Posts Tagged ‘Robert Louis Stevenson’
Robert Louis Stevenson’s David Balfour, the original text, edited with an introduction and notes by Barry Menikoff (San Marino, CA: Huntington Library, Art Collections, and Botanical Gardens, 2016).
1. Sample pages
2. Editorial principles and practices
The present posting aims to be informative, not a review. The following will be of interest to other EdRLS editors. We may not always follow exactly the same practices, but it is always interesting to see how someone else does it.
1. Stevenson’s changes are assimilated without comment. Deleted earlier wordings are not generally recorded in the Notes, though a facsimile page on p. 236 enables us to see that the fair copy manuscript had a final deleted sentence:
For the life of man upon this world of ours is a funny business. They talk of the angels weeping; but I think they must more often be holding their sides as they look on; and there was one thing I determined to do when I began this long story, and that was to tell out everything as it befell. <If your father was something of a simpleton and your grandfather not better than a rogue, no harm that you should know it.>
2. Corrections are silently made of spelling and apostrophe use, and superscript letters have been dropped. However not all spellings are given standard form, e.g. ‘falsness’ (p. 41) (marked by the OED as found only up to the 16C).
There are also forms such as ‘dis-cretion’ (p. 115), which shows that the handwritten line between ‘s’ and a letter with left-facing bowl (c, d, g, o or q) has been interpreted as a hyphen. [For EdRLS, these marks have been interpreted as a non-significant link line; see this post in the blog and this one for a discussion. Barry defends his view in one of the comments to another post].
3. Unchanged are idiosyncratic capitalization of words not usually capitalized (e.g. ‘a Soft Tommy’), and the reverse case (latin, dutch, christian), in many case varying between the two usages (duke and Duke) as ‘this usage is so pervasive in the autograph, and poses no impediment to reading’ (p. lxvi). We therefore have ‘Tam Dale’ and ‘Tam dale’ in the first paragraph of ‘The Tale of Tod Lapraik’ (p. 107). To be honest, I must admit this did not cause me any problems in reading—and neither did examples like ‘I ken nae French and nae dutch’ (p. 106).
[This is an area where each editor has to decide one way or another, according to the aims of the edition. In Essays IV, in contrast, since we are aiming at an edition representing what the author intended (rather than transcribing what he wrote) we have have been guided what a compositor or editor most certainly would have changed and Stevenson would have accepted, and with this in view have interpreted variation in capitalization in MSS—unless some justification can be perceived (as would be the case with with ‘Soft Tommy’)—to be non-significant and possibly confusing to the reader (e.g. ‘christian’ non-capitalized in one sentence and then capitalized in the following sentence).]
3. Apart from supplying missing periods and question marks Stevenson’s punctuation has not been changed, e.g. a comma, semicolon or question marks followed by a dash, question marks followed by a lower-case letter. When punctuating ‘[t]he objective [for Stevenson] was to reproduce thought processes and heightened conversation informally, without slowing it down with arbitrary stops and formal new sentences’ (p. lxxv).
[In EdRLS transcribed texts we have sometimes supplied a missing comma that is so common (e.g. before ‘isn’t it?’) as to be considered codified and that would almost certainly be provided by a printer. Presumably this happened here too.]
4. Stevenson’s substantive mistakes are not corrected; I am thinking here of the first paragraph of ‘The Tale of Tod Lapraik’: ‘there were whiles when they but to fish and shoot solans for their diet’—’they but’ doesn’t seem right, a verb seems to be missing. (The sentence is identical in all editions, however. Can anyone solve this problem?)
5. Explanatory Notes: these are brief; they log all the citations of David Balfour in the OED, SLD and EDD (English Dialect Dictionary); most usefully, they indicate omissions in the first printed editions and also quote in full new passages supplied by Stevenson for the book edition at Colvin’s request.
6. References: Beinecke references to letters not by RLS are by date and McKay numbers, e.g. ‘July 13, 1892, Beinecke Library (B 4219), Yale University’.
3. Differences between the MS and the first printed editions
In the editorial part of the volume, the preparation of the first printed edition is discussed only briefly (though there is a reference to Menikoff’s article ‘Towards the Production of a Text: Time, Space, and David Balfour‘ in Studies in the Novel 27.3 (1995)). It is mentioned in the Introduction (‘The Lonely Trials of David Balfour’) on pp. xliii-xliv, and p. xlvi (‘Colvin had his hand on the manuscript and in his fashion excised a number of choice expressions and incidents. These have been restored and appear for the first time in this edition’). The subject returns again in the ‘Note on the Text’, pp. lxiv-lxv, which discusses ‘absurd cutting’, ‘deliberate censorship’ and ‘mangled phrases’. The latter is illustrated by how ‘the warsling of the sea [and the breaching of the sprays]’ in the MS (ch. 22) becomes a mis-reading, ‘the sailing of the sea’, in Atalanta and ‘the whistling of the wind’ (ch. 22) in the Cassell’s book edition. As the latter cannot be a misreading of the MS, it was a change presumably made in proofs, though we don’t know by whom. However, as ‘whistling of the wind’ is so much weaker than ‘warsling of the sea’, it just might have been made by Colvin, going to press, unable to decipher the MS, and unable to get a reply from Stevenson in less than two months, perhaps included in the proofs, but not picked up by Stevenson. Thanks to Menikoff’s work, it could be a good case for emendation in any edition of the text. Similar differences between MS and printed edition (‘innocency’ and ‘indifferency’ in the MS becoming ‘innocence’ and ‘indifference’) are also noted, though we cannot tell if the change was made by Stevenson or not (though probably not).
The notes contain significant differences between the manuscript and the periodical and Cassell publications and also ‘four summary paragraphs that are not in the manuscript or Atlanta but that Stevenson wrote for the book at Colvin’s urging’ (p. lxiv).
Changes to single words in Cassell 1893
To give an idea of the number of changes between MS and first book edition, here are the significant differences given in the notes to the first two chapters (pp. 1-15), set out as for a textual apparatus with the MS reading on the left and printed variants on the right (a swung dash standing for words identical in MS and printed edition):
p. 2 Thence to an armourer’s, where I got a stout, plain sword, to suit with my degree in life (MS and Atl) ] ~ a plain sword ~ (Cassell)
p. 2 cla’es (MS) ] claes (Atl, Cassell)
p. 10 Get a ship for him, quoth he! (MS and Atl) ] ~ quo’ he (Cassell)
Going by this sample, the printed texts are very close to the manuscript and all three changes could well be the author’s second thoughts expressed on the proofs of the book edition:
- the omission of ‘stout’ could be authorial: David wants a ‘walking sword’ to show his status, it’s not intended for fighting so does not need it to be ‘stout’;
- claes could be seen as a acknowledging the word as an independent Scots form, not an English word with ‘th’ missing. As the note says ‘There is no other form in the DSL‘, i.e. the Scottish national dictionary uses only the form without an apostrophe;
- the change to quo’ could be seen as a change to a more Scots form (the DSL headword is quo). Both DSL and OED actually give the form in this quotation from David Balfour as quot’, not found in any other of their citations, although there is also a common Scots form quod. It is possible that Stevenson’s quot’ (if this is the form used in Cassell) is a variant on quod — Stevenson’s attempt to discourage a pronunciation of ‘quod he’ as ‘quo dee‘ and a suggestion that in Scots use the ‘d’ was a voiceless flap of the tongue (like US English pronunciation of the ‘t’ in utter). In any case, it does seem a change to a more Scots form.
Many other changes to single words in Cassell 1893 must come from Stevenson and are clearly motivated, e.g. ‘Rhone wine’ drunk in Rotterdam (thus in the MS, p. 173, and Atalanta) is changed to the more appropriate ‘Rhenish wine’ in the first book edition.
An important point is where Catriona in the MS says to David ‘I am thanking the good God he has let me see you naked’ (p. 209), which is changed to ‘[…] see you as you are’ in Atalanta, a story magazine for girls, and to ‘[…] see you so’ in Cassell 1893. Though the meaning of ‘naked’ here is intended as ‘plain, undisguised’ (but surely with an intended frisson of associated meaning for the reader), I could imagine the author having second thoughts about it in proofs.
There seems to have been no attempt to change Scots to standard English in the proofs, if anything (and this is interesting) the reverse (as we’ve seen with ‘quoth’); MS ‘I knew the answer‘ (p. 156), and ‘Well’ (p. 217) were changed to ‘I ken the answer‘ and ‘Weel’ in both Atalanta and Cassell. ‘Ye cannae tell which way it is’ in the MS (p. 217), is identical in Atalanta but becomes ‘Ye cannae tell the tane frae the tither’ in Cassell—clearly in intervention of the author on the proofs.
Passages omitted from Cassell 1893
It is good to have the long interpolated story about shipwrecking in the chapter ‘The Bass’ (pp. 99-100) that was omitted from the book edition, yet one could understand Stevenson deleting it in proofs as too much like the explanatory back-story inserted by a historical novelist.
The other, short passages omitted in Cassell 1893 can for the most part be seen as possibly authorial. For example, in the first paragraph of ch. 9 David describes his state of mind:
And when I remembered James More, and the red head of Neil the son of Duncan, I thought there was perhaps a fourth in the confederacy, and what remained of Rob Roy’s old desperate sept of caterans would be banded against me with the others.<Yet there was that force in my innocency, that this league was driven to attempt my destruction underhand! I thought I would beat them all, and my blood heated with the thought.> (p. 60)
This could well have been omitted (and surely could only have been omitted by Stevenson) because considered inappropriately fiery for David.
At the beginning of ch. 10 another omission in Cassell 1893 can be seen as motivated by a desire for concision:
It was about half-past three when I came forth on the Lang Dykes <; and being now abroad again upon the world, began considering to what part of it I should first address myself. Not that the consideration held me long;>^.^ Dean was where I wanted to go.
Passages added to Cassell 1893
It’s also good to have transcribed in the notes the four summary paragraphs written by Stevenson at the suggestion of Colvin and included in the first book edition. To tell the truth, the story at this point is on the complicated side, and I think the readers of the book found it useful—as I did—to have these additional guides.
4. Barry Menikoff’s vigorous prose
I have tried to keep my comments as neutral as possible, wanting to avoid writing a full evaluative review of the volume. The reason for this is that this a posting about an edition of Stevenson for a Stevenson edition blog. Any edition involves many subjective decisions, and naturally everyone thinks their own subjective decisions are the best and defends them doggedly (with justifications that we delude ourselves are rational). It’s a bit like furniture arrangement in the home: we all know that it doesn’t really matter if the umbrella stand is placed inside, or outside, the front door, and yet we all want it where we want it. Such things can even lead to divorce. So this is me aiming at a calm tolerance above and beyond all that. Let me simply welcome this edition as a most valuable resource to have, the work of many years wrestling with manuscript transcription (I know how difficult this is in a small way, so can only respect this vast undertaking), and of course a welcome invitation to read David Balfour/Catriona once more.
As someone who has been involved in MS transcription for Essays IV in the new Stevenson edition, I can appreciate the vast amount of work involved and heroically undertaken by one editor. One can imagine that the following comment in ‘The Note on the Text’ incorporates an acquired personal understanding from Menikoff himself:
I have opted to print these words as he wrote them—as he wrote them, one hundred thousand words by hand, not once but twice. The sheer labor of the thing is almost unimaginable in a word-processed culture. […] He never complained about the physical labor, even if he did get writer’s cramp while composing Balfour; he regularly shifted the pen to his left hand, manifest in the painful scrawl on the pages, and reflected in Davie’s comment on his scribal work for Prestongrange—”The copying was a weary business.” (p. lxvi)
I can only envy Menikoff’s vigorous prose style:
he considered Le Vicomte de Bragelonne unequaled in its fusion of story and action, which is another way of saying adventure. (p. xxv)
we live through experience, which is our adventure, but our adventure lives only through art. A life of action, however grand, leads but to the grave; a life drawn in ink, with a steel stylus, becomes indelible. (p. xxx)
David […] is like an actor in a play unfolding before him in real time and desperately in need of the script. (p. xxx)
courage is not the absence of fear but the presence of action (p. xlix)
Sometimes it sounds a bit like Raymond Chandler:
No man signs up to cross a choppy ocean in winter and traverse a continent in an iron horse to a raucous port city shrouded in fog in order to sit in a parlor and sing “Love’s Sweet Song”. (p. xliv)
Sometimes, in the energetic wrestling of words and ideas, there are echoes of Stevenson himself, as in the elegant end to the introduction:
For all life is a story, as in the pages if David Balfour, a tale told, and the only predictable thing about it is the ending. As for its meaning, even in the plainest if cases, it eludes us, as it does the more cunning wisdom of Stevenson, which is why the final sentence, of whatever pen, cannot decide whether the angels above are looking down with peals of laughter, or are turning aside, fraught with tears. (p. lxi)
Menikoff seems to write himself into certain elegiac passages:
But in the end, as is his way, idealism comes down to earth, for in this world as God made it, as Black Andie would say, we all grow old, and innocence loses out in the trampling of time, and the romance that made it lovely when young can never be recaptured but in memory. This is why a great book like David Balfour is told in retrospect, turning back and grasping for love and beauty in their freshest hours, before marriage and children make their clamoring claims, and the story jump-cuts to the end, when age installs itself in its inescapable place in our mortal lives. (p. l)
Just as he enshrined memory in the dedication to Charles Baxter at the front of the book, he embedded it in an interior landscape that he transcribed in prose and compressed into place-names. They can be likened to the “floating world” of the Japanese ukiyo-e, only instead of pictures they are words of evanescent beauty, captured and held for their own sake, but ultimately transitory and perishable like life itself. (lvi)
All the introductory matter is a pleasure to read—and now that Barry Menikoff has successfully completed his trilogy of three Stevenson editions from the manuscripts (Falesá, Kidnapped and David Balfour), I look forward to enjoying his first volume of familiar essays: I’m sure they too will be a great pleasure to read.
by Naomi Carle (Durham University)
I have to confess, I was more than a little sceptical that I would be able to identify a group of Stevensonians among the crowd gathered on the steps of the Art Gallery of New South Wales, but I needn’t have worried. Although this was to be my first Stevenson conference (well over-due), a collection of amiable and interested faces affirmed I was in the right place. Roslyn Jolly’s inspired decision to begin the conference with a tour of Stevenson’s Sydney was both convivial and informative. We viewed pictures illustrative of the ‘sham candy cane’ tropics that Stevenson strove to correct; saw an exhibition of manuscripts collated especially for the conference at the State Library and marvellously contextualised by Roger Swearingen’s extensive notes; rested in the very chair Stevenson often occupied when hiding away from his womenfolk at the Union Club (albeit now housed in a rather impressive skyscraper that would have been entirely alien to him); and wondered at his vehement hatred of the inoffensive Post Office Tower. Roslyn’s helpful revelation that one of his manuscripts was ingested by its corridors never to re-emerge went some way to explaining things. As with all good tours, ours ended in a bar – a rather marvellous institution tucked beneath the majestic sails of the Opera House, just above the harbour. By the time we began to peel off into the night, I felt like I was parting from old friends.
Roslyn and Chris Danta continued the spirit of the previous evening in their official warm welcome to the conference, which included a respectful acknowledgement of the indigenous peoples whose land we met on. Business began with Adrian Poole’s masterful keynote, which utilised Alan’s ‘grand memory for forgetting’ (uttered in genuine Scots) as a fruitful point of departure for a discussion of individual and collective memory as models for writing in Stevenson’s works. From a polite agreement between friends, to rats nibbling at the edges of a vicar’s sermon and fin-de-siècle preoccupations with psychology, history, points of origin and genetics, we arrived by steps and leaps at a new appreciation for Stevenson’s uneasy understanding of survivals which resonated with many subsequent discussions. There followed a day of illuminating and incredibly inter-related panels, despite their diversity in topic and approach. The many faces of Stevenson were discussed in relation to the historical novel, the anxiety of influence, the reception of his work in French literary circles and Portuguese translation, and his complex relationship with the law. These papers provoked interesting elaborations on Stevenson’s playfulness as a writer, the contention between history and fiction in his writing, and his desire to be innovative and experimental in all while remaining acutely aware of the limitations of his chosen medium. During lunch, we were treated to the book launch of Juvenilia Press’s edition of Stevenson’s Early Writings, edited by Christine Alexander and Elise McPherson. The volume contains some remarkable sketches drawn to accompany his writings, which show that an interest in the dialogue between artistic forms began at an early age.
The themes of memory and Stevenson’s unsettling ability to leave his reader with a startling pictorial impression carried through into the second day. We enjoyed panels on Stevenson’s manipulation of narrative time, his strong interest in science and medicine, the tension between tradition and modernity and his important Samoan connection. One of the most arresting of Stevenson’s characteristics to emerge was the plasticity of his approach, the immense capacity he had for seeing, and capturing oral tradition in his writing. After the day’s proceedings, we were privileged to attend the unveiling of a newly discovered Stevenson poem, ‘Birthday verses to a Lady’, at Sancta Sophia College. Roslyn Jolly delivered a wide-ranging lecture on the poem’s context in Stevenson’s oeuvre, elucidating the meaning of the find: the manuscript had been tucked away in College archives, undisturbed for years. Caroline Howlitt, one of the conference delegates, provided an authentic Scottish accent for another of Stevenson’s related verses, adding an international flavour to the evening.
The final day brought with it a further windfall of stimulating papers – spanning the sundry aspects of Stevenson’s writings from childhood, his creativity with both words and pictures, and his highly developed interest in the dynamics of process, change and movement. Alongside these panels, we were treated to some rather out of the ordinary presentations. Penny Fielding and Anthony Mandal gave us a preview of the current working format for the much-anticipated Edinburgh Edition, including a list of the anticipated dates for publication of the individual volumes. Anthony then returned after lunch to tell us about his highly innovative Jekyll 2.0 project which will bring the experience of Jekyll’s London to life for participants. Using technology that monitors cardiac and sensory responses to the simulated world, players will be guided through their own unique version of Jekyll’s experience of transforming into Hyde. Anthony shared the closing panel with Jo Henwood, who – like all the independent scholars participating in the conference – gave a refreshing and insightful portrayal of her personal engagement with Stevenson through her profession as a storyteller. In an entertaining and unscripted presentation, she took us right to the heart of Stevenson’s craft in her survey of his narrative techniques designed to exploit the power of suggestion and lure an audience in.
I left Sydney determined to contribute to Virginia 2015, and eager to return to my study and inject something of the intellectual vibrancy of the past three days into my thesis.
At the end of November 2012, I was lucky enough to be part of a team that won a commission through the innovative REACT Books&Print Sandbox call for early 2013. I’ll be working as lead academic partner with Bristol-based creative company, SlingShot, to create a pervasive media experience that draws on the narrative and themes of Stevenson’s gothic masterpiece.
Humanity 2.0 is an understanding of the human condition that no longer takes the ‘normal human body’ as given. On the one hand, we’re learning more about our continuity with the rest of nature—in terms of the ecology, genetic make-up, evolutionary history. On this basis, it’s easy to conclude that being ‘human’ is overrated. But on the other hand, we’re also learning more about how to enhance the capacities that have traditionally marked us off from the rest of nature.
—Steve Fuller, Auguste Comte Chair in Social Epistemology, Warwick.
The core of our project draws on the fundamental questions of Jekyll and Hyde: What makes us human? Do our minds control our bodies or are we shaped by our urges, compulsions and appetites? Will technology radically transform us into a new organism, ‘Humanity 2.0’? Such questions are nothing new: during the 19th century, the cultural implications of emerging theories of identity and the dominance of science were explored by numerous works of literature. Drawing on this tradition, our project transforms this reading into play, to create a pervasive gaming experience that links individuals’ bio-data with one such text, Stevenson’s Jekyll and Hyde (1886), in order to stimulate participants into considering the condition of their own humanity. Read the rest of this entry »
Textual Editing in Principle and Practice: What Are You Reading? Lecture 2
Dr Alison Lumsden (University of Aberdeen) and Dr Anthony Mandal (Cardiff University)
National Library of Scotland, 9 November 2011, 6pm (free)
Why should you buy a book for £6.99 when you might have the same title for 1.99? Is it just the price? The quality of the paper and cover? Or might the text itself—the words you’ll be reading—be different?
Why does a research library like the NLS hold so many copies of the same title? What difference does it make to read one copy rather than another? Why are so many books even needed?
The books that we buy in bookshops or read in libraries may have the same titles, but they are often very different—they may contain different words; sometimes a crucial scene or even the ending may vary. Some editions will alert the reader to these differences—others will just print the most easily available text. In this series we will look at some famous examples of texts which have more than one version, and guide you through the choices editors make in order to produce a text for the informed reader.
In this lecture, the second of the series, scholars working on major editions of key Scottish authors will explore how modern editors set about producing an edited text. What are the principles we adhere to? What is the evidence that counts in valuing one state of the text over another? Should we prefer the author’s first or last version? How should we treat the author’s original manuscript? In the second part of the talk we will demonstrate the process of editing, in particular how we can benefit from the latest technological advances.
- Why we edit books. Dr Alison Lumsden (Edinburgh Edition of the Waverley Novels)
- How we edit books. Dr Anthony Mandal (New Edinburgh Edition of Robert Louis Stevenson)
Part of the ‘What Are You Reading’ series of lectures and workshops. For more information download the ‘What Are You Reading’ information sheet PDF (122 KB, 2 pages).
Please book your tickets online or call the NLS directly on 0131 623 3918.
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.
by Robert Irvine
Editing a Stevenson novel can involve some very small matters as well as some big questions. Robert Irvine describes how one of the smallest points of all—the hyphen—raises questions about historical usage.
I have been working recently to establish a ‘copy text’ of Stevenson’s 1885 novel Prince Otto. A ‘copy text’ is a particular instance of a text which is taken as a base-line by the editor, against which variations in other versions of the text can be listed, and variations from which in the final published version must be justified. We have chosen the first book edition to perform this function for the New Edinburgh Edition. So my first task as editor is to ensure that the electronic copy text on my screen conforms in all aspects to the text published by Chatto and Windus in 1885. In principle, no editorial decisions are to be made at this stage: where there are mistakes, even an obvious printing error like the omission of a quotation mark, those remain in the copy text, to be corrected when the text is edited and the correction noted.
That pesky hyphen
No editorial decisions to be made in principle at this stage: but one set of editorial decisions is, in fact, unavoidable. In transcribing prose, we pay no attention to line-endings in the text from which we are transcribing, line-endings in prose being dictated by space available on the page, and nothing more. To preserve the line-endings in the transcription of a prose text irrespective of the size of your new page would be to turn it from prose into verse. But to make the most efficient use of the length of line available to him the type-setter of the printed text will sometimes split words at the end of a line with a hyphen. Usually the transcriber of the copy text can ignore these hyphens and restore the complete word. The problem comes when the word that has been split across two lines might have been hyphenated to start with. Deciding whether or not to preserve the hyphen in the copy text in such cases is no longer a case of simply preserving what is on the page in front of you, but requires reference to other sources of information: requires, that is, an editorial decision. Read the rest of this entry »
You can now follow regular updates from our linked Twitter page, managed by Lesley Graham, through this blog. The Twitter feed carries updates about the project, as well as matters of interest relating to all things Stevenson and tidbits from RLS himself … all in the space of 140 characters! You can view the last five tweets on the right navigation bar of this blog and can view the full Twitter feed by clicking on the links.
You can also follow our tweets directly @ https://twitter.com/#!/RLSte.