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A manuscript version of the Rubaiyat prepared by John Tearle

November 25, 2021

Roger Paas has sent us information about an unknown (at least to us) fine copy of FitzGerald’s Rubaiyat of Omar Khayyam that was recently for sale on AbeBooks. Thanks to Roger for this. The volume is a one-off manuscript edition calligraphed, illuminated and illustrated by John Tearle, whom the bookseller describes as an American designer, illuminator and publisher. The manuscript is no longer available, but its qualities are worth a mention. The bookseller’s description, slightly edited, is shown below, together with some specimen pages. This is yet another example of the creative response to the Rubaiyat in the early 20th century; it was produced in 1910. We should be interested to know whether other readers have heard of John Tearle and/or this MS. Please comment below if you can add to what is known.



From Phillip J. Pirages Rare Books (ABAA) (McMinnville, OR, U.S.A.)


228 x 152 mm. (9 x 6″). 2 leaves of Japanese vellum at the front and back, and 20 vellum leaves of text (of which, 37 written on and 3 pages blank). Single column, 24 lines in an attractive, uncluttered calligraphic hand.Translated by Edward FitzGerald. Original stiff vellum. In (slightly frayed) red linen dust jacket and red straight-grained morocco slipcase with gilt titling on spine.

Main body of the text in black ink, but ILLUMINATED THROUGHOUT BY JOHN H. TEARLE, TITLE PAGE WITH FOLIATE INITIAL “R” ON A BURNISHED GOLD GROUND extending into a half border, the whole decorated with red and purple flowers and with green, orange, red, blue, and purple acanthus leaves on a ground of burnished gold, FACING PAGE WITH OPULENT THREE-QUARTER BORDER FORMED BY A GRAPE VINE with green and gold leaves and succulent purple fruit, THE OPENING WORD “WAKE” IN RAISED GOLD on the top of the border, AND, AT THE BOTTOM, A LARGE OVAL MINIATURE (approximately 55 x 70 mm.) SHOWING AN ONION-DOMED PALACE.

Each verse of the text with three-line opening initial in colors and/or gold and embellished with elaborate penwork in a vaguely Oriental style, half a dozen with more elaborate leafy extensions, and two pages with leaves or other ornaments extending the length of the border.

FINAL PAGE OF TEXT WITH six-line initial in colors on burnished gold and with A LARGE ROUND MINIATURE (70 mm. in diameter) of a beautiful Persian maiden in a moonlit garden. In pristine condition. Considerably longer than most modern illuminated manuscripts, this is an immaculate book with initials and other embellishments that beautifully reflect its Persian setting. The miniatures have an exotic quality, with lush gardens, distant minarets, and Oriental architecture. The overall effect evokes the exuberance, beauty, and passion associated with FitzGerald’s lush and lilting translation.

Highly praised by Tennyson, this 12th century classic appealed strongly to Victorian and Edwardian sensibilities. First printed, anonymously, in 1859, it became immensely popular and went through a great many editions. Englishman Edward FitzGerald (1809-93) devoted most of his adult life to literature, especially translation, and the “Rubáiyát” remains his chief work and enduring contribution to world literature.

American designer, illuminator, and publisher John Tearle (b. 1868) was born in Britain, and served a seven-year apprenticeship there to learn the art of illumination. This appears to be one of the luxury books he produced after ending his business relationship with Ross Turner in 1903. The first opening here is very striking, the manuscript is in outstanding condition, and–at 40 pages–it is a substantial piece of excellent work. SIGNED in the colophon by John H. Tearle. (Seller Inventory # ST17129-043)

4 Comments leave one →
  1. Marcello Moscoloni permalink
    November 25, 2021 12:58 pm

    I’m an italian reader of the Rubayyat. The word ILLUMINATOR in italian means someone who switchs on the lights. Maybe in English it means someone who makes illustrations? Thanks for reply
    Da: Omar Khayyam Rubaiyat
    Inviato: giovedì 25 novembre 2021 13:15
    Oggetto: [New post] A manuscript version of the Rubaiyat prepared by John Tearle

    SandraBill OKR posted: ” Roger Paas has sent us information about an unknown (at least to us) fine copy of FitzGerald’s Rubaiyat of Omar Khayyam that was recently for sale on AbeBooks. Thanks to Roger for this. The volume is a one-off manuscript edition calligraphed, illuminat”

  2. November 25, 2021 3:41 pm

    In English, the word ‘illuminate’ means generally ‘to light up’ or ‘to throw light upon’. But in the context of manuscripts it also has the specialist meaning of ‘to embellish the text, particularly initial letters, with gold, silver, and colours’. Many mediaeval MSS are decorated in this way, and the practice was taken up in the production of special versions of the Rubaiyat. If you search for ‘illuminated manuscript’ on the blog, you will find other examples of these products. We hope this answers your query, Marcello.

  3. fdiba2 permalink
    November 25, 2021 4:52 pm

    The same book dealer as this Tearle work has some interesting bindings of the Rubaiyat:

  4. November 26, 2021 3:20 pm

    Thanks for that link, Fred. Definitely worth a look. They have some fine books, but some fine prices too! Interesting that the William Morris style copy with the embroidered cover is still on the market. (see earlier blog item

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