Robert Louis Stevenson papers

World-class Robert Louis Stevenson collection coming to Scotland

A prized collection of papers and books relating to Robert Louis Stevenson which is said to have few rivals in the world is being donated to the National Library of Scotland and Edinburgh's Napier University.

The collection was built up over 50 years by the leading independent Stevenson scholar Dr Ernest Mehew who died last year.

It consists of more than 40 boxes of papers and some 2,000 books, and includes first editions, rarities, biographies, collections of letters, reference books, critical studies and bound copies of the magazines where Stevenson's work first appeared.

Robin Smith, Head of Collections and Interpretation at the National Library of Scotland (NLS), said: 'This is a unique and wonderful collection which will enrich our existing Stevenson archive. We are extremely grateful for this donation and to be able to house these papers in the land of Stevenson’s birth.'

Ernest Mehew was a schoolboy when he first became interested in Stevenson's work and it was a passion that was to last throughout his life. By 1950, when he was in his late 20s, he had made himself such an authority on Stevenson's manuscripts and handwriting that he could help Janet Adam Smith with her edition of Stevenson's poems.

In the 1960s he was asked by Yale University Press to become assistant editor on the Letters of Robert Louis Stevenson and took over as sole editor in 1968. Working only with his wife, Joyce, as his assistant, and never using a computer, he located, sorted, transcribed, dated, annotated and linked some 2,800 letters, many of which had never been published before.

When the eight volumes were published in 1994-1995, they were met with universal acclaim and they also elevated and enhanced Stevenson's literary and personal reputation.

As a result of his lifetime's dedication, Mehew was elected a Fellow of the Royal Society of Literature and was awarded an Honorary Doctorate by Edinburgh University in 1998. The citation for that award said that, with no academic affiliation, 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.'

His papers are being donated to NLS, with the books going to Napier University. The donation was proposed by Nicholas Rankin, administrator of Dr Mehew's estate, and agreed by Maxine Barnes, the lawyer soon to be appointed by the Court of Protection as deputy of his widow, Joyce, who now lives in a care-home in England.

27 June 2012

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