Poems, by Robert Louis Stevenson, hitherto unpublished
ROBERT LOUIS STEVENSON
INTRODUCTION AND NOTES BY
GEORGE S. HELLMAN
WILLIAM P. TRENT
PRIVATELY PRINTED FOR
MR. FRANCIS S. PEABODY
Copyright 1921 by
The Bibliophile Society
All rights reserved
The Bibliophile Society desires to acknowledge its obligations to Mr. Francis S. Peabody for his generosity in permitting it to print the Robert Louis Stevenson manuscripts for its members, and as a token of gratitude and appreciation, has issued this small complimentary edition from the same type forms from which the Bibliophile edition was printed
Life's winds and billows, hoarse and shrill,
Could ne'er his minstrel-ardor still;
He sailed and piped until his breath
Went out within the grip of death;
And now, upon his island home,
Fringed with the far Pacific foam,
He lies at peace, beloved, renowned
The sympathetic world around.
INDEX OF TITLES AND FIRST LINES IN THIS VOLUME
THE STEVENSON MANUSCRIPTS
At the time when the great mass of manuscripts, books, and other personal belongings of Robert Louis Stevenson were dispersed through a New York auction room in November 1914, and January 1915, the whole of civilization was being shaken to its very foundations, and the exigencies of the times were such that people were concerned with more important matters than the acquisition of manuscripts and relics. Therefore the sale, which in ordinary times would have attracted widespread attention among editors, critics, publishers and collectors, went comparatively unnoticed amid the general clamor and apprehension of the time. There was, however, one vigilant Stevenson collector, in the person of Mr. Francis S. Peabody, who bought a large part of the unpublished manuscripts at the sale, and has since acquired most of the remainder which went chiefly to various dealers. Mr. Peabody has generously offered to share the enjoyment of his Stevenson treasures with his fellow bibliophiles, and we are indebted to him for the privilege of issuing the first printed edition of many precious items, without which no collection of Stevensoniana can ever be regarded as being complete.
It will be remembered that the last years of Stevenson's life were spent at Samoa, which became the only permanent home of his married life, where he kept his great collection of manuscripts and note books, the accumulation of his twenty-odd years of work; and where, being far removed from the centers of civilization, he came very little in contact with editors or publishers who, during his lifetime or subsequently, would have been interested in ransacking his chests for new material. When his personal effects were finally packed up and shipped to the United States they were sent to the auction room and disposed of for ready cash, and thereafter it became impossible for publishers to acquire either the possession or the publication rights of the manuscripts without great expense and inconvenience.
From events that have transpired since the publication in 1916 of the two-volume Bibliophile edition of Stevenson's unpublished poems, we are led to believe that the literary importance of the manuscripts was not appreciated by the Stevenson heirs. It is neither necesssary nor advisable to comment or speculate further upon the circumstances which led to the sale of the manuscripts before being published; whatever they may have been, they are of far less importance to the public than the established fact that the manuscripts were dispersed before being transcribed or published, and the further fact that they ultimately came into the possession of an owner who now permits them to be printed.
If it be regrettable that the distribution of the present edition, in which there is destined to be a world-wide interest, is confined to the relatively limited membership of a book club, the circumstances are made inevitable by certain fundamental rules, without which no cohesive body of booklovers can long exist. And these restrictive measures are not inspired by selfish motives, but purely as a matter of necessity in preserving the organization.
Some of the manuscripts printed in the four separate volumes now issued were not available at the time when the two-volume edition was brought out by The Bibliophile Society in 1916, and it was thought best to defer their publication until such time as we could bring together the major part of the remaining inedited material, which we believe has now been accomplished.
H. H. H.
The present collection of hitherto unpublished poems gathered from the manuscripts of Robert Louis Stevenson will be found to contain much that is of keen interest to readers and of both sentimental and practical value to collectors. Nor is it likely that this interest and value will prove to be transitory, since the volume now offered, like its notable predecessors issued by The Bibliophile Society in 1916, must afford very important aid to future biographers and critics of a writer who has taken a high and secure place in the literature of the English-speaking peoples. Although the books of verse issued under the supervision of Stevenson himself and of his representatives may contain a larger number of finished, artistic products along with the few poems in which his genius found perfect expression, such as the best pieces of "The Child's Garden," "Requiem," and "In Memoriam F. A. S.," the poems here and lately published from his manuscripts may fairly be held to do more than the earlier volumes of his verse could ever have done towards establishing his reputation as a poet born, not made; as a writer who could probably have won fame through poetry had he not turned to prose, as a child of song not unworthy to be remembered with those Scotch forerunners whom he so delighted to honor, Robert Fergusson and Robert Burns.
Like Fergusson and Burns, Stevenson is not less interesting as a man than he is as a poet, and it is therefore proper to consider first the biographical importance of the poems here collected. One piece in particular calls for attention. The lines assigned provisionally to the year 1872, "I have a friend; I have a story," if Mr. Hellman be right, as he doubtless is, in connecting them with the verses first published in 1916 entitled "God gave to me a child in part," offer hints of a love tragedy of intense passion and suffering enacted in Edinburgh in the opening years of Stevenson's manhood. It is neither necessary nor prudent, where all is as yet shadowy, to venture upon speculations specific in character, but it seems permissible to wonder whether in the two poems just named we have not heard a rustling premonitory of the gradual lifting of the curtain that has appeared to screen phases at least of the youthful career of the poet and romancer.
That Stevenson was no saint in what Sir Sidney Colvin discreetly calls "his daft student days" has long been clear, despite the deft indefiniteness with which editors, biographers and friends have treated the period; but with the challenge these two poems, interpreted as they have been, fling down to reticence—loyal and commendable though this has surely been thus far—and with the supporting hints and implications that may be gathered from other verses of the same period of immaturity and effervescence, one feels that the legend-making against which Henley raised his much deprecated but unforgettable protest must soon be more or less a thing of the shamefaced past.
It was natural for Stevenson's contemporaries and for the immediately succeeding generation of readers to give themselves to the cult of a charming poet for children, a courageous mentor and fascinating companion of youth, a lay-preacher with a gospel of cheery optimism drawn from triumph over suffering and adapted to all human beings whatever their time and condition of life. It was equally natural for Stevenson's intimate friends, who believed that the side of his character which contemporaries admired was the best and truest side of the man they knew and loved, not to dwell upon another side of him, especially of his earlier self, which did not so justly and fully represent him, and called for no emphasis in those days when his fame was in the making. Yet, whatever Henley's lack of tact and his underlying promptings, conscious or unconscious, his protest, we cannot but feel, was one that had to be made sooner or later, and now that those most likely to be vitally affected by resolute biographical realism have passed away, it is not treasonable to Stevenson's memory to hope that the publication by The Bibliophile Society of manuscripts which he did not destroy and must consequently, in a sense, have destined to publication, will mark the beginning of a period of minute scholarly investigation into each stage of his life. He would have been the last person to object to this, and his best admirers are surely those who serenely welcome every honest attempt at study of his life and works as well as all efforts to recover whatever scrap of his multifarious writings may appear to possess the slightest value.
To such scholarly investigation the present collection and the prior Bibliophile volumes will be indispensable. They show plainly that verse-making played a much larger part in Stevenson's training as a writer—a matter abundantly discussed—than there had formerly been reason even so much as to suspect. It is open to doubt whether Mrs. Stevenson herself, although her intelligence in all that concerned her famous husband was almost equal to her devotion to him and to his memory, ever fully comprehended the range of his poetic interests, or carefully examined the mass of his early experiments in verse. I am at least certain that when some twenty-one years ago I wrote an introduction to an American edition of a part of Stevenson's then known poetry, I had no notion that what I then had before me did not represent even half of his accomplished work in that category of literature. There was then, for example, little ground for believing that the strictly lyrical impulse was strong in him from the beginning; that he had ever very seriously essayed the old French forms of verse in which his contemporaries like Lang and Dobson were so fluent, or that he had shown more than an amateurish interest in the work of such a poet as Martial.
It is true, of course, that his discussions of Villon and of Charles of Orleans might, without Mr. Graham Balfour's aid, have led one to suspect dabbling in French forms, and it is possibly true that for at least a considerable portion of his later life the writing of verse was, to quote the biographer just named, "almost always a resource of illness or of convalescence." He appears, according to the same authority, to have written "Requiem" when recovering from the drastic illness at Hyeres in the early eighties, and in a letter to his mother he confirmed in a measure the view just cited, when he declared, "I do nothing but play patience and write verse, the true sign of my decadence." But much the greater part of the present volume, and most of the first of the two Bibliophile volumes of 1916, must be assigned to the decade preceding the breakdown on the Riviera, and the verses they contain suggest "storm and stress" more than they do valetudinarianism.
It seems plain therefore that, although no longer than five years ago it might have been permissible to regard Stevenson as an exception to the rule that successful writers of prose often begin their careers with verse-writing which they later abandon, it is now necessary—and pleasant—to believe that in this respect, as in not a few others, the lines of his development run parallel with those followed in the case of many a distinguished predecessor. This is fortunate, since wider and more permanent fame is the portion of those who keep steadily to the broad highways of literature than seems to come to those who to any appreciable extent are diverted into its by-ways. The more Stevenson's career as a man of letters is studied, the less, it is to be hoped, will it appear eccentric. As poet, essayist, romancer, correspondent, and writer of travels, he keeps step with his great peers, and like them he has arrived at the bourne of permanent and large renown.
Of more specific comment upon the present new poems there seems to be little need, since Mr. Hellman has covered the important points in his introductory notes. Still it may be desirable to call attention here to the strong influence exerted on the early and notable poem, "The Mill House," by one of Stevenson's favorite poets—now dead just a century—John Keats. The curious individuality of "The Well-Head," the note of poetic intensity in the poem beginning, "I am like one that has sat alone"—due, perhaps, to the influence of Heine, who was one of Stevenson's early masters despite a repugnance to the German language sometimes expressed in the correspondence—the singular wealth of poetical material dissociated from the needed technical skill in handling to be observed in "To a Youth," the courage with its touch of bravado, attributable in part to frail health, displayed in "Since I am sworn to live my life,"—one of the experiments in French forms which constitute perhaps the most important contribution made by the present collection, although not necessarily the most attractive—on all these points one might dwell at some length with pleasure and possible profit were one writing a formal essay. Even in a brief foreword it seems incumbent to forestall the notes in emphasizing the daring unconventionality of "Last night we had a thunderstorm in style," the humor of "Eh, man Henley, you're a don," the curious anticipation of Kipling in "If I could arise and travel away," the poignant note of "The rain is over and done,"—not exceptional in the verses of this fermenting epoch of Stevenson's life—and, last but not least, the rather extraordinary quality of certain individual lines. Evidences of immaturity in respect to details of literary training are everywhere to be found, but who, save a poet of authentic utterance, would have been likely to achieve such initial verses as—
"I saw red evening through the rain,"
or "Love is the very heart of spring,"
or "Of schooners, islands, and maroons,"
or "Far over seas an island is,"
whether or not he was able to continue the poetic flight so auspiciously begun?
But it is time to let the reader judge of these matters for himself.
W. P. T.