Important acquisitions

On the trail of Stevenson

Author Hamilton, Clayton Meeker
Title On the trail of Stevenson
Imprint Garden City, N.Y.: Doubleday, Page & Co.
Date of Publication 1915
Language English
Notes This is the uncensored first issue, first edition of Clayton Meeker Hamilton's 1915 biography of Robert Louis Stevenson. Hamilton (1881-1946) was an American drama critic who had edited the 1910 Longman's English Classics edition of Treasure Island. His biography in its original form is particularly important as it is the first attempt to depict Stevenson 'warts and all'. In contrast to the sanitised image of Stevenson (d. 1894) presented by his official biographer Graham Balfour in 1901, Hamilton was able to draw on detailed information provided by the author's former friends and acquaintances to provide a new perspective on his life and colourful character. Writing a biography of one of Scotland's most famous authors deemed suitable for public consumption was, however, no easy task. Balfour's official biography was only written after Stevenson's friend and mentor, Sir Sidney Colvin, had to give up the project following some acrimonious rows with Stevenson's stepson, Lloyd Osbourne, and the author's formidable widow, Fanny. Presumably only after the death of Fanny Stevenson in February 1914 did Hamilton think it was safe to publish his book - excerpts of "On the trail of Stevenson" appeared in 'The Bookman' journal in late 1914 and early 1915 - as it was, by the standards of the age, relatively open in discussing sensitive matters. For instance, he alludes to Stevenson's use of prostitutes in his youth, and claims that he consummated his relationship with Fanny shortly after they met - when she was still married to another man ("their union was immediate and complete"). Such openness offended Fanny's daughter (and Stevenson's stepdaughter) Isobel Field, and led him withdraw the book shortly after publication in October 1915. Hamilton's reasons for doing so appear in a copy of the suppressed issue now held in the Beinecke Library of Yale University, which has inscription by him on the front fly leaf, dated 1936. Hamilton states that the issue was suppressed "in deference to various objections adduced by the step-daughter of Robert Louis Stevenson, - Mrs. Salisbury Field [Isobel] & her personal reactions seemed more important to me than a disinterested insistence on the facts of history." Hamilton goes on to reveal that many of Stevenson's friends disapproved of his action, including Sir Sidney Colvin and Henry James, but, while believing that he had written nothing that was untrue and scandalous, he was convinced he had done the right thing. A new issue of the book appeared later in the same year, with a number of passages accordingly rewritten to remove anything controversial about Stevenson's relationship with his wife and with the opposite sex in general. This particular copy contains some press clippings, a note written by Hamilton's widow to a former owner of the book referring to her husband's death, and, of especial interest, a letter from the publishers, Doubleday Page & Co., dated October 27, 1915, to the New York publishing and bookselling firm Charles Scribner's Sons. The letter is requesting a recall of the first issue of the book and, predictably, it gives a different view of its suppression. The letter refers to "serious errors" in the book which Doubleday Page & Co. wish to correct. In addition to requesting the return of all unsold copies, they also ask if owners of the book can be traced and asked to return their "imperfect" copies, which will be replaced with copies of the corrected edition. Inevitably a few copies, such as this one, must have slipped through the net.
Shelfmark RB.m.698
Reference Sources "A Stevenson library: catalogue of a collection of writings by and about Robert Louis Stevenson formed by Edwin J. Beinecke" (New Haven, 1951-64) No. 1304
Acquired on 19/02/10
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