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!
“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)
“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’.
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