Headquartered in Central Library’s Entertainment, Literature, and Biography Room, my esteemed and always engaging colleague, Sean Parada, is often seen heavily armed with Doc Savage pulps sandwiched between German poetry and early works of Jane Austen. Also in is haul is a notebook of inspiration, where he scratches his latest amusing ideas in the itty-bittiest penmanship I’ve ever seen. So when he clued me into the pure joy that is English as She is Spoke; or, A Jest in Sober Earnest I knew it would be worth my while.
First published in Paris in 1855 and reprinted numerous times, the unintentionally funny Portuguese to English conversational guide had me cackling once I got my hands on it. It seems the author, Pedro Carolino, had limited knowledge of English when he assumed the task of producing an English edition of a Portuguese to French phrasebook written by José da Fonseca. Carolino likely relied on a French-English dictionary rather than directly translating the Portuguese into English. If you’re not confused yet, you will be when you read the lists of “familiar” words, expressions, and dialogues in this delightful book. For me, it brings to mind the telephone game wherein a whispered phrase ultimately gets mangled as it passes from one person to the next. Here is just a sample:
Fishes and shell-fishes:
A sorte of fish
The chapter on familiar phrases is probably my favorite. Head scratching surreal highlights:
This girl have a beauty edge.
This ink is white.
He burns one’s self the brains.
I have mind to vomit.
I dead myself in envy to see her.
The thunderbolt is falling down.
Have you forgeted me?
Take care to dirt you self.
And can you imagine speaking in this manner to your barber? From Familiar Dialogues Part 1, With a hair dresser:
Master hair dresser, you are very lazy. You keep me back at home; i was to go out. If you not come sooner, i shall leave you to.
Sir, i did come in a hurry.
Yours razors are them well?
Look to not cup me.
Comb-me quickly; don’t put me so much pomatum. What news tell me? all hairs dresser are newsmonger.
Sir, I have no heared anything.
Finally, a few insightful adages from a chapter titled Idiotisms and Proverbs (really though, haven’t we heard these all too many times before?):
To craunch the marmoset.
To come back at their muttons.
He has a good beak.
After the paunch comes the dance.
The following editions of English as She is Spoke are available at Central Library. Digital copies of various printings can also be found online at both archive.org and gutenberg.org. Some are more complete than others. I hope you giggled as much as I did, I know Sean and I will be quoting from the book for years to come.
The New Guide of the Conversation in Portuguese and English in Two Parts / by Pedro Carolino; with an introduction by Mark Twain. (RB-K 469.83421) 1883.
English as She is Spoke; or, A Jest in Sober Earnest / by Pedro Carolino and José da Fonseca, Introduction by James Millington. (428.3469) 1884. This edition can be checked out.
English as She is Spoke; or, A Jest in Sober Earnest / by Pedro Carolino and José da Fonseca, introductions by Leslie Shepard and Millington. (RB-T T55 miniature) 1967.
Just as the colors of the rainbow recombine into a white light,- just as the reflex of the eye’s picture vividly haunts sleep,- just as the ghosts which surround reality are the vital part of that existence, so may the Spectric vision, if successful, prolong, and at the same time multiply the emotional images of the reader.
Anne Knish, 1916
A few months back while researching turn of the century St. Louis journal Reedy’s Mirror, I stumbled upon Spectricism, the ‘school’ of poetry whose nearly impenetrable verse briefly turned the American literary world on its head. The preface to Spectra: A Book of Poetic Experiments (811.52), quoted in part above, outlines the movement’s lofty philosophy. Hailing from unlikely Pittsburgh, the mysterious Spectral poets were tempestuous Budapest-born Anne Knish and her partner Emanuel Morgan.
Turns out these two wordsmiths didn’t exist. The Spectral poetry movement was an elaborate hoax perpetrated by Witter Bynner (Emanuel Morgan) and Arthur Davidson Ficke (Anne Knish), both accomplished traditional poets. Perturbed by the glut of elitist experimental free verse movements of the era, chiefly the Imagists, Bynner and Ficke chose to spoof them. Just months before the volume’s release, the men had holed up in a Moline, Illinois hotel for ten days with ten quarts of scotch and concocted the entire ruse. The ideology and poetry that emerged was pompous, absurd, and wonderfully spirited.
Reviews were mixed, but for the most part Spectricism was taken seriously by critics. Edgar Lee Masters and William Carlos Williams were admirers. Amusingly, Bynner himself was paid to review the work for the journal New Republic! He wrote “…whether or not there be meaning or magic in the book, I can promise that there is amusement in it and that it takes a challenging place among current literary impressionistic phenomena.” However, The Los Angeles Graphic charged that it was “Gibberish, written for one purpose only- to attract attention.”
The deception continued through World War I, in which both poets served, but seemed trivial given the gravity of the period. Finally, on April 26, 1918, Bynner was asked point blank during a lecture whether or not he and Ficke were the Spectral poets. He said yes.
A delightful book, The Spectra Hoax (811.52), written by William Jay Smith in 1961, recounts the prank through recollections by all the players involved. It is full of humorous tales regarding their attempts to bring other famous poets into the fold, keeping the scam alive amid growing suspicion, and the sting felt by those who were taken in by the con.
What I love the most about this story is the notion that the poetry of Morgan and Knish is unintentionally superior to that of Bynner and Ficke when writing as themselves. After the truth was exposed, critic Jerome Eddy wrote a letter to Reedy’s Mirror suggesting the “real Bynner and real Ficke” emerged because they were no longer censoring themselves, thus enabling them to write more freely and unrestrained. Freudian psychology at work. An excellent point was made by Jane Heap, of the Little Review, who wrote, “I confess to a deep ignorance of the nature of the hoax. If a man changes his name and writes better stuff, why does that make the public so ridiculous?”
I might have found the whole affair cruel had I been around at the time. People just want to fit in and feel a sense of belonging, don’t they? There have always been folks who find allure in snobbish exclusivity and that’s their right. Who decides what authentic art is, anyway? All fun questions to consider.
One can compare and contrast the work of Witter Bynner and Arthur Davidson Ficke with their pseudonyms here at SLPL. In addition to the Spectra book, we own many poetry volumes published under their real names, both before and after the hoax. Bynner even wrote another book as Emanuel Morgan in 1920 titled Pins for Wings. He once commented of his alter ego Morgan, “I find now I write like him without the slightest effort- I don’t know where he leaves off and I begin. He’s a boomerang!”
Is the antelope
Over the hills;
Is the wounded deer
Bleeding in rills;
Is the heavy bear
Tearing at meat;
Is the mastodon
And I am the stag with the golden horn
Waiting till my day is born.
IF I should enter to his chamber
And suddenly touch him,
Would he fade to a thin mist,
Or glow into a fire-ball,
Or burst like a punctured light-globe?
It is impossible that he would merely yawn and rub
And say – “What is it?”
This is my first post since we found ourselves snowed/iced in during this bitterly cold Midwest winter! Although we’ve been busy in Special Collections working on both the online Culinary Exhibit and in the actual display in Central Library’s Great Hall, I’ve spent much of my downtime piddling with my new guitar playing the “video game” Rocksmith 2014.
While I own the PC edition seen in the photograph above, I searched the St. Louis Public Library catalog and discovered we have the XBOX version (794.8) at the Carpenter Branch. Cardholders can place a hold on any circulating item and have it sent to whichever branch is most convenient for pickup. I recommend checking out Rocksmith 2014 and giving it a whirl if you have access to an electric guitar or bass. The interface is similar to games like Rockband that were popular a few years back, however the difference is that you’re playing real notes and chords with a genuine instrument. It’s a fun tool for even a complete beginner, as it gets progressively more difficult or easier depending on your accuracy. Tracks by Oasis, Muse, Weezer, and Radiohead have been challenging favorites.
I also looked into books to brush up my admittedly modest skills on those many frosty evenings. Especially helpful was Ultimate Guitar Chord User’s Guide by Michael P. Wolfsohn (Oversize 787.871252). Diagrams are provided for the most basic to the most advanced chords. SLPL has extensive holdings of sheet music, as well. Anthologies from a wide variety of musical genres arranged for piano, vocal, and guitar are available. If country, jazz, or classical is more your thing, we’ve got you covered.
Even though it looks like we’ve thawed out for the time being, I won’t be putting down my guitar anytime soon, thanks in part to the many helpful items offered by our library.
Hyperion: A Romance by Henry W. Longfellow, illustrated with twenty-four photographs of the Rhine, Switzerland, and the Tyrol, by Francis Frith, London: 1865. RB-X Fic
He opened the window of the balcony to hear the rushing of the Rhine. It was a damp December morning; and clouds were passing over the sky,–thin, vapory clouds, whose snow-white skirts were “often spotted with golden tears, which men call stars.”
The first American novel illustrated with photographs, this unique edition of Henry Wadsworth Longfellow’s Hyperion is a recent acquisition by St. Louis Public Library’s Rare Books and Special Collections department. The twenty-four remarkable albumen prints (a popular Victorian-era technique using an emulsion of egg whites and salt) peppered throughout the novel are the work of pioneering British photographer Frances Frith.
Among Longfellow’s earliest works, Hyperion was first published without photographs in 1839. Highly autobiographical and poorly received for the most part, the novel follows the travels abroad of Longfellow’s fictional persona, Paul Flemming, as he grieves over a lost friend and finds new love. Critic Edgar Allen Poe was especially dismissive of the prose work, insisting in an issue of Burton’s Gentleman’s Magazine that Hyperion was “…without design, without shape, without beginning, middle, or end…” It’s safe to say Longfellow rebounded from the review, as he went on to become the most widely read and loved American poet of his time! I had some trouble with the sudden “huh?” ending myself, but enjoyed Flemming’s interactions with the local people and affectionate descriptions of the picturesque scenery.
Before penning Hyperion, Longfellow, in fact, was in mourning over the death of his first wife and did pursue a resistant new love while traveling through Germany, the Tyrol, and Switzerland. One imagines Longfellow, like Flemming, spent much of his time discussing Goethe and art with barons and professors, while gasping at gorgeous vistas. Flemming’s romance with the character Mary Ashburton was inspired by Longfellow’s seemingly unsuccessful courtship of Englishwoman Fanny Appleton. His ardent persistence did eventually win out and she agreed to marry him seven years later. Sadly, after many years of marriage and six children together, Fanny was killed in an accidental fire in which Longfellow was also badly burned.
A terrific addition to this edition is “The Artist’s Preface,” Francis Frith’s humble opening words to the volume. An accomplished travel photographer, famous for his images of Egypt and the Middle East, he was obviously concerned his work would not do justice to Longfellow’s exquisite verbal depictions. Especially fascinating to me are Frith’s comments regarding the many changes the landscape had undergone in the nearly thirty years between Longfellow’s journey and Frith’s photography. I can’t help but wonder what another 250 years have done to the castles, courtyards, valleys, and glaciers that made such an impression on Paul Flemming. Perhaps a journey by rail is in my future!
“Thither will I turn my wandering footsteps,” said he; “and be a man among men, and no longer a dreamer among shadows. Henceforth bemine a life of action and reality! I will work in my own sphere, nor wish it other than it is. This alone is health and happiness.
This alone is Life;
‘Life that shall send
A challenge to its end,
And when it comes, say, Welcome, friend!’…”
When Adele, SLPL’s resident Queen of Rock-n-Roll biographies, recommended I read the recent release Queens of Noise: The Real Story of The Runaways by Evelyn McDonnell (782.42166) she fondly reminisced on her first run-in with The Runaways in the pages of now-defunct Creem magazine, “I thought they were the coolest thing I’d ever seen, teenage girls with guitars.” I hadn’t thought about Creem in years, but did remember its infamous late editor and critic Lester Bangs and provocative underground comic artist Robert Crumb’s “Boy Howdy” mascot. As always, I looked to our online catalog to learn more and unearthed a bevy of Creem-related items. The volume to my classic rock brain has been turned up to 11 ever since.
An anthology of reprinted essays, album reviews, and photographs, Creem: America’s Only Rock ‘n’ Roll Magazine by Robert Matheu and Brian J. Bowe (Oversize 781.66) gave me a taste of what Creem was like in its heyday. Established in Detroit in the spring of 1969, Creem was an unabashedly bawdy alternative to Rolling Stone. Published through 1988, then briefly revived in the 90s, it was Creem writers who coined the terms “punk rock” and “heavy metal.” While popular bands The Stones, The Who, and Led Zeppelin were well-represented between Creem’s covers, albeit often irreverently, the magazine regularly showcased edgier performers like The New York Dolls, Lou Reed, and Roxy Music. Creem also gave significant exposure to Motor City acts such as Iggy and The Stooges and MC5. All are represented in Matheu and Bowe’s book.
An excerpt from the article, “Paul McCartney: The Walrus Was Paul” by Deday LaRene piqued my personal interest right away. I hadn’t realized that Creem was a key player in propagating the urban legend that “the cute Beatle” died in a fiery car crash in 1966 and the band had left dozens of hidden clues concerning his demise. Turns out, WKNR-FM in Detroit disc jockey Russ Gibb took a call from a college student named Tom in October of 1969 who instructed him to play The Beatles sound collage “Revolution 9” backwards which seemingly results in hearing “turn me on, dead man” when the phrase “number nine” is repeated. It’s a bit of a stretch if you’ve ever tried it, but radio station listener and University of Michigan student Fred LaBour ran with the story, concocting a preposterous plot which was published in the student newspaper, the Michigan Daily the following week. The hoax spread quickly as major news sources picked up on the rumor. The Creem article is from the November 1969 issue.
Here at Central Library we have a copy of Andru J. Reeve’s Turn Me On, Dead Man: The Complete Story of the Paul McCartney Death Hoax (782.42166) on the reference shelves of our Entertainment, Literature, and Biography room. Reeve’s thorough investigation includes an appendix titled “…Here’s Another Clue for You All…” which reveals seventy “signs” The Beatles supposedly buried in their songs and album covers. I’d gotten wind of the hoax when I was kid, recruiting my little brother Sean to assist my personal probe. Sleuthing tweens, we excitedly scrutinized our copy of Sergeant Pepper’s in our quest for the truth. The Aston Martin on the doll’s lap… check! The flower-adored burial of a left-handed bass … check! The “OPD” (Official Pronounced Dead) patch on Paul’s uniform… check! We especially delighted in holding a mirror up to the words “LONELY HEARTS” on the bass drum in hopes of reading “ONE HE DIE.” It’s there, sort of.
Further into the anthology is a tender Patti Smith essay titled “Jukebox Cruci-Fix” published in the June 1975 issue. Inspired by her visit to Jim Morrison’s grave in Paris, she writes of departed rock stars, “they didn’t slip their skins and split forever for us to hibernate in posthumous jukeboxes.” Smith also contributed album reviews to Creem, including Todd Rundgren’s A Wizard, A True Star and Velvet Underground’s 1969 Live, all before her legendary debut album Horses was released in December 1975. SLPL owns several books, audio books, and cds by and about Patti Smith.
Just this last May, the aforementioned awesome Adele and I saw Patti at the Contemporary Art Museum. She performed a variety of songs and read passages from Just Kids (B SMITH PATTI), her memoir about her relationship with late photographer Robert Mapplethorpe when they were struggling young artists. She possesses a unique raw genuineness and vulnerability. It was a lovely evening.
Gonzo music journalist Lester Bangs doesn’t have many pieces in the anthology, although his harsh August 1972 critique of the now-classic Exile on Main Street makes for quite a read. Bangs wrote, “This is at once the worst studio album the Stones have ever made, and the most maddeningly inconsistent and strangely depressing release of their career.” I mention this review because in January 1973, also in the pages of Creem, he revised his stance somewhat, writing “Exile is dense enough to be compulsive: hard to hear, at first, the precision and fury behind the murk ensure that you’ll come back, hearing more with each playing.” For Bangs, it seems, it was never as simple as saying “This record is good, you should buy it, or this one is crummy, don’t buy it.” I’m left with the sense he was consumed by an ongoing complicated love affair with 70s rock culture and its idols.
Nothing was more tumultuous than his relationship with his hero, recently departed Lou Reed. As documented in several articles in Psychotic Reactions and Carburetor Dung: The Work of a Legendary Critic: Rock’N’Roll as Literature and Literature as Rock ‘N’Roll edited by Greil Marcus (784.54), the two men engaged in riotous verbal sparring, while seemingly never listening to a word the other said. My favorite bits “How to Succeed in Torture Without Really Trying” and “The Greatest Album Ever Made” center around Reed’s 1975 release Metal Machine Music, which is an hour of swarming feedback. It reminds me of a noisy dial-up modem that never connects. MMM proved unlistenable to many of Reed’s unprepared fans who immediately returned the double album to their local record store. It was pulled from stores after three weeks. Regardless of how you feel about the music, when Reed’s assertions that Beethoven and Mozart symphonies run throughout the record are met with Bangs’ unconvinced “Well then, how did you get those in there? With a pair of tweezers?” you can’t help but giggle.
A second showcase for Bangs’ gifted wordsmithing, Mainlines, Blood Feasts, and Bad Taste: A Lester Bangs Reader edited by John Morthland (781.6609) is also available at SLPL. To be perfectly honest, some of his essays are too coarse for my tastes, but his distinctive voice and sincerity make for fun reading.
The library is also an excellent resource to discover more about surrealist cartoonist Robert Crumb, who designed Creem icons “Boy Howdy” and “Mr. Dreamwhip” for 50 bucks. Best known for his “Keep On Truckin’” strip and the characters “Mr. Natural” and “Fritz the Cat,” Crumb also illustrated many album covers. We hold a wide variety of Crumb materials. I looked through several volumes of The Complete Crumb (741.5) which are available in Central Library’s Center for the Reader, home to popular fiction and graphic novels. If you’re in the mood for a movie, consider checking out Crumb, a 1994 documentary film available on DVD. It’s a candid portrait of the Crumb’s strange career and life, including his most unusual family.
I have barely scratched the surface in my little exploration into Creem, but have learned plenty. I’m walking away appreciating its wrong-side-of-the-tracks lowbrow appeal and complete lack of pretension. Always smart, but never snobby, Creem believed rock-n-roll was all about having fun and never took itself too seriously.
A couple of Sundays ago with great anticipation, I paid my first visit to the World Chess Hall of Fame curious to see its much touted new exhibit, A Queen Within: Adorned Archetypes, Fashion & Chess. Having read articles in local publications, Alive and St. Louis Magazine, as well as national magazines, Marie Claire and Harper’s Bazaar, I knew something spectacular had come to town and I was not disappointed. I found the exhibition to be nothing short of jaw-dropping.
The exhibit’s curator, Sofia Hedman, has taken innovative garments, shoes, and headwear from dozens of cutting edge fashion designers to tell the story of the powerful, volatile Queen piece through the lens of nine Jungian archetypes. As one winds through the multiple rooms on two floors, the various personas of the Sage, Mother Figure, Enchantress, Magician, Explorer, Ruler, Heroine, Mother Earth, and Thespian Queen are presented in brilliant, nearly indescribable ways. Furthermore, each of these archetypes has a corresponding historical queen who exemplifies these attributes. The Sage Queen is represented by the intelligent, yet unconventional Christina of Sweden, the Enchantress is the sensual Marie Antoinette, and the Magician is embodied by Queen Elizabeth I, who was both captivating and courageous. It was a much welcome mind and sensory assault.
I’ve always been a fan of fashion, although not tremendously knowledgeable, and knew this was perhaps a once in a lifetime opportunity to see the work of late London designer Alexander McQueen, whose pieces are featured in the exposition. The “bad boy” of haute couture fashion, McQueen became an icon during the “Cool Britannia” 90s, when Brit Pop’s Oasis and Blur ruled the radio waves and the notorious animal dissection “art” of Damien Hirst shocked the world.
McQueen’s runway shows were major theatrical productions and hot ticket events. He placed his models on artificial snow, inside glass cubes, and even on chessboards. He once projected a 3D hologram of model Kate Moss on the catwalk. His lines were often inspired by classic film directors Stanley Kubrick and Alfred Hitchcock. Perhaps his defining piece, outrageously low-rise trousers called “bumsters,” first appeared in his autumn/winter 1993–94 show based on Martin Scorcese’s Taxi Driver. McQueen studied ornithology and often used birds, feathers, and nests in his work. Tragically, McQueen took his own life in February 2010 at the age of 40, distraught over his mother’s recent death.
Among the many other designers in the show are Iris Van Herpen, Jean Paul Gautier, Pam Hogg, and Hussein Chalayan. There are also fantastic sculptures of eyes and ears by Orlando Campbell.
When I returned to the library the following day anxious to make sense of the challenging imagery and ideas still swirling in my head, I looked into our holdings and found a few terrific books on McQueen. First, I had Love Looks Not With The Eyes: Thirteen years with Lee Alexander McQueen (Oversize 746.92092) by fashion photographer Anne Deniau sent from our Schlafly branch to Central, where I work and pick up my books. As a cardholder, you can easily have any circulating item sent to whichever location best serves your needs. Deniau’s behind the scenes photography is an insightful chronicle of McQueen’s artistic progression. A mix of b&w and color prints expose the last minute adjustments and laughter under the tension and chaos of his runway shows. I will say it’s one of the heaviest and most unwieldy books I’ve ever happily lugged around for a couple of weeks. Photography from Love Looks Not With The Eyes is also on display at A Queen Within and separately at Philip Slein Gallery through December 7th.
Alexander McQueen: Savage Beauty (Oversize 746.92092) by Andrew Bolton is the catalogue that accompanied the New York Metropolitan Museum of Art exhibition of the same name. Wildly popular, the show ran throughout the summer of 2011. Full page color photographs of the garments worn by pale posed mannequins allows the work to speak for itself. The lenticular printed cover transforms from a portrait of McQueen into a polished metallic skull as one tilts the book. The skull motif was a signature design often used by McQueen.
Alexander McQueen: The Life and the Legacy (746.92092) written by Judith Watt is more biographical in nature than the others, while still providing excellent photographs. Watt recounts McQueen’s apprenticeship with master tailors at Anderson & Sheppard on Savile Row, his graduate show at Central Saint Martins College of Art and Design titled Jack the Ripper Stalks His Victims, and his many provocative productions, including my favorites, VOSS and Horn of Plenty.
I also found myself thinking about all the real-life queens featured in the exhibit and browsed through Christina, Queen of Sweden: The Restless Life of a European Eccentric (B KRISTINA QUEEN) by Veronica Buckley, published in 2004.
Of course, if you’re more intrigued by the game of chess, you may want to check out The Immortal Game: A History of Chess or How 32 Carved Pieces on a Board Illuminated Our Understanding of War, Art, Science, and the Human Brain (794.109) by David Shenk. I’m now considering attending a ladies beginners class (because I’m impatient and lose every time) on Thursday evenings at the Chess Club and Scholastic Center of Saint Louis located across the street from The World Chess Hall of Fame.
If the concept of Carl Gustav Jung’s archetypes is more your territory, The Archetypes and the Collective Unconscious, is Volume 9, Part 1 of The Collected Works of C.G. Jung, a 20 volume set published in the 1950s by Princeton University. These books can be found under 132 at SLPL. It’s interesting to note that Dewey Classification number 132 (Mental derangements) is no longer used. The majority of Jung’s work is found under 150.1954 (Jungian systems.)
Now, it’s your move. Enjoy!
Various illustrated editions of Edward FitzGerald’s English rendering of The Rubáiyát of Omar Khayyám
When a recent visitor to Rare Books and Special Collections asked to see our 1908 copy of Shakespeare’s The Tempest, featuring illustrations by Edmund Dulac, I was struck by the artist’s enchanting style and decided to investigate our other holdings of his work. That’s how I stumbled onto The Rubáiyát of Omar Khayyám. Although I was familiar with the poem, I had no idea there were so many superbly illustrated editions from the late Victorian era, including one by Dulac. Most of these beautiful works accompany Edward FitzGerald’s well-loved, albeit loose translation.
FitzGerald, a wealthy Englishman and bit of a recluse, published his 1st edition of Omar Khayyám’s verses anonymously in 1859. Khayyám was an 11th century Persian poet, mathematician, and astronomer. A collection of four line verses, a Rubaiyat is known as quatrain in English. Khayyám’s quatrains explore the uncertainty and impermanence of life and the value of living in the moment- relishing the earthly delights of wine, song, and romantic love. A true literary phenomenon in its time, FitzGerald’s interpretation was widely read and quoted by average Brits and Americans alike. The work has inspired countless tributes and parodies including the humorous The Rubáiyát of a Persian Kitten by Oliver Herford and a Rocky and Bullwinkle cartoon concerning a certain ‘Ruby Yacht.’ Two handwritten passages of the poem can be found in 2010’s Autobiography of Mark Twain: Volume 1, for the author originally intended on using the selection as the book’s epigraph.
But what about these beautifully bound and illustrated books? I learned that the period between the 1880’s and 1920’s is considered the ‘Golden Age of Illustration,’ when improvements in color printing technology permitted precise and cost-effective reproductions of art. This gave rise to the keepsake ‘Gift Book,’ (the predecessor to our coffee table books) of which The Rubáiyát of Omar Khayyám was a favored title.
One of the most intriguing stories surrounding the text involves British bookbinders Sangorksi & Sutcliffe. Celebrated for their extravagant covers adored with precious metals and gems, the firm was commissioned in 1909 to create the most magnificent edition of The Rubáiyát of Omar Khayyám of all time. Named ‘The Great Omar’, their finest work took two years to finish and boasted more than one thousand jewels. Unfortunately, the volume was a passenger on the maiden voyage of the RMS Titanic.
Artwork shown in the slideshow above includes the first illustrated version published in 1884 in Boston by Houghton Mifflin which featured drawings by American artist Elihu Vedder. It was enormously popular. An especially remarkable edition, in my opinion, originally published in 1905 by Dodge Publishing in New York, showcases sensuous photography by Adelaide Hanscom. St. Louis Public Library holds the 1912 printing in which the photographs have been colorized to stunning effect. Belgian painter Sir Frank Brangwyn and Willy Pogany from Hungary also illustrated very early editions. Which takes us back to Dulac and how we got here in the first place.
Excepting the Elihu Vedder copy, which is housed in Central Library’s vast stacks under the call number Oversize 891.5, these editions of The Rubáiyát of Omar Khayyám are located in the RB-X classification of Rare Books and Special Collections, also at Central. While these books are all reference and do not circulate, library staff is more than happy to show patrons these items. Other editions of the title, including translations by other writers, criticism, and interpretation are available at St. Louis Public Library and can be easily found using our online catalog.
“For in and out, above, about, below,
‘Tis nothing but a Magic Shadow-show,
Play’ d in a Box whose Candle is
Round which we Phantom Figures
come and go.”