Robert Louis Stevenson in Tauchnitz Editions

The first of Robert Louis Stevenson’s works to be published by Tauchnitz was, of course, ‘Treasure Island’. It had been published in the UK in serial form in the magazine ‘Young Folks‘ in 1881/2 and then appeared in book form in November 1883. Tauchnitz were always on the lookout for promising young writers to add to their series and it wouldn’t have taken long to pick out Stevenson. W.E. Henley, the poet best known today for ‘Invictus’ (“I am the master of my fate: I am the captain of my soul”), was Stevenson’s representative. He had also been at least in one respect the inspiration for Long John Silver, as a result of his own wooden leg.

Whether he was an effective negotiator on Stevenson’s behalf may be open to question, as the end result was a single payment of £20 for the exclusive rights to publish ‘Treasure Island’ in English on the European Continent. A copy of the contract, signed on 12th May 1884 appeared in the Tauchnitz 125th anniversary booklet in 1962 and is reproduced below.

Stevenson however was pleased, and a few weeks later, possibly after receiving a copy of the Tauchnitz Edition of his book, wrote to Tauchnitz on 13th June 1884: ‘I am pleased indeed to appear in your splendid collection and thus to rise a grade in the hierarchy of my art’. Being published by Tauchnitz was it seems an honour, regardless of the fee paid. In fact Stevenson had already, a year earlier, had a collection of short stories in two volumes under the title of ‘New Arabian Nights’, published in Asher’s Collection, the main rival to Tauchnitz. So there may have been competition for ‘Treasure Island’, with Stevenson choosing what he saw as the more prestigious series.

Even two years later, it still seemed to be Tauchnitz rather than Stevenson, who had his doubts about whether the transaction was a fair and profitable one. Writing to W.E. Henley on 25th June 1886 after publication of ‘Dr Jekyll and Mr Hyde’, Tauchnitz indicated that sales of Treasure Island ‘did not as yet answer my expectations’ (quoted in ‘A Stevenson library’ by George McKay (Yale University Library 1951 -64)). He had again offered just £20 for the combined rights to ‘Dr Jekyll and Mr Hyde’ and ‘An inland voyage’, published together in a single volume. He was however shrewd enough to want to take ‘Dr Jekyll’ anyway, and as both books were still selling in large numbers and being reprinted regularly by Tauchnitz 50 years later, there seems little doubt that in time he made a fine profit on them.

No other titles listed on the half-title verso is certainly a pre-condition for the first printing

‘Treasure Island’ had appeared in June 1884 as volume 2255 and copies of the first printing (which should not list any other titles by Stevenson on the half-title verso) seem to be few and far between. The Todd & Bowden bibliography of Tauchnitz Editions lists only two known copies meeting this condition and as they differ in one other respect, only one can be a first printing. The assumed first printing is distinguished by the text continuing to page 287, with the colophon ‘Printing office of the publisher’ on page 288. In all subsequent printings the text runs only to page 286, with the colophon on page 287.

The text spills onto page 287 only in what is assumed to be the first printing

It’s also assumed that the wrappers of the first printing would have been dated ‘June 1884’, although no copy in first printing format is recorded in its original wrappers. There is a known paperback copy dated June 1884, but as this has the text running to page 286 only, it is assumed to be a reprint. Even if only the last few pages are affected, it’s not clear why Tauchnitz would have reset and reprinted the text so quickly if sales were not particularly good, so perhaps there is still some doubt about which came first.

‘Dr Jekyll and Mr Hyde’ together with ‘An inland voyage’ appeared as volume 2387, and for this there is no doubt that the first printing should show just one earlier title by Stevenson (Treasure Island) on the back of the half-title, and on the original wrappers be dated February 1886. After that Stevenson was under way and Tauchnitz was following him at almost every step. ‘Kidnapped’ and ‘The black arrow’ both appeared in Tauchnitz in 1888, the first as volume 2526 (dated July 1888) and the second as volume 2548 (dated October 1888).

‘The master of Ballantrae’ followed the next year (volume 2614, dated November 1889) and then in 1891 a volume of short stories, ‘The merry men and other tales and fables’ (volume 2755, probably dated August 1891). By this time Stevenson had settled in Samoa, but one of his early volumes of travel writing, ‘Across the plains’ was published in the UK in 1892 and almost simultaneously in a Tauchnitz edition (volume 2818, dated April 1892), to be followed by ‘A footnote to history. Eight years of trouble in Samoa’ (volume 2856, dated September 1892).

This book covered the civil war going on in Samoa at that time, involving three colonial powers, Britain, Germany and America, exploiting divisions between local clans. Stevenson was of course in a position to see at first hand some of the machinations and the effect on the islanders. Unfortunately for Tauchnitz, who again published it almost simultaneously with UK publication. he was also very critical of several German individuals, of a German business and of some of the actions of the German government, which did not take well to the publication of such criticisms by a German firm.

First (and only) printing of ‘A footnote to history’, listing previously published titles by Stevenson

Tauchnitz was fined for publishing the book and ordered to destroy all copies of it. George McKay (in the book referred to above) reports that Stevenson offered to reimburse the firm, but Tauchnitz replied ‘we consider it merely our duty to bear the loss in question quite alone’. Quite how many copies had already been sold before stocks were destroyed, is unclear, but Todd & Bowden record three known copies in library collections (one of them in Germany), and there is a fourth in my own collection. There are many other Tauchnitz volumes for which fewer than four copies of the first printing are recorded (including Treasure Island’ as above), so despite the destruction order, the book is not necessarily particularly rare.

What did happen though is that Tauchnitz re-used the volume number for a subsequent work of Stevenson’s, almost to expunge any record of the book ever having been issued. There are therefore two different books published as volume 2856 of the Tauchnitz series, the second being ‘Island Nights’ Entertainments’, three stories of the South Seas.

‘Island Nights’ Entertainments’ did not appear until May 1893, by which time numbering had moved on to over 2900, so it was a very deliberate decision to go back and re-use the number 2856. In the meantime Stevenson had published another novel ‘The Wrecker’, written together with his stepson Lloyd Osbourne, who was living with him in Samoa. For some reason, this didn’t appear in Tauchnitz, but was instead published in the rival Heinemann and Balestier series, as was a later collaboration between the two authors.

As not only ‘Island Nights’ Entertainments’, but also ‘Catriona’ (vol. 2937, dated September 1893) were published by Tauchnitz in 1893, the decision to publish ‘The wrecker’ elsewhere, doesn’t seem to have been due to any falling out with Tauchnitz. It may just have been that Heinemann and Balestier made a higher offer for that particular book, hoping to tempt Stevenson away, or it may have been a desire for some separation between Stevenson’s solo work and this collaboration.

Robert Louis Stevenson died in Samoa in December 1894, leaving two unfinished novels, ‘Weir of Hermiston’ and ‘St. Ives’. The first of these was published in Tauchnitz as volume 3146, dated July 1896, still unfinished, while ‘St. Ives’ was completed by Arthur Quiller-Couch and appeared in two volumes (vols. 3257 and 3258) in January 1898. Stevenson’s books continued to sell well, and a further two works were published posthumously – ‘In the South Seas’ (volumes 3478 and 3479, dated February 1901) and ‘Tales and Fantasies’ (volume 3837, dated September 1905). In total that made 14 books (in 16 volumes) published by Tauchnitz, including the suppressed ‘A footnote to history’.

Robert Louis Stevenson’s works in the Tauchnitz series

Just two months after publishing its final Stevenson volume, Tauchnitz published the first of five novels by Lloyd Osbourne, his stepson. Their collaborative works had appeared elsewhere, but in the Tauchnitz series their individual works achieved an almost seamless continuity. Indeed when the First World War brought an end to Osbourne’s publications in Tauchnitz (his last publication was in July 1912), Stevenson was there briefly to take up the baton again. Few British authors were acceptable to the German censors during the war, but perhaps oddly, Stevenson was one of them. Both ‘Dr Jekyll and Mr Hyde’ and ‘An inland voyage’, which had previously been published together, were extracted and published separately in the English Text-Books / Tauchnitz Pocket Library series in 1916.

The original version of this book would have been headed ‘English Text-Books’

Posted on January 12, 2021, in Vintage Paperbacks and tagged , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink. Leave a comment.

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