Rubaiyat for a Cotillon

A small (13.5 x 10.0 cm) edition of The Rubaiyat was published as “Persian Poets No.1” by T.N. Foulis of Edinburgh and London in 1905. It is Potter #28, and there is nothing exceptional about it - it is a typical pocket edition. This article, though, is about a modified version of it, the modification being what makes it more interesting. To begin with, the base of its front cover (Fig.1) is neatly stamped or printed “Cotillon, 30th Sept. 1909” - four years after the publication date on the title page (Fig.3). In addition, on the insides of the front cover (Fig.2) and the back cover (Fig.5) are very neatly pasted what are perhaps best described as cast lists for seven “Figures” - that is, for seven masques or dance formations, presumably accompanied by sung or recited versions of the Rubaiyat verses associated with them.

By way of some background, the Cotillon was originally an 18th century French ballroom dance, at first for two, but later for four, couples. In the course of the late 18th and early 19th centuries, though, it seems to have evolved in several ways, one of them being the quadrille. According to the article “Cotillon” in The International Encyclopedia of Dance (1998), in about 1840, “a new and entirely different dance, the German cotillion appeared and usurped the name,” holding “a featured position in nineteenth-century dance evenings.” The article goes on:

"This new cotillion (also spelled cotillion), often two or more hours long, was held by a master of ceremonies or a popular guest chosen by the hostess. This leader directed a series of musical dance games, which allowed any number of dancers to exchange partners through humorous chance encounters and to intermingle in a playful, informal manner not formerly possible in the formal ballroom. The German cotillion was often held after supper, following the more formal ball. The music was taken from favourite waltz, gallop, mazurka, quadrille, and march airs." (vol.2, p.253)

In the cast lists of Figs 2 and 5, the varying numbers of people involved certainly don't suggest anything like the quadrille type cotillion, and are much more suggestive of “musical dance games” - hence my guess usage of the word “masque” above.

One of the guests at the Cotillon of 1909 - the Donna Stella Vitelleschi in Figure VII - was otherwise known as Marchesa Stella Vitelleschi. A portrait of her done by Percival Anderson in 1919 is shown in Fig.6. She was born in England in 1886, of a Scottish mother and an Italian father, both being from titled families - her father bore the title Marchese Vitelleschi, and was said to be descended from the Roman Emperor Vitellius! But despite her aristocratic background, and some family disapproval, she went on to become an actress under the stage name of Stella Rho. [Under that name she appeared in the films “Sweeney Todd: the Demon Barber of Fleet Street” and “Murder in the Red Barn”, both released in 1936. Fig.7 shows her as the gypsy fortune teller in the latter.] In 1937 she published Out of my Coffin: an Autobiography, the title coming from the fact that as a child she was mistaken for dead and almost buried alive! Fig.6 is taken from this (facing p,160.) Unfortunately, she doesn't mention the 1909 Cotillon in her book, but she does tell us about the cotillons she attended in Rome in about 1904, when she was eighteen years old:

“The climax of the evening at a Roman ball of that time was the Cotillon. It consisted of a number of figures - the Lancers, Quadrilles, Sir Roger de Coverly etc. - and was under the control of a Maître de Cotillon, upon whom the success of the dance most often depended. For the Cotillon itself the partnership was often arranged days and weeks before the ball, while for the figures one danced with anyone. Hostesses used to supply little presents for partners to exchange during the dance, and for the last, the principal figure, valuable presents - such as gold cigarette–cases and brooches – were often provided. The minor presents could be given to anybody, as one's fancy decided, but the valuable present had to be given to the official Cotillon. My father had been favourite Master of Cotillon to Queen Margherita, and had continued to exercise this office for many years.” (p.110; see also p.112 & p.113 for further brief mentions.)

Again, it is difficult to reconcile sung or recited Rubaiyat verses with the quadrilles etc which the Marchesa describes, so a “musical dance game” or masque of some sort, remains a more likely model for the 1909 Cotillon with which we are concerned.

The titled and presumably wealthy people involved in the cast–lists, plus the professional neatness with which the cast lists have been pasted in, and with which the “Cotillon” inscription on the front cover has been applied, perhaps suggest that the publisher Foulis was commissioned to produce a special imprint of Potter #28 precisely for this event, or at least, to specially modify a number of copies of it. If that is the case, there may well be other examples of such special issues ‘out there’, not just printed by Foulis, but by other publishers as well, for other similar events, though at the time of writing I do not know of any such.

Fig.3 is the title page, showing the publisher's address (Edinburgh and London) and date of publication (1905). T.N. Foulis was an Edinburgh man and he founded his publishing house there in 1904. Fig.4 shows verse 1 (of the first edition) but also shows on the facing page that it was printed in Edinburgh. There is no indication of where the Cotillon of 1909 took place, or of who hosted it, unfortunately, but it seems highly likely that it was in Scotland, and quite possibly near Edinburgh, in view of the printing and publishing details just given. In addition, many of the names in the cast do have Scottish associations, several in the vicinity of Edinburgh.

The unusual names and titles of many of the cast, plus the power of the internet, mean that it is possible to hazard a good guess as to the identity of the many of them, and to get some biographical background as a result. The following represents the results of a preliminary trawl.

Fig.8 is a portrait of Jean Barbara (née Ainsworth), Viscountess Masserene and Ferrard (1883-1937), the Lady of the Moon in Figure VII of the Cotillon. The portrait is a photogravure by Bassano Ltd, published in 1909, the year of the Cotillon. (National Portrait Gallery, ref. NPG Ax161365.) She married Algernon William John Clotworthy Skeffington, the 12th Viscount Masserene and 5th Viscount Ferrard (1873-1956) in 1905. Her husband (Sultan Mahmoud in Figure III of the Cotllon) was awarded the DSO in the Second Boer War. Their family home was Antrim Castle in Northern Ireland, before it was all but destroyed in a huge fire started by the IRA in 1922.

Of the other cast members, the three Honourable Hamilton ladies in Figures I, III and VII could be three of the (seven!) daughters of James Hamilton, 9th Lord Belhaven and Stenton (of the County of Haddington, East Lothian, Scotland.) If so, they were Winifred Maude Hamilton (1886-1932); Dorothy Henrietta Hamilton (1888-1951) and Georgina Violet Hamilton (1889- ?)

In Figure I, The Honble. Violet Sinclair could be the Honourable Georgina Violet St Clair (1877-1957), who went on to marry Lt. Col. Harry Miller Davson in 1910. They appear to have lived in London. Also in Figure I, Miss Muriel Wood of Freeland could be the daughter of Dulcibella Barrett and Collingwood Lindsay Wood of Freeland, Forgadenny, County Perth, which would link her to the royal line of the House of Plantagenet.

Sir George Douglas, Bart - Sultan Bahram in Figure III - could be the Scottish author of Poems of a Country Gentleman (1897) and Scottish Fairy and Folk Tales (1901). He lived from 1856 to 1935. The Lord Ruthven - Sultan Jamshyd in the same Figure - is a bit of a puzzle. He could have been Walter James Hare-Ruthven (1838-1921), the 9th Lord Ruthven of Freeland (a title in the peerage of Scotland), though he would have been 71 years old at the time of the Cotillon! But this is not inconsistent with the role of Jamshyd, especially not since he went on to take an active part in the First World War!

Also in Figure III, Sir Duncan Hay, Bart., could be Sir Duncan Edwyn Hay, 10th Baronet of Smithfield and Haystoun (1882-1965), with family estates at Peebles in Scotland. If so, Lady Hay of Haystoun in Figure II could have been his wife, Lavinia Mary Houston (1882-1958), whom he married in 1905.

Again in Figure III, Mr John Dewar could be John Dewar of the Dewar's Scotch Whisky firm. Born in 1885 he would eventually become 2nd Baron Forteviot, on the death of his father, John Alexander Dewar, the 1st Baron Forteviot, in 1929. He died in 1947. (His father already had a title, 1st Baronet Dewar of Dupplin, by 1907, and so would not have been a mere Mr in the cast list!)

Also in Figure III, Mr Kerr Fraser Tytler could be William Kerr Fraser Tytler (1886-1963), who was to become a prominent British soldier and diplomat. He joined the Indian Army in 1910, the year after the Cotillon, serving on the North West Frontier. He subsequently saw service in East Africa and Afghanistan, eventually achieving the rank of Lieutenant Colonel. He became the British envoy to Afghanistan in 1935, serving in that post until 1941. He was knighted in 1939. If this is the correct Mr Kerr Fraser Tytler, then Miss Fraser Tytler of Woodhouselee (also in Figure III) was probably his younger sister Marjorie (1888 - 1929.) Their family estate of Woodhouselee was about 5 miles south of Edinburgh. [I would assume that Mary Seton Watts, wife of the painter G.F.Watts, was somehow related, for her maiden name was Mary Seton Fraser Tytler.]

Again in Figure III, Miss Sprot of Stravithie is untraced, except if she is a relative (daughter ?) of Colonel Sprott (with a double t) of Stravithie House, St. Andrews, Fife, Scotland, who was resident there from the 1880s to about 1919.

Also in Figure III, Miss Marjorie Arbuthnot could be Jean Marjorie Arbuthnot (1886-1964). If so, she went on to marry Major Arthur Frederick Dudgeon in 1913; her maternal grandfather was Sir William Muir; and her paternal grandmother was the daughter of Field Marshall Hugh Gough, 1st Viscount Gough of Goojerat.

Also in Figure III, Mr Neil Stewart Richardson could be the man who later became Lt. Col. Neil Graham Stewart-Richardson (1881-1934), son of Sir James Thomas Stewart-Richardson of Pitfour, the 14th baronet. The family estate was Pitfour Castle, near Errol (between Dundee and Perth in Scotland.)

Again in Figure III, Miss Graham of Carfin (Lanarkshire) could be Beatrix Evelyn Graham (1877/8 - 1967), daughter of James Noble Graham of Carfin (1846-1928), who belonged to the wealthy family of textile and port wine merchants, W & J. Graham and Co. Beatrix had two sisters, Helen Margaret, who had died young, and Enid Elizabeth (born 1887) who had married a Richard Oakley in 1907, and who would therefore have been Mrs Oakley by the time of the Cotillon. If Miss Graham of Carfin was indeed Beatrix Evelyn, she went on to marry Henry Cornelius O'Callaghan Prittie, 5th Baron Dunally of Kilboy (an Irish title) in 1911. [Another member of the Graham family was William Graham (1817-85), MP for Glasgow and patron of the Pre-Raphaelites.]

Given the above, we can perhaps identify Mrs J. D. Graham in Figure II. At the time of the Cotillon the initials J.D. would have been those of her husband rather than her own, and the Graham merchant family included a James Dunsterville Graham (1873-1939), who in 1895 had married an Ann Orr Stewart. It is possible, therefore, that she is Mrs J.D.Graham.

In Figure VII, Miss Katherine Selby Bigge could be Edith Katherine Selby-Bigge (1889-1971). If so, she was the daughter of Sir Lewis Amhurst Selby-Bigge, 1st Bt., and went on to marry Captain Geoffrey Francis Bowes-Lyon in 1914, thus becoming one of the few people with a double-barrelled double-barrelled name - Edith Katherine Selby-Bigge Bowes-Lyon!

Other members of the cast list remain untraced at the time of writing, though hopefully more information will be forthcoming with time. In addition, with so many people trawling the internet these days in search of family history, I am hoping that some family diary account of the 1909 Cotillon may come to light, and who knows, maybe even a photograph of it. That would certainly be interesting to see!

In the meantime, I cannot resist adding an interesting anecdote about Stella Vitelleschi. It has nothing whatever to do with the Rubaiyat, except perhaps via the reincarnational links mentioned in the notes on verse 54, but mainly I add it simply because it is interesting enough to mention here. In her autobiography (p.183ff) Stella says that as a child in Italy she had an unexplained aversion to visiting Florence, so much so that when her parents had to go there on business, they eventually ceased to take her with them. She also had a horror of daggers and sea voyages. Then, in the years following the First World War, she attended a séance in England at which a prominent medium told her she was Piero de Medici, who was drowned at the age of 32 and whose portrait by Botticelli was in the Uffizi Gallery in Florence. A few weeks later, at a tea–party, she met a man who, after staring at her for some moments, told her that she was the very image of Botticelli’s portrait of Piero de Medici. Intrigued, she went to the Medici Galleries in Grafton Street to buy a print of the picture, and the elderly lady who served her remarked that she was exactly like the picture, so much so that it gave her “quite a turn.”

Now, Piero de Medici did indeed drown in December 1503, aged nearly 32, not in Florence but in the River Garigliano, some 35 miles north west of Naples, whilst fleeing from the Battle of Garigliano - he had in fact fled Florence when Charles VIII of France invaded Italy in 1494, thus losing the city for the Medici family for several years. Furthermore, there seems to be no portrait of him by Botticelli, in the Uffizi Gallery or anywhere else - at least not according to The Complete Paintings of Botticelli [Introduction by Michael Levey & Catalogue Notes by Gabriele Mandel , London, 1970.] There is a portrait in the Uffizi that was once thought to be of Piero, but it almost certainly isn't of him, and in any case it looks nothing like Stella (#41, p.89-90.) However, there is a portrait of Piero attributed to Bronzino which certainly does look like Stella (Fig.9), but this is in the Museo Mediceo (the Museum of the Medici Chapels in the Basilica of San Lorenxo in Florence), not in the Uffizi - see L'Opera Completa del Bronzino [Edi Baccheschi, Milan, 1973, #139, p.107-8.] So, the resemblance is odd, but the facts as Stella gives them don't quite square up, and on its own a facial resemblance proves nothing - there are a number of John Lennon look-alikes alive today, all born before Lennon even died! And, in addition, many of us are familiar with that phrase “you have a double!” Facial features have a way of repeating that can have nothing to do with reincarnation, but are rather to do with facial construction, genetic or otherwise.

I leave readers to decide for themselves whether reincarnation accounts for the likeness, or the likeness accounts for the notion of reincarnation amongst those predisposed to the notion of it (which both Stella and the man at the tea party were, as she makes clear in her account.) But, as I say, the story is an interesting one, whatever the explanation of it.

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