Friday, April 12, 2019

Prayer for Holy Week

Prayer of St Philip Howard

O Christ, my Lord, which for my sins didst hang upon a tree,
grant that thy grace in me, poor wretch, may still ingrafted be.

Grant that thy naked hanging there may kill in me all pride
and care of wealth, sith thou didst then in such poor state abide.

Grant that thy crown of pricking thorns, which thou for me didst wear,
may make me willing for thy sake all shame and pain to bear.

Grant that those scorns and taunts which thou didst on the cross endure
may humble me and in my heart all patience still procure.

Grant that thy praying for thy foes may plant within my breast
such charity as from my heart I malice may detest.

Grant that thy pierced hands, which did of nothing all things frame,
may move me to lift up my hand and ever praise thy name.

Grant that thy wounded feet, whose steps were perfect evermore,
may learn my feet to tread those paths which thou hast gone before.

Grant that those drops of blood which ran out from thy heart amain
may meek my heart into salt tears to see thy grievous pain.

Grant that thy blessed grave, wherein thy body lay awhile,
may bury all such vain delights as may my mind defile.

Grant that thy going down to them which did thy sight desire
may keep my soul, when I am dead, clean from the purging fire.

Grant that thy rising up from death may raise my thoughts from sin;
grant that thy parting from this earth from earth my heart may win.

Grant, Lord, that they ascending then may lift my mind to thee
that there my heart and joy may rest, though here in flesh I be. Amen.

Tuesday, September 11, 2018

Necessary to reflect upon...

A long time ago, Cecil Day-Lewis wrote a poem with the title Moral, and quoted A.N. Whitehead in an epigraph:
“Moral education is impossible apart from the habitual vision of greatness.”

Envy, wrote the poet, downgrades the envious one, not the one who is envied.  “The vision that keeps burning from/ Saintly trust, heroic deed,” is one that is necessary even though saints and heroes have not been perfect women and men.  The poet concludes:
Accept the flawed self, but aspire
To flights beyond it: wiser far
Lifting our eyes unto the hills
Than lowering them to sift the mire.

Sadly, in the world today, the way to catch attention, become the star of a movement, possibly gain material benefits, is by attacking some respected name from the past, a person who, being dead, cannot defend herself or himself.  The sorry condition of humankind at present, the constantly boiling cauldron of anger, hatred, violence even to the point of taking lives, is partly attributable to individuals having no steadfast commitment to an ideal, no goal to seek other than in the mire.

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, September 09, 2018


Rafael Sabatini ... will in future adapt his own stories to the screen, writing the scenarios and supervising their production.  The pictures are to be made by the Hardy Film Company Limited, which was recently formed, with Mr. Sabatini as a director.
It is Mr. Sabatini’s decided opinion that the future of the cinema lies mainly with the author.  “Hitherto the author has been a negligible quantity in film production,” he says.  “I doubt whether at any period in the history of the theatre the dramatist has been ignored to this extent by those who staged and acted his plays.”
~ The World’s News, Sydney; 17 December 1921, page 5

With a dramatic flourish, Rafael Sabatini announced a new venture for him: the Hardy Film Company co-founded by himself and Sam Hardy, the studio manager of Stoll Films. 
“A feature of the company's policy which is stated to have proved eminently successful is that Mr. Sabatini is writing his own screen plays, and that thereby author and producer are able to keep in much closer touch than is possible in the ordinary way where the producer is working on a scenario prepared by a third party and the actual author of the story is rarely seen in the studio.  The programme for the coming year will include a number of other works by Mr. Sabatini.  The company's studios are situated at Isleworth."~ The Times, 21 February 1922.

Another newspaper reproduced what may have been a brief article or press-release titled “Plain Speaking” in which Rafael Sabatini stated:
“Before any established and self-respecting author will consent to write for the screen he must not only be made as free of the studio as the dramatist is free of the theatre, but he must enjoy there the same authority which the dramatist enjoys...

To ensure and accomplish this state of things it is necessary that the script of a film should be as full and complete as the script of a play. It must lay out the essentials of every scene-plot; it must prescribe every movement, every gesture, every expression, and every look of the actors; it must define the range of every camera-shot in all the intervening stages between Full Scene and Close Up; where necessary it must indicate the particularities of the lighting; and, if possible, - with a view to preserving correct proportion, so that each part may bear a proper relationship to the whole – it should indicate the speed at which each scene should be taken.

That, in brief – very much in brief – is the ideal script. It is, as will be seen, not a film scenario at all, but a Screen Play.” ~ The Australian, 7 April 1922, p 3

The Times news report quoted from began by saying, “Three films, BluffThe Recoil, and The Scourge, have already been completed under the direction of Mr. Geoffrey H. Malins, O.B.E.”  More on this further down.

Now we come to a mystery that will never be resolved, because both films (black & white, silent) are lost: The Blackmailer and Bluff.  The Blackmailer (March 1916) was a two-reel film directed by Rupert Julian, starring himself and Elsie Jane Wilson in the lead, produced by The Universal Film Manufacturing Company, with a scenario by Calder Johnstone “from a [?] short story [?] by Rafael Sabatini” (as reported in  The cited keywords include “attempted murder” – which points to the short story The Blackmailer (1911), and “Maids” which is alien to either this story or the long retelling of it as The Valet Mystery (1914).  In the earlier story there is a fiancée who is not named and does not appear.  About Bluff (1921), the Teesdale Mercury of 7 November 1921 reported some interesting details from a pre-viewing before release that take forward our exploration of Rafael as film-maker and of Bluff.
“This is a six-reel film, running to 6,240 feet, and is controlled by the Gaumont Company, which holds world’s rights.  For “Bluff” Mr. Sabatini set to work to learn such technique of the screen as was necessary with a view to writing the scenario of a film adaptation of his own novel [sic].  The result of Mr. Sabatini’s efforts will shortly be seen.  Briefly, the story and the handling of it are the features of an excellent production.  ...  Mr. Sabatini does not start off with a dramatic climax in the first reel.  He begins by carefully building up his characters and his plot in such a way that the picture “grips” from the very commencement.  Then he goes on, gradually working up more and more dramatic suspense until he arrives at the moment – the right moment – for his surprise climax.”

Forward, true, but already there are complications.  The earlier film was two-reels – no length cited – and the Hardy film was six reels long.  The description given of it accords more nearly with The Valet Mystery than with The Blackmailer.  Yet 
The British Film Catalogue: Volume 1: Denis Gifford: 3rd Edition says this: A former embezzler bluffs a blackmailer into thinking that he can be murdered without detection.  Such a description fits The Blackmailer (story) but not The Valet Mystery.  Moving on to the credits, Geoffrey H. Malins was the director, and these were roles of the top five cast: Courtney Boscawen (played by Lewis Willoughby), Dorothy Channing (played by Marjorie Hume), James Lake, Geoffrey Channing, Lord Landassyl, and Everard Wade.  The actor Lawrence Anderson had played Kenneth Stewart in The Tavern Knight, plays the villain in The Recoil (of which more below), and acts as James Lake, but that may or may not mean that Lake is the blackmailer in this film.  The short story, The Blackmailer, has Boscawen (no first name), Isidore Loane the blackmailer, a valet (Smith) and a porter.  The Valet Mystery has Basil Carnforth in place of Boscawen, the fiancée and her father (named Tollemache although the Channing pair would seem to represent them), a most upright honourable rival (named Harry Bristow), a valet (named Roberts), and the blackmailer (named Edward Jackson).  This being so, did Rafael mix details from his later version of the story into the earlier version, arriving at a scenario that avoids the psychological elements entailed in the actual killing of the blackmailer and its aftermath, these being difficult to communicate within the limited means then available?  He would have the freedom to do this which the scenario-writer for the earlier film was unlikely to be given.  We will never know.  What we do have is a fairly descriptive review, favourable too, in The Times of 20 February 1922:
“It contains a complicated plot, which is perfectly coherent and quite convincing – a rare achievement.  It tells of a rising young man, the whole of whose future threatens to be ruined by a blackmailer, who knows that he had once been in prison.  At last he decides to meet the blackmailer with his own weapons.  He decoys him to his house, and there meets him and there meets him disguised as a manservant.  He reveals himself, and announces that unless the blackmailer hands over his proofs he will murder him at once.  To the objection that he will be discovered and hanged, the hero explains in detail the steps that he has taken to prevent this.  He tells how he has made the servant as whom he is disguised well known in the district, and that, if murder is done, the blame will fall on the servant.  Step by step he goes through his explanation, and eventually the blackmailer is convinced, and hands over to him the proofs of his guilty past.  Of course, the explanation has merely been “bluff,” and the villain departs in great dudgeon.  The whole story is clearly and cleverly told, and the interest does not flag for a moment.”

This description does not entirely tally with either of Rafael’s source stories, but the praise of his film makes it a pity that no copy survives.

What may have led Rafael Sabatini into the unknown territory of film-making?  Without any statement from him, we cannot know.  The previous year, 1920, Stoll Films had released The Tavern Knight, made from his early novel.  In an interview published by the Strand Magazine in November 1925, Rafael expressed his approval of it, and in particular of Eille Norwood in the title role.  All the same, in his statements to the Press the following year, Rafael makes it clear that he felt better qualified to adapt his own novels/ stories to the screen.  After all, he may have thought, did he not have experience as a writer for the stage?  And was not his a markedly visual imagination?  However it was, Rafael’s next attempt at film-making was more ambitious.

He wrote the scenario in 1921 from a long story of his, The Scourge, for a film made in 1922.  It was directed by Geoffrey Malins, and beyond that there is very little of any use by way of data.  (Except for the surely nonsensical synopsis, “
The Duke of Buckingham abducts an actress then nurses her through the plague in 1665.” ~ BFI)  Before proceeding with what little remains to be said of this film, it is necessary to pass in review the context in which it was made so far as that concerns Rafael Sabatini.

The years 1921 to 1923 were a turning point in his career as writer, and proved to be the start of a crucial phase in his personal life.  In a way no one could have foreseen, Scaramouche rocketed right across the English-speaking world, and quickly into other languages.  It was a dizzying experience and as often happens in life, it brought with it huge pressures from outside (by way of demands and expectations) and from within himself, as ambitions, ideas and plans fought for space with routine matters of living – as father, and as husband to a difficult woman.  He was working on the stories of a Captain Peter Blood, doctor and pirate, soon to be rewritten as another immensely popular novel bringing in more pressures.  He was transforming the long story, The Scourge, into a novel to be titled Fortune’s Fool.  And this is only to mention the major works that occupied his mind and his time.

The only newspaper reference to The Scourge found so far comes from The Gleaner of 26 November 1926.  By this time Rafael had expanded his story into the novel Fortune’s Fool.  The Hardy Film Company was defunct two years after it was launched, and The Scourge was re-titled Fortune’s Fool before being rented to someone who was then charged with breach of contract reportedly for non-payment of dues.  It was in this regard that the matter came before an English judge.  Since one assumes that the film was released in 1922 in the U.K. after “the British Board of Film Censors passed it subject to certain deletions,” I cannot understand why it should now come again within their purview unless, perhaps, the film-renter had restored those deletions.  However it may have been, Justice McCardle was given a private viewing of the film to decide on whether the banquet scene, a very necessary part of the plot and unlikely to have been filmed as an orgy, was deleterious to public morals.  Elaborate arrangements were made in the court-room to ensure that no innocents other than the judge could be affected by the pernicious scene and other such indecencies in the film.  Alas, his judgement is not reported, or any remarks he made.  It might have been well for Rafael’s reputation had the film been condemned altogether and all copies destroyed!  Some colleagues of David March, film presenter and cataloguer for the Library of Congress warned him that The Scourge/ Fortune’s Fool, like all three Hardy Films, was “bloody awful.”  After seeing it, David March declared that it was “tedious in structure, plotting and characterisation, and miscast as well as misdirected.”  How it was concluded that all three Hardy films alike were very bad I do not know, since no copies survive of the other two.

In the same issue of 
The Times that published Rafael Sabatini’s announcement of a new venture for himself and Sam Hardy, this advertisement was also published:

The third of the completed productions was The Recoil, and we are fortunate to have a review from The Times of 3 April 1922.  The reviewer thought it “a great advantage” that the film was adapted by the writer himself, from his story, The Dream.  Rafael, he declared, had “done very much better than the professional adapter of novels ... [he had made] out of his story a better film play than novel.”

From the British Film Institute we know the cast, and from the review we can identify the characters, since some names are changed from the story:
Francis (Major Francis Orpington) is played by Eille Norwood; his erstwhile ward Adelaide Wallace (Burton in the story) by Phyllis Titmuss; the evil hypnotist Digby Raikes (Stanley Bickershaw in the story) by Lawrence Anderson; the uncle of both men, Anthony Orpington, by Dawson Millward.  There is no mention of Dr Roger Galliphant in the cast list or the review but the list includes Annie Esmond as Miss Orpington, an addition to the story, whose role is not mentioned in the review.

It would appear that the story is simplified in the film, although how that is managed is not explained, which is unsurprising because the conclusion of
The Dream relies on a casuistry: that the man who shoots dead the villain is not his killer, the villain’s killer being himself (unintentional suicide) because he had hypnotized the man to kill someone else and at the last moment his hypnotism failed of its purpose so that the man shot the villain instead – but is not guilty (says Galliphant) because he was acting under the influence of a hypnotic trance.  The reviewer found the love interest “charmingly played” and impartially distributed his encomiums for “this successful film” among “the author as scenario writer,” the actors “who all play exceedingly well,” and Geoffrey Malins, the producer (actually he was the director, Sam Hardy being the producer).  Even the sub-titles and letterpress are praised for being “in excellent English and impeccable taste.”  Although the reviewer thought Bluff a better film, The Recoil, he said, was “a good deal above the average and should be very popular.”

A point of interest for me is that having used the second of his two Roger Galliphant stories to make a film, Rafael did not seem to plan the use of the first one, The Avenger.  He had already entered into a contract with Charles Frohman for a dramatisation by himself and Henry Hamilton.  Either it was not completed or the script perished with Frohman when the Lusitania was sunk.  But some notes surely remained with Rafael, a rough draft perhaps, material on which to work again?

Sadly for Rafael Sabatini, that was the end of his foray into the field of film-making.  The scheduled films optimistically announced were never made.  However, this was not yet the end of Rafael’s association with other people’s films made from his novels – and in one case an original, then unpublished, story.

The first major film dramatisation of a story by Rafael Sabatini was Scaramouche (1923) directed by Rex Ingram.  Why this film made Rafael indignant is partly touched upon in Seeking Sabatini, and will be the main subject of the next section here.  In 1924, two more such films were released, first The Sea-Hawk in mid-1924 and, later that year, Captain Blood.  Rafael selected details to praise in the former, produced and directed by Frank Lloyd.  The latter earned the highest praise, and with reason when one becomes aware of how much Rafael himself had to do with its making.  Discovering the connection came about through two clues and an explanation, the whole a pleasing experience not unlike finding treasure!

The first clue was finding a photograph in an Australian newspaper of a smiling Rafael posing in his library with a model of a ship, the Arabella.  The next clue was having my attention drawn to a photograph online of Rafael, smiling broadly as he shakes hands with Albert E. Smith in the Vitagraph office.  Smith was the producer of Captain Blood, brother of David Smith, its director, and stepping briefly into David’s shoes when he was taken ill.

The clinching evidence was a page in the programme leaflet available at the film’s premiere.  It states that Albert Smith “conferred at length with Rafael Sabatini, author of the celebrated novel, respecting details of the production.”  Rafael is stated to have made the final decision on who should fill the title role.  He was shown photographs and clips of many possible choices in costume, and picked J. Warren Kerrigan.  Rafael is described as “author of a number of monographs which [were] used as works of reference,” along with “old prints, paintings and historical data” in preparing the costumes. (It would be interesting to find such monographs!)

It is easy to see why this film was special to Rafael, in whom one must never forget the conflicting emotions from widely different experiences at this time, of which I single out that of the failure of the Hardy Film Company and the spectacular success of his novel, Scaramouche, closely followed by the equally resounding success of his novel, Captain Blood.  Consider, therefore, in this context, the difference to him between his treatment by Albert Smith, and the manner in which Rex Ingram’s film was advertised – which is part of the subject of the next section.

Other films of his stories were made or planned during Rafael’s life.  Lists of these are available elsewhere, and as he had little to do with any of them are of no interest here.  I restrict myself to those films to which reference came my way by chance and which are not generally listed or mentioned.  The film rights to The Strolling Saint were bought by Metro-Goldwyn, as reported by the Sunday Times of Perth, Australia in February 1926.  In November 1936 the film company, now Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer, was reported to be almost certain to cast Robert Taylor as the hero of the proposed film.  The report first appeared in the U.S. papers (Detroit Free Press, Oakland Tribune, among them) and was repeated by Melbourne’s Table Talk in April 1937, all agog.  That was the last heard of it, mercifully, if Robert Taylor was the choice to play that role.  The Kinematograph Yearbook 1950 (Odhams, London) carried an advertisement for “a super production” of Venetian Masque placed by Omnia Films, London.  A complete mystery.

Even more strikingly mysterious is the following in George Locke’s collection of Sabatini documents (dated by Locke as 30 January 1940 without indication of where he found the date): “Original mimeographed screenplay of the film [The Sea-Hawk], ‘2nd Rev. Final’, ... A number of leaves are blue ‘revise’ sheets dated 23 March 1940 and 18 March 1940.  Script for the film starring Errol Flynn.”  Locke states that aside from the word “Screenplay” pencilled on the front cover there is no annotation by Rafael Sabatini.  This is strange since it is well known that the only connection between this film and Rafael is the use of a jungle sequence set in the Isthmus of Panama.  My reaction when I saw it was that it was probably left over unused from the 1935 Captain Blood
Given Rafael’s comments on the Rex Ingram film, it is odd that he is not reported as having said anything about this film, or about two others that totally misrepresented his novels, The Marriage/ Prisoner of Corbal, and The Black Swan.  Nor have I yet found any comment by him on a film whose scenario he was paid to write, but finding it unused, adapted it successfully to write a novel – a reversal of the usual sequence.

In Locke’s collection there is more than one document which has to do with the commission to write a scenario for a film on Christopher Columbus.  He was not asked for a script, only a scenario, but being Rafael he could not resist shifting from narrative into dialogue every now and again.  (It is sad to think of all this material known to exist yet out of reach of any researcher.)  As for the scenario, although Sydney and Muriel Box rejected it, it served Rafael as the foundation for his novel, Columbus, and – mysteriously – bits of dialogue and other material turn up in the deadly dull film made by the Boxes.

Rafael loved mysteries, and enjoyed being mysterious.  Does he enjoy reserving something of himself hidden from us who have so diligently sought him?

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.

Thursday, September 06, 2018

RAFAEL SABATINI: Copies of his books inscribed by him

The rather formidable task of a researcher into a writer of whom few traces remain, and those widely scattered, a seeker confined to a desk at home with only a personal computer and the internet for tools, is made easier by the many persons who volunteer data to which they have access.

One of the means by which these helpers share data both important and trivial – though interesting – is by photographing/ scanning inscribed books and letters that they have most fortunately acquired.

After receiving recently, a quantity of such images from the ever helpful Ernest Romano, it seemed time to put in chronological order all the data gleaned from images of twenty-two books shared directly or uploaded providentially by sellers.

(From N.J.C. Smith):
1904 The Tavern Knight (Grant Richards), on the dedication page:
“To Robert MacSymon Esq./ with the author’s regard/ Raf. Sabatini/ Nov. 1904”
   Signature and handwriting: Although Rafael Sabatini’s handwriting was often praised, I see no reason why.  He surely had to use the English Round Hand when working for the mercantile firm of E.A. da Costa?  A hint of it may be discerned in the flourishes and ‘decoration’ with dots and bars that are found in his 1896 notebooks and his earliest inscriptions – as this one.

His signature grew less elaborate with passing years and evolved into what is more readily recognisable.  However, I have not found his letters or notes easy to read, and by the end they are nearly impossible to decipher.  Nearly, yet not entirely.  But that’s another story...
Robert MacSymon was no mere grocer in Greenock, Scotland.  His was a large, flourishing business, importing and exporting goods: Messrs Robert MacSymon & Co with an “Italian warehouse” in Greenock (whatever that means), and “a large West-End (in Greenock, not London!) trade”.  This offers a clue to how he might come to be known to Rafael, and to be held in “regard”.  The date, 1904, strengthens this guess.  The connection has an added element of the intriguing because Greenock is going to turn up again later in this compilation.

(From Ernest Romano):
1906 Bardelys the Magnificent (Eveleigh Nash) on the dedication page, under “Ai Miei Genitori” (to my parents):
“Con affetuosi saluti/ di/ Rafael” (in this context: With love from Rafael)
It is true that Rafael left behind many very personal belongings when he walked out of the Pont Street flat, and his then wife did not give them to him after the divorce.  However, I doubt that this copy was among those belongings, because she left them all to her nephew who, when Jesse Knight met him and was shown many precious relics, said nothing about having sold any of his ‘treasure’.  It was probably among all Rafael’s books that he moved to Clock Mill after it was ready.  Christine Sabatini called in evaluators for his library, but his own author copies were probably not sold then.  It is more likely that they were scattered as I describe in Seeking Sabatini (Ed. 2) pages 429-433.  Perhaps this copy, coming back to him with his widowed mother, was cast upon the world to finally find a safe home where it is now!

(From an online advertisement):
1912 (January) The Life of Cesare Borgia (Stanley Paul) on the reverse of the title page:
“To/ Herbert Jarman/ from/ Rafael Sabatini/ London 17 January 1912”
Hot off the press!  A copy of Bardelys would have been more suitable for Jarman, who played Louis XIII in the first production (Birmingham) of the dramatisation and co-produced the London production in February 1911.  However, after so long there may not have been any author copies left of that novel, yet why not The Lion’s Skin, published that same February?  We will never know.

(From Ernest Romano):
1912 (January) The Life of Cesare Borgia (Stanley Paul) untidily at the top of the reverse of the title page:
“To/ Billy S-M/ from/ Rafael Sabatini/ London 1912”
Billy S-M – whom we will meet later, more formally addressed – filled the rest of this page with a pencilled note strongly disagreeing with Rafael’s arguments.  Ingrate!

(From an online advertisement):
1912 (30 April) The Justice of the Duke (Stanley Paul): “on the page prior to the first page of text” (sic):
“To/ F.R. Pryor/ from/ Rafael Sabatini/ May 1912”
The letter with it tells us this is even hotter off the press.  It is more friendly in tone – but letters are for another occasion.

(From an online advertisement without image):
1915 The Sea-Hawk (Martin Secker) on the title page:
“To Ernest Oracott from Rafael Sabatini, February 1915” (sic)
If one could only find out who Ernest Oracott was, one might learn or guess why he was presented with this copy also just published that month ...

(All the rest from Ernest Romano):
1915 (October) The Banner of the Bull (Martin Secker) on the half-title page:
“My dear Driver/ You have bought so many of my books that I think it is high time I asked you to accept a copy of one as a trivial token of my esteem of you as a friend and my appreciation of you as a book-buyer, not to say a customer/ Ever yours sincerely/ Rafael Sabatini/ Oct. 1915
This is charming.  Without initials or a first name it is not possible to even begin searching for the person, but no matter.  The sincere expression of feeling from Rafael is sufficient.

1917 (March) The Snare (Martin Secker) on the title page:
“To E.O. Hoppé/ From Rafael Sabatini March 1917”
In this year, Hoppé took a portrait photograph (three-quarter face) of Rafael with a cigarette between his lips, looking out warily from under a hat tilted low over his brow.  (I don’t know what was intended, but I find this posed portrait amusing!)  It is not as ubiquitous as the Wills cigarette card or the Houghton Mifflin publicity photographs of 1921 and 1923/24, but used to be seen often enough.  The copy printed in St. John Adcock’s book reveals some panelling behind the sitter.  Observe how more light in the reproduction alters the expression of the subject.  Puzzlingly, when the photograph was online under the CORBIS label, it was labelled “1917, Italy”, an unlikely combination of date and country.  There is no indication that Rafael was in Milan in 1917, during World War I, and what would Hoppé be doing there at the time – hardly suited to the taking of portrait photographs?  Hoppé may have taken two posed photographs, because there is another that appears on the jackets of The Gates of Doom (HM 1926), and The Stalking Horse (HM) (and is now only visible on a Russian website), where Rafael similarly attired, without a cigarette but still three-quarter face, is looking more directly at the viewer.  How mysteries gather around Rafael Sabatini!



 -   The only other with a cigarette between the lips that I’ve seen, this one scanned from the jacket of my 1st edition of The Birth of Mischief (HM), is almost sinister!
1917 (December) The Historical Nights’ Entertainment (Martin Secker) on title page:
“To W.D. Scott-Moncrieff/ from his friend/ Rafael Sabatini/ London Dec. 1917”
This is Billy, therefore William, Scott-Moncrieff, an adviser, possibly the one who drew Rafael into Freemasonry – he was certainly a Freemason.  That is almost all we can be certain of, alas.  He was alive in March 1939, requesting that Rafael entertain some persons who wished to visit him.  But who was he?  Did the ‘D’ stand for Dundas?  Was he a candidate for a seat in Parliament, contesting a bye-election in Greenock in 1878?  Unlikely, but if so, was it as a Liberal or as an Independent?  I have a source for each choice!  Was he an expert on “Sanitary Science”, frequently writing and speaking on the subject?  The dates can’t be made to fit.  Was he the poet and dramatist whose play on Mary, Queen of Scots was published in 1872, with 1916 as the latest date found for a published book of poems?  Maybe.

1917 (December) The Historical Nights’ Entertainment (Martin Secker) on title page:
“To Theo Sheard/ from his friend/ Rafael Sabatini/ London Dec. 1917”
Another mystery.  He is most likely to have been “Theo the nipper” in the misadventure off Bangor on the River Dee about which Rafael wrote a comic account in doggerel verse, The Vintage Ale.  On board Harold Lee’s house-boat were two other men and “Theo the nipper”.  I found a Sheard family at 125 Canning Street, Liverpool, in 1895 (when Rafael lived at No. 19).  However, if a Roland Theodore Sheard from that family, born in 1896 or 1897, was “the nipper,” then he would have been eleven or twelve in 1908, the latest date for the mishap (The Vintage Ale was written in January 1909), and therefore a nipper, but surely too young for a night of bridge and beer topped off with Dewar at dawn?  Either a different person also called Theo(dore) and also a friend, or else Rafael was exaggerating for comic effect a simple accident (Lee falling overboard) into the tale he narrates.  It would not be out of character!

1922 Scaramouche (Houghton Mifflin) on title page:
“To John Ansell/ Rafael Sabatini/ 11.iv.’22”
A gift with a rather laconic inscription.  John Ansell did not write the music for any of Rafael’s plays/ collaborations, but he was very much a part of the London theatre scene at the time.  He, too, lived beside the Thames, but quite far from Laleham.
A Houghton Mifflin copy rather than one of Hutchinson’s is a surprise, but both would have given Rafael a handful of copies as was the custom, and he may have run out of copies of the U.K. edition by April 1922.

1923 Captain Blood (Houghton Mifflin) on title page:
“Inscribed to/ John J. Conron(?)/ by/ Rafael Sabatini/ London March 1923”
Was Conron (if it is Conron) a visitor from the U.S. who asked for his copy to be signed?

1931 Captain Blood Returns (Houghton Mifflin) on title page:
“To Alfred C. Garrett/ from/ Rafael Sabatini/ Methuen/ 18 Oct. 1931”
Mr. Garrett was an educationist, lecturer (Anglo-Saxon; English; Bible Studies), and writer.  He may have presented Rafael with a book of his own, or offered him hospitality in some form, for which reason he received this gift.

1931 Scaramouche the King-Maker (Houghton Mifflin) on title page:
“Inscribed to/ Mr. and Mrs Prouty/ by/ Rafael Sabatini/ Milton 26 Oct. 1931”
On the fly-leaf, Lewis J. Prouty added “Inscribed at/ dinner at Roger Scaife’s.”  This is a copy of interest.  Mrs Prouty is that Olive Prouty who wrote Now, Voyager and Stella Dallas, besides many other novels; not only a writer but many other things which would be a distraction here from our subject.  Her husband’s signing his full name enabled the identification.  Milton was where Roger Scaife lived and lies buried.  He had an illustrious career in the book-world; at this time a shareholder in Houghton Mifflin, he divided the editorial responsibilities in that firm with Rafael’s close friend, Ferris Greenslet.  Scaife handled advertising and format, while Greenslet negotiated contracts and supervised editing.

1931 Scaramouche the King-Maker (McClelland & Stewart) on title page:
“Inscribed to/ George Nelson/by/ Rafael Sabatini/ 5 Nov. 1931”
Unlikely to be the famous George Nelson, US industrial designer who – at twenty-three - might have been a romantic, and a reader who came from Yale to Toronto to buy a copy and have it signed, but that is, I repeat, unlikely.

1931 Stories of Love/ Intrigue and Battle (Houghton Mifflin) on title page:
“Inscribed to Nancy Rogers/ by/ Rafael Sabatini/ 21.xi ‘31”
First of all, this oddly titled collection contained Captain Blood (battle?), The Urbinian and The Perugian (certainly intrigue) and Scaramouche (love? – revenge would be more appropriate).  On 21 November Rafael was in Minneapolis, where Mabel Ulrich M.D. had a role in organising his activities.  She had many irons in the fire, one of which was ownership of a bookstore.  Was there a book-signing arranged there?

1933 The Stalking-Horse (Hutchinson) on title page:
“To/ my good friends/ the Martin-Harveys/ affectionately/ Rafael Sabatini/ Clock Mill/ 6.v.1933”
These are Sir John and his actress wife whose stage name was Nina da Silva.  A friendship of long standing.

1933 The Stalking-Horse (Hutchinson) on title page:
“To/ J.E. Harold Terry/ affectionately/ Rafael Sabatini/ Clock Mill/ 6.v.1933”
That “affectionately” is rare; here used twice on the same day.  In 1933, Rafael alone at Clock Mill, not yet re-married, may have felt sufficiently sentimental to express himself thus.  Jesse Knight reported finding an inscription to Baroness Orczy in which the word “love” was used, but he did not specify the title or date, nor did he quote the inscription verbatim.  A pity.  Rafael was a man of feeling yet, like many people both intelligent and sensitive, guarded his expression of feelings.  In his younger days he was more forthcoming in his printed dedications: “affectionately” is found in The Justice of the Duke (where it is apt for Lancelot but hardly so for Martha Dixon), and in The Banner of the Bull.  “My affection” appears in early editions of St. Martin’s Summer.

1934 Venetian Masque (Houghton Mifflin) on title page:
“To Victor MacClure in friendship/ Rafael Sabatini/ Clock Mill 22.ix.’34”
Rather brief, and squeezed in above the title as for Hoppé.  In organised book-signings one is not surprised by a certain hastiness, even untidiness.  In gift copies I find an erratic inscription strange.

1938 Historical Nights’ Entertainment/ Third Series (Hutchinson) on title page:
“To/ Harold Terry/ affectionately/ Raffles/ April 1938”
Neatly written, the inscription unusual in its use of the nickname by which Rafael’s friends addressed him.  Since he seldom used it in this way, Rafael had no ‘signature’ for it, yet the inscription is authentic – by this time the quirks of Rafael’s handwriting are familiar to me.

(presented 11 years after publication)
1937 The Lost King (Houghton Mifflin) on title page:
“À/ Marcel Pleis/ souvenir d’Adelboden/ 1948/ Rafael Sabatini”
According to the date of the covering letter to M. Pleis’ daughter (in England) requesting her to convey the book to her father (in Ghent), this was inscribed on or just before 17 March 1948.  An account of the fruitful friendship of Rafael and M. Pleis, and the former’s promise to send the latter a copy of the novel, will be found in Seeking Sabatini (Chapter XII), and in Reading Rafael (Expansions: Plotting The Lost King).  The collection of Pleis-Sabatini documents is a priceless treasure.

1949 The Gamester (Hutchinson) on title page:
“To/ C. Nixon Groves/ with good wishes/ Rafael Sabatini/ March 1949”
This may have been Dr C. Nixon Groves C.B.E. who, in 1934, was elected an officer of the Harveian Society of London.  His name figures more than once in issues of The Lancet.  There is a letter (advertised online for sale) from Rafael to Mrs Le Brasseur, dated 13 May 1949, in which (the seller states) there is reference to “the health and recent operation of his wife, Christine.”  Dr Nixon Groves may have been her doctor or even her surgeon – although a surgeon would be ‘Mr’.

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 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.