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

July 26, 2016

An earlier post, https://omarkhayyamrubaiyat.wordpress.com/2013/07/07/lifes-echoes-by-tis-true-finding-out-more-about-this-strange-volume/, 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.

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