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

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The Significance of Sunday

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This post is contributed by John F. Russell, author and editor of The Music of Robert Louis Stevenson.

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Summary: In this post, John F. Russell shows that ‘Come, Here is Adieu to the City’ (wrongfully titled ‘Schumann’s “Fröhlicher Landmann’ by Lewis) was originally grouped with ‘Spring Song’ (‘The air was full of sun and birds’) and ‘In Lupum’ as a group of three poems with a linked agricultural theme under the general title of ‘Schumann’s “Fröhlicher Landmann’. All three are inspired by melodies (though only ‘In Lupum’ is to the Schumann tune). He also demonstrates that the poems date not from the early 1870s but from 1888.
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In an another draft, ‘Come, Here is Adieu to the City’ is grouped with ‘On Such a Day’ and ‘Sunday’. In both cases, the grouped poems can be seen as a record of Stevenson’s long escape from New York to the South Pacific in 1888, with the first group focussing on the return of spring and the possibility of leaving confinement for the country, and  the second grouping adding a sense of release from the imprisoning past.

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1. Happy Farmers

In his edition of the letters, Colvin said of Stevenson, “As always in cities, his health quickly flagged…” According to the poem Come, Here is Adieu to the City, cities were equally bad for his spiritual health, while the country was beneficial for creativity.

A rough manuscript copy can be found at the Beinecke Library,

Sunday1

Yale, GEN MSS 664 Box 27 f. 645

and a fair copy at the Edinburgh Writer’s Museum:

The Writers' Museum, LSH 137/91.

The Writers’ Museum, LSH 137/91.

The 1916 Bibliophile Society edition of poems says it “belongs to the early ‘70’s.” In Collected Poems (2003) Roger C. Lewis titles it Schumann’s Frölicher Landmann and indicates it may have been written in Edinburgh in 1872. He derives the date from a letter RLS wrote to Elizabeth Crosby on December 22, 1872:

Booth, Bradford A. and Ernest Mehew. Letters of Robert Louis Stevenson (New Haven: Yale University Press, 1995), 264 (Letter 117).

Letters 1, 264 (Letter 117).

However, in the letter Stevenson says only that he is promoting the music, not that he has written a poem about it. Toward the end of the sentence he also mentions a Gavotte en Ré but never writes a poem by that title.

The fair copy of Come Here is Adieu to the City is headed Schumann’s Frölicher Landmann. The note by Booth and Mehew under the letter points out, however, that it is a heading for a group of verses, not just Come, Here is Adieu. The rough copy shows no title and has the Roman numeral II, instead of I.

Schumann’s Fröhlicher Landmann

Beginning piano students know Schumann’s music in English as The Happy Farmer. Though an agricultural theme is shared, Stevenson’s poem has no musical relationship to the piano piece and is not intended as lyrics for that melody.

Fröhlicher Landmann is only one of 43 pieces in a collection by Schumann called Album für die Jugend (Album for the Young). In a letter to Anne Jenkin in April of 1887, Stevenson acknowledged,

Your packet arrived: I have dipped into the Schumann already with great pleasure. (Letters 5, 389 (Letter 1794))

By that time he had been playing the piano for a year and could attempt the easier Schumann piano pieces. Unfortunately he does not mention the title of the music he received. However, the more than 120 manuscript copies of music in Stevenson’s hand include only six Schumann pieces; Erinnerung (Memory), Ländliches Lied (Country Song), Matrosenlied (Sailor’s Song), Langsam (Slow Movement), Stückchen (Little Piece), and Träumerei (Dreams). The first five are all found in Album Für die Jugend. The last appears in the collection Kinderszenen (Scenes from Childhood).

On October 27th, 1887 Stevenson was in Saranac, New York and wrote a letter to Fanny’s nephew Fred Thomas (1870-1962), a young violinist who lived in Danville, Indiana. The letter concerned music RLS offered to send Fred as a Christmas present. A list of books which appears to be this Christmas shopping list has been found on the reverse of a manuscript for the fable The Reader.

Thanks to Richard Dury and Bill Gray for this facsimile of a manuscript in the British Library.

British Library, Add MS 39173; thanks to Richard Dury and Bill Gray for this facsimile.

For a detailed analysis of this document, see the Music of Robert Louis Stevenson. The seventh item on the list is marked “Schumann” and refers to a volume comprised of two piano collections, Album für die Jugend and Kinderszenen, together containing all six pieces which Stevenson copied in manuscript.

Sunday6This must have been the book Anne Jenkin sent Stevenson. RLS had found it useful for himself and now was recommending it to his nephew.

Stevenson’s Fröhlicher Landmann

The fair copy of Come, Here is Adieu has the number 19 at the top of the page. The reverse of the leaf is numbered 20 and contains the conclusion of the poem and a canceled version of Spring Song (“The air was full of sun and birds…”), which also has an agricultural reference but no relation to Schumann’s music:

Sunday5

No text appears under the Roman numeral III at the bottom of the page. Aside from the farming theme, why did Stevenson call this proposed cycle of poems Frölicher Landmann when none of the verse was appropriate as lyrics for the music?

In McKay’s A Stevenson Library Catalogue (1961) entry number 7008 refers to Stevenson’s not quite finished translation of Martial’s In Lupum, about the gift of a tiny farm.

Sunday7On the right of the Roman numeral “xl” is the number 18. This is the notebook page previous to that which contains Come, Here is Adieu to the City. McKay corrects the Roman numeral to “XI” on p. 2605 of his catalog.

In Lupum is the poem that was written to Schumann’s music. Since it was already contiguous to the other two poems, RLS may have seen no reason to recopy it under the number III.

Sunday8

It seems that Stevenson’s Frölicher Landmann cycle initially consisted of three poems on agricultural themes which he intended as lyrics to three different melodies. Come Here fits well with the melody of Rosin the Bow (also known as The Old Settler’s Song). Spring Song fits with the Carnival of Venice, and In Lupum with Happy Farmer (“Fröhlicher Landmann”).

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2. Across the Plains

Adieu to winter and the city

A complete transcription of the fair copy of Come, Here is Adieu to the City appears below. The second stanza does not appear in the rough copy.

Come, here is adieu to the city
And hurrah for the country again.
The broad road lies before me
Watered with last night’s rain.

O I that have slept all winter
Am wakened again today
And the breeze blows into my spirit
And brushes the cobwebs away

The tumbled country woos me
With many a hill and hough;
[ hill ]
And again in the shining fallows
The ploughman follows the plough.

The whole year’s sweat and study,
And the whole year’s sowing time,
Comes now to the perfect harvest,
And ripens now into rhyme.

For we that sow in the Autumn,
We reap our grain in the Spring,
And we that go sowing and weeping
Return to reap and sing.

.An inspiration for it may have been a madrigal text by Thomas Tomkins (1572-1656):

Adieu, ye city pris’ning towers,
Better are the country bowers.
Winter is gone, the trees are springing,
Birds on ev’ry hedge sit singing.
Hark, how they chirp, come, love, delay not,
Come, come, sweet love, O, come and stay not
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Stevenson used the surname Tomkins for a character in Ebb-Tide, as well as the full name of the poet Robert Herrick (1591-1674), a contemporary. RLS owned the complete works of Herrick, so he may also have been familiar with Tomkins, and though they have no relation to Tomkins’s poem, he wrote some verses called Madrigal.

Other indications that RLS was aware of Tomkins’ poem are the use of the imperative “come” in the first line of his poem and in the last line of Tomkins’, and the equating of the city with winter and constriction, and the country with spring, fertility and song.

Neither Stevenson nor Tomkins needed to use the French word “adieu” in the first line. “Farewell” is the English equivalent with the same stress and number of syllables, and there are no other French references in the poems that might justify a French expression. However “adieu” means “goodbye forever” and “farewell” does not. Apparently both poets wanted to emphasize the idea of leaving the city permanently.

The sense of Stevenson’s poem is that his creativity has been in hibernation but is reemerging. While in Saranac, New York RLS wrote to Anne Jenkin in February, 1888,

The climate is certainly repulsive; cruelly cold, bleak, sunless and windy … I should dearly like to cut and run … I go on patching away at work, not of the best. (Letters 6, 118-19 (Letter 2019))

We need only remember the Master of Ballantrae’s frightening emergence from suspended animation and his frozen grave in the “wilderness” of New York to confirm Stevenson’s feelings about Saranac.

Crossing the Plains

He did “cut and run” on Saturday, June 2, 1888, leaving on a six day train journey to San Francisco. Across the Plains (1883) described the sufferings of his first crossing of the United States by rail in 1879, and so he would have arrived this second time, perhaps again “dog-tired” in the “great and gloomy city” of Chicago sometime Monday, immediately having wearily to drag his belongings to another station four blocks away. He must gladly then have bid “adieu to the city, and hurrah for the country again.”

After travelling across Illinois and Iowa, he found himself “at sea” in Nebraska, “a world almost without feature,” yet “the broad road” still lay before him.

The state below Nebraska is Kansas and around the middle of the 19th century, winter wheat from Russia was introduced there. It was planted in September, sprouted and grew a little during the fall, lay dormant during the winter and was finally harvested in June.

For we that sow in the Autumn,
We reap our grain in the Spring,
And we that go sowing and weeping
Return to reap and sing

“To cross such a plain,” he wrote about Nebraska, “is to grow homesick for the mountains. I longed for the Black Hills of Wyoming.”

The tumbled country woos me
With many a hill and hough;

By Friday he had arrived in the longed for Wyoming, only to be disappointed,

We traveled through these sad mountains … hour after hour it was the same unhomely and unkindly world about our onward path; tumbled boulders, cliffs that drearily imitate the shape of monuments…

After 90 hours of travel, hope rekindled at Ogden, Utah, where he changed from the cramped, now stinking cars of the Union Pacific to those twice as high and airy of the Central Pacific Railroad. Soon he was greeted by a huge pine forested ravine, a foaming river and a fiery sky.

At every turn we could see farther into the land and our own happy futures. For this was indeed our destination; this was ‘the good country’ we had been going to so long.

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3. San Francisco

At the bottom of the leaf containing the rough copy of Come Here is Adieu is a short, unpublished poem.

Sunday9

On such a day as this day is,
So morning fresh and clear,
The titan on the bald hill top
Sat piping far and near
[watching]
They saw him from the plains below–
A castle on a hill!

At first the meaning is obscure, however the last paragraph of Across the Plains sheds unexpected light.

Sunday10Stevenson has only slightly misquoted Spenser’s description of morning in the Faerie Queen.

Now when the rosy-fingered morning fair,
Weary of aged Tithon’s saffron bed,
Had spread her purple robes through dewy air,
And the high hills Titan discovered.

RLS’s poem ends with an exclamation point because what he saw on the “bald hill top” was not there the first time he came to San Francisco in 1879.

The titan on the bald hill top
Sat piping far and near
They saw him from the plains below–
A castle on a hill!

Sunday11

In 1883 Frederick O. Layman built a wooden castle on Telegraph Hill as a cable car terminus for a proposed observatory (“piping far and near”) and restaurant. Known as “Layman’s Folly,” it was destroyed by fire in 1903. This is what “they” (RLS, Fannie, Lloyd, Margaret and Valentine) saw from the plains below, “a castle on a hill!”

Stevenson returned to England from his first trip to the U.S. in 1880, three years before the castle was built. The poem On Such a Day could only have been written in 1888, when he returned to San Francisco on his second trip. Since Come, Here is Adieu to the City and On Such a Day are written on the same page, in the same casual handwriting and are consecutively marked II and III, they must have been written around the same time, and so Come here is Adieu to the City must also have been written in 1888.

To see a castle on Telegraph Hill when there wasn’t one there before must have startled Stevenson all the more because it reminded him of others from his past he was so impressed with that he had taken the trouble to draw them.

Sunday12

Stevenson, Robert Louis. A mountain town in France. New York: Lane, 1896. Chateau Neuf.

Sunday13

Stevenson, Robert Louis. A mountain town in France. New York: Lane, 1896. Chateau Beaufort

In Kidnapped (1886) Stevenson used the phrase “castle on the hill” to refer to the now destroyed Costorphine Castle to the west of Edinburgh and “castle on a hill” to refer to Stirling Castle, which had often been used as a prison. What may have startled him even more was the reawakened memory of the castle with which he was most familiar and would never see again.

Edinburgh Castle

Edinburgh Castle

A remarkable coincidence of words appears in Stevenson’s Edinburgh: Picturesque Notes (1878).

Sunday15

In this description of “the tall, black city” which was so harmful to his health, two adjoining sentences use a word and a phrase which appear on the same page as the two poems just discussed. “Tumbled” is used in line 9 of Come, Here is Adieu and “On such a day” is part of the first line of the following poem. It is as if the sudden sight of the castle on Telegraph Hill reawakened the memory of his description of Edinburgh and echoed through these verses ten years later.

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4. The South Pacific

On Thursday, June 28, 1888 the Casco was docked at North Beach near Telegraph Hill and at 5 a.m. was towed to the Golden Gate to begin its Pacific cruise.

On the reverse of the leaf containing Come, Here is Adieu to the City and On Such a Day is an unpublished and unfinished poem. It lacks a Roman numeral designation, but the number 4 appears in the upper right corner.

Sunday15

Sunday. And I, good Calvinist,
Drop anchor for the day of rest,
And with all trouble, all dismissed
Out of my tranquil breast,
I smoke my weed about the deck, …………….
5
Or on the tafrail, lean my head

To watch, far on the smiling sea, some speck
In the clear morning air, the chimes
That flutter up around me seem,
Peals loosened from the city of old times ….
10
That long in dream,

And I, good Calvinist
Have all my mariners dismissed
Far on the smiling backward sea I trace
The wake of my past life. ………………………..
15
I bring the gully too, and smoke,
I idly patrol the deck and smoke
An idle eye far from fancy’s puppet folk,

Canceled lines and words have not been transcribed and the last line is uncertain. Capitalization and misspellings have been corrected. Lines 12-18 are apparently another attempt at the poem. A gully is a knife.

In this verse Stevenson is recording an experience on the yacht Casco in the Pacific. Because it is Sunday, he orders the anchor to be dropped and sends everyone ashore. With his heart at peace, he wanders the deck and smokes. He follows something far off in the distance, his past life, and hears a church bell, which reminds him of “the city of old times.”

In the poem he says, “I … dropped anchor,” and had “all my mariners dismissed.” If he were writing about his lighthouse steamship voyage of 1872, where he was only a passenger, he couldn’t have made these claims, and they certainly wouldn’t apply to his canoe trip in the Arethusa in 1878. Though he was not the captain, only on the Casco and no other boat was he in a position to order the anchor dropped and to send the crew and his family, “all my mariners”, ashore.

The poem must therefore have been written about any Sunday from July 22, 1888, when the Casco docked at Nukahiva, to December 30, 1888, just before the voyage finished in Hawaii.

There may be corroboration for this in his mother’s entry for September 12, 1888 at the Paumotus Islands in From Saranac to the Marquesas (p. 148-150) where she records,

Our house stands beside the little church, but the priest is away just now and there is only a native catechist left in charge. I would fain go to the service, but twenty minutes to six A.M. (when the bell rings) is rather much of a good thing in the way of early rising for me … As soon as we cast anchor on Sunday, a M. Donat came on board to welcome us.

Some additional evidence can be assumed from the word “tafrail” (line 6) which Stevenson only used in Master of Ballantrae (begun in 1887), The Wrecker (1891), St. Ives (1893), and Ebb Tide (1893).

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Come, Here is Adieu to the City, On Such a Day and Sunday do indeed form a cycle of poems. They are on the same leaf of manuscript, they are in the same casual handwriting, they are consecutive, and they all were written within the same year. However they are not from the 1870’s, and they are not linked by an agricultural theme as Stevenson had once planned, but instead are a record of his long escape from New York to the South Pacific in 1888 and share the themes of freedom and release from the imprisoning past.

The significance of Sunday is that, although he is not yet the captain of his ship, Stevenson is now the captain of his soul, and he finally bids adieu to the city forever.

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Written by rdury

31/10/2014 at 5:58 am

Wandering Willie Changes His Tune

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This post is contributed by John F. Russell, author and editor of The Music of Robert Louis Stevenson.

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Summary: In this post, John F. Russell shows that Stevenson’s poem ‘Home, no more home to me’ (Songs of Travel XVII) with its subtitle ‘To the Tune of Wandering Willie’ was not written to the tune generally known by that name and used by Burns for ‘Here awa’, there’s awa’, Wandering Willie’ (the words of which clearly inspired Stevenson for his poem).
Stevenson used a different tune given the title of ‘Wandering Willie’ in a music book he possessed—the tune of ‘The Cooper O’ Dundee’, used by Burns for his song ‘Bonie Dundee’.

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Common Ground

“To write with authority about another man, we must have fellow-feeling and some common ground of experience with our subject,” Stevenson writes at the very beginning of “Some Aspects of Robert Burns” (1879). This common ground is revealed throughout the essay and is first evident in a description of Burns’ appearance as a young man:

Already he made a conspicuous figure in Tarbolton church, with the only tied hair in the parish, and his plaid, which was of a particular color, wrapped in a particular manner round his shoulders. Ten years later … we shall find him out fishing in masquerade, with a fox-skin cap, belted great-coat, and great Highland broadsword. He liked dressing up, in fact, for its own sake.

In The Quest for Robert Louis Stevenson (2004), John Cairney quotes a fellow-student of RLS as saying,

His whole appearance was a shock to a puritan neighbourhood. His chestnut hair fell in limp strands over his shoulder. He did not hesitate to dress as a Bohemian; he wore a velveteen jacket like a workman and a grey, flannel shirt to hide his thin arms. And to warm his thin body, he swathed himself like his claimed ancestor, Rob Roy Macgregor, in a dramatic mantle with flowing folds.

According to Rosaline Masson in I Can remember Robert Louis Stevenson (1922), he delighted in dressing up for the Jenkin theatricals:

 I play Orsino every day, in all the pomp of Solomon— splendid Francis-the-First clothes, heavy with gold and stage jewellery. I play it ill enough, I believe ; but me and the clothes, and the wedding wherewith the clothes and me are reconciled, produce every night a thrill of admiration. Our cook told my mother (there’s a servants’ night, you know) that she and the housemaid were “just prood to be able to say it was oor young gentleman.” To sup afterwards with these clothes on, and a wonderful lot of gaiety and Shakespearean jokes about the table, is something to live for.

Burns and Stevenson declared their individuality and altered their identities with their clothes, and this is also reflected in their name changes. At the age of eighteen Stevenson went from Lewis to Louis, and he says of Burns,

 His father wrote the family name Burnes; Robert early adopted the orthography Burness from his cousin … and in his twenty-eighth year changed it once more to Burns.

Both had unconventional views on religion and both died young, Burns at 37 and Stevenson at 44.

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Fellow-Feeling

RLS was a whistling vagabond, not a fiddling philanderer, but Burns and he were both tone poets and it is their songs that demonstrate their fellow-feeling. Those who are familiar only with Stevenson’s original lyrics to  Over the Sea to Skye or To the Tune of Wandering Willie should know that he also wrote verse to at least 25 other tunes, even supplying original words to Auld Lang Syne. This is nowhere near Burns’ 361 lyrics, but he wrote over a twenty year period, while Stevenson only began in earnest to put words to music at the age of 37.

Burns always associated music with his songs and never wrote a lyric until he could sing the melody. Stevenson was a modern poet, so not all his songs were meant to be sung, and he made it a challenge to find the ones that were by generally not identifying the music at all.

Although Burns was competent on the violin, an instrument that requires an excellent sense of intonation and relative pitch, biographer James Currie said the poet’s voice was “untunable, and that it was long before he learned to distinguish one tune from another,” while Evelyn Blantyre Simpson in Robert Louis Stevenson’s Edinburgh Days (1898) makes a similar comment about Stevenson:

Many of the artists were musical, but Louis Stevenson took no part in their impromptu concerts. He liked their songs and rattling refrains, but he was no singer, nor had he much of an ear for music.

In Songs of Robert Burns (1903) James C. Dick says,

His songs are the epitome of Scottish music, still known and still admired. Considering this it is the more remarkable that Burn’s biographers should with one accord have ignored or omitted a description of his musical perception and his treatment of music.

If Stevenson’s biographers mention his music at all it is limited, as Simpson’s remarks indicate, to a sentence or two about supposed poor musicianship. Stevenson wrote more than 120 short pieces, almost 1/3 of which were original. His compositions consisted of songs, dances, instrumental works, counterpoint exercises and at least ten pieces that used piano. He wrote in 19 different keys, including five modes. Using six different meters he wrote at least 65 solo pieces, 27 duets, 14 trios and two quartets for various combinations of flute, flageolet, clarinet, violin, piano, guitar, mandolin and voice. He frequently transposed pieces and knew how to modulate from one key to another. He played piano, Boehm flageolet and penny whistle. Never having studied music or any musical instrument as a child, and never having studied music formally in any way as an adult, he accomplished all this in about six years. This is not a description of someone who, as Graham Balfour wrote in his biography, “failed to master the rudiments” and whose “knowledge of music was not very profound.”

Although RLS did all that, his music was completely ignored until  Robert Murrill Stevenson’s essay “Robert Louis Stevenson’s Musical Interests” (PMLA, 72.iv (1957), 700-04) nothing has appeared in print since.

Dick says Burns “never heard a symphony or a string quartette” and his musical education began in his youth during church music rehearsals. For Stevenson, “wealth is only useful for two things: a yacht and a string quartette,” and as a young man he went to concerts at the Edinburgh Choral Society and heard music in friends’ homes but only studied theory and harmony when he was 36. Burns destroyed the music for the single song he composed at 23 because it displeased him so much, but a third of Stevenson’s works are original and accessible.

Both their lyrics were written to fit the music, but Burns only used popular airs. Stevenson’s verses in this genre include:

1.     Come Here is Adieu to the City (Rosin the Bow)

2.     Early in the Morning  (Early One Morning)

3.     Fine Pacific Islands (British Grenadiers)

4.     Madrigal (The Harp that Once)

5.     Nous n’ron plus au bois (children’s song)

6.     Over the Sea to Skye (Scottish folksong)

7.     Over the Water wi’ Charlie (Scottish folksong)

8.     She Rested by the Broken Brook (Drink to Me)

9.     Song of the Road (Over the Hills and Far Away)

10.  Stormy evening (Oldfield)

11.  Student Song (Auld Lang Syne)

12.  Topical Song (Poor Old Joe)

13.  Wandering Willie (Scottish folksong)

More broadly educated than Burns, Stevenson also wrote to European art music:

1.     Air de Diabelli (Diabelli Sonatina)

2.     Come My Little Children (anonymous gavotte, 1700)

3.     Ditty (Bach keyboard suite)

4.     Early in the Evening (Rinaldo, Handel)

5.     Infinite Shining Heavens (Bach, Pentecostal Air)

6.     Home from the Daisied Meadows (Beethoven piano variations)

7.     I Will Make you Brooches (Schumann, Ländliches Lied)

8.     In Lupum (Schumann, Happy Farmer)

9.     Tempest Tossed (Beethoven piano variations)

10.  To You Let Snow and Roses (Mozart, Clemenza di Tito)

11.  Vagabond (Schubert)

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Wandering Willie

Since Stevenson rarely indicated what music inspired his verses, the fact that he occasionally did must mean something special. Number XVII in Songs of Travel has the subtitle To the Tune of Wandering Willie in parentheses, so there should be no doubt about what music inspired it. The standard lyrics to the tune, more properly known as Here awa’ there awa’, are by Burns, so in boldly naming the song, Stevenson implies that he is not afraid to be compared.

To the Tune of Wandering Willie was written in 1888 at Tautira, Tahiti, where Stevenson suffered a long illness. He sent the poem to Charles Baxter in a letter that explains his motivation:

image 01 my dear charles

That he is familiar with the music called Wandering Willie is assumed from his references to it in his writings throughout his life. He first mentions it in a letter to his mother in 1874 while staying at Mentone.

image 02  i have a great pleasure

Booth, Bradford A. and Ernest Mehew. Letters of Robert Louis Stevenson. New Haven: Yale University Press, 1995. Letter 236, 5 February, 1874.

Willie reappears in the essay “A Night in France” (1875):

image 03 to these airs

It is sung in Deacon Brodie (1888):

image 04 brodieFinally it appears in The Master of Ballantrae (1889), where Stevenson quotes his own lyrics.

image 04a mr mackellar

With so many references to Wandering Willie in his works, we must believe that RLS had no doubt he was referring to the version made famous by Burns, especially since he challenges him outright in his letter to Baxter.

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The Real Willie

Every major source of Scots songs, Wandering Willie shows some variation of the tune found in James C. Dick’s Songs of Robert Burns. An arrangement by Haydn can be heard by clicking here, and a portion of a recording from the Linn edition of complete songs by clicking here.

image 05  tone poetry

Probably as a reference for his own poem, RLS wrote out what he assumed was the music. Click here to listen to a recording.

New York Public Library, Robert Louis Stevenson collection of papers, [1873]-[1944] bulk (1881-1917), Berg Coll MSS Stevenson

New York Public Library, Robert Louis Stevenson collection of papers, [1873]-[1944] bulk (1881-1917),
Berg Coll MSS Stevenson

A comparison of the first four bars of both tunes shows they are not the same. The difference is clear when both melodies are in the same key.

image 08   here a wa home no more

Burns’ song is in waltz time, while Stevenson’s has a two beat measure. The pitches and the shapes of the melodies are different. Even though he mentions the song many times throughout his life and seems to be thoroughly familiar with it, Stevenson is obviously not using the same tune as Burns.

RLS wrote Wandering Willie while recovering from a severe illness. It is easy to believe he was not always in his right mind. The simplicity of the melody he notated indicates he may have written it from memory and this could also have led to mistakes, but the inconsistencies in the two songs are greater than what would be caused by illness or bad memory.

This is not the first time RLS has mistaken a piece of music. In Hammerton’s Stevensoniana (1903) J. Cuthbert Hadden quotes Stevenson as remarking,

He never could remember the name of an air, no matter how familiar it was to him.

Proof of this assertion is found in a letter he wrote to his mother in 1872:

Booth, Bradford A. and Ernest Mehew. Letters of Robert Louis Stevenson. New Haven: Yale University Press, 1995: Letter 105, August 1, 1872.

Booth, Bradford A. and Ernest Mehew. Letters of Robert Louis Stevenson. New Haven: Yale University Press, 1995: Letter 105, August 1, 1872.

Unfortunately Lang, lang ist’s her is not the German version of Auld Lang Syne but of Long, Long Ago.

Deutsche Weisen

Deutsche Weisen

In Stevenson’s defense it should be noted that in German, English and Scots the words “lang” and “long” sound alike and the association could easily have misled his hand in a hurried letter.

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Beauties of Caledonia and the Caledonian Companion

However, it is not because of illness, a faulty memory, or a confused hand that Stevenson worked from the wrong melody.

Probably in June of 1888 when he was in San Francisco preparing for his journey across the Pacific on the yacht Casco, he bought a music book called Beauties of Caledonia, first published in Boston by Oliver Ditson in 1845. Stevenson’s Library Database identifies it as part of his personal library and says that,

According to the Journal of the Robert Louis Stevenson Club (London), no.15, (Feb 1954), pp.9-10, this has the stamp of Gray’s Music Store, 623 & 625 Clay Street, San Francisco, and is one of the nine books previously in RLS’s library at Vailima that were returned to Samoa in celebration of the coronation of Queen Elizabeth II.

Beauties of Caledonia contains all but one of the tunes Stevenson said he knew and loved in his letter to his mother in 1874; Auld Lang Syne, My Boy Tammie, Jock  O’ Hazeldean, and Scots wha’ hae. Wandering Willie was listed in the table of contents both as Here awa’ there awa’ and under the title:

image 11  wandering willie

The note in small print reads,

The beautiful air of ‘Here awa’, there awa,’ is preserved in Oswald’s collection of Scots tunes. Burns, who was fond of the melody, wrote the following fine verse to it.

The collection referred to is James Oswald’s Caledonian Companion, and the tune appears as the first piece in volume eight.

image 12  here awa willie

One glance at the melody called Wandering Willie in Beauties of Caledonia shows they are different. The tune in Caledonian Companion is the same one referenced in every major source of Burns songs, but the one in Beauties of Caledonia does not appear in any source as Wandering Willie.

Below is a comparison between the melody Stevenson used, the melody from Beauties of Caledonia (BOC), and the tune Burns used from the Caledonian Companion (CC).

image 13 home no more

Stevenson’s rhythmically simplified melody is the same as that in Beauties of Caledonia. Burns’ tune from Caledonian Companion is completely different not only in rhythm but in melody.

As previously mentioned, the note under the title of Wandering Willie in Beauties of Caledonia reads, “The beautiful air of ‘Here awa’, there awa,’ is preserved in Oswald’s collection of Scots tunes. Burns, who was fond of the melody, wrote the following fine verse to it.” Although it is the inappropriate melody for Here awa’, there awa, it is in Oswald (CC), it is still a beautiful air, and in fact Burns was fond of it because he wrote lyrics to it called Bonie Dundee (first version, 1792), which appears in volume one of Scots Musical Museum:

image 14 bonie dundee

O whar did ye get that hauver-meal bannock?   [oatmeal cake]

O Silly blind body, O dinna ye see?

I gat it frae a brisk sodger laddie,

Between Saint Johnstone and Bonie Dundee.

O, gin I saw the laddie that gae me’t!

Aft has he doudl’d me on o’ his knee.

May Heaven protect my bonie Scots laddie,

And send him safe hame to his babie & me.

Because the lyrics hint at illegitimacy, the Boston music publisher Oliver Ditson may have found them offensive and so substituted the words of Here awa’ there awa, or he may have known the music from another version called The Cooper O’ Dundee in the Burns collection Merry Muses of Caledonia, shown below in a transcription by MacColl in Folk Songs and Ballads of Scotland (1965).  A few moments spent reading the lyrics will explain why Ditson would never have used them.

image 15 cooper o dundee

Why Ditson did not use the appropriate tune for Wandering Willie remains a mystery, but it must have been unthinkable in 1845 to include the scurrilous text from The Cooper o’ Dundee. Perhaps he felt that even though the lyrics were changed, the tune would remind people of the The Cooper o’ Dundee and he decided to disguise the melody too. He did this by changing the meter from 6/4 to 2/4, altering some pitches, and imposing characteristic Scotch rhythms.

image 16 bonnie dundee

The result was that in Beauties of Caledonia Ditson fitted Burns’ text from Wandering Willie to a highly altered version of the melody of Bonie Dundee. For mistakenly writing his poem from a memory of this corrupted music while recovering from a severe illness, Stevenson deserves understanding.

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The Texts

Although written to a different melody, RLS’s poem is still related to Burns’.

image 17 rls burns

      [roof-tree=ridgepole, highest horizontal timber in a roof]

The similarities between the two lyrics include:

image 18  rls burns similarities.

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The principle technical differences between the works are the rhythm and language. Burns’ poem is in Scots and a four beat triplet rhythm (dactylic tetrameter) that gives it a feeling of warmth and the effect of Nannie rocking Willie in her arms or of a boat swaying on the water.

Stevenson’s work is in an eight beat, duplet rhythm (trochaic octameter) and in English. The lines are twice as long as Burns’, many begin with monosyllables, and there are pauses at the middle and end of each, resulting in a hesitant, plodding feeling and an appropriate sense of wandering, weariness and desolation.

RLS never mentions Willie in his poem, but Burns repeats the name six times. Stevenson’s wanderer narrates while the loved ones are absent; Burns’ lover narrates and the wanderer is absent.

By their titles the two lyrics indicate some association with Sir Walter Scott’s poem Wandering Willie (1806) or  Wandering Willie’s Tale in Redgauntlet (1824). In the story the blind fiddler Wandering Willie recounts the inability of tenant Steenie Steenson to prove that he has paid his rent until he is given the receipt and is guided to the money by the ghost of his former landlord Sir Robert Redgauntlet. Stevenson knew Redgauntlet, and though not a ghost story, his poem has its own eeriness and a theme of loss.

Scott’s poem is essentially a longer version of Burns’ with similar themes and description. A woman’s heroic lover goes to sea to do battle, but her natural doubts about his faithfulness are resolved when he returns.  The similarities of Scott’s and Burns’ poems emphasize the difference with Stevenson’s. His bleak, unnamed wanderer never leaves land, never performs any heroics, never unites with his loved ones, and is finally left hopelessly alone amongst the desolation of his house.

Both poets read themselves into their verse. Burns is Willie, and Bonie Dundee, Here awa’ there awa’ and The Cooper o’ Dundee are all about unfaithfulness, the particular Burns trait of “professsional Don Juan” that Stevenson objected to most in his essay.

Stevenson is the wanderer in his poem, although in real life illness and hunger for adventure drove him from home. The poem was written in “the most beautiful spot,” warm, luxuriant Tautira, yet he repeatedly longs for the hills, heather and moorland of Scotland. In Scott’s story Steenson is threatened with the loss of his home, while Stevenson is in fact homeless, ill and stranded in Tahiti, pitifully regretting the loss of his former friends. The prophetic last line defies any hope of a return,

But I go for ever and come again no more.

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Though their poems were written to different music and different stories, Stevenson and Burns shared common ground in their conspicuous clothing, individualism, conversational ability and writing. They shared fellow feeling as amateur musicians, collectors of melody, and in their devotion to molding words to the music they loved.

Their lives were entangled in their texts, but while Burns was consistently the Wandering Willie, Stevenson not only changed his tune but altered his identity from that of an unfaithful, absent lover to a lonely, pining, remorseful adventurer.

Written by rdury

26/09/2014 at 2:39 pm

Edinburgh Companion to RLS published this month

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Later this month, the Edinburgh Companion to Robert Louis Stevenson will be published, edited by Penny Fielding, one of the General Editors of the New Edinburgh Edition. This wide-ranging collection of essays is the first to set Stevenson in detailed social, political and literary contexts, taking account of both Stevenson’s extraordinary thematic and generic diversity and his geographical range. The chapters explore his relation to late-19th-century publishing, psychology, travel, the colonial world and the emergence of modernism in prose and poetry. Through the pivotal figure of Stevenson, the collection explores how literary publishing and cultural life changed across the second half of the 19th century. Stevenson emerges as a complex writer, author both of hugely popular boys’ stories and of seminally important adult novels, as well as the literary figure who debated with Henry James the theory of fiction and the nature of realism. The collection shows how interest in the unconscious and changes in the conception of childhood demand that we re-evaluate our ideas of his writing. Individual essays by international experts trace Stevenson’s literary contexts from Scotland to the South Pacific, and show him to be one of the key writers for understanding the growing sense of globalisation and cultural heterogeneity in the late 19th century.

Written by Anthony Mandal

22/07/2010 at 7:39 pm