Appendix 17: Mera K. Sett & Rupert Brooke.

a) Mera K. Sett

In 1914, the Indian artist Mera K. Sett published his illustrated edition of The Rubaiyat. It was privately printed and published by Galloway and Porter of Cambridge, in a limited edition of 250 copies. On the second page of his Foreword, Sett tells us that some English publishers found the naked figures in his work too shocking and considered that they were likely to offend the sensibilities of “decent-minded English people.” Since Sett refused to make them decent by adding strategically placed fig-leaves, publication was eventually financed by his father.

Sometime after the end of the Second World War – and presumably not long after, judging by its look of age – a second (undated) edition of the book appeared, but in a very different, folio format. Basically it consisted of a series of 31 unbound cards, together with a 12 page stapled booklet, the whole contained within a dark green fold-out box somewhat like an artist’s folio. This was published by D.B. Taraporevala of Bombay. An earlier date has been suggested for this edition – for example, Jos Coumans, in his Updated Bibliography (as note 2, #104) dates it as “ca.1914”.  It certainly looks to be of that sort of date, but a post Second World War date is implied by the opening paragraph of the Introduction, in which Sett talks of “two global wars.” (See Garry Garrard’s article. “A Cautionary Tale” in Omariana, vol.10, no.1, Summer 2010.)

More details of the two editions, with illustrations, can be found in Gallery 2E.

At the beginning of the booklet enclosed with the folio edition was a Publishers’ Note. This is worth quoting in full:

“Mr M.K. Sett had a great reputation as an artist in Europe. We used to read of the high esteem in which he was held by the art-loving public.

Rupert Brook (sic), the famous poet, once wrote a two-column critique of Mr Sett’s art. His last para was ‘If Mr Sett has not been universally acclaimed as the greatest draughtsman and decorator living, the fault lies with his own exclusive and publicity shunning nature. His Omar will have the pride of place in my library.’

Art journals of France, Germany, England, and America praised the book as outstanding. In many schools of art it was used as a model by the students.

Mr Sett was known in Europe as an Interior Decorator. He has illustrated many other works.”

Anyone who has ever tried to find out any information about Sett will find some of this reported acclaim difficult to believe. As regards his “great reputation as an artist in Europe”, this must surely be what we would now call publisher’s hype, as he receives no mention in any major dictionary of artists, not even in the Benezit Dictionary of Artists (2006), which runs to no less than 14 volumes! Likewise, I have found no evidence for the claim that he was “known in Europe as an Interior Decorator” (what we would now call an Interior Designer, I suppose.) The Rupert Brooke critique sounds promising at first, but finding it is quite another matter.

There is no reference to it in Geoffrey Keynes’s Bibliography of Rupert Brooke (1954). Though Keynes lists various reviews by Brooke, his critique / review of the Sett book isn’t among them. The Rupert Brooke Society has never heard of it, and nor has the archivist of the Rupert Brooke Archive at King’s College, Cambridge (at which Brooke matriculated in 1906, and at which he was elected a fellow in 1913.) The latter did say that their records were probably not complete for the period 1914 to 1915, which is when this review must have been written if not published (Sett’s book having come out in 1914 and Brooke having died in 1915.) The Great War, of course, disrupted everything, but the plain fact remains that no-one seems to know where this review was actually published. (Nor is it known whether Brooke actually met Sett whilst both were in either Cambridge or London – see below. Certainly there is no mention of Sett in Geoffrey Keynes’ The Letters of Rupert Brooke (1968), and only three brief allusions to Omar in there – p.567, p.570 & p.636 – these being covered in more detail in b below, and none of them making any reference to any particular edition.)

Brooke does mention various periodicals in his letters besides those listed in Keynes’ Bibliography – The Saturday Review, The Quarterly Review and The Cornhill Magazine are three. But Brooke’s review of Sett’s Omar Khayyam was not in any of these either during the 1914-1915 period.

Actually, Brooke must have written his review in quite a narrow timeframe. For the first half of 1914, he was travelling from New Zealand, via Tahiti and America, to England. He was back in Rugby in June, and in Gloucestershire for part of July to arrange for the publication of some of his South Sea poems in the periodical New Numbers. (He was, therefore, publishing some material during this period.) He was in London when war was declared on August 4th, and by October 1st he was with the Anson Battalion near Walmer in Kent. Shortly after that date, he took part in a brief but abortive action in Belgium, but was back in London again by 17th October to write about his experiences to Cathleen Nesbit (Keynes, Letters, p.622-5.)  He remained in England until the end of February 1915: having been drafted to the Hood Battalion at Blandford in Dorset early in December 1914. It was from here that, on March 1st 1915, he set out for action in the Dardanelles. He never got there, of course, dying en route on April 23rd, of septicaemia as the result of a mosquito bite.

For Brooke to have acquired the copy of Sett’s Omar Khayyam which took pride of place in his library, and to have written a two-column review about it which was subsequently published, it seems likely that the review must have been written between June 1914 and February 1915. When it was actually published is not clear – it may have been published later, and even posthumously, of course.

As to Sett illustrating “many other works”, I can find only one such, Sculptured Melodies privately printed and published in a limited edition of 500 copies by Grant Richards of London in 1922. This was a collection of 11 illustrated stories, written by Sett himself, based on or inspired by musical works by various famous composers – 5 by Chopin, and 1 each by Beethoven, Dvorak, Gounod, Rubinstein, Schumann and Tchaikovsky. Each story is dedicated to someone, and these dedications tell us a little about Sett himself. He was married, for the story illustrating Rubinstein’s “Romance” was dedicated to his wife. The story illustrating Chopin’s “Valse Triste” was dedicated to the little-known composer, pianist and writer on music, Kaikoo Sorabji, more fully known as Kaikhosru Shapurji Sorabji (1892-1988), though his real name was actually Lionel Dudley Sorabji. The son of a Parsi father and a Spanish-Sicilian mother, he appears to have lived pretty much his whole life in England – mostly in London, but in later life in Dorset, where he died. Despite this, he apparently didn’t like to be thought of as English, which presumably explains his rather ostentatious name-change. There is an article about him in The New Grove Dictionary of Music and Musicians (2001), vol.23, p.739-741. But getting back to Sett, his story illustrating Gounod’s “Ave Maria” was dedicated to Haldane Macfall and his wife. Macfall (1860-1928) retired with the rank of Major after serving in the First World War, and wrote several novels, including The Three Students (1926), which is a curious production loosely based on the life of Omar Khayyam and the story of the three friends as told by FitzGerald at the beginning of his Preface to The Rubaiyat (see c below). Macfall also wrote several art monographs, which include one on Whistler (1905) and another on Beardsley (1928). Macfall and his wife were also acknowledged in Sett’s 1914 Omar for their encouragement to go ahead and publish when he himself was in two minds about it.

As to journals praising Sett’s work, there is a mere mention of his illustrated Rubaiyat of 1914 in the “Books Published This Week” column of The Athenaeum of December 18, 1915 (!), and mere mentions of his Sculptured Melodies in “The Week’s Books” column of The Nation & The Athenaeum of November 25th 1922 and in the “First Glance at New Books” column of The Saturday Review of December 2nd 1922.. In America, a review of his Rubaiyat appeared in The Dial of June 8th 1916. “So exotic and weirdly unconventional is the artist’s work that one is almost at a loss to judge of its artistic quality,” the reviewer said, adding later that, “the artist has not been afraid to express the spirit of frank sensuousness that is inherent in the quatrains.” (Sett’s style has been likened to Aubrey Beardsley’s, and indeed there are some similarities, though Beardsley is a much more polished performer, it has to be said. Sett himself denied any such influence, however. In the Foreword to his 1914 Rubaiyat he wrote that “till quite lately I knew not of Beardsley”, adding that, “I formed my style on the study of Eastern drawings, especially Indian. The possibilities of black and white appeared to me from some black and white Chinese drawings I have in my possession.” My own opinion, for what it is worth, is that Sett’s drawings are rather amateurish, though their content is fascinating.)

So who was Mera K. Sett? To begin with, his full name appears to have been Merwanji Kavasji Sett, so Mera is presumably a shortened form of his first name. At the age of 21, having gained a degree at the University of Bombay, he came to London to train as a barrister. Under his full name he was admitted to the Middle Temple on November 16th 1908, and was called to the bar (in effect, graduated as a barrister), having gained a Class III in his Final Examination on May 1st 1912. (See H.A.C. Sturgess, Register of Admissions to the Honourable Society of the Middle Temple (1949), vol.2, p.774. For those interested in the details, his examination results and his calling to the bar can be tracked in the “Council of Legal Education” column of The Times between 1909 and 1912. Incidentally, third class results were not at all uncommon in those days, as the records in The Times show – about three-quarters of those who passed got a third – so these results are not as poor as they might appear to us now.)

Again under his full name, he matriculated at Downing College, Cambridge on October 22nd 1910. (In the Foreword to the 1914 edition of his Rubaiyat he talked of being an undergraduate at Cambridge.) Records show that he got a 3rd in the Part I of the History Tripos in the Easter Term of 1912. He then switched to the Law Tripos, but failed the examinations for Part II in the Easter term of 1913. He then downgraded to the Ordinary BA (ie. without honours) in Law, and in the examinations in the Michaelmas term of 1913 he managed to get a third class degree. He graduated BA on 19 December 1913, though he is only recorded in the residence books of Downing College until June 1913.

That it was the same Merwanji Kavasji Sett who was on the books of both the Middle Temple and Downing College, Cambridge, is shown by The Solicitors' Journal & Weekly Reporter, vol. 56, p. 487, 4 May 1912, which says that, "The following gentlemen were called to the Bar on Wednesday..." and among them is "Merwanji Kavasji Sett, Downing Coll., Camb." Enquiries at the Middle Temple reveal that it was certainly possible and, in fact, not at all unusual for a young man to be at university at the same time as reading for the Bar at an Inn of Court. 

Finally, at the time of writing the Foreword to his 1914 edition of Omar Khayyam, Sett tells us that he was “thousands of miles away” from his friends, Mr & Mrs H.P.Adams, in Cambridge (p.2), and indeed, at the end of the Foreword (p.4), he gives his actual address as Pedder Road, Bombay. Presumably, therefore, he went back home to his parents, having left Downing College at the end of 1913. This raises the question of how he actually organised the publication and distribution of his book by Galloway & Porter in Cambridge, – before he left England, or from back home in India – but unfortunately, as Garry Garrard tells me (in a personal email), having himself made enquiries, Galloway & Porter no longer hold any records dating back that far.

It is Sett’s presence in both Cambridge and London which raises the possibility that he and Brooke might have met at some point. His time at Cambridge certainly overlaps with that of Brooke. Indeed, Christopher Hassall, in his Rupert Brooke – a Biography (1964), tells us that on 9th February 1913, Brooke was actually at Downing College playing billiards with Howard Marsh, the Professor of Surgery there, who was also the father of his friend Edward Marsh (p.375.)  The game was apparently watched by no less than A.E.Housman, who had been appointed Professor of Latin at Trinity College, Cambridge, in 1911. Hassall’s detailed biography, though, makes no direct mention of Sett.

Again, during his time at the Middle Temple in London Sett could have met Brooke, who is on record as having stayed in Edward Marsh’s chambers at Gray’s Inn at various times between 1909 and 1913, during which spells in London he is known to have met many writers and artists. (See Hassall, Biography p.220-1, p.357, p.373 & p.391. Further details of Brooke’s literary and artistic contacts in London can be found in Hassall’s other book The Prose of Rupert Brooke (1956), p.xxix-xxx. More details of the London scene in which Marsh was involved, see Hassall’s Edward Marsh: Patron of the Arts (1959), p.187, p.188-9, p.206-7, p.211, p.213. But again it is to be emphasised that there is no mention of Sett in any of these books.)

Whether Sett ever went on to pursue any sort of career in law I do not know. It rather looks as if he had a wealthy father (the Middle Temple records list him as a merchant) who paid for him to go to London and Cambridge, but then he was either not up to the mark academically, or else he wasn't really interested in doing either History or Law. Possibly he had decided, as so many other young men – and women – have done in the past and, no doubt, will do in the future, that he really wanted to be an artist. His father does seem to have supported him in this by paying for the publication of his illustrated Omar Khayyam in 1914 – and also, perhaps, his Sculptured Melodies in 1922. (The latter also contains its fair share of nudes, so he may have had the same problem with publishers as he had had with his Omar Khayyam a few years earlier.) But with what success he pursued any artistic career remains unclear.

Credits: The above could not have been written without the generous help of the following: Lorna Beckett of the Rupert Brooke Society; Jacqueline Cox of the University Archives at Cambridge University Library; Patricia McGuire, Archivist at King’s College, Cambridge; Kate Thompson, Archivist at Downing College Cambridge; and Lesley Whitelaw, Archivist of the Middle Temple, London. I must also (again!) thank Michael Behrend.

b) The Omarian face of Rupert Brooke.

Brooke is most famous, of course, as one of those poets who died young in the First World War – not as a result of enemy action, but as a result of blood poisoning arising from a mosquito bite. He was certainly familiar enough with FitzGerald’s Rubaiyat to quote from it in his letters – but only on a couple of occasions. The main one of these – a quotation from verse 20 of the First Edition (“yesterday’s seven thousand years”) – is quoted, in context, in note 63b (Keynes, Letters p.636). Brooke clearly liked this phrase, for he used it in an earlier letter written to Edward Marsh in March 1914, referring back to January of that year as “now itself some way down in the heap of yesterday’s seven thousand years” (Keynes, Letters p.567.). His only other reference Omar comes in a letter to Cathleen Nesbitt, written from aboard ship in the Pacific in April 1914. He talks of looking out for the Southern Cross, but looking for it in vain “like the moon for Omar Khayyam”, an adaptation of verse 74 of the First Edition (Keynes, Letters p.570.)

In fact, Brooke’s letters contain more references to Swinburne, Browning, Wilde and Beardsley, than to Omar. As noted in a) above, he is said to have written a two-column review of Mera K. Sett’s illustrated edition of Omar, published in 1914, and to have said that it would have pride of place in his library, but so far this review has not been located.

Certainly Brooke did have an Omarian side which manifested in various ways. Thus his very early poem “The Pyramids”, written for a school prize at Rugby in 1904, dwells on the transience of Empires and earthly power:

Great Empires fall, change seizes all those things
Men hold immortal; yet do these remain,
Immutable, voiceless, lonely in their age,
Grey with the dust that once was kings.

He had been very happy in his days at Rugby, and was saddened when he saw his schooldays slipping away. Edward Marsh, in his Rupert Brooke: the Collected Poems, with a Memoir (1918), quotes Brooke as saying, in his first year at Cambridge (1906-7):

“As I looked back at five years, I seemed to see almost every hour golden and radiant, and always increasing in beauty as I grew more conscious; and I could not (and cannot) hope for or even quite imagine such happiness elsewhere. And then I found the last days of all this slipping by me, and with them the faces and places and life I loved, and I without power to stay them. I became for the first time conscious of transience, and parting, and a great many other things.” (Memoir p.xii)

This, of course, recalls the close of “Youth’s sweet-scented Manuscript” in FitzGerald’s verse 72 and the unstoppability of “The Moving Finger” in verse 51. Later, in a letter to Frederic Keeling, written in September 1910, Brooke wrote:

“Lately, when I’ve been reading up the Elizabethans, and one or two other periods, I’ve been amazed more than ever at the way things change. Even in talking to my uncle of seventy about the Victorians, it comes out astoundingly. The whole machinery of life, and the minds of every class and kind of man, change beyond recognition every generation. I don’t know that ‘Progress’ is certain. All I know is that change is.” (Keynes, Letters p.259)

One aspect of transience that particularly concerned him in later years (it seems odd to use such a phrase in relation to someone who died at the age of only 27!) was the transience of human love, expressed in his poem “Mutability”, written in 1913. Brooke’s great disappointment in love had come in 1911-12 in the form of his relationship with Katharine (“Ka”) Cox, its failure resulting in some actual nervous disorder (for a good account, see Christopher Hassall, Rupert Brooke – a Biography (1964), p.296-8). It was presumably this failed love which coloured much of his subsequent poetry.

As for Brooke’s religious beliefs, Edward Marsh said of him that “since he grew up he had never held (and did not now acquire) any definite, still less any ready-made, form of religious belief.” (Memoir p.lxxv) Like FitzGerald and Omar, then, he was sceptical of organised religion. In a letter written in September 1907, Brooke said of the Church of England, “I hate it; and work against it; because I think it teaches untrue things; and that it is bad for people to believe untrue things.” In addition to issues of dogma, he seems to have been disturbed by the hypocritical stance of the Church in Politics, this being made manifest if one looked at “how the Bishops in the House of Lords have voted for the last twenty years.” (Keynes, Letters p.110) In another letter written in April 1914 he talked of “all the bloody rot which Christians believe” whilst at the same time respecting Christianity’s “two thousand years moral force.” (Keynes, Letters p.580) One curious reference to God came in a letter written in January 1910, following a bout of illness. The illness, he said, had inspired him to imagine, amongst other things, “interviews with the Almighty in which he turned out to be an absolute and unimaginative idiot” (Keynes, Letters p.216). This, of course, recalls the phrase “What! Did the Hand then of the Potter shake?” in verse 63 of the First Edition.

Brooke’s most outrightly sceptical stance was in a letter written in December 1914, in which he went so far as to describe himself as an atheist (Keynes, Letters p.637), and yet at the same time, when, in early 1915, he was expecting to be sent into action at Gallipoli, in order to take Constantinople, he thought of “celebrating the first Holy Mass in St Sophia since 1453” (Keynes, Letters p.660: he repeated the same thought in at least two other letters – ib.pp.664 & 678.) Like many others, it seems, Brooke was repelled and yet at the same time curiously attracted by Roman Catholicism. (Such bipolar attitudes usually take the form of the rejection of various aspects of its dogma, but with the aesthetic attraction to its elaborate pomp and ritual.) His poem “Mary and Gabriel” written in the autumn of 1912 was, of course, devoted to the Annunciation, but this choice of subject matter does not necessarily betoken Catholicism, nor indeed any Christian faith. (Compare Rossetti’s painting on the same theme, “Ecce Ancilla Domini.”, referred to in note 58b of the main essay.) Nevertheless, it is an interesting choice of subject matter for an atheist. In a letter written in January or February 1913 he joked about converting to Catholicism, “because, damme, you can’t get converted any further; there’s no madness beyond it, unless Satanism.”(Keynes, Letters p.420) Again, in April 1914 he joked of becoming a Catholic “if it was only to annoy the Pope.” (Keynes, Letters p.580) But then by March 1915, he wrote: “I think of joining the Orthodox Church (I’ve been reading up Constantinople.) It hates Jews, Mohammedans and Roman Catholics: all of which is to the good”, adding, in what would now be regarded as a very politically incorrect statement, “but it is made up of bloody Orientals and Asiatics, which is bad.” (Keynes, Letters p.667).

Finally, in a letter written to A.F.Schofield in July-August 1913, Brooke wrote:

“I’m afraid I’m a Victorian at heart, after all. Please don’t breathe a word of it: I want to keep such shreds of reputation as I have left. Yet it’s true. For I sit and stare at the thing (ie. Niagara Falls) and have the purest Nineteenth Century grandiose thoughts, about the Destiny of Man, the Irresistibility of Fate, the Doom of Nations, the fact that Death awaits us All, and so forth.” (Keynes, Letters p.491.)

This, of course, is pure Omariana!

c) Macfall’s novel, The Three Students (1926).

Mention was made in a above of Haldane Macfall’s novel, The Three Students, first published by Alfred A. Knopf of New York in 1926. This being such a little known curiosity it seems worthwhile to give some space to it here. In what follows, however, page numbers refer to the Pocket Edition, issued by the same publisher in 1930, with an Introduction by Earl E. Fisk. This introduction gives much useful biographical information about Macfall and his work. The following is of particular interest in respect of this particular novel:

“Few readers of this novel, The Three Students know that the tale was originally a play and that this is its novelized version. In 1903, as a relief from other work, Macfall began to write a romantic Eastern drama and continued to work on it at times for a period of four years. He felt that the main difficulty with any treatment of Omar Khayyam was the lack of conflict – there is no plot revealed in the Rubaiyat. Macfall studied the historical background and evolved a much vaster dramatic situation than merely the tale of Omar. Actually, the Rubaiyat has scant place except to give an atmosphere. The drama is the conflict of three dominant spirits, and the action is wholly due to this conflict of character – the history simply gives colour.”(p.xii)

Basically the novel expands on the story of the three friends – Omar Khayyam, Nizam al Mulk and Hasan al Sabbah – as told by FitzGerald in his preface to The Rubaiyat. Macfall adds much court intrigue to the story, involving ruthless assassins, poisoned apples, dumb eunuchs, the ladies of the King’s harem and a wicked Queen (loosely based on the historical Terken Katun.) There is also a romantic sub-plot in that Omar marries Leela, otherwise known as ‘Saki’, the marriage surviving, at one point, the lustful intentions of the Queen towards Omar. But more of Leela shortly.

Chapter 1 of the novel opens, like The Rubaiyat, at dawn:

“The eastern heavens paled in the glow of the dawn, and as the smoky night passed slowly westwards in sapphire majesty over the distant hills, the stars in the lifting blue of the firmament trembled and flickered and went out one by one.” (p.9)

The scene is a tavern in Naishapore, a tavern once a temple of Zarathustra, whose priest is now reduced, by the Arab conquerors and Islam, to the lowly role of innkeeper. As a cock crows, a group of students start knocking on the door, one of whom cries “Awake! Awake!” and another of whom cries, “When eager worshippers stand at the temple doors, why nods the drowsy priest within?” (p.10). All this, of course, is based on the first three verses of FitzGerald’s 2nd, 3rd, 4th and 5th editions of The Rubaiyat, and lest readers feel cheated in that the Sultan’s Turret hasn’t been struck with a Shaft of Light, well, that comes on p.11. The above-mentioned Leela, the adopted-daughter of the innkeeper, “whom the students were given to call Saki, since the fair and beautiful girl took the place of the usual boy that served the wine”, looks out of the window and tells us that, “From the edge of the world the sun’s shafts do guild the turrets of the palace of the king.” Omar joins the gathering a little later, entering the tavern with the words needed to complete verse 3, “Awake, old man, awake! One day we must sleep long. Awake! We have so little while to stay; and once departed may return no more!” (p.17)

The vow of mutual help between the three students – made in the tavern – takes place on p.30-39, with an added twist or two. To make the vow binding, Hasan Sabbah proposes that they conduct a solemn blood-ritual which involves a magical pentagram inscribed on the tavern floor. “By the stars, it shall be a blood bond,” he says on p.31, “We will tear the hidden leaves out of the book of Fate and ourselves re-write them to our own desire” (words loosely based on verse 73 of the 1st edition, of course.) The problem is that the pentagram has five points, one of which must be left empty for the Lord of Darkness, leaving four to be filled, and there are only three of them. Accordingly Omar persuades Leela to join them, knowing that by doing so she will become part of their destiny. This turns out to be very true, for not only does she marry Omar (p.42), but it is their granddaughter who strangles the aged Hasan Sabbah with her hair at the end of the novel (p.347.)

At one point in the story we are treated to the scene of some holy men complaining to Sultan Alp Arslan about Omar’s blasphemies:

“He doth greet the rising sun not with prayer but with call to the tavern and the drinking of wine, urging the world to drink and rating the tavern-lord for sluggish opening of the tavern door since we have so short a while to live, and being departed can return no more. The greatest are bust dust and become but dust, whilst the nightingale sings to the rose; that all else passes, but gardens blossom by the water’s edge and there is wine to drink, so fling repentance into the fire and fill the cup, since we are given so short a life, and life is on the wing.” (p.98)

Another holy man tells the Sultan of Omar’s irreverent observations on how “mighty sultan after sultan with all his pomp abode but his destined hour and is gone – the wild ass stamps on the forgotten grave where the mightiest hunter Bahrum sleeps – and cannot break his sleep.” (p.99) The Sultan asks the holy men if any of them actually do know where Bahrum sleeps, and, of course, none does. He then proceeds himself to quote Omar: “I sometimes think that never blows so red the rose as where some buried Caesar bled; that every violet the Garden wears dropped in her lap from some once lovely Head.” (p.100)

Enough has been said to give the reader a good idea of the novel, which is well worth reading, if only to play at “spot the quote” as one does so. (There are many other examples besides the ones quoted here, not to mention a curious episode set in a potter’s shop (chapter 46), the owner of which just happened to know Omar in his youth….) Worthy of mention are a reference to Omar’s belief in God as a Designer, despite the occurrence of evil in the world (p.115), and an explanation of how Omar’s verses survived down to modern times: they were written down in a book by Omar, which book was rescued by a friend, an old doctor of law, at the time of Omar’s death. This same friend also concocted a death-bed repentance for Omar, and fostered the rumour that Omar was really a Sufi, so as to preserve the sanctity of Omar’s grave from the wrath of the orthodox Moslems (p.341-3.) (For the episode on which Macfall based his concocted death-bed repentance, see Aminrazavi as note 1h, p.30-31. In Macfall’s story, the book of the golden toothpick was really The Rubaiyat. The old doctor of law removed it from the dead Omar’s hands and made up the story – as recounted in Aminrazavi – that it had been a metaphysical treatise on unity and multiplicity.)

The original story of the three friends, as so famously repeated by FitzGerald, is now generally reckoned to be untrue – see, for example, Garrard (as note 1f, p.39 & p.119-120), Aminrazavi (as note 1h, p.25-27) and Browne (as note 1k, p.190-192.)

Macfall’s book is only one of several ‘historical’ novels based on the life of Omar. The earliest of these was Nathan Haskell Dole’s Omar the Tentmaker – A Romance of Old Persia, published in 1899. [Dole, of course, was the editor of the famous multi-variorum edition of The Rubaiyat, published in two volumes in 1898 (as note 1a.)] A later Omarian novel was Harold Lamb’s Omar Khayyam – A Life, first published in America in 1936. Its title does make it sound like a genuine biography, though it clearly reads as a novel. Any possible confusion was removed, however, when it was republished in England, in 1943, under the title, Persian Mosaic, with the explanatory subtitle, An Imaginative Biography of Omar Khayyam, Based upon Reality, in the Oriental Manner. “The Oriental Manner”, of course, involves much embroidery of the few – very few – known facts of Omar’s personal life, though to be fair to Lamb he did give an “Author’s Note” at the end of the novel to give his readers some idea of the borderline between fact and fiction.


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