stevenson upon a whole new foundation of fact, but also set a standard for the scholarly editing and accessible presentation of such material that will never be surpassed. It is a testimony to the thoroughness and completeness of Mehew’s work that in the fifteen years since the publication of the Yale Letters fewer than a dozen new letters have come to light, none of them of any great importance, and that the physical locations of only a dozen or so other letters, then untraced, have now become known.
Mehew’s Selected Letters of Robert Louis Stevenson (1997) is an engaging and balanced selection illuminated throughout by Mehew’s introduction, annotations, and linking commentary. The result, in effect, is an authoritative and highly readable short biography. Another masterpiece of compression and detail is Mehew’s entry on Stevenson in the Oxford Dictionary of National Biography (2004).
In addition to his work on Stevenson’s letters, Mehew also – somehow – found time to respond positively and in detail in the TLS, 13 November 1970, to Graham Greene’s observation that Stevenson’s comic novel written in collaboration with his stepson Lloyd Osbourne, The Wrong Box (1889), had never been published correctly. This was indeed the case, and the book was a special favourite of Mehew’s. He was an enthusiastic, contributing member of The Wrong Box Club that dined annually in London for some years in the 1960s – and his definitive edition of The Wrong Box appeared in 1989.
Mehew’s thoroughness and passionate commitment to accuracy earned him, at times, an undeserved reputation for irascibility. All he ever wanted was that people get things right. He was disappointed when they did not, and took great pains to correct errors wherever he found them. A striking example was his meticulous, detailed riposte to Frank McLynn’s biography of Stevenson in an article, 2 July 1993, and subsequent correspondence in the TLS. Like Stevenson himself, Mehew had an unlimited respect and thirst for knowledge – and no patience at all with prejudice, errors or with what RLS called ‘Bummkopfery’, whether in the form of laboured pedantry or its flourishing modern counterpart, academic ingenuity. Scholars worldwide benefited from Mehew’s never-failing willingness to answer questions and to suggest improvements, however disconcerting to one’s self-esteem his helpful comments might occasionally have been at first. The only goal was to get things right.
In recognition of his life’s work, in July 1997 the University of Edinburgh awarded Mehew an Honorary Doctor of Letters, noting in the citation that with no academic affiliation Ernest Mehew ‘has achieved . . . a contribution to literary studies which would be the envy of many a university-based academic, and has done so with a generosity to others and a self-effacing modesty which are the marks of a true scholar’. In 1999, Dr Mehew was elected as one of the 500 Fellows of the Royal Society of Literature.
Scholars and friends worldwide mourn his loss while celebrating his lasting and extraordinary achievements.