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

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RLS’s Bournemouth reading

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Following the post on Stevenson’s Bournemouth, here are four listings of books that were acquired and read in the Bournemouth years. They were obtained by filtered searches on the RLS Library Database (http://bit.ly/RLSLibrary) .

Facts, raw data, bits of information etc. as stored in records and surveys, are themselves sterile and need to be selected, isolated and linked to stimulate understanding. This explains the eternal fascination of lists and the way the few facts on a series of tombstones can open up unsuspected stories. Lets see what we can do by grouping together some of the entries in the RLS Library Database concerning books that Stevenson read while in Bournemouth.

None of the descriptions of Skerryvore mention bookshelves or bookcases, but we may imagine that books would have been kept in the drawing room and in the separate bedrooms of Fanny and Louis. The following lists contain the books that were probably acquired in the Bournemouth years. There were other books, with the Skerryvore bookplate too, but they had been acquired earlier and had been transported from Edinburgh or Hyères, and these have been excluded. Like the casual visitor who looks over the bookshelves or at the books lying on tables while waiting alone in a room, running the eye down these lists (in the momentary absence of the master and the mistress of the house) gives us some idea of the interests, current interests, and character of their owners.

The first list gives an idea of a network of literary friends sending each other copies of their latest books. One unexpected result of this listing is that it includes two books published in 1886 that their authors call a shilling romance or shilling dreadful—the same format/genre adopted by the Stramge Case of Dr Jekyll and Mr Hyde, suggesting how this work inspired others to try their hand at something similar. There are also presentation copies from their Bournemouth friends the Taylors and (following Stevenson’s growing repute) a number of unsolicited books, some welcome, others less so.

Stevenson’s Skerryvore bookplate


1. Presentation volumes from friends and other writers

received 1884

Vernon Lee [Violet Paget], The Countess of Albany (1884)
          probably a presentation copy, untraced; discussed in a letter to the author, Oct 1884

received 1885

John Webster, Edmund Gosse (ed.), Love’s Graduate (1885)
          presentation copy with inscription: ‘Robert Louis Stevenson from his friend Edmund Gosse 5. 6. 85.’

Joseph Pennell and Elizabeth Robins Pennell, A Canterbury Pilgrimage, Ridden, Written, and Ilustrated by J. and E. R. P. (1885)
          a tandem tricycle journey from London to Canterbury; volume dedication to Stevenson: ‘To Mr. Robert Louis Stevenson, We, who are unknown to him, dedicate this record of one of our short journeys on a Tricycle, in gratitude for the happy hours we have spent travelling with him and his Donkey’; RLS replied with thanks in July 1885: ‘when I received the Pilgrimage, I was in a state (not at all common with me) of depression, and the pleasant testimony that my work had not all been in vain did much to set me up again.’ (L5, p.121).

Julian Russell Sturgis, John Maidment (1885)
          presentation copy, untraced; letter from the author, 27 Nov 1885: ‘I venture to send you my new book, hoping you may find something to like in it’ (McKay, 4, 5825, p. 1654)

Sir Henry Taylor, Autobiography of Henry Taylor, 1800-1875 (1885)
          probably a presentation copy, untraced; letter to the author 24 Dec 1885: ‘I have at last read your autobiography, and that with so lively a pleasure that I cannot resist writing to thank you etc.’ (L5, pp.160-1); reply 25 Dec 1885: ‘It is a real and fine pleasure to me that that book of mine has given you pleasure & especially that your admiration of those whom I admired has fixed itself upon my step mother’ (McKay, 4, 5838, p.1658)

John Keats, Will H. Low (ill.), Lamia (1885)
          volume dedication to Stevenson: ‘In testimony of loyal friendship and of a common faith in doubtful tales from faery land, I dedicate to Robert Louis Stevenson my work in this book          WHL’; see letter from RLS to Low, 2 Jan 1886: Lamia has come and I do not know how to thank you not only for the beautiful art of the designs, but for the handsome and apt words of the dedication etc.’ (L5, p.163)

Charles Warren Stoddard, A Troubled Heart and How it was Comforted at Last (1885)
          presentation copy with inscription: ‘Louis and Fanny Stevenson – with the love of their devoted friend, the author.’

Henry James, The Author of Beltraffio, etc. (1885)
          presentation copy with inscription: ‘Robert Louis Stevenson, from his friend of many evenings, Henry James’

William Wilberforce Newton, Summer Sermons from a Berkshire Pulpit (1885)
          presentation copy with inscription to RLS; at Yale, inscription not seen

Gabriel Sarrazin (ed.), Poetes modernes de l’Angleterre (1885)
          presentation copy with inscription to RLS; inscription not seen

received 1886

William Sharp (ed.), Sonnets of this Century (1886)
          presentation copy with inscription: ‘To Robert Louis Stevenson in slight acknowledgment of an irredeemable debt of pleasure—from William Sharp January ‘86’; Sharp produced a second edition including ‘The Touch of Life’, one of the two sonnets that Stevenson sent with his reply (Letters 5, pp. 191–2)

William Sharp (ed.), Sonnets of this Century (large paper copy) (1886)
          presentation copy with inscription: ‘To Robert Louis Stevenson, with high regard — William Sharp’, from a letter sent in Dec, this was sent early Nov 1886 (McKay, 4, 5488, p.1574)

John Coventry [John Williamson Palmer, After his Kind (1886)
          untraced presentation copy from an American physician and poet; see RLS’s cool reply, 13 Feb 1886: ‘Thank you for your letter and book, which is of more promise (in my eyes) than performance’ etc. (L5, p. 201)

Edmund Gosse, From Shakespeare to Pope. An Inquiry into the Causes and Phenomena of the Rise of Classical Poetry in England (1885)
          presentation copy with inscription: ‘Robert Louis Stevenson from his friend Edmund Gosse – 28/3/86’

Andrew Lang, The Mark of Cain (1886)
          presentation copy with inscription : ‘A. L. can scribble, A. L. can scrawl, / A. L. can rhyme all day, / But he can’t hit it off with a shilling romance, / For, – he never was built that way! / A. L. // To the author of / The Hells of Gourock. / Mr. Hide and Dr. Seek-ill. / A Sequel. / In Fact / To R. L. Stevenson. / puris omnia pura’ (L5, p. 253); see letter from RLS to Lang, May 1886: I have never thanked you for the magnificent Mark de luxe. I had already read it in the bob [= shilling form etc.’ (L5, p.253); Dr Jekyll and Mr Hyde was also in price and format ‘a shilling romance’(see note for Vernon Lee below)

William Archer, About the Theatre. Essays and Studies (1886)
          presentation copy with inscription on half-title: ‘Robert Louis Stevenson  from W. A. 5 June: 86’

Edmund W. Gosse, Raleigh (1886)
          probably a presentation copy, untraced; letter from RLS to Gosse, 29 July 1886: ‘I must not lose a moment in congratulating you on your Raleigh. It is a thoroughly sound piece of narrative, and brilliant, not in patches, but by general effect etc.’ (5, p. 295).)

William Smith, Morley, Ancient and Modern (1886)
          presentation copy with inscription: ‘To R. L. Stevenson, Esq., with the Author’s kind regards, Morley, Aug. 17, 1886.’; Skerryvore bookplate; in a letter accompanying the book dated 17 Aug 1886, the author asks if he could have a copy of one of Stevenson’s works with an autograph inscription; local history and description of a Yorkshire town

Vernon Lee [Violet Paget], A Phantom Lover (1886)
          presentation copy, untraced, sent with a letter in which the author calls it a ‘shilling dreadful’, McKay, 6, p. 2556; see letter from RLS, late Aug 1886: I am just but returned and have found the dreadful and your note etc.’ (L5, pp. 306-7); another ‘shilling dreadful’ possibly inspired by Dr Jekyll and Mr Hyde (see Andrew Lang above)

Aubrey de Vere, The Search after Proserpine and other Poems (1886)
          presentation copy with inscription: ‘R. Louis Stevenson, from Aubrey de Vere, August 31, 1886’; letter from RLS to Ida Taylor, late Aug / early Sept 1886: I am death on [= (slang) enthusiastic about] Aubrey de Vere’s poems, and shall write to him soon (L5, p. 308); de Vere was a cousin of the Stevensons’ Bournemouth friend Lady Taylor

John C Dunlop & Alison Hay Dunlop, William Hole (ill.), The Book of Old Edinburgh (1886)
          presentation copy from Stevenson’s friend William Hole, illustrator of Kidnapped and author of the illustrations in the book; see letter from RLS to Hole, late Sept 1886: ‘Many thanks for the beautiful book: some of the pictures are most engaging, and some very spirited’ (L5, p. 325)

Ida A. Taylor, Allegiance: a Novel (1886)
          probably a presentation copy, untraced

Richard W Gilder, Lyrics (1885)
          presentation copy with inscription: ‘To Robert Louis Stevenson, with the regard & admiration of his friend, R. W. Gilder – Oct. 1887’; Skerryvore bookplate; Gilder was poet and editor of the Century Magazine in which The Silverado Squatters had been published in 1883

received 1887

Sir Stephen Edward de Vere, Translations from Horace and a few original Poems (1886)
          presentation copy with inscription to RLS, 1887; elder brother of Aubrey de Vere


2. English language literature

Excluding books known to have been acquired and read later

published 1884

Mark Twain, The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn (1884)
          read enthusiastically immediately upon London publication in Dec 1884; Henley was among the earliest reviewers (Athenæum, 27 Dec 1884 (L5, pp. 41, 80; L6, pp. 161–2)

published 1885

H. Rider Haggard, King Solomon’s Mines (1885)
          probably sent by Henley with recommendation: cf. Henley’s letter to RLS, 16 Oct 1885: ‘How do you like King Solomon’s Mines? I think it is blamed good. Not art, of course; but a good deal of blazing imagination’ (Atkinson, p.144).

George Meredith, Diana of the Crossways (1885)
          published 16 Feb 1885; in a letter c. 6 May 1885 RLS says he is ‘sitting now in the porch, now out on the gravel, reading Meredith, looking at the rhododendrons and red hawthorn’

Brander Matthews, The Last Meeting (1885)
          sent by Henley; letter from Henley to Brander Matthews 24 Dec 1885: ‘I am going to send Louis the Last Meeting. Whatever he says of it you shall hear’; letter from RLS to Henley early Jan 1886: ‘Brander Matthews is one of the damndest idiots on record. He had better stick to criticism; the reviews on his swindle of a story are a disgrace to journalism’ (L5, p. 174); how Henley replied to Matthews is not known

Henry James, Stories Revived (1885)

Charles Dickens, Our Mutual Friend (1885?)
          Skerryvore bookplate

Charles Dickens, The Mystery of Edwin Drood (1885?)
          Skerryvore bookplate

published 1886

George Bernard Shaw, Cashel Byron’s Profession (1886)
          recommended by William Archer (perhaps sent as a gift by him); see RLS’s enthusiastic letter to Archer of March 1886 (L5, 224–5)

Andrew Lang, Letters to Dead Authors (1886)
          untraced; bought by Stevenson himself; see letter from RLS to Lang, c. 10 March 1886: Letter from [Bournemouth to Andrew Lang, [c10 Mar 1886: ‘I treated myself to your Dead Authors, by way of an unbirthday present; and I can fancy none better. I think it the best thing you have done, I have read it once, much of it twice, and am not yet done reading etc.’ (L5, pp. 226–7).

Andrew Lang, In the Wrong Paradise: and other Stories (1886)

Thomas Hardy, The Mayor of Casterbridge (1886)
          untraced; see letter from RLS to Hardy, June 1886: ‘I have read The Mayor of Casterbridge with sincere admiration: Henchard is a great fellow, and Dorchester is touched in with the hand of a master. Do you think you could let me try to dramatise it?’ (L5, p. 259)

Alfred Tennyson, Locksley Hall Sixty Years After etc. (1886)
          possibly acquired later

Eric Sutherland Robertson (ed.), The Children of the Poets. An Anthology from English and American Writers of Three Centuries (1886)
          sold at auction 1914, untraced; possibly a presentation copy; Robertson was a London-based Scottish man of letters who RLS probably knew


3. French and Russian literature

Excluding books known to have been acquired and read later

published 1884

Dostoievsky, Le Crime et le chatiment [Crime and Punishment (1884)
          see letter Letter Henley, early Nov 1885: ‘Dostoieffsky is of course simply immense: it is not reading a book, it is having a brain fever, to read it etc.’ (L5, p. 151

Dostoievsky, Humiliés et offensés [The Insulted and the Injured] (1884)
          see letter to Symonds, early March 1886: ‘even more incoherent than Le Crime et le Chatiment; but breathes the same lovely goodness, and has passages of power’ (L5, pp. 220–1)

Alexandre Dumas, Le vicomte de Bragelonne (1884)
          ‘I have now just risen from my last (let me call it my fifth) perusal’, ‘Gossip on a Novel by Dumas’ (1887)

published 1885

Alphonse Daudet, Tartarin sur les Alpes (1885)
          possibly acquired later

Alexandre Dumas, La tulipe noire (1885)
          possibly acquired later

Ernest Renan, Dialogues et fragments philosophiques (1885)
          possibly acquired later

Jules Verne, La Jangada: huit cent lieues sur l’ Amazone (1885)
          with inscription: ‘Mrs. Osbourne’s copy — Eastham, Bournemouth West’; Eastham was the name of the house in Bournemouth West (exact location unknown, but somewhere near Skerryvore) where Lloyd was a resident pupil of the Rev. Henry John Storr (see L4, p. 41n), though he had left to go to Hyères in 1883 and by late Feb/early March 1885 he was a student at Edinburgh University (L5, p. 80); perhaps Fanny lent the book after a social visit

published 1886

Octave Feuillet, La Morte (1886)
          possibly acquired later


4. Other books acquired and read 1884–87

Excluding books bought in the USA, Sep-Dec 1887

published 1884

Margaret Stuart (Mrs. Calderwood), Alexander Fergusson (ed.), Letters and Journals of Mrs. Calderwood of Polton, from England, Holland and the Low Countries in 1756, (1884)
          sold at auction 1914, untraced; Skerryvore bookplate; much local colour in chapters 21–3 of Catriona comes from here

published 1885

Horace Beng Dobell, The Medical Aspects of Bournemouth and its Surroundings (1885)

Henry Bruce and David Chalmers, Mr Gladstone and the Paper Duties, by Two Midlothian Paper-Makers (1885)
          untraced, sold at auction 1914; possibly left behind at Skerryvore by Thomas Stevenson

William Kingdon Clifford, The Common Sense of the Exact Sciences (1885).

Clifford was a fellow member of the Savile Club, first met through Sidney Colvin in late August 1873 (see the continuation of ‘Memoirs of Himself’ dictated in Samoa, Vailima Edition, 26 (1926), 235-236)

John S. Keltie, A History of the Scottish Highlands, Highland Clans and Highland Regiments (1885)

Fulke Greville, The Greville Memoirs (Second Part). A Journal of the Reign of Queen Victoria from 1837 to 1852 (1885)
          sold at auction 1914, untraced; Skerryvore bookplate; for the planned Wellington biography

Leslie Stephen, Dictionary of National Biography (1885–), earliest volumes

Lady Adelaide Cadogan, Illustrated Games of Patience (1885)
          Skerryvore bookplate

Gustave Strauss, Philosophy in the Kitchen: General Hints on Foods and Drinks. By an Old Bohemian (1885)
          RLS’s Skerryvore visiting card as bookplate

published/read 1886

William Youatt, The Dog (1886)
          veterinary treatise

Charles Warren Stoddard, Summer Cruising in the South Seas (1881)
          Skerryvore bookplate; orignally published in 1873, the same year as the American edition (with the title South-sea Idyls), which Stevenson also possessed (probably a gift from the author in San Francisco in 1880). Stevenson was re-reading one of these in Feb 1886 for the purpose of choosing extracts for a proposed anthology of prose to be selected with Henley (L5, pp. 198, 200, 203)


Written by rdury

27/07/2020 at 4:15 pm

Stevenson’s Bournemouth

with 7 comments

Version 1.6

Inspired by Andrew O’Hagan’s recent article, I here provide some additional information about Stevenson’s house in Bournemouth and about his time there. Any contributions and corrections to the following can be made in the Comments and will then be incorporated and acknowledged in an updated version of the posting.

I. Skerryvore in Stevenson’s day

Robert Louis Stevenson’s famous house of Skerryvore, where he lived from April 1885 to August 1887, was at 61 Alum Chine Road in Westbourne, only just recently included in Bournemouth, and about a half hour’s walk NW of the centre. Travelling by train from London Waterloo you went to Bournemouth station, 4 km away at the eastern end of town (the nearer Branksome station was built later). The house, destroyed by a stray World War II bomb, is now reduced to low walls tracing the outlines of the house plan, set amid a public park.

Fig. 1. Skerryvore today: foundations of drawing room with bay

But what was it like in Stevenson’s day?

Michael Stead of Bournemouth Libraries has found plans from 1880 made for the previous owner Captain Best when the house was named Sea View. The following plans (Fig. 2) have South (and the garden) at the top, North (and the road) at the bottom:

Fig. 2. Skerryvore, 1880 additions, ground floor plan
(Bournemouth Library)
Fig. 3. Skerryvore, 1880 additions, plan and west elevation
(Bournemouth Library)

The additions planned in November 1880 (so probably carried out in 1881) are coloured red: they consisted of a large kitchen area (with floors above) and an adjoining ‘veranda porch’ with W.C. (Fig. 3) and then a separate stable block and coach house between the house and the road (Fig. 2).

The path on the left of Fig. 2 leading to the ‘yard’ behind the kitchen was the one to which Henry James (mistaken for an expected carpet dealer) was directed to by the maid Valentine Roch on his first visit in April 1885 (L5: 104).


Plans from 1900 (Fig. 4) show further additions made at that date: 1. extensive additions the North side of the house incorporating the former stable block and adding a separate small bicycle house, and an additional bay window to the South side. The plans also show that a small infill extension has been built at some time in the angle made by the outside walls just South of the veranda porch.

Fig. 4. Skerryvore, 1900
(from a bookseller’s catalogue)

The bay window is shown in the South elevation ‘New Bay Facing Garden’:

Fig. 5. Skerryvore: dining room bay addition, 1900

Photographs and drawings with the additional bay therefore date from after 1900:

Fig. 6. Skerryvore, after 1900

1. Entrance

In the 1880 plan (Fig. 7) the porch was open but this could have been altered during construction or later.

Fig. 7. Skerryvore,
1880 additions, veranda-porch and new block behind
(Bournemouth Library)

Adelaide Boodle describes the first visit to the house with her mother: there was something wrong with the bell ‘and in that hospitable porch, all prepared with seats, we had to wait for several minutes and finally to pull a second time’ (Boodle, 6).

William Archer in 1887 refers to

tthe little porch veranda enclosed with wire netting, the model in Skerryvore granite of Skerryvore light, designed to serve as a lamp to this vestibule […] Behind it is a panelled wall, the divisions of which are in time to be filled up with mural paintings by the artists who are among the most frequent guests at Skerryvore. Some of the panels are already occupied — two at least by the pleasant landscape-work of Mr H. R. Bloomer, the American painter, one of Mr Stevenson’s oldest friends […].

Archer, qu. Terry, 106

(So Bloomer, then living in Chelsea (L5: 356), must have made an otherwise unrecorded visit to Bournemouth.) Archer says that the panelled wall with painted panels was ‘behind it’—this could mean behind the model lighthouse, but that would mean the panels would be exposed to the elements, or more probably behind the porch veranda, i.e. behind the front door and in the hall or vestibule with the staircase.

A photograph taken after Stevenson’s time (Fig. 8) shows the porch closed by a wooden screen, the upper half apparently glazed.

Fig. 8. Entrance porch post-1880 with corner infill to the right

Perhaps the squares in the upper porch façade, if they existed in Stevenson’s time, were filled by Archer’s wire netting in 1885. The netting was presumably to keep out birds—but this would only work if there was a door that could be closed and which must open and hidden in the photograph.

2. Dining room

The two rooms at the garden (south) side of the original house were the dining room, on the left in the two plans above (Fig. 2 and 4); and on the right a drawing room (with a bay window facing the garden).

The dining room had a fireplace on the North side (Fig. 4). The decor of the room in 1887 is described by Stevenson’s friend Wiliam Archer, a frequent guest at Skerryvore:

Over the fireplace is an engraving of Turner’s ‘Bell Rock Lighthouse’, built by Stevenson’s grandfather. Another wall is adorned by two of Piranesi’s great Roman etchings, between which hangs the conventional portrait of Shelley (a gift from his son, Sir Percy Shelley […]), with under it a portrait of Mary Wolstonecraft.

Archer, qu. Terry, 106

Fig. 9. W. M. Turner, ‘Bell Rock Lighthouse During a Storm’,
engraved by J. Horsburgh (Library of Congress)
Fig. 10. Giovanna Battista Piranesi, ‘Tomb of Cecilia Metella’, not necessarily the print owned by Stevenson (L4, p. 265), as Piranesi did several views of the tomb


Which room was the blue room?
Archer goes on to mention ‘the Venetian mirror, presented to the poet by that “Prince of Men, Henry James”‘ and he quotes the poem by Stevenson which refers to it as opposite the fireplace in the ‘blue room’. This leads us to a problem because Archer says specifically that the mirror and other items of decor so far mentioned are ‘in the “blue room” […]. It is an ordinary English dining-room’ (qu. Terry, 106). However If we compare details of two of Sargent’s portraits of Stevenson:

Fig. 11. Details of Singer Sargent portraits of Stevenson:
A. 1885 (Fig. 16), B. 1887 (Fig. 18)

From the discussion of these two portraits below, it is clear that A., which from the view through to the entrance-hall can only be the dining room, has walls painted pompeian red, while B., which from the furnishing can only be the drawing room, has walls painted cornflower blue. Hence it is the drawing room that must have been called the ‘blue room’ while the dining room was probably called the ‘red room’.

Since Stevenson places the Venetian mirror in the ‘blue room’ in his poem, that is definitely where it was in 1886, i.e. in the drawing room. Archer has not only confused the colour scheme of the two rooms but has placed in the dining room a mirror that was certainly in the drawing room in February and March 1886 (see below and L5: 210, 222–3). It is of course possible that it was moved to the dining room later, but from practical knowledge of how people tend not to change room decor, one should assume that it stayed in the drawing room and that Archer is confusing the two rooms.

And the most likely source of his confusion is the fact that there was another and distinctly different mirror in the dining room. This was a convex mirror, possibly also opposite the fire, but not James’s present, as Stevenson says in a letter of late July 1885, ‘We have bought a convex mirror for the dining room’ (L5: 122). This confusion of mirrors, plus the poem that locates James’s mirror in the blue room is perhaps the origin of the mix-up. If so, Archer’s description of other items in the dining room is going to be reliable.

Fig. 12. Convex mirror, RLS Museum, Samoa
(see Notes at the end of the post)

Archer continues that below the mirror (i.e. the convex mirror, possibly on the wall opposite the fireplace) were ‘buccaneering weapons […], some of which were presented to Mr Stevenson as having belonged to Pew and Long John Silver’. One of these, perhaps the first, was ‘Long John Silver’s’ pistol given to Stevenson by Henley’s brother Joe as a birthday present in November 1884 (L5: 31). Then there were photographs of Sidney Colvin and Sir Henry Taylor; an etching by Stevenson’s friend Will Low; a watercolour of the nearby New Forest by Henley’s brother Anthony; and some prized blue china. In his later description of the drawing room (see ‘2. Drawing room’ below), Archer specifically refers back to the photo of Colvin in the dining room.


In which room was the photo taken of Stevenson looking up from writing?
The well-known writing portrait photograph of 1885 was taken in front of a bay window, of which there were three in Stevenson’s day: on the east wall of the dining room, on the south wall of the drawing room, and on the same wall of the floor above, no doubt a master bedroom. (The south bay window of the dining room shown in the 1900 plans did not exist in Stevenson’s day). But which room was it? if we compare the proportions of the lower part of the central window in the photograph (Fig. 13)

Fig. 13. Stevenson, Skerryvore 1885

with the South elevation drawing from 1900 (Fig. 14),

Fig. 14. Skerryvore South elevation bay windows (from Fig, 4):
A. bedroom, B. drawing room, C. dining room

it is clear that it is not the bedroom (A), and since the south bay of the dining room (C) did not exist, it is either the drawing room (B) or the east bay of the dining room, for which no elevation has yet been found. We can exclude the drawing room windows (B) as decidedly narrower than those of the photograph, which leaves the east dining room bay. It is possible that the later south bay (C) was modelled on this, and here the proportions are certainly closer than to the narrower drawing room windows. In addition, Stevenson is not writing at a work desk but what could well be a dining room table. William Archer tells us that the dining room had Sheriton furniture taken over from the previous owner, so this could possibly be a Sheriton dining table such as the following:

Fig. 15. Sheriton dining table (later 18th cent.)

It seems, therefore, that the photo was taken in the dining room with the east bay window in the background.


In which room did Stevenson do his writing?
Unfortunately, from the size of the paper, Stevenson in the famous photo must be writing a letter and not Dr Jekyll and Mr Hyde. However we know that he wrote most of this and other works in bed or anyway in his bedroom: his stepson said that ‘came down to luncheon’ after writing all morning, and the family occasionally saw him ‘sitting up in bed, writing, writing, writing, with the counterpane littered with his sheets’ (Osbourne, 62, 66). Of all the rooms in the house his bedroom was most probably the room above the drawing room, with its bay window and a glimpse of the sea.

If we visit the site of Skerryvore today, the stones might at first seem uneloquent, but we need to use a little imagination, stand in the space behind the south-west bay window where the drawing room was (easy to identify), and think hard that it was in the bedroom above this that Stevenson wrote two masterpieces both published in 1886, Dr Jekyll and Mr Hyde and Kidnapped.


Where was Sargent’s walking portrait painted?
One of Singer Sargent’s famous paintings of Stevenson at Skerryvore shows him and Fanny at the other end of the dining room.

Fig. 16. John Singer Sargent, ‘Robert Louis Stevenson and his Wife’ (1885); Fanny is sitting in ‘Henry James’s Chair’ that had belonged to Stevenson’s grandfather (now in the RLS Museum, St Helena)
(Crystal Bridges Museum of American Art)

If we compare this with the relevant part of the 1900 plans (Fig. 17, here turned with part of the dining room at the bottom), we can see that what is visible through the door at the back of Sargent’s picture is the hallway with the staircase and, at the far end, the half-glazed door to the entrance porch.

Fig. 17. Skerryvore, part of dining room, hallway with stairs and door to veranda porch

3. Drawing room

It was in the drawing room that there were the unconventional wickerwork armchairs (and an unusual rug) and a large oaken cabinet as shown in the Sargent seated portrait (Fig. 18).

Fig. 18. John Singer Sargent, ‘Robert Louis Stevenson’ (1887)
(Taft Museum of Art)

Fanny describes ‘a side wall’ (possibly the west wall) of the drawing room in a letter of February 1886 accompanied by a sketch:

Fig. 19. ‘side wall’ of the drawing room, Feb 1886

A magic mirror has come to us which seems to reflect not only our own plain faces but the kindly one of a friend entwined in the midst of all sorts of pleasant memories. […] The above, as you will readily perceive, is the present aspect of the side wall of our drawing room, correctly and carefully drawn. Miss Taylor’s beautiful work, Mr Lemon’s adorable picture of horses, the magic mirror, Sargent’s picture of Louis, and the copy of Chatterton.

Fanny Stevenson, Joint letter with RLS, 25 Feb 1886 (L5, p. 210).

(Clearly Fanny had tried unsuccessfully to sketch the picture of Chatterton and then blacked it out.)

Venetian Mirror Square MG 002063
Fig. 20. square Venetian mirror

Stevenson’s wrote James a poem, to thank him for the gift and sent it in a letter of 7 March 1886 (L5: 222-3). It includes the lines

To the sparkling fire I face
In the blue room at Skerryvore

‘The Mirror Speaks’, Underwoods

This shows that there must have been a fireplace in the drawing room, not shown on the plans above. If the mirror was on the west wall, the the fireplace was on the east.


Archer’s 1887 description of the drawing room.
In 1887 William Archer describes other items of decor (items placed in bold here for the reader’s convenience):

It is not encumbered with superfluous furniture […] Halfway along one side of the room runs a low divan formed of a series of oak boxes covered with yellow silk cushions. Lounging chairs, mainly of light wickerwork, are scattered about, and a large oaken cabinet stands beside he door. It is surmounted by a beautiful group in plaster executed as an illustration to one of Victor Hugo’s poems by the French sculptor Rodin […]. This group is flanked by a couple of grinning Burmese gods; and, perhaps to counteract the influences of these uncanny deities, a Catholic devotional image of ancient date stands in an opposite corner. Over the cabinet, again, hangs a beautiful ‘Landscape with Horses’ by Mr Arthur Lemon, with a photograph of the late Prof. Fleeming Jenkin to the right of it and one of Mr W. E. Henley to the left, both being, like the photograph of Mr Colvin in the dining-room, the work of a private friend. From another wall, Mr John E. Sargent’s [sic, John Singer Sargent] half-grotesque yet speaking portrait of Mr Stevenson himself looks out at us livingly. It represents him pacing noiselessly up and down this very room [actually the dining room, see above] […]. Underneath this quaint little picture hangs a copy by Miss Una Taylor […] of what purports to be an authentic portrait of Chatterton, with hard by it an imposing piece of flower-embroidery, framed and glazed, by the same accomplished lady. Over the divan some curious little wood-cuts […] are pinned to the wall. They illustrate a certain moral ballad of a converted pirate, and are the work of Mr Stevenson himself […].

(Terry, pp. 107–8)
Fig. 20. Rodin, L’éternel printemps
(from the 1914 Anderson sale of Stevenson’s MSS, books and artefacts (Lot484) with a dedication taken from Rodin’s letter added by RLS to the base
Fig. 21. Arthus Lemon, painting
(not the one from Skerryvore; see below)
Fig. 22. from ‘Rob and Ben, or The Pirate and the Apothecary’ (in Robert Louis Stevenson, Moral Tales)

The Sargent portrait over Una Taylor’s picture of Chatterton and her flower embroidery nearby agree with Fanny’s description from February 1886, but Arthur Lemon’s landscape with horses has been moved over the cabinet on another wall. Presumably the Venetian mirror was also there in 1887 and on the same wall facing the fire.


The Arthur Lemon paining of horses is now at the RLS Museum at St. Helena, California.

Fanny ‘was nearly always to be found after luncheon’ in the Blue Room (Boodle, 13).

If any reader knows of illustrations and present whereabouts of any of the items from the dining or drawing room, please add a comment about it and the information with acknowledgements will be added to the posting.

4. Stable

Another 1880-1 addition was the stable block and yard. The stable roof had a picturesque feature: what looks like a louvered belfry topped by a conical ‘cap’ and a weather vane. Adelaide Boodle tells us that the stables were not used (p. 1), so the Stevensons were not ‘carriage folk’. The stable yard was ‘a sheltered little place, paved with red brick’ (p. 15), later dedicated to Fanny’s cultivation of tomatoes ‘at that date very little cultivated in England’ (p. 115)

Fig. 23. Skerryvore, 1880 additions, stable block
(Bournemouth Library)

The stable block can be seen in a photograph dated to 1898 (Fig. 24, from O’Hagan) with behind it a three-storey block built after Stevenson’s time, but not yet linked to the original house as in the plans of 1900 (Fig. 4).

Fig. 24. Skerryvore 1898

II. Stevenson’s Bournemouth

This section deals with the other houses where Stevenson lived in Bournemouth and the houses of his Bournemouth friends (the people described by Andrew O’Hagan in his LRB article).

Fig. 25. Stevenson’s Bournemouth
to enlarge, right-click and choose View Image

1. Stevenson’s Bournemouth residences

12–19 July 1884: the Highcliffe Mansions Hotel, a large new modern hotel on the cliff top opened in 1872; now the Bournemouth Highcliff Marriott Hotel, 105 St Michael’s Road.

19 July to September 1884: Sunnington Rise, a boarding house on West Cliff Gardens.

Sept–Nov 1884: Wensleydale, ‘one of a tall row of lodging-houses on the West Cliff of Bournemouth [West Cliff Gardens], overlooking the sands below, and with a glorious sparkling view of the Needles and the Isle of Wight’ (Osbourne, 51). The exact location of these two boarding houses has not been ascertained, but there’s a good chance that the houses still exist as there are numerous Victorian houses along the street.
In these first residences near the centre of Bournemouth Stevenson was busy writing plays in collaboration with Henley.

November 1884 to March 1885: Bonallie Tower, a recently built furnished house on Burton Road in Branksome Park, an area of scattered houses among pine trees just west of Bournemouth; the house (later renamed ‘Blythswood’) was demolished in the 1970s and the site of Boanllie Tower will be under the garages of what is now ‘Lissenden’ , 1 Burton Road. No photographs seem to have survived, though Lawrence Popplewell says ‘The surviving property next door [at No. 3] was probably almost identical (without the tower) and probably by the same builder” (Dorset Echo). (Fig. 25, drawn before the information from Popplewell, shows the house on the correct side of the street but too far south: it was the second house from the north end of the street.)
Here he wrote ‘Markheim’, ‘A Humble Remonstrance’ and ‘On Style in Literature’, finished writing ‘The Dynamiter’ in collaboration with Fanny and continued writing plays with Henley.

Early April 1885 to August 1887: Sea View, renamed Skerryvore, bought by Thomas Stevenson as a wedding gift for Fanny.
Here he wrote his Memoir of Fleeming Jenkin, Strange Case of Dr Jekyll and Mr Hyde, ‘The Misadventures of John Nicholson’, ‘Olalla’, Kidnapped, and published A Child’s Garden of Verses, The Merry Men and Other Tales and Fables, Underwoods and Memories and Portraits. These were, as O’Hagan says, ‘the best years of his writing life’.

2. A network of friends

Henry James arrived in Bournemouth on 18 April 1885 to be near his sick sister and stayed at St Albans Cliff boarding house in South Cliff Road (where now the BIC conference centre is; the exact location of the house on maps of the period has not been found). He first came to call at the end of April and then came ‘every evening after dinner’ (L5: 104), walking there from the centre of town just under half an hour away. When he left Bournemouth at the end of June after ten weeks of frequent visits, both Louis and Fanny felt his absence keenly (L5: 120).

Sir Henry and Lady Taylor with their two daughters Ida and Una lived near the centre of town at ‘The Roost’, a villa in Hinton Road (since demolished and the exact location not yet ascertained). In May 1885 they began a close friendship with the Stevensons, following an introduction by Wilfred Meynell, who Stevenson knew through the Savile Club (L5: 109). The Taylors were also friends of the Shelleys.

Sir Percy Shelley and his wife lived at the grand mansion of Boscombe Place, 6 km away, halfway between Bournemouth and Christchurch, 2.5 km on the eastern side of the centre of Bournemouth. No doubt they sent their carriage to pick up the Stevensons when they were to visit.

Adelaide Boodle, 26 years old, lived with her parents on the Poole Road in a house called Lostock on the corner of the semicircular Seamoor Road (in Fig. 20 it is placed on the western corner, but it could have been on the eastern corner.) She heard the news that a writer called Stevenson (and thought it must be the Stevenson who had written An Inland Voyage and ‘The Treasure of Franchard’), now living in Bonallie Tower, was about to move to a house even closer to hers. She persuaded her mother to join her on a formal call to the new house in the spring of 1884, and found the Stevensons still unpacking after moving in. As she was interested in writing some time later she plucked up the courage to ask if it would be possible to have lessons. Fanny at first did this to save her husband the strain, but then Louis took over. An interesting record of Stevenson’s teachings is given in her later memoir R.L.S. and his Sine Qua Non. As she walked down Middle Road (now Robert Louis Stevenson Avenue) she would see Skerryvore ahead of her at the end of the street.

In addition to local friends, the Stevensons had many visits from family and London friends, sometimes being unable to accommodate them all at Skerryvore: Stevenson’s parents, cousin Bob Steveneon and his wife, Bob’s sister Katherine De Mattos and children, W. E. Henley, Charles Baxter, Sidney Colvin, Mrs Fleeming Jenkin, ‘Coggie’ Ferrier (sister of his close friend James Walter Ferrier who died tragically young), John Singer Sargent, James Sully, William Archer, and others (Fanny Stevenson, xvi–xvii; Balfour II, 7-9).

After his happy years in Hyères, in Bournemouth Stevenson was often seriously ill and confined to the house, but he produced masterpieces, had the enthusiasm to study and write music, and the ‘evenings of interesting, clever, and brilliant talk were amongst the pleasantest experiences’ of his life (Fanny Stevenson, xvii). Though Skerryvore marked the end of his Bohemian years and ‘he never spoke about it with regret’ (Osbourne, 59), it was, perhaps, ‘the time of his life’.


Thanks to Michael Stead of Bournemouth Libraries who found the 1880 Skerryvore plans and then shared them with me.
Thanks also to Roger Swearingen for information on items in the RLS Museum, St Helena, California.
Thanks to Mafalda Cippolone for the images of Stevenson’s Rodin sculpture, of a convex mirror and of a landscape with horses by Arthur Lemon; as Roger Swearingen says, the actual painting and perhaps the mirror should now be in the RLS Museum, St Helena. The convex mirror in the RLS Museum, Vailima, is probably not Stevenson’s but is placed there to reproduce the furnishing in Stevenson’s time.
Thanks to Neil Macara Brown for indicating another bookseller offering the 1900 plans for sale.


William Archer, ‘Robert Louis Stevenson at “Skerryvore” ‘, Critic, 5 Nov 1887, 225–7; repr. in part in R. C. Terry, Robert Louis Stevenson: Interviews and Recollections (Iowa City: University of Iowa Press, 1996), 106–8.

Graham Balfour, The Life of Robert Louis Stevenson., 2 vols (London: Methuen, 1901).

Adelaide Boodle, R. L. S. and his Sine Qua Non (London: John Murray, 1926).

Bradford A. Booth and Ernest Mehew, The Letters of Robert Louis Stevenson, 8 vols (New Haven: Yale University Press, 1995), vol. 5.

Andrew O’Hagan, ‘The Bournemouth Set’, London Review of Books, 42.10 (May 2020), available online.

Lloyd Osbourne, An Intimate Portrait of R.L.S (New York: Charles Scribner’s Sons, 1924).

Lawrence Popplewell, The Search for Bonallie Tower: RLS in Branksome Park (Bournemouth: Melledgen Press, 1996, rev. ed. 2002). Not seen. For a report on the books findings, see ‘House Detective’, Dorset Echo 21 June 2005.

Fanny Vandergrift Stevenson, ‘Prefatory Note’, in Robert Louis Stevenson, The Strange Case of Dr Jekyll and Mr Hyde; Fables (London: Heinemann (Tusitala Edition), 1924), xv–xviii.

Written by rdury

18/06/2020 at 7:13 pm

Writing Explanatory Notes /2

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Understanding (through) Annotations,
15th International Connotations Symposium
July 28 – August 1, 2019, Eberhard Karls University Tübingen (Germany)

The following notes on papers of interest to EdRLS are taken from the book of abstracts.

David Fishelov, ‘Annotating Satirical Texts and Its Limitations: Exemplified by Swift’s Gulliver’s Travels’. This talk tackles the problem of whether providing close contemporary context can go too far, turning the text into a historical document.

I will argue in my paper that by anchoring certain textual elements of satirical texts in a specific historical context, these annotations take the risk of narrowing the semantic potentialities and the universal appeal of these elements. I will further argue that the effectiveness of satirical texts lies ultimately in their ability to transcend the concrete historical circumstances of their composition. Effective satirical texts constantly move between the topical, the universal and the fantastic, and we should be careful not to pay too much attention to topical references found in detailed annotations, lest we turn an effective satire into a historical document.

Lena Linne and Burkhard Niederhoff, ‘Against Interpretation: Annotating Literature as an Embedded Textual Practice’. This talk argues for restraint in annotation

Notes should facilitate rather than interfere, support rather than interrupt. They should enable readers to find their own interpretations instead of imposing a particular interpretation on them. A violation of these principles can be found in Roger Luckhurst’s note on the scene in Dr Jekyll and Mr Hyde in which Edward Hyde collides with a girl and then calmly walks over her. Luckhurst suggests that this is an allegory of sexual intercourse or, more specifically, of child prostitution. This note is superfluous or even misleading for two reasons. First, any reader might arrive at the Freudian interpretation him- or herself. Second, the note detracts from an attentive literal reading of the passage which is more interesting and original than the allegorical one. In our talk, we would like to examine three recent editions of Stevenson’s novella by Luckhurst (World’s Classics), Katherine Linehan (Norton) and Richard Dury (Edizioni C. I. Genova) to distinguish necessary and helpful notes from superfluous and misleading ones and to flesh out the principles of an-notation as an embedded textual practice.

[I fear that the Dury edition will provide a good example of excessive annotation. —RD]

Marcus Walsh, ‘Annotating Alexander Pope for Oxford: Theory and Practice’. A General Editor of the planned 24-volume Oxford edition of Alexander Pope addresses practical and theoretical issues of annotation with reference to his section on Annotation for the ‘Editorial Guidelines’.

I shall consider in particular:

The nature and range of our assumed audience (‘scholars and informed modern readers, including the able undergraduate’), and its consequences for our practice;

The approach taken in our edition to linguistic, literary, political, personal, and cultural contexts;

Our approach to the relation of commentary to interpretation, including the selection of contextualising information, the illustration and explanation of allusions, and the necessity and value of lexical notes.

Manfred Malzahn, ‘ “Let’s do it to them before they do it to us”: Self-Annotation in Scottish Literature’. A talk about the function of self-annotation in texts.

I intend to present and discuss samples of footnotes and glossaries to texts by authors such as Walter Scott, Robert Louis Stevenson or Lewis Grassic Gibbon, in which elements of Scots—whether seen as national language or as dialect—are embedded in standard English.

See also Writing Explanatory Notes.

Stevenson’s David Balfour: a new edition edited from the MS by Barry Menikoff

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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).

Screenshot 2016-08-10 16.53.13

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, like other editorial choices, is an area where each editor has to decide one way or another according to the aims of the edition. Menikoff gives us what the author wrote, while EdRLS (conservatively) emends MS texts—acting as publisher in a way accepted repeatedly by the author in other cases.]

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.

Conference report for RLS 2013: Stevenson, Time and History (UNSW)

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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.

Union Club, Sydney

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.

Written by Anthony Mandal

05/09/2013 at 2:51 pm

Jekyll 2.0: Embodying the Gothic Text

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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.

Double exposure of Richard Mansfield as Jekyll and Hyde (1895).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 »

Talk on scholarly editing at the National Library of Scotland, 9 Nov 2011

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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.

Written by Anthony Mandal

07/11/2011 at 5:20 am

Ernest James Mehew (1923-2011)

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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.

Written by rdury

05/11/2011 at 8:42 pm

News from the volume editors: Prince Otto

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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.

First choices
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 »

Written by pennyfielding

13/07/2011 at 9:32 pm

EdRLS blog now with added Twitter goodness!

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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.

Written by Anthony Mandal

25/05/2011 at 1:49 am