Saturday, June 23, 2018


Pierre de Ronsard wrote this sonnet in his youth, when he was in love with Cassandre Salviati: perhaps a comment on obsession.  Life was good then and he was blithe; his poems remind one of the Cavalier poets.  As with my other translations from French poetry – reckless exercise, as I have said before, for a mere novice in the language – this one is meant to convey the tone and trend, not to be exactly faithful to length of line, scansion, or pattern of rhymes; not trying to match the poetic qualities of the great Ronsard.

Je veux lire en trois jours l'Iliade d'Homere,
Et pour ce, Corydon, ferme bien l'huis sur moy:
Si rien me vient troubler, je t'assure ma foy
Tu sentiras combien pesante est ma colere.

Je ne veux seulement que notre chambriere
Vienne faire mon lit, ton compagnon ni toy,
Je veux trois jours entiers demeurer a requoy,
Pour follastrer apres une semaine entiere.

Mais, si quelqu'un venait de la part de Cassandre,
Ouvre-luy tost la porte, et ne le fais attendre,
Soudain entre en ma chambre et me viens accoustrer.

Je veux tant seulement a luy seul me monstrer:
Au reste, si un dieu voulait pour moi descendre
Du Ciel, ferme la porte et ne le laisse entrer.


I mean to read the Iliad in three days,
So Corydon, make fast my chamber door:
If any disturb me, you may be sure
My wrath you will feel in most painful ways!

Not chambermaid alone, who comes to make
My bed keep out, but you are barrèd too.
I need three days entire – or four, look you:
And after – a week of pleasure I shall take.

But from Cassandre if one comes to the gate,
Quickly open the door, don’t make him wait.
Haste back and dress me that I may look fine:

Word from my lady will I gladly hear.
None else will I see, let a god appear
Shut the door firmly though he be divine!

Ruth Heredia is the originator and holds the copyright to all material on this blog unless credited to some source. Please do not use it or pass it off as your own work. That is theft. If you wish to link it, quote it, or reprint in whole or in part, please be courteous enough to seek my permission.

Sunday, June 17, 2018

On Translating Pierre de Ronsard’s Most Famous Poem

In his lovely and very well known poem, When you are old, W.B. Yeats made no effort to translate another lovely and famous poem, a sonnet by Pierre de Ronsard that begins: “Quand vous serez bien vieille.”  Yeats was indubitably inspired by Ronsard’s sonnet, but he wrote a very different poem.

Traduttore, traditore” is an Italian saying reflecting a common view of translation, especially of translating poetry: a translator is a traitor.  For me this attempt seems very midsummer madness, yet here is my halting homage to both those beautiful poems.


Translated from Ronsard’s “Quand vous serez bien vieille”

When you are very old, in a candle-lit eve
As, seated by the fire, some yarns you sort and weave,
You will recite my verses marvelling: Such praise
Of my beauty Ronsard spoke, in those long lost days.

Never a maid of yours, nodding at her labour,
But will waken with a start to hear you murmur
My name, whose verse on yours this blessing did bestow
My words gave to your beauty an immortal glow.

Buried in the earth, a boneless ghost I will be,
Taking my repose shaded by a myrtle tree:
Beside a hearth you will crouch, old and bent, and grey,

My love you will then miss, your proud disdain regret.
Live now, do believe me; and tomorrow forget;
Haste to gather roses life offers you today.

Ruth Heredia is the originator and holds the copyright to all material on this blog unless credited to some source. Please do not use it or pass it off as your own work. That is theft. If you wish to link it, quote it, or reprint in whole or in part, please be courteous enough to seek my permission.

Saturday, June 16, 2018

Adventures in Translation

Basic French lessons learned out of Dondo, Bertenshaw and Otto Siepmann, and a slightly higher level achieved in the first two years of college were not nearly good enough to attempt the translation of French poetry!

How that came about is recounted here:
Another adventure in translation began at University with Birje (Dr Jaysinh Birjepatil) who inscribed a French poem in my Commonplace Book as recounted in:

Gerald Bullett’s notes for students in Methuen’s Anthology of Modern Verse were read in youth but made no lasting impression or I should never have dared to try translation, because this is what he wrote (in which I note an element of contradiction):
“The translation of poems is always a desperate enterprise.  It is none the less an enterprise well worth while, for it may result in the production of excellent new poems.  A perfect lyric cannot be translated, because so much of its poetic content resides in the colour and perfume of the words, so little (though something) in their plain-sense meaning.  And, though not every poem is a lyric, nor every lyric perfect, only the presence of some lyrical quality can justify our use of the term ‘poetry’. . . .
“. . . of a translated poem the best one can ever say is that it is a new poem inspired by the original, the old light seen through the prism of a new personality.”

By the time I re-read this passage it was far too late to retreat!  But I recalled what Birje – whose whereabouts I learned only in early 2010, whereupon I contacted him and enjoyed his friendship for a brief five years until his death – Birje wrote this to me:
“George Steiner says every translation is a site of mourning, something of the original dies in it. But your translation of Mallarmé's Sainte is also where something vital is reborn. I should really not worry about the authenticity of your translation as long as it re-enacts the creative epiphany you had while being engaged in its magical moment.”

My translations in mid-2016 of
José Maria de Heredia were possible only because all that Birje taught me guides me still.  There were a few sonnets that I almost did work on then, but they are not Heredia’s best work and his sonnets do begin to pall after a while.  Recently I had reason to wish for mental exercise and returned to those sonnets.  It was not the cleverest thing to do, but a streak of stubbornness drove me.

Although two years ago it seemed that they were not worth the attempt, I picked up one that was conversational and fairly informal, rather like Villula, and the reference to old age breaking one’s knees had a poignant appeal.  However, this one was far less easily interpreted.  Gallus in Villula stood for a man of Gaulish descent in a line long Romanised.  Who is Sextius?  Apparently this sonnet is of the carpe diem type but the details are random and odd.  First a look at the sonnet:

À Sextius

Le ciel est clair. La barque a glissé sur les sables.
Les vergers sont fleuris, et le givre argentin
N'irise plus les prés au soleil du matin.
Les boeufs et le bouvier désertent les étables.

Tout tenait. Mais la Mort et ses funèbres fables
Nous pressent, et, pour toi, seul le jour est certain
Où les dés renversés en un libre festin
Ne t'assigneront plus la royauté des tables.

La vie, ô Sextius, est brève. Hâtons-nous
De vivre. Déjà l'âge a rompu nos genoux.
Il n'est pas de printemps au froid pays des Ombres.

Viens donc. Les bois sont verts, et voici la saison
D'immoler à Faunus, en ses retraites sombres,
Un bouc noir ou l'agnelle à la blanche toison.

The literal translation:
The sky is clear.  The boat has glided on the sands.  The orchards bloom, and the silver frost no longer makes the fields iridescent under the morning sun.  The oxen and their herders leave the stables.
Everything holds on.  But Death with its funereal fables oppresses us, and as for yourself, only that day is sure when the dice that are cast at a liberal (?) banquet will not assign to you anymore the lordship of the tables.
Life, O Sextius, is short.  Let us hasten to live.  Already age has broken our knees.  It is not springtime in the cold land of Shadows.  Come then.  The woods are green and this is the season to sacrifice to Faunus in his dark retreats a black billy goat or a female lamb with a white fleece.

This is altogether an odd concoction and to my mind seems vaguely sinister at the end.  Orchards in bloom, fields clear of frost, oxen and herdsmen off to the fields, clear skies, all make sense as signs of spring.  But what has a boat “gliding” over the sands to do with anything?
That life goes on in the natural world is a given.  It may well be that Death is near; certainly near enough if the knees have already given way.  Equally certain is it that the dice will not always fall Sextius’ way to make him master of the revels.
And what is the choice the speaker offers him?  Since it is spring and the woods are green, let them seek out Faunus (an early Roman deity later merged with the Greek Pan) in his dark hiding places (what a comforting thought, and in spring!) and sacrifice to him a black billy-goat or a white-fleeced female lamb.  What is the significance?  Goats (colour unspecified) are associated with the worship of Faunus, and it was believed that sleeping in his precincts on sheep fleeces brought visions revealing the future – but why is the poet choosing a female lamb?  To me that sounds unpleasant.

Whatever arcane significance these lines have escapes my Philistine non-French mind and the sonnet is what I call empty.  Edward R. Taylor painstakingly measured out his alexandrines and reproduced Heredia’s rhyme scheme.  The result does not impress me.  My relatively free translation was probably a waste of time, but I believe it is less dull than that by the correct Mr Taylor.

To Sextius
Under clear skies the boat glides swift ashore;
Orchards are in bloom; fields shimmer no more
As silv’ry frost melts under the morning sun.
Oxen and herdsmen out of stables run.

Life goes on.  But Death’s funereal fables
Oppress us.  For you at festive tables
Surely the fall of dice will fail some day
Over the revels to allot you sway.

Life’s short, O Sextius.  Let’s hasten to seize
The moment.  Even now age wrecks our knees.
There is no springtime in the Land of Shades.

Come then.  In this season of fair green glades,
Let’s offer Faunus in his haunts remote
A white-fleeced female lamb or a black goat.

My second choice for translation was about a battle won by a person I admire: Hannibal, the Carthaginian general, to whom General Napoleon Bonaparte acknowledged his debt.

As usual, I began to look up the historical references. What I discovered provoked me to write what is not a strict translation, is not in sonnet form, does not adhere strictly to any forms or rules, is not even very good verse, but does some little justice to one of Hannibal's typical victories. First the original sonnet:

La Trebbia

L'aube d'un jour sinistre a blanchi les hauteurs.
Le camp s'éveille. En bas roule et gronde le fleuve
Où l'escadron léger des Numides s'abreuve.
Partout sonne l'appel clair des buccinateurs.

Car malgré Scipion, les augures menteurs,
La Trebbia débordée, et qu'il vente et qu'il pleuve,
Sempronius Consul, fier de sa gloire neuve,
A fait lever la hache et marcher les licteurs.

Rougissant le ciel noir de flamboîments lugubres,
À l'horizon, brûlaient les villages Insubres;
On entendait au loin barrir un éléphant.

Et là-bas, sous le pont, adossé contre une arche,
Hannibal écoutait, pensif et triomphant,
Le piétinement sourd des légions en marche.

The literal translation:
Dawn of an ominous day has whitened the heights.  The camp awakens.  Below rolls and rumbles the river where the squadron of Numidian light [cavalry] drink.  Everywhere the clear calls of the buccina players sounds.
For in spite of Scipio, and the lying augurs, the overflowing Trebbia, and the fact that it is blowing and raining, the Consul Sempronius, proud of his new glory, has caused the axe to be raised and the lictors to march.
The villages of the Insubres burn, their lugubrious blazes reddening the black sky on the horizon; from a distance is heard the trumpeting of an elephant.
And below, on the bridge, leaning back against an arch [odd sort of bridge on a minor stream] Hannibal hears, thoughtful and triumphant, the dull sound of the legions on the march.

If the heights are whitened by dawn, how is the black sky reddened by “lugubrious” blazes?  Is “lugubres” there to rhyme with “Insubres” or the other way round?  The Insubres were punished by Scipio in November; this is happening around the winter solstice; can those insubordinate Insubres still be trying to douse the blazes?  Augurs were consulted before a battle.  In what way did these augurs lie?  Was it from the historian’s point of view?  That would have been ‘because of’ not ‘in spite of’.  From Sempronius’ point of view?  If he was assuming – on no foundation – that they lied, Heredia should explain that.  No account mentions a bridge over the river at the point of conflict, else the Roman soldiers – most probably the Italic auxiliaries – would not have had to wade through the usually shallow and now freezing Trebbia, getting too wet and cold to fight well.  Lictors marched ahead of the Consul on special ceremonial occasions; centurions could qualify to become lictors – but only after retirement.  Never have I read of an axe being raised to signal the start of a battle.  The lictors sometimes carried a ceremonial axe tied up in the fasces as a sign that the man in charge (Consul or Dictator) had the power of life and death; what use would that be in a battle?  Like the bridge and the Insubres’ dwellings aflame, Heredia’s lictors are a piece of poetic licence, but can poetic licence justify so much falsifying of an historical event?


À J. M. de Heredia

Monsieur, votre sonnet
En forme peut
être parfait
Mais à son sujet
Pas justice fait.

Freezing, dawn breaks on both camps by Trebbia river,
Mid-winter flood makes shallow waters rise the while,
Threatening they roll and rumble through a steep defile;
Snow peaks frown darkly where Gaulish dwellings smoulder.

His men have risen early, oiling themselves well,
Numidian cavalry drink where the waters swell;
Hannibal’s deep in thought as elephants respond
When they hear across the camps trumpet calls resound.

For over the river, Romans are stirring too,
As Sempronius Longus, proud of his laurels new,
Winner of his own battle, Scipio disdains,
Who’ll have no part when he another victory gains.

Consul’s order given, the men begin to march;
Hannibal, sensing victory, continues to watch
As through an icy flood the Roman army goes –
They will have no chance at all when the trap’s jaws close.

Ruth Heredia is the originator and holds the copyright to all material on this blog unless credited to some source. Please do not use it or pass it off as your own work. That is theft. If you wish to link it, quote it, or reprint in whole or in part, please be courteous enough to seek my permission.

Monday, April 30, 2018

RAFAEL SABATINI, another contemporary view

By Lewis Melville
The Bookman, Volume 66, Issue 396, September 1924, pp 307-08

Rafael Sabatini is our outstanding “costume” novelist.  He is also an historian of repute, a dramatist who has won his spurs, and author of a play for the screen that has scored one of the greatest successes of recent years.  It is needless to add that he is now a “best seller.”

Biographical details need not detain us long.  Mr. Sabatini was born in 1875 at Jesi, Central Italy.  He is the only son of the late Maestro Cav. Vincenzo Sabatini and Anna Trafford.  He was educated at the École Cantonale at Zoug, in Switzerland, and at the Lyc
ée of Oporto, in Portugal.

A perusal of his books makes it clear that he has always been a student of history, European as well as British.  He has in fact an encyclopaedic knowledge of this branch of learning and (like his own heroes) he, with never a care, treads century after century underfoot.  Incidentally, he is a terror to the modern biographer, because in comparatively few pages he can tell the story of the person he decides to honour, whereas it takes another and a lesser man a volume or two to do the same thing.

When Mr. Sabatini is not writing novels (of which he has a baker’s dozen to his credit), or historical works (he is the historian of Caesar Borgia and of “Torquemada and the Spanish Inquisition”), he occupies his leisure in throwing off thumb-nail sketches of interesting incidents of the past.  Many of these last he has gathered together in the two series of “The Historical Nights’ Entertainment.”  Some idea of the wide range of knowledge of this author may be gathered from the contents of this work.  Take a few of the titles gathered at random: “Casanova’s Escape from the Piombi,” “Count Philip Königsmark and the Princess Sophia Dorothea,” “The Murder of Amy Robsart,” “The Story of the St. Bartholomew,” “The Betrayal of Sir Walter Ralegh.”  Who else could do this so easily and at the same time so thoroughly?

In these days we are rather apt to forget that the first duty of the story-teller is to tell a story.  Judging from modern fiction as a whole, this first step is the most difficult.

At least it is less and less frequently attempted.  The book that is described as psychological may be a very admirable treatise, it may make most interesting reading, but it can only be dubbed a novel by courtesy.  And after all, when all is said and done, the novelist should write novels.

Mr. Sabatini believes surely that in a story something should happen – even in life something happens every now and then, though many present-day novelists have tacitly agreed to ignore the fact that there is in life anything more than character and dialogue.  Since as a matter of fact there are thrills in life (one can imagine Mr. Sabatini saying), why should there not be thrills in pen-pictures of life?

The only trouble for what I will call the adventurer-novelist is that, be his inventive faculties however great, everything has been done before in real life.  You invent a brand-new situation, and a kindly reader (to please you, forsooth) tells you that he read this in a newspaper of, say, December 21st, 1806.  You invent a character from the inmost recesses of your mind – and then you meet him in the flesh.  If there cannot be in creation what in the creator is not, apparently there cannot be in the creator what in creation is not.

Mr. Sabatini, however, takes his chances like a man, and he has been well rewarded for his courage.  He has gathered unto him a host of readers and has delighted every man- (and woman-) jack of them.  He is read with avidity in every English-speaking country, and I suppose his books have been translated into most languages.  A man of simple, gracious manner, humble as to his achievements, albeit naturally not without some appreciation of his work, he has the defects of his qualities - from the point of the interviewer.  I had the pleasure lately of a conversation with him that lasted more than an hour.  My object was to lead him on to talk of his art; yet I came away without the subject being touched upon.  I am sure however that he likes (as which of us does not?) discerning praise: I can only hope that he will think such praise as I humbly mete out is discerning.

What I particularly like about Mr. Sabatini’s heroes is that they are so splendidly human.  Sometimes they do silly things – just for all the world as men do in life.  Did not Lord Randolph Churchill at the critical moment in his career “forget” Goschen?  Often the heroes are unduly trusting; but if they were not, how could the author use his splendid ingenuity in extricating them from tangles into which their blind faith has led them?

Also, many of the heroes have a flaw in them.  I mention this as a merit.  Marcel de Bardelys, when in wine, wagers that he will win for his wife a girl unknown to him and in whom he has no interest whatsoever.  Even the fact that the period is that of Louis XIII is not an excuse, for however the morality of such a thing was then regarded, Bardelys is too much the grand seigneur to justify it to himself.  He makes amends and, after much tribulation and many really serious inconveniences such as his life being in danger, he loses his wager and wins his delightful bride.  Captain Blood is at least as real a character as that namesake of his who in the reign of Charles II contrived to steal the Crown Jewels from the Tower.  He had already had an adventurous career before Mr. Sabatini takes his story in hand.  He then acquires a grievance in that, though innocent, he is at the Bloody Assizes sentenced to death by Jeffreys himself – the sentence being commuted to a living death as a slave in Barbados.  Of course, Blood escapes.  Perforce he becomes a pirate – a man of iron will, coolness, resource and courage – an admirable, gentlemanly pirate.  He makes his mistakes, he none the less overthrows his enemies and ends as Governor of Jamaica.  So may all gentlemanly pirates flourish!  Perhaps the most amazing thing in “Captain Blood” is the fact that Mr. Sabatini shows the same intimate knowledge of eighteenth
[sic] century ships and seamanship as he does of Mary Queen of Scots or Marat, or fencing at the old Italian Commedia dell’Arte. [This reference eludes me.]

One more example.  This from “The Snare,” an admirable story of the Peninsular War.  General O’Moy, Adjutant-General of the Forces in Portugal, for once in his life behaves badly.  He believes his wife to be unfaithful to him with his friend, and disgraces himself utterly in his blind rage.  He too, when his suspicions are proved unfounded, repents in sackcloth and ashes, and is forgiven by all concerned, including the reading public and (in this case) the theatre-going public, for Mr. Sabatini (with him, as the lawyers say, Mr. Leon M. Lion) has dramatised this novel.

Mr. Sabatini has the pleasant habit of introducing real characters into his historical romances.  Thus in “Bardelys the Magnificent” you have Louis XIII in his habit as he lived; in “The Snare” there is Wellington to the life at the time of the construction of the Torres Vedras lines; in “Captain Blood” you have a pen-portrait of  Jeffreys, not the Jeffreys as white-washed by Harry Irving, but the traditional ruffian as depicted by Macaulay.  The only difference is in person - Mr. Sabatini presents him as he appears in a little known portrait:
“Blood beheld a tall, slight man on the young side of forty, with an oval face that was delicately beautiful.  There were dark stains of suffering or sleeplessness under the low-lidded eyes, heightening their brilliance and their gentle melancholy.  The face was very pale, save for the vivid colour of the full lips and the hectic flush on the rather high but inconspicuous cheek-bones.  It was something in those lips that marred the perfection of that countenance; a fault, elusive but undeniable, lurked there to belie the fine sensitiveness of those nostrils, the tenderness of those dark, liquid eyes and the noble calm of that pale brow.”

In “Scaramouche,” a story that opens in France in 1788, Mr. Sabatini presents Robespierre, Marat, Desmoulins and Danton.  His hero is lawyer, actor and dramatist, a master of fence, and in the end a successful lover.  The canvas is immense, the atmosphere admirable – one can see the thunder-clouds of revolution gathering until the storm overtakes the monarchy and (for the time being) upheaves France.

Mr. Sabatini has in his novels the sanity of the historian; to his histories he imparts the gifts of which he is possessed that make his works of fiction so fascinating.  He has the power of being dramatic without being melodramatic.  He is more realistic than Scott and more romantic than Thackeray.  It is no exaggeration to say that in his historical romances he has the sure touch of Dumas – and I do not know how to pay him a higher compliment; but to this I may certainly add that in every book Mr. Sabatini has written his own personality is stamped in it.  If you pick up a volume by Mr. Sabatini and put it down before you have finished it, believe me the fault is not his.

Ruth Heredia is the originator and holds the copyright to all material on this blog unless credited to some source. Please do not use it or pass it off as your own work. That is theft. If you wish to link it, quote it, or reprint in whole or in part, please be courteous enough to seek my permission.

Sunday, April 22, 2018


Part Three

: Dissatisfied with the limitations that a play enforced on the story, Rafael re-worked THE RATTLESNAKE as a novel, The Carolinian, which he dedicated to J.E. Harold Terry.  Charles Wagner, however, was not giving up!  Release of the novel had begun the year; Wagner’s production of the play – as THE CAROLINIAN – was to round it off.  More of that below.

March: One may choose to imagine Rafael rubbing his hands in anticipation before he drew forward his “Goldoni Book” and pen, folded the pages so as to write in two columns, and embarked on THE KISS OF JUDAS.  1920, states George Locke, on no internal evidence.  It may have been so, but the play that was finally presented was called THE TYRANT.  All on his own, Rafael adapted his own long short story The Lust of Conquest.  Whatever the reader may think of it, Matheson Lang, the eminent actor and manager, the glamorous, the one who filled seats and enthralled audiences, friend of Rafael, adopted the play.  At all events, that was sufficient in the U.K.

Neither collaboration with successful playwrights, nor the criticism in such reviews of THE RATTLESNAKE as the one that appeared in the Times had taught Rafael a lesson regarding his besetting weakness.  THE TYRANT was deservedly criticised for informing theatregoers at tedious length of historical circumstances – Rafael lacked the skill of Shakespeare, who could do this so magically with the Prologues in Henry V.  The swift cut-and-thrust of verbal exchanges, the rapidly moving action, that characterise so many of Rafael’s novels, are missing here.  And Cesare Borgia had become an obsession; certainly Rafael was combative in defending most people’s favourite villain.  That inevitably undermined his play.  Yet it is the only one to be published and so to be available for evaluation.  (Hutchinson in London and Thomas Allen in Toronto published it in 1925, but Houghton Mifflin waited until 1927, appending it to The Nuptials of Corbal, which was the title more likely to be sought.)  How was it published at all?

Matheson Lang was an actor whose face, physique and voice would each have sufficed, married to his acting ability and stage presence, to carry him to the success and fame that he enjoyed.  All brought together in one person, they made him a powerful attraction.  Lang’s connection to Rafael went back a long way – to the Laleham days by the Thames.  Lang evidently saw the possibilities in a flamboyant role in this gorgeous costume melodrama, a grand opera without music (which is what this play is).  In fact, he designed the sets, and instead of the pomander that Rafael assigns to Cesare, Lang carried a red rose.  (Laurence Olivier, in his notorious 1964 Othello at the National, also carried a long-stemmed red rose, but he had no justification for it in Shakespeare’s play.)

THE TYRANT opened at the Royal Theatre, Birmingham, in early March.  At London’s New Theatre (now Noel Coward Theatre), from its opening in mid-March the play ran for 126 performances until early July.  The programme featured Matheson Lang with his red rose, looking devilishly cunning and cruel, a picture that Hutchinson and Thomas Allen reproduced on the dust jacket of the first edition.

Said the Illustrated London News, “Mr. Lang’s admirers do not mind so long as he is provided with a picturesque masquerade and there is the excitement of plots and sword-play [there’s none!], threats of torture, duping of assassins, and love at fever heat.”  However, it noted that Cesare “sees through conspiracies a little too miraculously for the human interest to be kept strong,” and when the chief conspirator, on whom the tables are turned, falls in love with her intended victim, “the sentimental scenes have an air of artifice.”  Two other critics put a finger on the play’s faults.  “If the play marched in a stately way,” said the Manchester Guardian in an entertaining review, “it also plodded upwards and had the unusual quality of a fourth act more potent than the third.”  The Christian Science Monitor gave good advice: “It is probable that, with wider experience of stage requirements, this clever writer of romances will be able to do better still.  He will be less disposed to work in duologue, and more ready to bring upon the stage effective acting scenes.”  Too much action took place “off” and Matheson Lang’s ability in action was neglected, while his part was over-full of “catechising and of love-making.”  From this comment on Lang it is clear that the actor-manager carried an unsatisfactory play to its success: “probably no actor upon the English stage could bring to Cesare so authoritative a bearing, and so supple a massiveness of style.”

Rafael Sabatini frequently cites ‘Fortune’ in his fiction, and Fortune did favour him in giving him three actor-manager friends, each able to take their companies on tour with one of his plays.  After moving to the King’s Theatre, Hammersmith, THE TYRANT went on tour around Britain, to the Grand Theatre, Leeds, the Opera House, Manchester (in mid-August), His Majesty’s Theatre, Aberdeen, and the Wimbledon Theatre.

What does reading the printed play script reveal?  There are a few good things in it; passages which demonstrate how much better Rafael could have been as a playwright had he taken instruction.  One notices also the influence of Victorien Sardou once more, this time his Fedora more than La Tosca.  (Both were turned into operas, which tells one something about Rafael’s play.)  Cesare’s outcry at the end of the play – so like Cagliostro’s in THE TRAVELLER – is matched by many such moments in opera.

October: THE CAROLINIAN, presented by Charles Wagner at the Sam H. Harris Theatre in New York, with Sidney Blackmer as Harry Latimer, lasted twenty-four performances.  It was also performed at the Bonstelle in Detroit, and in Boston.  I have no access to reviews at all, or to information about its showing in either of the latter places.  George Locke has a typescript for sale (

1927: More good friends, a couple in fact, Sir John Martin-Harvey and his wife (whose stage name was Nina da Silva), and their company, threw themselves with gusto into Rafael’s play, SCARAMOUCHE, presented at the Garrick Theatre, London.  It had opened at the King’s Theatre, Glasgow, on 4 April, and ran in London for 64 performances from mid-April to mid-June, besides being given at the Prince’s Theatre, Bristol, and possibly elsewhere.  This being a touring company, it went to Canada with the play (among others), a country always welcoming to Sir John Martin-Harvey.  Although he was then 64, playing a character in his twenties, he is said to have looked the part.

Did Rafael revise it after the devastating reviews in New York?  The reviews in England and in Canada took a different line, contrary to that of the critics in New York.  In London, the slightly tongue-in-cheek review in the Times praised Sir John and Gordon McLeod (the Marquis) for making “portraits out of sketches.”  I read that as a side swipe at the playwright, whose main characters are “sketches,” but “swift action, a high romantic colour,” is unequivocal commendation.  Equally unequivocal is Graham Sutton in the Bookman: “The whole theme is admirably handled,” and “the play is both intelligent and well written.” 

George Locke is of no help unless one tries to ferret a choice out of this data, keeping in mind that there are four acts: Typescript One has 52+34+37+approximately 40 pages, bound in cloth, and states that it is typed from the original manuscript; Typescript Two, looking a little worn, has 45+33+54+35 pages and is string-bound in card covers, but has laid into it Rafael’s pencil sketches for stage settings, and the programmes for both productions, in New York and in London.  On so little data I would not venture an opinion.

1928: THE PROMISE by F. Kinsey Peile and Rafael Sabatini had one matinee performance in March at the Scala Theatre, as far as I can find out.  It would appear to have been so insignificant a theatrical presentation that the only reference I could find (and I consider this a lucky chance) was in J.P. Wearing’s The London Stage 1920-1929.  Even there the data is meagre.  It may have been a comedy or even a burlesque, and may have been an entertainment meant for children (an odd turn for Rafael if so), since it was a performance in aid of the Princess Louise Kensington Hospital for Children, and the “Schoolboys” are played by six girls and “Timothy Tomkins” is played by an actress.  No music is mentioned, precluding any resemblance to the style associated with Gilbert and Sullivan.

1930: J. Brooks Atkinson in the New York Times shredded THE TYRANT with savage wit.  The play, he said, lacked glamour, its characters “as solemn as doctors of philosophy,” in spite of everything being draped “in festoons of ornamental verbosity.”  The torture scene “is drowned under a flood of phrase-making,” and he found it the first drama in a long while that “has cut its cloth with so many flounces.”  Like the English critics, Atkinson and Stirling Bowen in the Wall Street Journal deplore the painfully detailed discussion of tactics by the Council in Act I, and the equally slow following through of a plot that is already known both to theatregoers and to the intended victim.  In Act II, Bowen remarks, “there is more than enough swashbuckling and courtesying.  After all, this is not opera, though Meyerbeer could have used it.”  Atkinson is equally sharp: “‘Conduct their notabilities,’ says Cesare to a page, “Mr. Sabatini has conducted his notabilities with a guide’s fearful caution through the lounging rooms of a tediously frescoed play.”

Far from being able to carry the play with his personality and acting, Louis Calhern gave a “perfunctory” performance, “more dashing than sinister,” Macchiavelli was not audible, at the premiere some actors were unsure of their lines, and some were more concerned with their costumes as they moved about heavily over-decorated sets.  And Rafael Sabatini was there to witness this; he had supervised the staging.  THE TYRANT only lasted thirteen performances at the Longacre Theatre, New York.
post 1932: We know of THE BLACK SWAN: Play in 3 Acts by Rafael Sabatini and Harold Simpson because a typescript is being offered by George Locke (for
£850; along with The Head of Tom Leach, which was published as The Duel on the Beach).

In an irony that could have come from Rafael’s own pen, the financial returns from, and the reception accorded by theatregoers to, three of his plays (one in collaboration), mainly because of the actor-managers who each embraced one play, gave Rafael Sabatini a false idea of his ability in writing for theatrical presentation.  Only the catastrophically altered circumstances of his life (when Rafael-Angelo died) prevented him from pursuing a Fata Morgana.


Matheson Lang (1879 – 1948) was Canadian-born, a stage and film actor as well as a playwright.  However, his career was chiefly in Britain, and began with Shakespeare, for which he was suited in every way.  Lang and his actress wife, with their company, toured India, South Africa and Australia from 1910 to 1913, mainly with Shakespeare, but presumably also playing BARDELYS occasionally, since he had bought the South Africa rights and probably it was he who bought the India rights.  Coincidences abound in Rafael’s life-story: Matheson Lang died in Bridgetown, Barbados.

John Martin Harvey (1863 – 1944), was knighted as John Martin-Harvey.  He was slim, with an intense look, and first tasted fame as Sydney Carton in The Only Way, a part and a play thereafter frequently invoked almost as a calling card or a label for this English stage actor.  He and his Chilean wife had both begun in Sir Henry Irving’s company.  They and their company regularly toured Great Britain and North America.

F. Kinsey Peile – the little that can be found indicates that he was an actor (played Lane in the premiere of The Importance of Being Earnest) and a playwright mostly of short comedies, accustomed to collaboration and to dramatisation.  His most ambitious effort was the dramatisation of Kipling’s The Man Who Would Be King, the ms sold at auction in 1935.

Harold Simpson – all that can be found out at present is that he was a song writer who occasionally collaborated on plays.  In 1927 he collaborated in Daisy Fisher’s The Cave Man, staged at
the Theatre Royal, Portsmouth and the Savoy Theatre, London.

Ruth Heredia is the originator and holds the copyright to all material on this blog unless credited to some source. Please do not use it or pass it off as your own work. That is theft. If you wish to link it, quote it, or reprint in whole or in part, please be courteous enough to seek my permission.

Saturday, April 14, 2018


Part Two

, March: Rafael completed his most ambitious stage work so far, a play named JOHANNA in manuscript, revised and re-named THE SACRAMENT OF SHAME for the typescript – a title more likely to pique interest.  (He altered the name in the list of Characters on the first page of his manuscript from Sapphira to Johanna, but it remains Sapphira in the rest of the document.)  The conclusion of the play in the manuscript version has no part for Kuoni.  (At present I have no information about the manuscript beyond the first and last pages.)  The play called for costly outlay on its production, but its chief drawback was the imbalance of roles between leading lady and leading man: the former was undoubtedly dominant.  In opera that is no problem; in plays of his time, from a novice playwright, it was.  It was also a matter of the existing theatre world.  Neither of Rafael’s friends, Matheson Lang and John Martin Harvey would have accepted the relatively feeble role of Count Arnault, while there was no English actress who had such drawing power as a Sarah Bernhardt in France.  Without a star to fill the theatre, no producer would look at the play.  Charles Kenyon might be an acquaintance, even a friend, but he returned the typescript.

Was it a well written play?  Mine is a personal view.  The chief fault in this play is that in Act I Johanna is impressed by Count Arnault but she is newly married and much in love with her husband; by Act III she can be deeply grateful to Arnault and overcome by his offer, but one cannot believe that she falls in love with him at once.  Arnault is very much ‘a romantic prince’, but in Act I his praise of Johanna to Philip (“purity and wisdom”) on so little acquaintance seems extravagant.  His expressions of admiration in Act III are heard by Duke Charles with understandable surprise followed by scepticism.  In retrospect, at the end of the play, one may wonder if it is not almost cynical to foist on the Philip of Act I the Philip of Act II, even though he has been cruelly tortured by then.  It may almost appear that Philip had to die as he did to bring Johanna and Arnault together legitimately, just as it was necessary for Johanna to love Philip so much that both her sacrifice and her demand for justice stem from her love.  That Rafael recognised these weaknesses is clear from the note he placed in the typescript.  Yet the play would have been well worth saving if he could have obtained some guidance from an experienced playwright.  There are some fine scenes, and the latter part of Act III, after the entrance of Duke Charles, is notably effective.  The depiction of the Duke here, the give and take of dialogue, and the justice he metes out, are in consonance with the story from which the play derived.  It was a story to which Rafael apparently felt a special attachment and, pre-existing in its original form, was better worth this attachment than some others (such as that of Princess Yola)!

How hard did Rafael try to get the play staged?  We do not know.  But we can be thankful that it survives in manuscript and typescript, and that his failure led to his reworking much of it into his novel, The Romantic Prince.

1920s: THE TRAVELLER is a strange piece of work.  Although George Locke assumes that it dates to “the 1920s” he cites no evidence for this.  It was found as a typescript with numerous margin notes by Rafael, but no date nor any indication of whether it was intended for a play or a film scenario.  (One has to remember that in the early 1920s Rafael was active as a co-founder of the Hardy Film Company.)  Whatever his intention, THE TRAVELLER would only have met with rejection and even ridicule. Its demands for scene setting and action were not practical.  To some extent Rafael realised this, and his notes offer alternatives to the arrangement of scenes, but the action required in the Prologue (which Rafael admits is taken from Alexandre Dumas’ novel, Memoirs of a Physician/ Joseph Balsamo) was not going to work in either play or film.

An important detail in Joseph Balsamo Part 1, Chapter 15 is copied in the scene in Cagliostro’s laboratory, when he shows Marie-Antoinette her future.  With so much lifted from the novel one might well ask if this concoction was meant to be a dramatisation of it, but it is not, and it draws even more matter from Rafael’s own writings, The Night of Gems, and The Lord of Time.  Into this he stirred a large helping of the operatic, and a speech in blank verse, with a note that another speech is also to be set in blank verse.  His special new ingredient is Cagliostro’s recognising in Marie Antoinette his soul-mate down the ages, whom he has rescued in certain reincarnations but on this occasion must send to her doom – a familiar operatic element.  “Passionately now he inveighs against the work that Fate has thrust upon him, against the suffering he has caused the Queen, and against what she must yet suffer that her destiny may be fulfilled.”  This has the making of a final aria for the primo tenore in a grand opera!  The final moments of THE TRAVELLER are unmistakably out of opera: the beloved goes to her death while the lover cries out her name and the drums roll before the curtain falls.

THE TRAVELLER as found is a detailed plan for scene setting, motivation of characters, and action for them, interspersed with fully worked out passages of speech for them.  Even a seasoned and successful playwright would have had some difficulty in converting the passages descriptive of action into theatrical interplay that would convince an audience.  The Masonic ritual taken from Dumas is one such case.  In the scenes requiring animated gossip from a crowd of ‘extras’ this cannot be suggested by murmurs of “rhubarb.”  Their chatter is meant to convey to the uninformed audience what has been going on between scenes.  On the whole, reading this work is not advised for an admirer of Rafael Sabatini.

1921: J.E. Harold Terry collaborated with Rafael on a play titled THE RATTLESNAKE.  Rafael’s name took second place, which may reflect the extent of his contribution to it.  First performed in November at the Theatre Royal in York, the city of Terry’s birth, it moved to the Shaftesbury in London the following January and had a modest run of twenty-two performances (according to The London Stage 1920-1929 by J.P. Wearing).  A balanced review in the Times praised THE RATTLESNAKE as full of “picturesque” characters who, naturally, could not be fully developed within the limits of a play, but could be realised by the skilled actors who took those parts.  Praised too, the “critical moments of dialogue” which were “frequent and agreeably stimulating,” and the local colour, which was “fresh and amusing” – citing the “British hauteur, the American earnestness” and the language of the time, which would not be familiar unless one had read Thackeray’s The Virginians.  But, said the critic, there were too many complications which resulted in an excess of explanatory detail that required too much “mental gymnastics” from the playgoer.  However, “that the play was received with every token of favour attests not only its dramatic merits, but the tact with which its authors have contrived to present incidents of British discomfiture without offence.”  (Those were civilised societies!)  There is a copy of the play typescript (presumably) in the New York Public Library.  George Locke has a copy for £335.

1923: Either because he now felt confident of success with a play of his own, or was possessive about his novel, or was persuaded by Charles Wagner, Rafael wrote SCARAMOUCHE.  Wagner was an irrepressible enthusiast all his life and took a special interest in Rafael Sabatini.  He came to London, along with Sidney Blackmer whom he had chosen for the main role, to make sure they got the production and interpretation done as Rafael would have wanted, pressing him to attend the premiere.  Yet, somehow, the play was an artistic failure.  John Corbin in the New York Times described it as a romantic melodrama long past its time, the tinsel having lost its attraction.  In what Corbin found an unsatisfactory part, Sidney Blackmer’s performance had occasional moments of charm, “marred throughout by tricks of slovenly speech.”  The parts of Aline and Climène were also judged “unsympathetic and undramatic.”  Only the production was praised without reservation.  Nevertheless, doubtless riding on the astounding worldwide popularity of the novel, SCARAMOUCHE saw 61 performances at the Morosco Theatre in New York, during the last months of the year.  (Photographs of Blackmer do not suggest an acceptable physique for the role, and at 28 he was slightly older than the character was at the start of the novel.  In the film, Ramon Novarro both looked the part and was the right age.)  George Locke has two undated typescripts but is unable to say, lacking background knowledge, which is the original and which the revised version, or even if they differ at all.  Only someone able to examine them or willing to pay
£3100 for the two would be able to decide.  The story of SCARAMOUCHE the play continues, later.

1924: IN THE SNARE resulted from the keeping of a seven-year-old promise made by Rafael to his long-time friend Leon Lion.  Lion had “given him the story” for the novel The Snare, widely recognised to be eminently suitable for dramatisation.  And this was a promise between the two friends.  But it took long to fulfil.  On this occasion, it was Rafael Sabatini’s name that took precedence over Leon Lion’s.  Whether or not that reflected the nature and degree of each collaborator’s contribution can only be guessed from a copy – of which none has at present been found.  As a writer for stage and screen and an actor on stage and screen, Lion knew his onions, which his old friend had not learned to.  However that may be, it is the more likely that Lion’s influence got the play staged at the Savoy, although the producer was Tom Walls, whose stamping ground was the Aldwych.  It ran for 66 performances and was reviewed by several publications of repute but only the Times’ review is available to me.  That review largely gives away the plot but almost nothing of the critic’s opinion of the play!  The labelling of a collection at the Harry Ransom Center suggests (and material with George Locke supports the supposition) that Rafael designed costumes and sets for the play but, yet again, only examination will deliver a correct opinion on this.


If there is a thing that George Locke did right with his priceless Sabatini Hoard, it was to transcribe THE TRAVELLER and publish it in his Researcher’s Companion.

Charles Kenyon (1878-1955) was an actor-manager.  He toured with his own company and produced shows.  Kenyon was wealthy, handsome, and possessed a fine deep voice.  He was generally to be found at the Savage Club, known for its membership from the literary circle and the stage.  He also enjoyed foxhunting and tennis, and was reputed to be one of the best dressed men in London.

J.E. Harold Terry
(1885-1939) was a novelist, playwright, actor and critic, from a family strongly connected to the theatre: he was a grandson of Sir Joseph Terry, and a nephew of Eille Norwood.  He was a member of the Savage Club as well as the Garrick.

Charles Wagner was a renowned concert manager and theatre producer.  It was said of him that “
the mere fact that Mr Wagner will book an artist is accepted by the local managers as a guarantee of the artist's excellence.”  He is remembered for being the one who launched the careers of stars from Allan Jones and Jeanette MacDonald to Walter Gieseking, Alexander Kipnis, pianists, Jussi Bjorling, Amelita Galli Curci, opera singers and Helen Hayes, Walter Huston and Claudette Colbert, actors.

Leon Marks Lion (1879–1947) was an English actor of stage and screen; playwright, theatrical manager and producer.  His successful career on the stage included touring with light opera and Shakespeare companies, regularly performing in London's West End; as well as writing and producing for the theatre.  He was a member of the Savage Club from at least 1917, when he cited it as the address to which to return his copy of The Snare, should it be lost by him and found by another.  (It reflects his sense of humour that in the copy, after the address, he inscribed: All rights reserved and protected.)

Ruth Heredia is the originator and holds the copyright to all material on this blog unless credited to some source. Please do not use it or pass it off as your own work. That is theft. If you wish to link it, quote it, or reprint in whole or in part, please be courteous enough to seek my permission.

Sunday, April 08, 2018


Part One

Everything in Rafael Sabatini’s earliest years pointed him toward theatre, musical theatre in particular.  His earliest memory of his mother is of her singing opera.  Not any opera.  It was Verdi’s Rigoletto, and that impression was to have a lasting impact, showing its influence over and over again in Rafael’s work until he was 53, fifty years after he had heard Rigoletto.

There are many instances of the power of early impressions on Rafael’s mind to influence subject matter and treatment in his writing.  He did not become an opera singer like his parents, or a composer, not even a producer of operas.  But more than one reader from his early work onwards has discerned an element of the theatrical in his story-telling.

Rafael was happy with his career as writer of stories.  He prospered by it.  Yet deep inside ran a current not always controlled by reason and good sense, as some of his actions and words testify.  It was the passion for theatre.  A passion for writing drama strongly marked by the characteristics of grand opera – itself a style long overtaken by verismo and the ‘modernist’ opera that Verdi would have balked at.  That was Rafael’s weakness, and he seems never to have grappled with it, which is my justification for an earlier remark.

What is the evidence of Rafael’s passion for drama, for making his own contribution to the theatre?

1903: Stephanie Baring, possibly from the Baring family of bankers, (who could afford to finance her forays into acting and writing/collaborating in minor stage works), undertook to ‘collaborate’ with Rafael on the dramatisation and staging of his highly operatic short story, The Fool’s Love Story, as KUONI THE JESTER.  In mid-June it saw what may have been its single performance at the Grand Theatre, Luton.  (It might have done worse; at the Palace Pier in St. Leonard’s on Sea.)  Did it provoke ridicule?  It might well have done!  And it reads so much like the short story that I wonder how much was contributed to the script by Miss Baring.

1904: Undaunted, Rafael himself dramatised his story, The Sacrifice.  It is not a story that lends itself to such treatment, in spite of a dramatic opening sentence.  To open a story, or a novel, with an arresting line of speech is a long journey away from developing a play that catches and holds the attention.  He did realise that his play could at best be a curtain-raiser, although Ben Webster, the actor, suggested that he develop it into a full play.  In any event, not a single trace of this play remains, whose writing was recorded in his diary for 1904-05, the only diary found so far.  Rafael’s script was shown to Webster by the former’s close friend, Harold Lee.  Lee may have been responsible for introducing other theatre people to Rafael.

1908, January: Rafael’s notebook has an entry, later crossed out with no comment, that the dramatisation ofThe Trampling of the Lilies was to be submitted to Johnston Forbes-Robertson, the actor-manager.
September: Constance Stuart was an actress of whom we know that in 1900 she played Rosalind at the Court Theatre hired for E.H. Vanderfelt’s Season, and in 1905 Portia in Edward Terry’s Theatre.  She commissioned from Rafael LOVE AT ARMS, ‘a Romantic Comedy’ for £75, a good sum, with a further £50 to be paid when the play was staged.  There is no sign that it was.  Was it a dramatisation of the novel with that title?  Given Rafael’s obstinate attachment to the original story, of a Princess Yola, which had been transformed, the play may very well have been a dramatisation of that story.

1909: The Stage Year Book describes as a ‘dramatic sketch’ FUGITIVES, that Rafael wrote, most probably from the story with the same title.  Yorke Stephens, the gifted Irish actor who was the first Bluntschli, bought it in January 1910, agreeing to pay £5 a week for the duration of its run.  Since Rafael was paid £25, we may conclude that it ran for five weeks, at the Kilburn Empire Theatre, from 26 June 1911.
Rafael’s friend, Francis Pryor, an occasional writer of plays, bought the option for dramatising Saint Martin’s Summerin collaboration with Rafael, 75% of profits to be Rafael’s.  Part payment (£50) was made and that is the last known of it.

1910: In this year the subject begins to be interesting.  Lewis Waller, the actor whose admirers included women swooning at the sight and sound of him, had somehow become known to Rafael some years previously, after the publication of Bardelys the Magnificent.  By this year Rafael was well acquainted with important persons in the theatre; Oscar Asche and his wife, Lily Brayton were his friends.  That would be a connection to Matheson Lang, who acted Tristram to Brayton’s Iseult and Asche’s King Mark in 1906, a connection which bore fruit later.  It may be how he and Henry Hamilton came to collaborate on BARDELYS THE MAGNIFICENT, commissioned by the impresario Tom B. Davis.  (Yet, in the end, it was not performed in Davis’ Apollo Theatre.)  George Locke has a typescript (price £650) done in August 1918 and full of amendments in Rafael’s hand.  Was it intended for publication?  Is that why Rafael, perhaps, sought to restore the balance in his favour?  For Hamilton was billed ahead of him and most probably did most of the writing, which is why this play was such a success.  Hamilton was dead the next month.  Waller had died in 1915.  But in 1910 the play, with a fifty-year-old Lewis Waller as Bardelys, fruitfully toured the British Isles.  In February, the play was staged in London, at Charles Frohman’s Globe Theatre, with Waller and Herbert Jarman (playing Louis XIII) as co-producers.  It ran for a very respectable 53 performances.  When it was commissioned, Rafael was paid £50 on account; his half-share of the earnings was close on £400 – as much as two years’ worth of the salary he was entitled to at the end of his ten years as a correspondence clerk!  South Africa rights bought by Matheson Lang (who went on tour that year) for nearly £20, and India rights, about which Locke says no more, added to this sum.  Reviews were favourable, too.  It was most gratifying to Rafael.  Too much so, perhaps.  It convinced him that he was himself a successful playwright. . . . Yet, he was conscious of his debt to Henry Hamilton, to whom he dedicated his new novel, The Lion’s Skin.  Their warm friendship continued.

1911 July: Francis Pryor bought the option on The Trampling of the Lilies to be a collaboration between him and Rafael, the latter to get three-fifths of the proceeds.  Nothing came of it.

1912, July: Rafael sold to Ethel Warwick, the actress, for£25, a played called MILADY’S SECRET, which might have been a dramatisation of the story My Lady Roxton.  That is all we know.

1913, March: Charles Frohman entered into a contract with Rafael for a dramatisation of his long story, The Avenger, paying him £50 on account with 2% of the takings when staged.  There is no more known about this play – or do we have a clue?  In June 1914 an article by Robert Birkmyre was published in the Bookman.  Birkmyre states that Rafael is then engaged in collaborating with Henry Hamilton on a new play.  It does open a possibility.  Frohman sank with the Lusitania in May 1915.  If he had the script with him, it was lost.  But surely there would have been copies with Rafael – and with Hamilton, if it was indeed the collaboration that Birkmyre mentions?  Nothing has been found.  That is a pity, because the story has merit and Henry Hamilton would have done much to make it presentable on stage.

1913-1914, January: Once again, Francis Pryor paid Rafael a total of £100 on account for a play titled THE SEA-WOLF, which they were to write together; with a promise of the larger share in profits after it was produced.  But was it?  Not a whisper, a hint, a scrap is to be found that might lead to news of a production, or of a script.  There was at least one play produced by that name, on the London stage, but not by either man, nor with anything to connect them to it.

1918: From his short story, Intelligence, Rafael made two versions of a play: SECRET SERVICE and INTELLIGENCE.  All that is known about them is that they were written and that Locke has the typescripts for sale!


It is a pity that George Locke not only paraphrased Rafael’s diary of 1904 to September 1905, but published only select bits, which – since he was not well informed and lacked a scholar’s mind – were randomly chosen with no idea of the significance of what he left out.  (Locke refers to “a man called X” when the name is of a person who was well known; he does not recognise that “Hugh” is Hugh Dixon; he also misreads Rafael’s handwriting far too often.)  As a result, there is no knowing why Rafael wrote to Lewis Waller about his novel The Tavern Knight, which he did in mid 1904.  Waller liked it, but when he got it assessed by an acquaintance it was found unfit for dramatisation.  This was in October.  However, Waller asked for any new work, and was sent a duplicate of the manuscript of Bardelys the Magnificent.  Understandably, the busy actor could not make his way through Rafael’s handwritten novel and returned it in February 1905, but remarked that he would be interested in any dramatisation of it.  This is what lay behind his enthusiastic involvement with the play in 1910.

The name Harold Lee appears frequently in Rafael Sabatini’s diary for 1904-September 1905.  He owned a houseboat on the Dee, and was a member of the Liverpool Junior Reform Club.  Rafael dedicated his novel, Saint Martin’s Summer, to Harold Lee, with the words: “in some earnest of my regard for his attainments, of my gratitude for his encouragement, and of my affection for himself.”  It seems likely that the unnamed friend in Rafael’s account of how he came to offer his first story for publication was Harold Lee.  It also seems likely that he was a publisher/printer in the firm Lee & Nightingale of Liverpool, which was also a News Service and an Advertising Service.

Lewis Waller (1860-1915) had a background with many similarities to that of Rafael Sabatini: born in Spain; intending a career in commerce, studied languages in Europe; from nineteen to twenty-three worked as a clerk.  After finding his true vocation as an actor, Waller became a theatre manager and manager of a company as well, touring with it all through the British Isles tirelessly, in addition to making full use of his popularity on the London stage.  He also toured the U.S. Canada and Australia.  He was good looking, had presence, and a voice that Hesketh Pearson said “rang through the theatre like a bell and stirred like a trumpet.”  He played Shakespeare as well as romantic plays in costume and with much action that included duelling.  However the introduction came about, it is easy to see the attraction that Rafael’s novel, Bardelys the Magnificent, would hold for Waller.  It may have been his doing that brought about the collaboration between Henry Hamilton and Rafael on dramatising the novel.  He was fifty when he took on the role of Bardelys, and it was at least partly his great popularity which made it such a success on tour.  He wore himself out with tireless touring and acting, dying of pneumonia just before he turned fifty-five.

Henry Hamilton (ca. 1854- 1918) had been an actor before he became a playwright, adaptor of plays (mostly from the French), writer of songs, and critic.  He was well known and his work was successful.  Among his adaptations was Messager’s Veronique - which an out-of-sorts Rafael was not impressed by! – and Sardou’s La Tosca.

Earnings from BARDELYS:
Advance on account             £50
Half-share from tour            £317 16s 10d
-- ditto – London                 £75 8s 10d
Sale of South Africa rights    £18 15s
Sale of India rights               ?

Ethel Warwick (1882-1951) was a woman of parts, one of them being acting.  She was alluring in appearance and manner, was brushed by scandal over her earlier time as a nude model for artists, - and in 1912 was still married to the actor Edmund Waller, son of Lewis Waller.  This may have been how Rafael came within her orbit.

Francis Robert "Frank" Pryor (1862–1937) was an English playwright with only one success, Marigold (1914), in collaboration.  It was also filmed, and apparently turned into a novel.  He was an angler, and it was perhaps from a fishing trip ‘North’ in 1912 that he brought back a tale of English pirates on the Barbary Coast, or at some time going south-west into Devonshire he heard a tale that, passed on to Rafael, sent him sailing from Falmouth in search of the Sea-Hawk.

Charles Frohman (1856–1915), U.S., was a producer of plays.  Frohman also acquired theatres, in England and the U.S. and discovered and promoted stars, chiefly of the U.S. stage.

Ruth Heredia is the originator and holds the copyright to all material on this blog unless credited to some source. Please do not use it or pass it off as your own work. That is theft. If you wish to link it, quote it, or reprint in whole or in part, please be courteous enough to seek my permission.