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Life’s Echoes by ‘Tis True – Finding out more about this strange volume

July 7, 2013

In the latest issue of Omariana, Bob Forrest discusses this strange and rare volume, entitled ‘Life’s Echoes’, which contains Rubaiyat by Khayyam and FitzGerald, and much more.  Those who don’t know this curious book should read Bob’s fascinating description via the following link http://www.omarkhayyamnederland.com/downloads/omariana-2013-vol.-12-nr-1.pdf .

Bob highlights a variety of questions about Life’s Echoes and its origins which do not have clear answers.  In the comments below, Garry Garrard has provided some clarification, particularly regarding the identity and career of the compiler of the book, who goes under the pseudonym of ‘Tis True.  But there are still more things we should all like to know about the volume. 

If, having read these contributions, you have information to add, please append it in a comment to this post.  This ongoing discussion is a great example of ‘crowd research’ where we can all learn from sharing our individual bits of knowledge.

Garry Garrard writes:

According to Potter, ‘Tis True is a pen-name of Lieut-Colonel Robert J.R Brown and, given his interest in Persian it comes as no surprise that he served in India, in the army {other Rubaiyat luminaries from the Raj include Johnson Pasha, E.H. Rodwell and, of course, Edward Whinfield}. Brown was first commissioned in 1883 and in March 1908 was appointed Commanding Officer of the 74th Punjabi Regiment. He served in that position until November 1913 when he transferred to that elite band of “Officers in charge of Indian Regiments”. I haven’t discovered yet when he retired or why he chose to go to France; his army record in Ancestry UK could show more.

EchoestitlebEchoestitleaMy copy of Life’s Echoes (number 99 out of 600) is bound very differently to that described by Bob Forrest. The covers used on the versions he examined in Dublin’s TrinityCollege and in the British Library are bound into my edition of the book. The European version backs onto p 128; the Islamic version backs onto p 127.

Instead, my copy has a heavy plain dark blue morocco binding, with gold-blocked double border and the title Life’s Echoes gold blocked in upper case on the spine. This does not appear to be a re-binding, the hinges are quite worn. The reverse of the front board has heavy lining paper patterned in dark blue and gold, with a triple gold blocked border; the central line has an ornate dotted pattern. The book has two bound-in corded blue bookmarks with heavy mother-of-pearl washer-shaped terminations, each of approx 3cm diameter. Inside the front cover is an ex libris bookmark of F. E. Dinshaw, who was one of pre-partition India’s most prominent businessmen, industrialists and lawyers. He was closely associated with the Tata Group and he died in January 1936.

My copy shares the bizarre pagination of the Trinity copy described by Bob; the page numbers run 62-1, followed by 128-63.  It also has the odd a and b  on pages 22 and 24.  However, it looks as if the two parts were bound in the wrong order by a binder who didn’t understand what was intended.  It would be good to confirm that all remaining copies were like that. (The British Library copy has the same pagination.)

There is another point that makes the numbering even more of an anomaly. The list of illustrations on 118-119 reflects the actual order of the pages. Since all the pages must have been bound together, 118/119 could not have been added after a mistake was discovered in the binding, implying that the order is quite intentional.

Incidentally, the paper is extremely thin and printed on one side only then folded  – just like Chinese books. Each leaf is actually two thicknesses although that isn’t necessarily apparent.  There are many illustrations inserted into the book, including Persian miniatures, photographs, Persian stencils, a pencil sketch, a page from Froissart’s Chronicle and even a facsimile of a letter written by FitzGerald, but it is hard to link these to the accompanying text.

Does anyone know more?  Please comment.

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3 Comments leave one →
  1. Douglas Taylor permalink
    July 8, 2013 2:56 am

    Col. Brown retired April 24, 1920 (London Gazette, 15 June, 1920). The pagination of the book is quite deliberate (page 24a of the Preface clearly sets this forth). Hardbound copies have the front and back covers in the middle of the book, where they should properly be. Page 128 is the title page, this is followed by pages 1–24b (‘A Tesselated Preface’), pages 26–90 (The Rubaiyat of 196 quatrains), pages 91–92 (poems on drinking and fate), pages 93–105 (Glossary), pages 96–118 (Vocabulary of words that appear in the quatrains), pages 118–119 (Echoes – illustrations and ‘Byronics’), pages 120–123 (Quatrains – first lines and their sources), page 124 (Envoi), page 125 (illustration of woman and wine), page 126 (owners’ records), page 127 (limitation page). The pages opposite the numbered pages are the ‘echoes,’ sometimes with illustrations, sometimes with text. The Persian manuscript is opposite pages 8–12, the two pages of a Fitzgerald letter are opposite page 13. The publication date is under the illustration opposite page 24b. The ‘Byronic Echoes’ are derived from the 1866 publication attributed falsely to Byron, “Don Leon, a poem by the late Lord Byron author of Childe Harold, Don Juan, &C., &C. and forming part of the private journal of his Lordship, supposed to have been entirely destroyed by Thos. Moore.”

  2. July 8, 2013 9:19 am

    Thanks, Douglas, for the additional information. Do you know anything more about the so-called ‘Byronic Echoes’ and who actually created them?

    • July 17, 2013 11:18 am

      Bob Forrest has provided the following reply to Douglas Taylor.

      Many thanks for this information, Douglas – particularly for Brown’s retirement date and the “Don Leon” lead. Does the London Gazette give any more details ? Regarding “Don Leon”, readers may be interested to know that the text of the poem, with some useful notes, can be found at:
      http://petercochran.files.wordpress.com/2009/03/don_leon.pdf .
      Some more very intriguing information about Col. Brown has come my way privately, from my old friend Michael Behrend. Apparently Aleister Crowley wrote in his diary on 24th August 1929:

      “Met again Col. R.J.R. Brown 12 bis rue du Maréchal Joffre, Flouiller S[eine]-et-O[ise]. He came in at 6.[?]”

      This comes from Tobias Churton’s biography, “Aleister Crowley” (2012), p.318-9. Apart from the misprint “Flouiller” for “Houilles”, the address is the same as on the letters from Brown contained in the back of the copy of “Life’s Echoes” at Trinity College, Dublin. Churton gives no further details – indeed, he asks “Who was Colonel Brown ?” – and it is not clear what the nature of Crowley’s business with Brown was. There are hints of espionage, but given the mildly pornographic nature of “Life’s Echoes” and Crowley’s predilection for “sex magic”, their shared interest may have been far removed from matters of espionage!

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