Two Mexican Rubaiyats – a Case of International Relations.

Our first Mexican Rubaiyat is a translation of FitzGerald’s verses into Spanish. Its cover (Fig.1a) bears the title Rubaiyat de Omar Khayyam / Versión de Eduardo Hay / Tercera Edición – México 1938 – note the small calligraphic ‘logo’, an enlarged version of which appears on its back cover (Fig.1b.) This is actually the title of the book written in calligraphic Persian: “Rubaiyat [of] Hakim Omar Khayyam,” which many readers will recognise from the covers of Edward Heron Allen’s two classic studies, The Rubaiyat of Omar Khayyam, Being a Facsimile of the Manuscript in the Bodleian Library at Oxford, with a Transcript into modern Persian Characters (H.S. Nichols, London, 1898) and Edward FitzGerald’s Rubaiyat of Omar Khayyam with their Original Persian Sources (Bernard Quaritch, London 1899) (1). Hay’s book is Coumans #800, and it contained four colour illustrations by the Mexican artist Roberto Montenegro (2). Being a rare limited edition of 1000 copies, all four of its illustrations are shown here as Figs.1c, 1d, 1e & 1f.

The illustrations seem to be generic, rather than related to specific verses. Thus the thinly draped young lady in Fig.1c is clearly the Daughter of the Vine, though the illustration faces the Foreword; the memento mori image of Fig,1d faces Hay’s quatrains 28–30, and could relate to either no.29 or no.30 or both (= Fitzgerald’ 4th edition, quatrains 13 & 16), which relate to the transience of the Glories of this World and Worldly Hopes; Fig.1e faces Hay’s quatrains 58–60, but doesn’t obviously relate to any of them; and Fig.1f faces Hay’s quatrains 88–90, but again doesn’t obviously relate to any of them (these being set in the Potter’s Shop.) Both Figs.1e & 1f, in fact, appear to be just images relating to the general theme of Omar, his Beloved, Wine and a Book of Verse.

First off, the Tercera Edición refers to the third edition of Hay’s translation, not to the third edition of FitzGerald’s (3). In fact, as Hay tells us in his Note 1, he used the fourth edition of FitzGerald, except for the opening verse, for which he used FitzGerald’s first edition, with its evocative images of the Stone in the Bowl of Night and the Hunter of the East. In addition, as we are told in the Prologue by José Gorostiza, Hay renumbered some verses so that he could group them by theme. The end result consisted of all of FitzGerald’s 101 quatrains, but re–ordered. Thus, Hay’s first three verses retained FitzGerald’s numbering, his verse 4 was FitzGerald’s verse 14, and his verse 5 was FitzGerald’s verse 8. FitzGerald’s verse 4, meanwhile, became Hay’s verse 57, whilst FitzGerald’s verse 5 became his verse 11. Hay’s translations of FitzGerald are, in some places, as ‘free’ as FitzGerald’s translations were of Omar – most notably, a cicada appears in Hay’s quatrain 27 (= FitzGerald quatrain 91) – but generally Hay can be cross–referenced to FitzGerald with some certainty. A full list of the correspondences between the verse numbers in Hay’s translation and the verse numbers in FitzGerald’s fourth edition is given in Fig.2. Hay’s book also contained translations into Spanish of eight verses from the French version of Franz Toussaint, though these do not concern us much here.

[The illustrations can be browsed here.]

Our second Rubaiyat is Mexican only on account of where it was published, for it is a Welsh translation, by Thomas Ifor Rees, of FitzGerald’s first edition, which was published (for reasons which will become clear presently) by the American Book & Printing Co. in Mexico City in 1939, the year after Hay’s third edition. Its title was Rubaiyát Omar Khayyám: trosiad i’r Gymraeg o gyfieithiad Edward FitzGerald (Rubaiyat Omar Khayyam: a translation into Welsh of the translation of Edward FitzGerald.) It featured Rees’s translations in parallel with FitzGerald’s originals, and was illustrated and decorated by Mr. R.C. Hesketh (4) of Mexico City, who did five illustrations and two decorative vignettes for it. A rare limited edition of 300 copies, it is Coumans #514. Being so rare, all five of Hesketh’s illustrations are shown here in Figs.3a, 3b, 3c, 3d & 3e, and the two vignettes in Figs.3f & 3g.

Fig.3a – my personal favourite of Hesketh’s illustrations – comes at the end of Rees’s Foreword, and before the start of the parallel Welsh and English texts, but the Persian script below it seems to be that of quatrain 49 (“’Tis all a Chequer–board of Nights and Days &c”) (5) – note the chess / chequer–board to the left, the grim–faced figure with the pointed nose presumably representing Destiny. Fig.3b accompanies Rees’s Welsh translation of FitzGerald’s opening (dawn) verse, and Fig.3c accompanies FitzGerald’s own version of that verse. The two clearly belong where they have been placed (neither has any accompanying Persian script.) Fig.3d faces quatrains 32–34 of Rees’s Welsh translation, but its theme and the Persian original below it appear to relate to quatrain 60 (“And strange to tell, among that Earthen Lot / Some could articulate, while others not &c”) (5). Fig.3e faces quatrains 32–34 of FitzGerald’s translation, but its theme and the Persian original below it appear to relate to quatrain 11 (“Here with a Loaf of Bread &c”.) (5) The illustrations, then, aside from Figs.3b & 3c, are somewhat randomly placed, and curiously bunched up towards the front of the booklet. The vignette shown in Fig.3f occurs at the end of Rees’s Foreword, and faces Fig.3a, whilst that in Fig.3g occurs after verse 75 in Rees’s Welsh translation, and clearly relates to FitzGerald’s closing words, “turn down an empty Glass.”

The colophon of Rees’s booklet (Fig.3h) (6), in addition to thanking Mr. R. C. Hesketh for planning and drawing the illustrations for the booklet, thanked General Eduardo Hay, the Mexican Foreign Minister, for the use of the calligraphic Persian title featured beneath it, as seen in Fig.1b above.

[The illustrations can be browsed here.]

So what of the international relations mentioned in my title? The clue lies in the translators. Eduardo Hay (1877–1941) was a politician – he was, as we have just seen, the Mexican Minister for Foreign Affairs (he served from 1935 to 1940) and had been a general in the army in the Mexican Revolution. (He was also, it transpires, a trained engineer.) Thomas Ifor Rees (1890–1977), meanwhile, was the diplomat who happened to be in charge of the British Embassy in Mexico City, a post he held from 1938 to 1943. As such, it was he who oversaw British interests after diplomatic relations with Mexico had been severed due to the nationalisation of the Mexican petroleum industry by President Cárdenas in 1938. In effect, this gave the Mexican government full control over all aspects of the industry at the expense of foreign oil companies, this resulting in diplomatic upheavals, principally with the United States. According to Morfudd Clarke in the (online) Dictionary of Welsh Biography:

T. Ifor Rees knew that the Mexican Minister for Foreign Affairs, Eduardo Hay, had translated The Rubaiyát of Omar Khayyám into Spanish and as he himself had translated the work into Welsh he hoped that the coincidence might help to ease the tension between the two countries, as indeed it did when they met at a mutual friend’s party – quiet diplomacy at its best! (see Yr Enfys, 63, 1964).

How much this “quiet diplomacy” actually achieved, though, is debatable. The crisis was not fully resolved until 1943, two years after Hay’s death and (coincidentally ?) the year Rees left Mexico for a post in Bolivia. In the meantime, not only did the foreign oil companies receive minimal compensation for their expropriated facilities, but the Mexican government suffered too from the loss of foreign investment and expertise. Nevertheless, somewhere in the midst of the turmoil, The Rubaiyat had played its part!


Note 1: The origin of this calligraphic title is something of a mystery. The decorations for both of Heron–Allen’s books were done by Ella Hallward (though the decorations for his “Persian Sources” volume merely recycled those from his “Facsimile” volume.) The credit for Ella Hallward in the “Facsimile” edition is shown in Fig.4a. One decoration from this edition, on the half–title page, is shown in Fig.4b, and this is repeated as the heading of Heron–Allen’s transcription of the Bodleian MS into modern Persian characters, as shown in Fig.4c. No such heading is present in the original Bodleian MS, however, which, taken with the wording of Fig.4a, rather suggests that Ella Hallward did the calligraphy as decoration, possibly under Heron–Allen’s guidance though, as we shall see, she seems to have had some knowledge of Persian script herself. If she did do the calligraphy, she may well have done the cover design of Fig.4d as well. However, another suggestion is that the calligraphy may have come from a different Persian MS, though none such has come to light to date. That Hay’s back cover (Fig.1b) was taken from Heron–Allen’s books would seem to be confirmed by the fact that he also used the Tamam Shud design (Fig.4e) which featured as a terminal vignette in the “Facsimile” edition (p.287.)

[The illustrations can be browsed here.]

Ella Hallward was Eleanor Frances Graeme Hallward (1866–1948.) A known friend of Heron–Allen, she had illustrated an edition of Coleridge’s poem The Raven, published by H.S. Nichols in 1898, shortly before the firm published Heron–Allen’s “Facsimile” volume. Hallward owned a specially bound photographic copy of the Bodleian MS, dated 1896, possibly presented to her by H.S. Nichols, which rather suggests that she had more than just an aesthetic appreciation of the beauties of Persian script, and thus may have been interested in, and capable of, producing the calligraphy in Figs,4b, 4c, 4d & 4e. She also owned a specially bound copy, dated 1897, of FitzGerald’s translation (seemingly Potter #285), into the back of which was pressed a sprig of rose leaves from the bush at the head of FitzGerald’s grave, accompanied by the inscription “Boulge, 9th October 1897.” In 1902 she married a Colonel James Ridgeway Dyas, after which, sadly, her career as an artist and illustrator seems to have taken a back seat to her roles as army wife and mother. Interestingly, at the time of their marriage, Colonel Dyas was living at Brook House, Woodbridge, Suffolk.

Note 2: Roberto Montenegro (1885–1968) was a well–known artist in his day – sufficiently well–known to have his own Wikipedia page today (as indeed do both Hay and Rees.), At least two books have been written about him and his work as an artist and / or illustrator: Justino Fernandez, Roberto Montenegro (Universidad Nacional Autonóma de Mexico, 1962) and Esperanza Balderas, Roberto Montenegro: Illustrador (1900–1930) (Consejo Nacional para la Cultura y las Artes, 2000.) The former contains 5 colour plates and 124 black & white plates, giving an excellent cross–section of Montenegro’s output. The latter, of course, though another useful cross–section, with 31 colour plates, stops short of his illustration of the Eduardo Hay Rubaiyat of 1938. Quite how Hay and Montenegro came to work together remains unknown at present. Certainly, the artist’s cousin, poet and author Amado Nervo (1870–1919), had served as Secretary to the Mexican Legation in Madrid from 1905 and, in 1918–1919, as the Mexican Ambassador to Argentina and Uruguay, so the family clearly moved in political circles. Montenegro did the cover for Nervo’s curious book of fictionalised meditations on Life and Death, Ellos (Them), published in Paris (where he had spent much time) in 1909 (Fig.5). This shares the memento mori theme of Fig.1d.

Note 3: According to José Gorostiza’s Prologue to Hay’s third edition, the first edition of it appeared 5 years earlier, hence in 1933. No further details are given. According to the National Union Catalog of Pre–1956 Imprints (vol.430, p.355) (Fig.1g) the second edition of Hay’s translation appeared in 1936 in a limited edition of 500 copies. It consisted of alternate English and Spanish verses, the English being FitzGerald’s, and was not illustrated.

Note 4: Little information is available about Hesketh. He would appear to have been Robert Charles Reginald Hesketh, who was born in London in 1894, emigrated to Canada sometime after the 1911 UK Census, and joined the Canadian Overseas Expeditionary Force at the outbreak of the First World War in 1914. Returning to Canada after the war, he married Jessie Mary Philomena Vaughan in 1920. Shortly after that, the couple moved to Mexico, where their son, Richard Brenchley Hesketh, was born in 1921. A difficult–to–read US Border Crossing Card for a visit to the USA from Mexico in 1937 seems to record his occupation as “Com[mercial] Artist.” He died in Mexico in 1958 – his death certificate listing his occupation as “Artista”. But though he may have become an artist, it appears that originally his intended career was in horse breeding (his father had been a riding master.) How he came to change course so drastically remains unknown, as is how he came to meet Rees in Mexico.

The only other book illustrated by him appears to be Rees’s translation into Welsh of Gray’s “Elegy”: Marwnad a Ysgrifennwyd Mewn Mynwent Wledig : Cyfieithiad o Gân anfarwol y bardd Saesneg, Thomas Gray (An Elegy written in a Country Churchyard: a Translation of the Immortal Song of the English Poet, Thomas Gray.) It was published by the American Book and Printing Company, Mexico City, in 1942 and featured 9 illustrations and 3 vignettes by Hesketh (whom Rees names in his Foreword as Mr. Robert Hesketh.) Five of his illustrations are shown here as Figs.6a, 6b, 6c, 6d & 6e, and one doesn’t have to know Gray’s “Elegy” off by heart to know how neatly they fit the text.

[The illustrations can be browsed here.]

Note 5: The source(s) of the Persian texts used is a matter of some mystery, but close, though not exact, matches can be found in Edward Heron–Allen’s "Facsimile" volume. Thus Fig.3a is related to Bodleian MS quatrain 94 (Heron–Allen p.211), Fig.3d is related to Bodleian MS quatrain 103 (Heron–Allen p.221), and Fig.3e is related to Bodleian MS quatrain 155 (Heron–Allen p.273).

Note 6: At the foot of the colophon Argraffwyd = Printed and gopiau = copies, so there ought to be a 300 in the space between the two words. Dyma rif = this [is] number, and so should be followed by a number between 1 and 300. The images used in this essay are of the copy in the British Library (hence the green library stamp in Fig.3h, dated 12 December 1949), which is inscribed, “Presented to the British Museum by the translator, T. Ifor Rees, November 1949.” This may well explain the lack of numbering in this copy.



My thanks are due to Sandra Mason, Bill Martin and Barney Rickenbacker for their help with trying to trace the sources of Rees’s Persian scripts in Figs.3a, 3d & 3e, and for their thoughts on the origin of the Persian calligraphy in Figs.1a, 1b, 3h, 4b, 4c, 4d & 4e. I must thank Callum Hill, of Peter Harrington Rare Books, London, for the information about Ella Hallward’s two specially bound books, mentioned in note 1, which were bought by an American collector some years ago, and are presumed still to be in private ownership. I must also thank Tim McCann, Chairman and Archivist of the Heron–Allen Society, for information relating to Ella Hallward’s friendship with Heron–Allen. In due course I hope to do an article about her and her work for the Society Newsletter.


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