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Col. R.J.R. Brown and Life’s Echoes by ‘Tis True!

July 26, 2016

An earlier post,, explored the history of Life’s Echoes by ‘Tis True!, a very strange and rare book based on the Rubaiyat and other material. The post was based on research by Bob Forrest and Garry Garrard, both of whom own copies of the book. In his presentation to the Rubaiyat Research Day on 9th July 2016, Bob Forrest brought us up to date with his further studies on and about the book, and he has provided the following summary of his recent findings. These will be published in a fuller form on Bob’s website in due course. His presentation also dealt with some other work he has been doing on Ambrose George Potter, and this will be covered in a subsequent post. Our thanks to Bob for sharing his research results with us.

Life’s Echoes by ‘Tis True!: a Possible Elucidation of the Mysteriously Cryptic Tessellations made mostly by Byron, FitzGerald and others from Omar Qayyam’s Rubaiyat was published in a limited edition of 600 copies in Paris in 1926. The author was a retired Indian Army Colonel, Robert James Reid Brown (1863-1946.)

Life’s Echoes is, in effect, a mildly erotic parody of FitzGerald’s Rubaiyat in 196 quatrains. Brown borrowed mainly from the translations by FitzGerald (1st, 2nd & 5th editions), Heron-Allen (from the Bodleian MS), and Whinfield (1883 ed. mainly}. He also made up the occasional verse himself.

RFImage 1

RFImage 2The back cover [Image 1, left] of bears the monogram of Omar with the date 1123 (formerly thought to be the year in which Omar Khayyam died) and the front cover [Image 2, left] bears the monogram of Qayyam with the date 1923 (the 8th centenary of Omar Khayyam’s death, and – almost – the first centenary of Byron’s death.) If the covers seem back to front, monogram-wise, this is because Col. Brown wanted the book to be read “Mohammedan style”, so front is back and back is front The relevance of Byron is that throughout the book Col. Brown quotes “Byron (?)”, though actually the quotes are from two (homo) erotic Byronic forgeries, “Leon to Annabella” and “Don Leon”. Note, though, that Col. Brown frequently “did a FitzGerald”, in that he “mashed together” lines from different parts of the poem(s), and even added bits to his ‘quotes’.

One oddity of the book is that there is a p.22a as well as a p.22, and there are pages 24a and 24b, but no p.24. Note, too, that a single page number covers both the right-hand leaf (on which the page number is printed) and its facing left-hand leaf. Other than that, the pagination is normal. In Brown’s version of The Rubaiyat, right hand leaves, are headed “Life”, usually bearing three quatrains [Images 3 & 4 illustrating p.38, below], whilst their facing left-hand- leaves, labelled “Echo”, bear illustrations and / or lines by ‘Byron’ (occasionally other poets – Dryden, Herrick and Rochester for example) which relate to and elucidate (“echo”) those quatrains. Just to add to the fun, the lines from ‘Byron’ et al are hidden underneath the tipped-in plates, and, not infrequently, are ‘freely adapted’ as well! In fact, Colonel Brown not only doctors his quotes, he is not above inventing poets from whom to quote, and at one point impersonates that well-known poet Anon.

RFImage 3

RFImage 4It is commonly thought that the book has been mis-bound, since the pages go (Western-style!) 62, 61, 60, down to 3, 2, 1, then 128 (the title-page!), 127,126, down to p.65, 64, 63 right at the end. But this is how Col. Brown wanted it, as is clear from his index. Furthermore, this index indicates that the covers should be between p.128 and p.1, in the middle of the book, and not at the front & back, as with any normal book! At this point a ‘map’ comes in handy [Image 5, below]. The first line is what Brown wanted; the second line is what actually appeared, at least in the two ‘hardback’ (leather-bound) copies known to me – Garry Garrard’s and Douglas Taylor’s – where the covers are between p.127 and p.128, close to the intended middle, at least! The third line of [Image 5] is the way the book turned out in six other copies known to me. These are not leather-bound and are in effect ‘paperback’ copies with the card covers at the front and back of the book.

RFImage 5

Col. Brown’s reasons for this bizarre pagination are tied up with his concept of “Revolvution” (sic). Basically he wanted his book to be, like the universe, an end-less cycle of being and non-being, which he seems to think he achieved by putting both ends of the book in the middle!

Yet another oddity of Life’s Echoes is that when customers received their copies of the book they found that some of the plates were missing. Modern collectors – and book dealers – often assume that their copies are missing plates because they have somehow been lost over the years, as tipped-in plates are apt to be. But this turns out not to be wholly the case here, for it becomes clear, after comparing multiple copies with each other, that the books were actually sent out without the plates on eight pages – p. 33, 35, 40, 49, 60, 65, 66 & 81 It transpires that for reasons of either availability or cost or both, Col. Brown intended to send these on later, though only to those owners who were actively supportive of his venture! Thus the National Library of Scotland, for example, received the plate for p.81 nearly three years after it received the book. Plus, it is likely that the plate for p.60 was sent out to some people, but with imprecise instructions as to where in the book it went – at least, the same plate appears in three different places in four extant copies! Six of the missing plates were never sent out, it seems.

Paradise in a big city

July 25, 2016

Paradise1Finding something of interest that you were not looking for … it happened to me the other day when I came across a reference in an online database, mentioning a sculpture in London called “… and Wilderness is Paradise Enough”. This immediately raised my curiosity and when visiting London this summer I decided to go and see it myself and take pictures, rather than copying images from the web. The work is located at St. George’s Hospital, Blackshaw Road, Tooting, in a somewhat isolated, inconspicuous spot in the middle of a busy hospital environment and a nearby car park.

It was a nice, bright and sunny day and when walking around in the spot, one could almost immediately sense something of an exotic atmosphere, and the feeling of being somewhere else than in a big, busy, crowded city. Hospital staff were sitting in the grass and having their lunch, reading a book or just relaxed, probably unaware of the story of ‘Wilderness and Paradise’.

The reference that I had found was to a book  Public sculpture of South London, by Terry Cavanagh (Liverpool, 2007, p. 321-322). In this book the sculpture is described as using “the detritus of a quarry, built (as in a dry stone wall) into a group of shapes known colloquially as the ‘pineapples’. The scale of the piece mediates between the daunting size of the hospital and human scale, and is set amidst grass and young trees. It also has a quality of being unmistakeably made by human hand, something utterly lacking in the functional and institutional architecture. There is probably an almost unconscious response to both these things (human scale and making) which may relieve the stress of the hospital environment. So much in a modern health building is remote and alien to ordinary life – the never-ending corridors, the clinical efficiency, the ubiquitous magnolia paint, the notices which command people to do or not to do this or that – and this increases the patient’s sense of isolation in a world far removed from everything they know and value.” (1)

Paradise2In the hospital ground there was obviously no direction or sign as where to find it, nor does the little plaque at the entrance to the site give any information as to title and artist. It was only one of the ladies at the hospital’s information desk who was able to show me where to look for it.




The artist is Peter Randall-Page (1954), a well known English sculptor, whose work can be found in Edinburgh, Manchester, Bristol and Newbury and in the permanent collections of the Tate Gallery and the British Museum. The work was commissioned by the St George’s Improvement Fund Improvement Committee in early 1985, and unveiled 30 May 1986. The plaque however says that it was relocated from the Chelsea Flower Show 2004. In Cavanagh’s book Public sculpture … more details can be found about its history, while on the internet lots of images of Randall-Page’s work can be found, including the work in question, as well as further information about the artist.

(1) Quoted by Cavanagh from M. Miles. Landscaping design (1990, p. 41).

A Reduced Rubaiyat full of Wisdom – but is it Omarian Wisdom?

July 21, 2016

Below is a summary of Tony Briggs’ presentation at the Rubaiyat Research Day on 9th July 2016 (see earlier post

Our thanks to Tony for providing this and for providing other provocative ideas about how to improve awareness and appreciation of the Rubaiyat in the 21st century.  We plan to cover this topic in more detail in a future post.

In bite-size days of dwindling attention span it could be a good idea to present the Rubaiyat of Omar Khayyam in reduced format. Here are eight stanzas that convey both the style and the essential ideas of this well-loved work. They might be best presented as follows.  (The image alongside them is Edmund Sullivan’s 1913 illustration for the third quatrain shown.)

The Reduced Rubaiyat of Edward FitzGerald (1809-83) 
Freely Translated from Writings by Omar Khayyam (1048-1131?)

AWAKE! for Morning in the Bowl of Nightsullivan27
Has flung the Stone that puts the Stars to Flight:
And Lo! the Hunter of the East has caught
The Sultán’s Turret in a Noose of Light.

A Book of Verses underneath the Bough,
A Jug of Wine, a Loaf of Bread—and Thou
Beside me singing in the Wilderness—
Oh, Wilderness were Paradise enow!

Myself when young did eagerly frequent
Doctor and Saint, and heard great Argument
About it and about:  but evermore
Came out by the same Door as in I went.

But leave the Wise to wrangle, and with me
The Quarrel of the Universe let be:
And, in some corner of the Hubbub coucht,
Make Game of that which makes as much of Thee.

The Moving Finger writes; and, having writ,
Moves on:  nor all thy Piety nor Wit
Shall lure it back to cancel half a Line,
Nor all thy Tears wash out a Word of it.

YESTERDAY This Day’s Madness did prepare;
TO-MORROW’S Silence, Triumph, or Despair:
Drink! for you know not whence you came, nor why:
Drink! for you know not why you go, nor where.

Ah, Moon of my Delight who know’st no wane,
The Moon of Heav’n is rising once again:
How oft hereafter rising shall she look
Through this same Garden after me—in vain!

And when Thyself with shining Foot shall pass
Among the Guests Star-scatter’d on the Grass,
And in thy joyous Errand reach the Spot
Where I made one—turn down an empty Glass!

The message is that some degree of happiness is attainable in a life based on:

living close to nature and enjoying adequate food, drink and modest amounts of alcohol, along with human companionship (including love and sex), culture (books, poems, songs, music), patience and contentment with things as they are and moderate prosperity, and a good sense of humour

rather than their opposites:

urban life, over-indulgence and obesity, disgusting drunkenness, narcissistic solitariness, philistinism, pessimism, discontent, over-seriousness, greed, excessive wealth, celebrity, impatience and intensity.

Do not rely on experts to explain the mystery of our existence beyond these simple ideas. The famous thinkers know no more than you do. This is the only true wisdom. The snag is that it is not oriental, not mysterious, not Omarian. It is the age-old wisdom of grandmothers and old chaps down the pub.

Good luck, make game of everything, and raise a glass with me.


The Rubaiyat at New Orleans Mardi Gras

July 18, 2016

Here is a summary of Roger Paas’ presentation at the Rubaiyat Research Day on 9th July 2016 (see earlier post

Our thanks to Roger for introducing us all to a fascinating bit of Rubaiyat history, and providing a wonderful image, which is worth looking at closely.

It is a well-known fact that the original appearance of FitzGerald’s work in 1859 was met with virtually complete indifference by the public, yet within less than 50 years a cult focusing on Omar and his verses had developed in the Anglo-American world.  Fueled to a large extent by a number of enterprising American publishers in New York, Boston, and Philadelphia who filled the market with cheap reprints of FitzGerald’s work, wherever one looked, there were products that made explicit reference to Omar and/or The Rubaiyat:  watches, ladies’ toiletries, china, shoes, cigarettes, cigars etc.  A sterling example of the way The Rubaiyat had become part of American popular culture by the early 20th century is the appearance of Rubaiyat-themed floats in the 1905 Mardi Gras celebration in New Orleans.

In anticipation of the parade on Monday evening, March 6th, the New Orleans newspaper, The Daily Picayune (Potter, no. 208), published a detailed description of the 20 floats in the parade along with a colored lithograph of all the floats and the text of the 3rd edition of FitzGerald’s poem.  The headline to the article read as follows:  “Proteus, The Changeable God, Whose Loyalty to Carnival City is Unchanging, Translates the Immortal Rubaiyat of Omar Khayyam into Pictures Surpassing in Loveliness Former Glorious Tableaux he designed.”

1980.192.16i-xx, 10/6/08, 3:46 PM, 8C, 6872x10308 (655+231), 100%, Custom, 1/40 s, R37.2, G30.2, B34.2

The following day—Shrove Tuesday—the newspaper ran a very positive review of the parade, praising “…the beautiful and striking rendering of the poet’s imagery.”  By all accounts, the parade was enjoyed by all, and it is interesting to note how one reporter emphasized the familiarity of the general public with The Rubaiyat:  “The knowledge of it is not confined to the intellectual few who first recognized its merits and memorized most of the immortal verses, but it has become in America distinctly a popular work, as familiar to children in high school as to the businessman, who, as a rule, has no liking for verse.”

Roger Paas

Rubaiyat Research Day in Cambridge, 9th July 2016

July 15, 2016

1shr1086scfLast Saturday a small group of Rubaiyat researchers met in Cambridge to discuss recent research findings and to explore aspects of the role of the verses in modern life and education.  It was a very enjoyable and informative occasion.  The wide range of topics covered is shown below, with brief summaries of the content of the presentations.  We plan to post more details from some of the presentations in due course.  Meanwhile if any reader has a particular interest in one or more subject, please comment below and we’ll try to put you in contact with the relevant person.

Various issues were raised regarding how the Rubaiyat might be brought to a wider modern audience, and introduced more into various levels of education.  We intend to post a separate item on such questions.  If you have any thoughts to add on this important subject, again please comment below.

Tony Briggs The Reduced Rubaiyat:  All the Wisdom you Need, but is it Omarian?

Including reflections on the philosophy of the poem and its relevance to youth today, plus a discussion of a short selection of key quatrains.

Asghar Seyed-Gohrab The Reception of Khayyam’s Transgressive Ideas

Discussion of the reception of the Rubaiyat in 20th century Iran and the work of Sadeq Hedayat.

Roger Paas The Rubaiyat at Mardi Gras

Telling about the role of the Rubaiyat in the New Orleans Mardi Gras Parade of 1905.

Jos Coumans My Rubaiyat Concordance Project *

Presentation of an important new web site comparing the quatrains included by different translators and editors in their versions of the Rubaiyat.

Bill Martin and Sandra Mason The Man behind the Rubaiyat of Omar Khayyam

Introduction of a new book on the Life and Letters of Edward FitzGerald, highlighting insights into FitzGerald’s life and the conditions under which he created his Rubaiyat.

Garry Garrard Bedford’s Fatal Attraction

Exploration of new research on W K Browne, FitzGerald’s young friend from Bedford, and his family, highlighting new material obtained from one of Browne’s descendants. 

Bob Forrest Colonel Robert J R Brown and Ambrose George Potter *

Discussion of a very unusual edition of the Rubaiyat, and presentation of a new index to Potter’s Bibliography of the Rubaiyat prepared by Douglas Taylor and the speaker. 

John Drew Leicester Pirate and Leicester City *

Referring to a recent pamphlet by the speaker and Jos Coumans on a 19th century pirate edition of the Rubaiyat, and the presentation of this to the current manager of Leicester City Football Club.

* There is further information on these subjects in earlier posts as follows:

Bird of Time enamel plaque by Ernestine Mills

May 18, 2016

Omar Khayyam, EM_VIC 20150902-P1030236 copyThis fascinating piece of artwork, shown in the illustration right, is owned by Irene Cockroft, a descendent of Ernestine Mills.  Irene has contributed the following comments, highlighting also her other links with the history of FitzGerald’s Rubaiyat.  She asks for help from readers who have any further information.  Please add your comments below. 

Come, fill the Cup, and in the Fire of Spring
The Winter Garment of Repentance fling:
The Bird of Time has but a little way
To fly – and Lo! the Bird is on the Wing.

Rubaiyat of Omar Khayyam translated by Edward FitzGerald. quatrain VII, 1st ed.

This enigmatic plaque, c. nine inch tall, was enamelled by artist Ernestine Mills (1871-1959).  Mills trained at the South Kensington School of Art and the Slade.  She studied enamelling under Alexander Fisher (1864-1936) at Finsbury Technical College.  The plaque is typical of her style but the shape is unusual.  Ernestine’s kiln could accommodate twice this width.

Did she design slim shapes to illustrate a series of images inspired by favourite Khayyam-FitzGerald quatrains; or to facilitate flexible hanging?  Could slender frames have been fashioned to embellish either side of a fireplace?  (Among other endeavours, Mills designed ceramic tiles for Pilkingtons of Manchester, some of which were used in fire surrounds.  No Khayyam tile designs have yet been located, but not all design records, tiles or for that matter, fireplaces, survived World War II.)

Possibly because Ernestine (Tina) Mills was my relative, a title for her naked angel enamel immediately sprang to mind – ‘The bird of time is on the wing’.  Obviously, the heavenly robe had perished in the fire of spring.  Can any reader suggest a more likely interpretation?

Bell T.E. EM Indian memorialErnestine’s father was Major Thomas Evans Bell (1825-1887), a soldier and diplomat with the East India Company, who edited the Madras Literary Journal.  With Whitley Stokes, Bell is credited as having been the first to re-publish Edward FitzGerald’s inspired translation of the Rubaiyat of Omar Khayyam.

In 1862 the Madras Literary Journal stepped in, where mainstream publishers feared to tread through dread of censure.  Khayyam’s philosophy attacked religion!  By contrast, so enamoured were Bell and Stokes of the anglicised Khayyam quatrains that strayed into their possession, they decided to publish, even though they knew not the identity of the translator.  Thankfully, they were not damned for their piracy – not by FitzGerald, anyway.  The FitzGerald Rubaiyat has rarely been out of print since.

The source of Bell’s advocacy is not hard to fathom.  He was a close friend and disciple of secularist G.J. Holyoake.  The havoc wrought in India by conflicting religious beliefs probably contributed to Bell’s secularism, though he displayed Khayyam-like tolerance to all.  His supportive wife-to-be, classical actress and musical composer Emily Ernst Magnus, and in due course their daughter Ernestine, proved of like character in secularism, radicalism and courage.

All three devoted energy to the burgeoning cause of equal rights for women.  Thomas and Emily were members of the Central Committee of the London National Society for Women’s Suffrage.  Emily signed the 1866 women’s suffrage petition to Parliament.  By 1908 Ernestine was donating a percentage of her work to sell at bazaars to raise funds for the Women’s Social & Political Union war chest.

Pirating of poetry apart, Major Bell held high ethical standards.  Unlike the majority of British adventurers who followed the winds of trade to India, Bell lived austerely.  The only acquisition he valued was his professorial knowledge of India and her people.  This he put to good use on his return to London, followed by early retirement from armed service, in 1865.  Bell married, and settled to writing scholarly tomes on Indian politics.  These books, he hoped, would influence high-handed British officialdom, and coincidentally the future fate of India, for the better.  Prophetically, Bell penned his fear that all would end in ‘garments rolled in blood’.

EM miniature NDWBell died in London in 1887.  His daughter Ernestine was sixteen years old.  Finding the money to complete her art training must have been a struggle.  The additional acquisition of Applied Art enamelling skills provided Ernestine with the means to earn her living as an artist.

Ernestine’s well-worn 1901 Astolat Press pocket edition of Fitzgerald’s translation of the Rubyait of Omar Khayyam bears her signature, matching that on the back of her mystery enamel.  I inherited the pocket-size, (105mm x 70mm), Astolat Press memento of Ernestine’s love of The Rubaiyat.  Her little book is vellum-bound with gold-embossed roses and grapes tooled by one Y.W.B.  There are no internal illustrations.

When Ernestine eventually passed away, some years after her husband Dr Herbert Mills, in 1959, her daughter Hermia, by now like her late father an overworked medical doctor, determined to leave the past behind and make a fresh start.  She had the family home professionally cleared, then sold.  Who knows if copies of the 1862 Madras Literary Journal were, like winter garments of repentance, flung in the cleansing fire of spring clearance?

If anyone can shed further light on the ‘bird of time’ enamel, I shall be delighted to hear of it.  I wondered if a matching shaped plaque might have been inscribed with the quatrain it appears to describe?  Mills was noted for her lettering – no mean achievement in enamel!  The discovery of a similar plaque would be of great interest; as indeed, would news of other plaques or jewellery enamelled by Ernestine Mills.  A small ‘EM’ in the bottom corner of a plaque or a full signature on the back, with or without date, was her usual identification, but sometimes this was omitted.  As jewellery was often too small for a monogram, provenance is important.

I am photographing examples of Ernestine’s work, and collecting information about her family, life and times, for a biography.  I would value any help in this endeavour.  Please contact me through the blogsite.

Irene Cockroft

Captions to three photographs above, in order of presentation.

  1. Ernestine Mills ‘Bird of Time’ enamel: aperture 235mm high x 75mm wide; outside edge of wood frame 255mm high x 95mm wide.  Back counter-enamelled, signed and dated 1922.
  2. Ernestine Mills’ silver and enamel monument to Thomas Evans Bell commissioned by the House of Greatness museum, Indore, India.  Bell validated Indore Maharajah Holkar’s loyalty to Britain during the 1857 Mutiny, exempting his princely state from reprisals.  The monument lists Bell’s many writings on Indian politics.  He counselled controlled return of independence to the Indian nation.
  3. Portrait of Ernestine Mills c. 1898 by fellow art student Edith Hinchley.

 All the above material is © V. Irene Cockroft.  All images are courtesy of V. Irene Cockroft, photos 1 © V. Irene Cockroft & 3 © David Cockroft.  Our thanks to Irene for this contribution.

Reminder – It’s Omar Khayyam’s birthday today

May 18, 2016

ko8-samarkand00Today, 18th May 2016, marks the 968th anniversary of the birth of Omar Khayyam in 1048.  Please join us in celebrating the memory of this remarkable man.  Whether he ever wrote any of the poems we know and love is another story.  But his life and legacy were important to the world.


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