The first part of Don Featherstone's article on Robert Louis Stevenson, taken from the Wargamers Yearbook 19966/7, with thanks to Tim Gow of Megablitz and more, and in memory of the late John G Robertson of Dundee.
The Early Days of Wargaming
There are few among us who do not have an intimate knowledge of the famous Bible of Wargaming “LITTLE WARS” by H.G. Wells. The majority of us possess a copy of the original book or one of the readily available reproductions. But there appears to be very little other information about Wells’ activities in this field – I have never come across any other references to Wells’ Wargames, not in his own writings, nor in those of his associates Jerome K. Jerome or G.L. Chesterton. It would be interesting to know if any information or references exist.
The other “DADDY of Wargaming” was Robert Louis Stevenson, the famous English writer, whose wargames at Davos Platz in Switzerland during the years 1880 to 1883 when he was convalescing from an illness, have been written up by his step-son and opponent Lloyd Osbourne.
An enthusiast who has gone to an immense amount of trouble in investigating these Wargames of Stevenson is Karl G. Zipple of 3514 Devonshire, Kalamazoo, Michigan 49007, U.S.A. Back in mid 1965 Karl and I exchanged a considerable amount of correspondence on this subject and sufficient arose from it to make what I consider to be a most valuable contribution to the literature and research of the early days of outr hobby. Some of the material that follows is extracted from letters written by Karl and much comes from an interesting little photo copied booklet which he has turned out on the subject and a copy of which is a pleasing possession of mine. Perhaps what follows will stimulate a reader to delve further into this fascinating subject – his researches would be welcome and would make further excellent reading, I am sure.
The article “Stevenson at Play” by Lloyd Osbourne appeared in Scribners magazine, volume 24, December 1898, pages 709 to 19. It was reprinted in “FURTHER MEMORIES” in the Tusitala Edition of the “WORKS OF ROBERT LOUIS STEVENSON” (published by Heinemann in 1924).
In this connection I quote from a letter from Karl Zipple dated 25th of May 1965:
“Do you know what has become of the original manuscript from which the Scribner article was written? Was the article changed or more complete when it was reprinted in “FURTHER MEMORIES” in the Tusitala Edition of the Works of R.L.S. (Heinemann 1924)? This particular edition is not available ain any of the university libraries near here.
Another book that is not available in this area is “Robert Louis Stevenson at Davos”, W.G. Lockett, Hurst, London 1934. Do you know if this contains any further material?
J.C. Furnas wrote a biography of R.L.S. “Voyage to Windward”, New York 1951. He mentioned that Austin Strong (R.L.S.’s step grandson) played the Davos game in Samoa in 1892-3 under the name General Hoskyns. Strong later produced plays in New York, some with Osbourne. He died in 1958-59(?). Furnas also mentions that he had used previous biographies – especially from the Osbourne Estate (Lloyd died in 1947). It might be worthwhile writing to Furnas to see whether or not he had come across any further war game material – especially maps, as Stevenson enjoyed making maps.
Karl did write to J.C. Furnas and I quote from his letter dated from the 14th of May 1965:
“I wrote to J.C. Furnas in care of his literary agents in New York and they forwarded the letter to him in Georgia. He is travelling and does not have his files available but he gave me the address of a large collection of Stevensonia: if they do not have the original manuscript they may know where it is. I haven’t had a reply yet.”
Leaving no stone unturned, Karl Zipple next got in touch with the Yale University Library and I have in front of me a photo copy of a letter from them to Karl which I reproduce in its entirety:
YALE UNIVERSITY LIBRARY
New Haven Connecticut 06520
20 May 1965
Mr. Karl G. Zipple
3514 Devonshire Avenue
Kalamazoo, Michigan 49007
Dear Mr. Zipple:
Yes, we have the notebook, definitely not dog-eared, in which Robert Louis Stevenson wrote the war game published in v.20 of the Pentland Edition of his works as “Stevenson at Play”. The notebook contains a few additional but less complicated maps and some text that was omitted from the published version. We also have a few other and shorter manuscripts of RLS war games. These are described in volume 6 of A Stevenson Library, Catalogue of a Collection… formed by E.J. Beinecke, compiled by George McKay, New Haven, Yale University Library, 1961, pp 1730, 1988, 2042 and 2043.
Yours very truly,
signed Marjorie G. Wynne
The Beinecke Rare Book and Manuscript Library
I do not know whether Karl Zipple followed up this letter as he later told me that he did not know when he would be able to get over to New Haven, Connecticut.
let us now turn to the article which contains the meat of the subject (here DF reproduces in full the text of the Lloyd Osbourne article “Stevenson at Play”)
Karl Zipple has some comments to make on this article and I quote from his letter of the 25th of March 1965.
“The two maps in the Scribners article must cover only 10% of the whole game map. Have tried unsuccessfully to reconstruct some of the missing portions by references to the text and using the maps from Sir Edward P. Hamley’s “Operations of War” 1872 edition which was R.L.S.’s text book of war. A complete master-map of this game would be interesting – even the names have an interesting sound. The road layout is somewhat odd to me – in this area roads usually are one mile apart and run NS and EW. Hamley’s maps and my own experiences with the Italian maps during the Cassino campaign give me some idea of how it should be laid out.
The 600 troops were divided 360 to Osbourne and 240 to Stevenson; by regiments (4 man/regt) Osbourne had 90 against Louis’ 60. On the two maps, if each unit symbol is a regiment, both generals must have been thoroughly committed, leaving no margin for earlier losses or diversionary tactics – i.e. “the column at Yolo and the small force in the West”. It could be that each side had additional “paper” strength in the form of the numbered cards that “dotted the countryside” – perhaps equal to the strength as shown by the soldiers themselves; then as the tin soldiers were removed from the field as killed, they replaced cards.
Some difficulty, too, is encountered in trying to determine what each soldier counted pointwise in casualties. By adding up all casualty figures in the correspondence, the totals are 55,000 K.W.P. for both sides yet the total is given as 17,600 K.W.P. If each man counted 100 and the lower figure used for the total it might be possible but the 55,400 figure would be out of the question. It might be that a cavalry regiment of 4 men = 600 and an infantry regiment of 4 men = 400: all men of a regiment down meant 600 or 400 killed; if even 1 man of a unit remained upright there would be 600 or 400 “wounded”. Would explain the low casualties – 1 shot per regt and the last man always takes one more shot to get – just like bowling! It will be noticed that 400 and 600 are the lowest figures given, all other figures are multiples of these – or sums of their multiples.”
John G. Garratt, in his excellent book “MODEL SOLDIERS” (published by Seeley Service and Co. London 1958) writes as follows:
“there now appears, as an exponent of the War game, one of the most gentle of men, Robert Louis Stevenson. It is to Lloyd Osbourne that we are indebted for the preservation of this intimate sketch of ‘Stevenson at Play’.”
All this, of course, occurred during Stevenson’s convalescence at Davos Platz, and thus fixes the date as between 1880-3. Osbourne being an acute observer, does what few writers of reminiscences bother to do – he actually describes the type of soldier with which the games were fought. He says, for instance, that Stevenson “possessed a horde of particularly chubby cavalrymen, who, when marshalled in close formation at the head of the infantry, could bear unscathed the most accurate and overwhelming fire (of sleeve-link, marble or button) and thus shelter their weaker brethren in the rear…. on my side there was a multitude of flimsy Swiss…so weak upon their legs that the merest breath would mow them down in columns, and so deficient in stamina that they would often fall before they were hurt”.
From this is would appear that Stevenson’s troops were semi-solids by Allgeyer, or solids by Haffner, or Heyde, whilst Osbourne’s forces were composed of Heinrichsen or Allgeyer flats. Furthermore, Stevenson’s Commander-in-Chief, “the formidable General Stevenson, corpulent with solder, was a detachable midget who could be mounted upon a fresh steed”, almost certainly a Heyde.
ALLGEYER. Furth. 1800-1896
Flats: 5-7 cm., later 30mm.
Semi-solids (from 1860) and solids: 40mm.
HAFFNER. Furth and Nuremburg. 1838-1898.
Flats, semi-flats, semi-solids, solids 30-40mm, - 7 cm.
HEYDE (Georg). Dresden. 1870-1944.
Semi-solids and solids, 20, 30, 40, 47, 54, 55, 60 mm.
This question of the authentic type of soldiers used in these Stevenson’s Wargames has also troubled Karl Zipple and I quote from his letter of the 14th of May 1965:
“have been trying to get more of the 40mm cast-iron semi-round Spanish-American War Soldiers that I had 35-40 years ago for the Stevenson game. The uniform is close to the Confederate – 1861-65. Garrett mentions them rather unkindly on page 135 – still they are small, durable and I like them. Have about 60 of them now. My brother and I are going to try to make up molds using the G.E. RTV 560 which will resist 1500˚F (better than the RTV 502) and cast them up in solder> Must try to get a few Heydes in 40mm – infantry at attention and make molds from them. Like RLS a mixture of uniforms from 1800-1860 will be reasonable – but will not use flats. Draw a line at the use of pop guns – couldn’t hit anything with one 35 years ago and would be worse today.”
Other literary gems concerning these activities have also been turned up by Karl Zipple and are given below.
(Here Don Featherstone reproduces the full text of Lloyd Osbourne's Scribners magazine article "Stevenson at Play" from December 1898, and the two posts which follow).