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Robert Louis Stevenson's "The Clockmaker" and "The Scientific Ape": Two Unpublished Fables Ralph Parfect King's College, London ROBERT LOUIS STEVENSON'S (1850-1894) hitherto unpublished stories "The Clockmaker" and "The Scientific Ape" have been unaccountably neglected by the author's admirers. Whereas several of his unfinished novels, as well as one early tale that he explicitly disowned, "The Plague Cellar,"1 have at one time or another been deemed worthy of publication, these two entertaining and provocative narratives, both complete but for a planned "Moral" at the end of each, not only have attracted little comment, but appear to have been deliberately omitted from their intended context, Stevenson's Fables (1895).2 This essay presents, contextualizes and suggests datings for the two stories, and considers the possible reasons for their neglect. Unfortunately, little is known about the composition of the Fables, a heterogeneous collection of twenty-two tales.3 All are undated, although external and internal evidence has suggested the outlines of a chronology.4 Some were clearly written as early as 1874, for Stevenson wrote to his friend and mentor Sidney Colvin (1845-1927) in September of that year that "I have done no more to my Fables. I find I must let things take their time. I am constant to my schemes; but I must work at them fitfully as the humour moves."5 Colvin, who later became editor of much of Stevenson's work, including the Fables, guesses that the earliest of them were "The House of Eld," "Yellow Paint," "The Touchstone," "The Poor Thing," and "The Song of To-morrow."6 Further work on the collection must indeed have been fitful, for it was not until 31 May 1888 that Stevenson met with an agent of Longmans, Green, and Company in New York to sign an agreement for the stories' publication. Stevenson's ensuing Pacific travels and eventual settlement in Samoa inspired a 387 ELT 48 : 4 2005 range of new projects that pushed completion of the Fables aside, but he almost certainly added at least two stories during this period, namely "The Cart-Horse and the Saddle-Horse" and "Something In It," which both include the use of Samoan proper names. The last surviving reference by Stevenson to the collection comes in March 1889, when he wrote to Charles Longman from Honolulu to enthuse about his new novel The Wrong Box (written jointly with his stepson Lloyd Osbourne), but added regretfully: "No word of the Fables yet: I have to do some more and the tide has not yet flowed."7 The manuscripts of "The Clockmaker" and "The Scientific Ape," now in the Beinecke Library Collection at Yale University , appear to have originally belonged to a complete fair copy of the Fables that Stevenson made at some unknown point before his death in November 1894.8 No other Fables manuscripts than these two have been discovered.9 In 1895, under a new contract arranged by Stevenson's literary agent Charles Baxter, Longman's Magazine published the Fables posthumously in two installments in the August and September issues ofthat year.10 As Roger Swearingen notes, both installments were signed with Stevenson's name.11 "The Clockmaker" and "The Scientific Ape," however , were missing. These stories were again excluded from the first collection that appeared in book form, bound together with Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde on 16 March 1896.12 No subsequent editions of the Fables, of which there have been several, have restored the two tales, in spite of the fact that the pages of the two manuscripts are numbered, respectively , "15-19" and "22-25," strongly suggesting that the author wished them to be part of a series.13 Who, then, removed the two stories, and why? The decision was almost certainly made by Sidney Colvin in preparing the text of the Fables for Longman's Magazine.14 As his selective editorship of Stevenson's Letters would later reveal, Colvin was often willing (though at times apologetically so) to suppress portions of his late friend's work.15 As for why the two stories were excluded, the closest that Colvin comes to giving an explicit reason is his remark, in an introductory...

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Additional Information

ISSN
1559-2715
Print ISSN
0013-8339
Pages
pp. 387-400
Launched on MUSE
2010-05-21
Open Access
No
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