Previously unseen letter is one of the highlights of University's Mehew Collection
Actor and writer Nigel Planer was today examining a treasure trove of material about the life and work of Robert Louis Stevenson on what is the celebrated 19th century author's birthday.
Planer – a Stevenson enthusiast who played Neil in 1980s cult BBC comedy The Young Ones - got a sneak preview of Edinburgh Napier University's Mehew Collection, which will be open to the public in the New Year.
Ernest James Mehew was a leading Stevenson scholar who edited Stevenson’s collected letters and also built up a formidable collection of books on and by the author, and memorabilia relating to him.
The collection, assembled over a period of 60 years, includes rare early editions and previously unseen images of the author of Treasure Island, Kidnapped and the Strange Case of Dr Jekyll and Mr Hyde.
Following Mehew's death in 2011, the University's Centre for Literature and Writing acquired the collection from the executor of his estate. The almost 4,000 items within it have now been painstakingly catalogued and the collection has been given its own dedicated room at the Merchiston campus which is expected to attract Stevenson scholars from all over the world when it opens to public access in the New Year.
Planer – who is Robert Louis Stevenson Day patron and will take part in an evening forum at the Faculty of Advocates on the challenges of adapting the author for stage and screen - was delighted to get a preview of the collection. It includes first editions of Stevenson’s works, literary magazines and first editions of works by Robert Harborough Sherard, on Oscar Wilde, and Ralph Waldo Emerson.
One of the most interesting items is a previously unseen letter written in Stevenson's distinctive handwriting to his friend W E Henley which is pasted inside a copy of an early edition of A Child's Garden of Verses.
Bearing the letter head 17 Heriot Row - the Stevenson family home - it sees him lamenting his health woes and concluding that he is "jiggered". The first attested use of the word was in the mid-nineteenth century, and Stevenson was a big fan and early adopter of slang.
Planer, who has written books, plays, poetry and scripts as well as starring in film, theatre and television, said: “Having been fascinated by Stevenson for more than 30 years, I relish the opportunity to see the collection of one of the twentieth century’s foremost Stevenson scholars.
“This wonderful collection is of vital importance in the current reassessment of Stevenson as a great figure of nineteenth century literature, covering all aspects of Stevenson’s life and literary career from his youth in Edinburgh to his final years in Samoa. The breadth of the collection shows clearly the exciting and varied life Stevenson lived.”
Linda Dryden, Professor in English Literature at Edinburgh Napier who helped launch the Robert Louis Stevenson Day event in 2011, said: “We are very excited and honoured to have been given this bequest from the late Ernest Mehew.
“His scholarship and dedication to Stevenson has resulted in a truly important collection of which we are proud to be the custodians. This will be a really valuable resource not just for local RLS scholars but for anyone visiting the city of Edinburgh who wishes to conduct research into Robert Louis Stevenson.”
While at the University, Planer also got the chance to meet Leonie Finn, the great-niece to Annie Ide, the little girl who was ‘gifted’ Robert Louis Stevenson’s birthday in June 1891.
Annie was born on Christmas Day but Stevenson drew up a document transferring his birthday to her, saying that it would allow her a “proper birthday” on November 13. Leonie has made a special trip to Edinburgh for Robert Louis Stevenson Day to talk about her great aunt, who knew Stevenson during his time in Samoa. Leonie, of County Galway, Ireland, is the mother of Heather Finn, the current holder of the RLS birthday, which has been passed down through her family.
For further information contact Jack Mathieson, Media & Communications Officer on 0131 455 6251.