The huge literary archive of an amateur scholar whose passion for the work of Robert Louis Stevenson made him one of the world’s leading authorities on the author is to come to Scotland.
Dr Ernest Mehew became fascinated with the Treasure Island author as a Cambridgeshire schoolboy in the 1930s. Over 50 years, he amassed a collection of more than 2,000 books including rare first editions and early magazine publications of Stevenson’s work.
A senior civil servant who spent his career in the Ministry of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food, Dr Mehew’s encyclopedic knowledge of the author saw him become editor of a seminal eight-volume edition of Stevenson letters. He died last November aged 88, and his estate has now donated his book collection, along with some 40 boxes of his papers and correspondence, to Edinburgh Napier University and the National Library of Scotland.
While its monetary value is probably only a few thousand pounds, as a collection of scholarly material it is “incomparable”, experts said. When Dr Mehew began working on Stevenson, the reputation of the writer of Kidnapped, Treasure Island and Dr Jekyll and Mr Hyde was at a literary low, after his huge fame in the 19th and early 20th centuries.
“Stevenson’s letters were scattered all over the world, so he sought them out and found them and edited them in a very authoritative way and revealed the real life of the man through his own words for the first time,” said Robin Smith, head of collections at the National Library of Scotland.
About 40 boxes of Dr Mehew’s own manuscripts and correspondence – including lengthy letters to other Stevenson experts, checking facts and often correcting their writing, are to go the National Library of Scotland. Dr Mehew’s books are to go to Edinburgh Napier, including more than 1,000 books by and about Stevenson, and about another 1,000 on other writers including Lewis Carroll, Oscar Wilde, Max Beerbohm, Arthur Conan Doyle and Robert Graves.
Linda Dryden, a professor of literature at Napier, said: “The reason it is so important is that Stevenson’s reputation suffered after his death and he was not seen as the great man of letters during the 20th century that he was in his life time.”
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