Containing almost all of the pamphlets, manuscripts, personal letters, and first editions, the Stevenson Collection new on exhibition in Widener is the finest and most complete assemblage of the famous author's works. Included is a complete library of Stevenson's writings in reprint form; and of Stevensonia, or books written about him. What few papers are missing are represented by facsimiles.
In order most to enjoy the collection it is necessary to know something about Harry Elkins Widener, the man responsible for it all. From schooldays a great collector of rare editions of all kinds, Widener, when here, began to interest himself in Robert Louis Stevenson. After having built up a fine collection, he was able in later years to round it out with priceless treasures secured from a George M. Williamson. Especially did Widener love to possess volumes that had been cherished by the authors themselves, volumes with personal dedications to the authors' friends and patrons. Because of this love for books with a personal touch, he spent much time and money in acquiring those of his favorite writer, Stevenson; and this excellent collection results.
Helpful in browsing through the treasures is a catalogue of the most important rarities still extant. Along with a sketch of Widener that is considered among the best, this guide contains clear and detailed descriptions as well as duplicates of valuable manuscripts. It tells the story of the very rare trial issue of "A Child's Garden of Verses," as well as of other famous papers.
First editions of practically all Stevenson's works from "Virginibus Puerisque" to "An Apology for Idlers" are abundant. Particularly interesting is the complete manuscript of "David Balfour," written in the fine, legible hand of the author with his own corrections. The copy is remarkably clean. Stevenson, after changing the name of the novel to "Katriona" and then to "Catriona," finally sent it to the press with the latter title, though it is known today more by the original name than the other two. The first illustrated edition of "Treasure Island" is no less interesting than of "Kidnapped," which is dedicated to Stevenson's nurse: "To Alison Cunningham from her boy." Several volumes are inscribed with the name of the author's stepson, Lloyd Osborne, who was the publisher of several of Stevenson's works.
Manuscripts such as may be seen are interesting not purely from an historical and literary viewpoint, but rather more from the viewpoint of the intrinsic value of the man derived from them. His letters and manuscripts give a new insight into the nature of the writer. A memorandum found among his papers after his death has rather pathetic reference to his ill health and the discouraging effect which it had on him. "I am glad," he writes, "to say that I do now recognize that I shall never be a great man," and in another place he indicates that he desires good health above all else.