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[AUTOGRAPH MANUSCRIPT] Erling the Bold: a Tale of The Norse Sea-Kings

Robert M Ballantyne
Large octavo, robustly bound in tan buckram with a morocco spine label, probably dating from around the time that the manuscript was given by Bal… Read more
Published in 1869 by .
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[AUTOGRAPH MANUSCRIPT] Erling the Bold: a Tale of The Norse Sea-Kings by Robert M Ballantyne

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Large octavo, robustly bound in tan buckram with a morocco spine label, probably dating from around the time that the manuscript was given by Ballantyne’s son to the Reverend Horatius Bonar, as recorded by him on the verso of the flyleaf: ‘Given me by F.G. Ballantyne March 1927 H.N. Bonar. 22 Blackford Road, Edinburgh’. Ballantyne has written on watermarked laid paper with vertical chainlines which has printed blue lines. Just the preface which is written on a slightly smaller leaf appears to be on a different paper stock. 

The manuscript begins with Bannatyne’s mock-up of a title page which shows old horizontal folds and a little discolouration. The introduction is headed ‘Preface (to Erling the Bold)’ which suggests that it was probably submitted separately from the main text to the publisher James Nisbet. Following the four pages of preliminaries the manuscript runs to 386 leaves plus 1 addition, written in black ink, mostly rectos only. This is very much a working manuscript with alterations, clarifications and revisions to every aspect of the text including changes to characterisation, dialogue, narrative development and descriptive writing. There are traces of a vertical fold to some of these leaves. The title page has finger marking; similarly the final leaf which also has a little loss to the outer margins, not affecting text. Bannatyne writes in an easily legible hand using black ink with occasional pencil notes inserted. Bannatyne’s inserted sheet or ‘Paper apart’ follows f99 in order to amplify the hermit’s story telling at Ulfstede with which Chapter VIII begins. An occasional inky fingerprint aside (p361) this is a clean text.

From the evidence of this manuscript, this was Bannatyne’s first draft of the manuscript as well as being the copy text submitted to the publisher. The manuscript is very informative about the writer’s compositional process. Bannatyne’s manuscript preface is unusual in differing from the printed text with an alteration made after his manuscript to the very first words of his preface where the novelist’s first person address to the reader from the manuscript: ‘I believe it to be strictly true that very much of the religious civil and political liberty...’ becomes in print: ‘Very much of the religious, civil, and political liberty...’ The manuscript reveals that when Bannatyne began writing this novel he had not yet settled on a title. His running title, ‘N.T.’ stands for Norse Tale and his debate with himself about the best title for the book continued across the first page of Chapter I. At the head of the page is written in pencil: ‘The Norse Pirate’ with a little cross beside it, ‘Love and War among the Northmen’ and a couple of other possibilities, all crossed out as well as the final version Erling the Bold. His annotations to the title page show that Bannatyne was also considering periodical publication: ‘40 pages of this make one part Magazine’. 

The first few chapters and the last chapter show the most intense revision but the process of revision and addition/ excision continued throughout the writing process. Bannatyne seems to have struggled with his opening paragraph which is heavily revised as he set his scene ‘about a thousand years ago [when], two small boats were seen to issue from one of the fiords, or firths, on the west Coast of Norway and move towards the skerries...’ Bannatyne occasionally changed place-names, so ‘Laxriverdale’ in the first draft became ‘Harlingdal’ where lived ‘a fair Norse maiden’ loved by both protagonists. There are also occasional insertions written on the versos opposite the main text such as at the end of Chapter 1 where Bannatyne seems to have made a later addition of the final two paragraphs of the printed text which offer some historical context to the story: ‘A viking was merely a piratical rover on the sea - the sea-warrior of the period of vikings. Every sea King was a viking but not every viking was sea King...’ (p6v) The novelist’s habit of adding context to the context is repeated through the text as with ‘thralls’ (p11,) and indeed the Norwegian class system (p35), ‘strandling’ (p58) etc. (Bannatyne prided himself on his historical accuracy and was furious when a mistake made it into print.) Bannatyne also left occasional pencil notes to himself on the text, noting which sections he had reread. Extra to the additional sheet of paper at f99 there are whole page insertions written on versos before p155 and p306. At page 212 Bannatyne alters the structure of the story by removing a chapter break and continuing chapter XV for another 10 pages - something he repeats in the penultimate chapter. Erling’s ‘love-making’ (p228) seems to have caused Bannatyne particular problems given the intensity of his revisions. 

Robert Michael Bannaytne (1825-1894) came from a Scots publishing family and began writing after returning from travelling in Canada with the Hudson's Bay Company. As the ODNB puts it, he became the ‘author of boys' adventures set in authentic backgrounds. When he had exhausted his personal experience, he turned to published accounts of travel as sources.’ In his preface to Erling, Bannatyne acknowledges the importance to him of Sturleson’s Heinskringla. Bannatyne’s success brought him considerable wealth. He influenced Robert Louis Stevenson and his novel The Coral Island was part inspiration for William Golding’s Lord of the Flies.


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Added under Manuscript
Date published 1869
Subject 1 Manuscript
First edition Yes
Signed Yes
Product code 7897


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