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Blanche McManus, an early illustrator of the Rubaiyat

October 27, 2021

The American born artist, Blanche McManus, was one of the earliest illustrators of Edward FitzGerald’s Rubaiyat of Omar Khayyam, and, as far as is known, she is the first woman to have done this.  The first set of her illustrations was published in the United States right at the end of the nineteenth century, and versions of this work continued to be published right up until the 1920’s, mainly by London-based publishers De La More Press.  A second set of illustrations by McManus first appeared in the early 1900’s under the imprint of L C Page of Boston, Mass.

Blanche McManus from Mansfield and Wessels edition 1899

This much about Blanche McManus is well known.  But, until recently, there was little other information about this artist’s life or works.  Now, thanks to in-depth research by Bob Forrest, we have learnt a good deal more about an important contributor to Rubaiyat history.  We know, in particular, that she was most probably born in 1865, and she died in 1935.  Both events took place in the deep South of the USA, and both her parents came from plantation owning families.  As a young adult she moved north to work as an artist, and in 1898 she married a New York based publisher, Francis Mansfield.  His firm, Mansfield and Wessels, published her first work on the Rubaiyat, in a series of editions, starting in 1898.

Bob Forrest has documented the various versions of the Rubaiyat illustrations produced by McManus, and, in his full article (see link below), he provides many images of this work. He also summarises much of her other work as an artist, including illustrations for FitzGerald’s translation of Salaman and Absal, as well as for children’s books and Rudyard Kipling’s poems.  Bob provides an interesting outline of the life of the artist and her husband from around 1900 when they spent much time in Europe, particularly in France, and North Africa.  Mansfield worked for some time as an American diplomat and together they produced a successful series of travel books.  It was not until the 1920’s that McManus returned to live in the United States.

Altogether Bob Forrest has provided us with another very informative picture of the way the Rubaiyat stimulated artistic work from the late nineteenth century.  Our thanks to him for sharing his research with us all.  The full article on Blanche McManus can be seen on http://www.bobforrestweb.co.uk/The_Rubaiyat/N_and_Q/Blanche_McManus/Blanche_McManus.htm .

Hear the story of FitzGerald’s Rubaiyat in Woodbridge soon

September 24, 2021

If you can be anywhere near Woodbridge in Suffolk on November 7th 2021, it will be worth while visiting the Bull Inn on Market Square. The Bull was well known to Edward FitzGerald and it has also been the scene of meetings of the Omar Khayyam Club of London. From 2 pm on the afternoon of Sunday 7th November, Charles Mugleston will be retelling the story of FitzGerald’s Rubaiyat of Omar Khayyam, accompanied by relevant music. Persian tea and other refreshments will be served. Having heard Charles’ interpretation of the Rubaiyat before, we know that this will be an illuminating occasion even for those who think that they know FitzGerald’s poem well. Full details of this and other events at the Bull are shown below and can also be found on www.spiritofwoodbridge.com.

The new Khayyam Collection from Elmy Designs

September 10, 2021

Afsoon Elmy has sent us details of products that have been prepared by Elmy Designs under the heading of the ‘Khayyam Collection’. The collection comprises a variety of simple and well designed items, ranging from mugs to tote bags and from tea shirts to water bottles, each of which is decorated with an intricate design based on the name ‘Omar Khayyam’. An example of a cushion from the collection is shown on the right. More details can be found via the following three links. At present it appears that all products are being delivered from the USA, involving extra P&P costs for European buyers.

https://www.zazzle.com/store/elmy_designs

https://www.etsy.com/uk/shop/ElmyDesigns

https://elmy-designs.creator-spring.com/

More about the pirate Rubaiyat of 1883

September 8, 2021

In the previous post we highlighted the pirated copy of FitzGerald’s Rubaiyat of Omar Khayyam that was produced by Harry Quilter in 1883 – see https://omarkhayyamrubaiyat.wordpress.com/2021/09/01/harry-quilter-and-the-pirate-rubaiyat-of-1883/ .  Thanks to valuable contributions from some blog readers, we are now able to present some images relating to this rare edition of the Rubaiyat, and its production.

The first two images below have been provided by Jos Coumans, to whom many thanks.  They show the basic characteristics of the volume, described by Harry Quilter as being  ‘… the plain, unannotated text of the poem, bound in brown cardboard, and printed on sugar-loaf paper, in big Old English type …’.  Jos also alerted us to the comments about the pirate edition in J H McCarthy’s Introduction to his version of the Rubaiyat of Omar Khayyam published by David Nutt in 1889.  In this McCarthy recounts his version of the genesis of the Quilter edition at a dinner party at Quilter’s house, and he adds his own assessment of the volume as ‘… not an attractive book … [but] a literary curiosity … [and] indeed a very rare book …’  As mentioned in the earlier post, McCarthy, who was the first president of the Omar Khayyam Club in London, is one of the people identified as acquiring a copy of the pirate edition in 1883.

Our second set of images has been provided by The Diba Library of Persian Studies, to whom we are also very grateful.  On the left is the cover of a special presentation copy of the Quilter pirate edition of the Rubaiyat.  This copy was covered in old Italian silk brocade, and was originally given by Quilter to Rev. Stopford A Brooke, an Irish churchman and writer, who was for a time chaplain to Queen Victoria.  This fine copy was subsequently owned by Ambrose G Potter, the bibliographer of the Rubaiyat – see his entry no 138.  The image on the right shows a letter of 1921 to Potter from Eben F Thompson, an American enthusiast for the Rubaiyat and one of the founders of the American Omar Khayyam Club.  In the letter, Thompson discusses the publication and distribution of Quilter’s pirate, suggesting that the print run was probably no more than 50 copies, and that Quilter refused to sell the copies, but gave them to friends, some of whom may have helped to pay for the original printing.  He quotes a price of five guineas for a copy on the market in 1906.

Taken together with our earlier information, these new images and sources help to flesh out another fascinating story in the history of FitzGerald’s Rubaiyat over the past 162 years.  Our thanks again to all contributors.  If readers have addition material on the subject , please add your comments or send them to us on sandrabill@omarkhayyamrubaiyat.com and we can post them for you.

Harry Quilter and the pirate Rubaiyat of 1883

September 1, 2021
Portrait of Harry Quilter

A while back, Fred Diba sent us scans of some material relating to Harry Quilter and his interest in Edward FitzGerald’s Rubaiyat of Omar Khayyam.  Quilter was an English art critic, writer and educationalist, who was born in 1851 and died in 1907.  Among the documents, was an article entitled Omar Khayyam which appeared in What’s What, a kind of encyclopaedia, edited and substantially written by Quilter and published in 1902.

The full text of the article is shown as an image at the end of this post;  the image can be opened and enlarged to make it more readable.   It deals primarily with aspects of FitzGerald’s Rubaiyat of Omar Khayyam, rather than with the original Persian verses and their supposed author.  We comment briefly below on three particularly interesting points raised in the article. 

The first of these is Quilter’s reference, early on, to his involvement in the publication of a pirated edition of FitzGerald’s Rubaiyat.  To quote from the article ‘… we printed, quite unlawfully, the plain, unannotated text of the poem, bound in brown cardboard, and printed on sugar-loaf paper, in big Old English type …’.  This pirated edition has been identified as the one mentioned in Potter’s Bibliography as number 138.  We know of some copies of this edition which exist in the hands of collectors and libraries and we hope to be able to post images from the pirated version in due course.

The second point of interest are Quilter’s claims in the article of a possible link between his pirate edition and the Omar Khayyam Club of London which was founded in 1892.  Quilter writes ‘Possibly the club grew through this very edition.’  He states that several copies of the pirate were bought by a gentleman who was ‘… very prominent in the cult of Omar.’  This person has been identified as J H McCarthy who was a founder member and first President of the Omar Khayyam Club.  The thing we find strange, given Quilter’s comments, is that there is no sign that he himself had anything to do with the London Club.  In particular, he does not appear as a member or guest at any of the Club’s regular dinners.  Whether he chose not to be involved, or was not invited, we do not know.  But members would have known of him as a frank critic of some artists’ work, notably J M Whistler with whom he had a well-publicised feud.

The final point in Quilter’s article that stood out to us is his comment, towards the end, that Mr Gladstone [W E Gladstone, British Prime Minister] ‘… had been the first to make the poem [FitzGerald’s Rubaiyat] famous.’  Quilter goes on to suggest that the Prime Minister had discovered the book at Quaritch’s bookshop, taken a copy home, and ‘… talked it into almost instant popularity.’  He dates this event to 1878-9.  Such a date may well be when Gladstone discovered the Rubaiyat for himself, and he is known to have been a customer of Quaritch.  But the more generally accepted, and well attested, story is that the first edition of FitzGerald’s Rubaiyat was ‘discovered’ in Quaritch’s penny box much earlier in 1861, by Whitley Stokes and Jack Ormsby, and was gradually taken up by other writers and artists, notably the poet A C Swinburne, D G Rossetti the pre-Raphaelite painter and poet, and John Ruskin the artist and art critic. 

In our view, Quilter’s story about Gladstone is simply incorrect.  But the fact that he repeated it in print as late as 1902 suggests that the story must have had quite wide currency and acceptance at the time.  It would be interesting to explore the media and other writings of the time to see whether this account of the discovery of FitzGerald’s Rubaiyat appears in print elsewhere.

Beyond these three specific points, Quilter’s article is an interesting example of the turn of the century view of FitzGerald and his poem and the link between the verses and the concept of the ‘modern epicurean’.  It is worth reading in full.  We welcome any comments our readers may have on the article and the issues it raises.  Our thanks to Fred Diba for sending it to us, and for reminding us of the interesting pirate edition of the Rubaiyat of 1883 – incidentally the year of Edward FitzGerald’s death.

Article from What’s What (1902) on Omar Khayyam

Unusual Rubaiyat illustrations from Lawrence A. Patterson

August 18, 2021

Over the years, many different types of illustrations have been created by artists for FitzGerald’s Rubaiyat of Omar Khayyam. Some have clear subject matter, which is easily related to particular verses in the poem. Others seem much more obscure and symbolic in content, and require careful interpretation. One version in the latter category is that illustrated by Lawrence A. Patterson, which was published privately in 1926 by Johnck, Kibbee and Co of San Francisco.

Patterson was an American artist who was born in California in 1896 and died there in 1964. We now know this thanks to recent work by Bob Forrest who has been exploring Patterson’s life and works. His full article (referenced below) tells us that after early military service overseas and other travels, Patterson was based in California as a teacher, though he also had considerable success in illustrating a number of books for different publishers.

Bob provides images of the artist’s illustrations for the Rubaiyat and other volumes, and he discusses in some detail the interpretation of Patterson’s difficult imagery. One Rubaiyat illustration, for Quatrain 49, is shown here.

The full write up of Bob’s research on Patterson can be found on the following link https://bobforrestweb.co.uk/The_Rubaiyat/N_and_Q/Lawrence_A_Patterson/Lawrence_A_Patterson.htm. It shows yet again the varied life patterns of Rubaiyat artists as well as the great range of their work. Our thanks to Bob for sharing his research with us all.

Omar Khayyam Poems – New translation now available

July 29, 2021
Front cover

Several months ago, we posted an item about a new translation of the verse attributed to Omar Khayyam, which was being produced by Iranian American researcher Siamak Akhavan – see https://omarkhayyamrubaiyat.wordpress.com/2021/04/26/omar-khayyam-poems-a-modern-translation/. This book has now been published under the title Omar Khayyam Poems – A Modern Translation. It is available from publishers Resource Publications at a price for the paperback of US$8.00 or £6.00 plus P&P; all profits are being given by the translator to Persian cultural and educational programs. There is also a hardback edition. Full details are available on the publisher’s website https://wipfandstock.com/9781666715507/omar-khayyam-poems/.

In our earlier post, we gave more information about and comment on Siamak Akhavan’s aims in producing this new translation, plus some examples of his English verses taken from an earlier draft of the book. Readers also added their comments on the translations so far available. We have not yet seen a copy of the final book, but we add below the publisher’s blurb from the back cover, which includes endorsements from other experts. We look forward to having a further discussion on the book when readers of this blog have been able to look at the new translations. Please put your comments on this post or, if you prefer, send us your comments and we can post them separately.

Comments on back cover of book

Margaret R Caird and the Rubaiyat of Omar Khayyam

July 26, 2021

Margaret R Caird was an artist born in Edinburgh in 1896. She was brought up in the city and lived and worked there until the late 1930’s. In the late 1920’s she was commissioned by publishers Wm. Collins to illustrate Edward FitzGerald’s Rubaiyat of Omar Khayyam. Her work on the poem was published by Collins in many different editions, probably produced from 1930 onwards. She died in Eastbourne in 1961.

M R Caird: Title page small version

Most of the above is new information which we owe to research on Caird by the indefatigable Bob Forrest. The volumes containing her work on the Rubaiyat are quite widely available but most of us have been unable to date them with any degree of accuracy. Bob has now attempted to put the different editions in an approximate order of publication with a much clearer idea of their publication dates based on the inscriptions in many of them, and other relevant advertising material.

Bob’s research results are set out in full in an article on his website: see http://www.bobforrestweb.co.uk/The_Rubaiyat/N_and_Q/M_R_Caird/M_R_Caird.htm. The article gives full details of all the known editions of Caird’s Rubaiyat, with extensive examples of the covers and contents of the books and her illustrations. There are also details of other work by her and information about her life and family. It is a fascinating read both for people, like ourselves, who have struggled with the dating of Rubaiyat editions, and for those interested in the practical history of Rubaiyat publication. We all owe Bob many thanks for sharing this research with us.

Illuminated Manuscript of Rubaiyat with William Morris style Embroidered Binding

July 7, 2021

Roger Pass has sent us information about a very special Rubaiyat manuscript which was produced in 1904.  This formed part of a special exhibition and catalogue, arranged by American antiquarian booksellers Phillip J Pirages, to mark the International Kelmscott Press Day on June 26, 2021.  We reproduce here the summary description from the catalogue together with images of the very special embroidered cover and a page of inside text.

Embroidered cover

More details about the volume and those who worked on it are given in the catalogue which can be accessed via the following link https://www.pirages.com/pages/books/ST15043/modern-illuminated-manuscript-on-vellum-bindings-embroidered-morris-company-style/rubaiyat-of-omar-khayyam .  This indicates, inter alia, that the binding may have been designed by May Morris, William Morris’ younger daughter.  The calligrapher, Percy J Smith, studied and worked in the UK, and was later involved with the design of letter forms for Great War monuments.

Our thanks to Roger for sending us this information.  It is a beautiful book, but alas the price quoted, $48,000, is way out of our reach!

Description of the Book

(BINDINGS – EMBROIDERED [MORRIS & COMPANY STYLE]). (MODERN ILLUMINATED MANUSCRIPT ON VELLUM). SMITH, PERCY, Calligrapher. RUBAIYAT OF OMAR KHAYYAM. ([England]: 1904) 305 x 230 mm. (12 x 9”). [12] leaves. Translated by Edward FitzGerald.

BREATHTAKING CONTEMPORARY EMBROIDERED WHITE SILK, covers with leafy blue frame, central panel of upper cover with crewelwork depicting a Pre-Raphaelitestyle maiden playing a lute or rebec, with swirling, thorny roses in the background and tulips blooming at her feet, lower cover with blue banner bearing the name “Omar Khayyam” on a background of rose branches, smooth spine with 12 lozenges outlined in green thread, each enclosing an ivory or gold lily, all edges gilt. Initials in red, green, or burnished gold, title page with small chalice and grape cluster in burnished gold, first word of text, “AWAKE,” in large burnished gold majuscules. A breath of shelfwear to lower edge of boards, otherwise A MAGNIFICENT SPECIMEN IN OUTSTANDING CONDITION, SPARKLING INSIDE AND OUT. $48,000

Example of illuminated text

Some new exhibitions and other sources on Rubaiyat-related matters

July 1, 2021

Here are a couple of comments posted on the Background section of the blog that we feel deserve wider prominence. Thanks both to Lois and to Charles for their contributions.

loispawson June 30, 2021 10:16 am

… Your blog continues to be an amazing resource for my Illustration MA – I graduate in 2022 so have another year to go on my major project about the Rubaiyat of Omar Khayyam – which I never tire of reading and researching. A couple of recommendations for anyone interested in Persian culture that I’m enjoying are the HeyGo online virtual guided trips to cultural sites in Iran and the Epic Iran exhibition at the Victoria & Albert museum, which also has a great book. Thanks for your lovely blog.

Charles Mugleston June 30, 2021 1:07 pm

Good afternoon Lois and everyone,
Re Exhibitions connected with the Ruba’iya’t – there are two in Ipswich at the moment. One has just started at The Wolsey Gallery, Christchurch Mansion entitled ‘Power of Stories’ see http://www.powerofstories.co.uk and the other just finishing is ‘Pride in Suffolk’s Past’ at The Hold http://www.suffolkarchives.co.uk. Christchurch Mansion is a lovely place to visit and you can see E.F.G’s reading / writing desk upstairs alongside one of his chairs, then in the music room you can see his rosewood Broadwood Piano. ENJOY