Skip to content

Why George Marshall’s Rubaiyat is not a False Imprint

September 29, 2017

Barry Traish has sent us a very unusual story with a Rubaiyat connection.  

On 3rd June 1945, in Ashton Park in Sydney, Australia, police found the decomposing body of Singapore-born Joseph Saul Haim Marshall, more commonly known as George and sometimes as Lorenzo. Near his left hand was barbituric acid powder and on his chest was an open copy of the seventh Methuen edition of Rubaiyat of Omar Khayyam. He had marked the following quatrain:

Ah, make the most of what we yet may spend,
Before we, too, into the dust descend.
Dust into dust, and under dust to lie
Sans wine, sans song, sans singer and sans end.

His death was ruled a suicide by poisoning – after all he had attempted suicide twice before and had spent time in an insane asylum, all caused by a head injury aged seven. He was a philosopher, a failed poet and a disciple of Omar Khayyam. His brother said, “I have no doubt that this was the form of death that would appeal to my brother, as being the finest and noblest way of terminating his life.”

But many believe there’s a conspiracy here. There’s a strong political connection: his brother, David Marshall, went on to become Singapore’s chief minister. Two months later, his former girlfriend unexpectedly committed suicide by cutting her wrists, despite being in a relationship with another man, Hellmut Hendon. Ashton Park was very close to the Clifton Gardens Hotel, where, some years later,  Jessica Thomson would give Alf Boxall a copy of the Rubaiyat in the infamous Somerton Man (Tamam Shud) mystery. That mystery itself revolves around a discovered body, Jessica Thomson (now 700 miles away in Adelaide) and another Rubaiyat with an indecipherable code. Marshall and Hendon were both Jewish, and Thomson converted to Judaism, despite Judaism being rare in Australia. They all attended or had links to the Bohemian club, Pakies, as did Alf Boxall, who received the other Rubaiyat.

Finally, and the point of this blog post, is that there is no record of a seventh Methuen edition of the Rubaiyat ever being published. Many believe that it is a “false imprint” or even a one-time pad for a secret code, not printed by Methuen at all. “Internet experts” by the dozen (and even the New York Public Library) all state there are only five editions. Unfortunately, Methuen themselves no longer have archival records after a century of mergers and takeovers. So let’s set the record straight.

In 1900, Methuen issued their first edition, using Fitzgerald’s fifth translation, with additional commentary by Batson and Ross. They reissued it in 1901 as a limited edition of 60. In March 1904 they issued a small edition of Fitzgerald’s first translation, as part of their “Methuen’s Miniature Library” series. In 1913 they produced a new edition of Fitzgerald’s first translation with illustrations by Sullivan. In 1923 they reprinted this, labelling it the second edition. Finally, there was a 1930 edition, with an introduction by Rosen. These are the five Methuen editions (counting one as a reprint) enumerated by the New York Public Library and others. No great surprises so far.

What is less commonly known is that Methuen reissued the March 1904 “miniature” edition repeatedly (see image), but didn’t bother depositing these with copyright libraries. It was only when a seventh edition came into my possession and I saw how small it was (12cm) that I made the link to the 1904 edition. Until now, most people believed this publishing history was fictional, to add credibility to a false imprint.

However, there is evidence: Messrs Methuen & Co regularly published advertisements in the back of their books. It is relatively easy to find adverts at for the miniature library, including all of the Rubaiyat reprints up to the 5th edition, matching the publication history. Unfortunately, Methuen stopped marketing the whole of the miniature library midway through 1920, so no adverts for the 6th or 7th editions exist. I’ve examined 60 books of the period for adverts which confirm this.

Two seventh editions have been found, but given their tiny size and flimsy nature, it’s no surprise many haven’t survived. There is no conspiracy – George Marshall was simply an Omar-obsessed, suicidal young man, and Methuen never deposited all their books because they were never really new editions, only reprints.

7th Methuen Rubaiyat, as found on George Marshall; a Whitcombe & Tombs Rubaiyat, as linked to the Somerton Man; an Australasian Rubaiyat, as given to Alf Boxall by Jessica Thomson.

8 Comments leave one →
  1. Fred Diba permalink
    September 29, 2017 9:57 am

    In this article, Barry Traish mentions a limited 1901 edition of 60.
    My collection holds a limited 1901 edition of 50.

  2. September 29, 2017 7:00 pm

    Well spotted and thanks for reading. I have to admit that I don’t have a 1901 (because they are £250!), nor have I inspected one, but I am guided by this advert which states, “Limited edition of a classic translation printed on hand-made paper with a print run of 60 (with 50 being for sale), of which this is numbered 53”.

  3. Mike Selby permalink
    May 7, 2019 10:29 pm

    If I am reading this correctly, George Marshall had a miniature edition?

  4. July 29, 2022 2:32 pm

    New findings related to this case have recently been reported in the New York Times of 26th July 2022. These suggest a possible new identification of the Somerton man.


  1. Glenelg and Somerton circa 1948... - Cipher Mysteries
  2. More unusual associations for the Rubaiyat | Omar Khayyam Rubaiyat
  3. The Children of Somerton – The Lantern Library

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: