Addendum to Appendix 26: JBW’s extra–illustrated copy no.190 of the Golden Cockerel 1938 edition of The Rubaiyat:

To recap from the main text of Appendix 26, in A Check–list of the Book Illustrations of John Buckland Wright (1968), Anthony Reid said, of the Golden Cockerel Rubaiyat, that JBW “had a particular fondness for this book and during 1941 he embellished one copy (now in the writer’s collection) with 71 original pen–drawings” (p.53). The copy was no.190 of the 300 issued, that is, one of those containing the 8 ‘standard’ copper engravings. Of the 71 original pen–drawings, 2 were full–page, 28 (including the title page and colophon page) were between about a half and a tenth of a page in height, and 41 were miniature decorations skilfully inserted into convenient spaces in the text. Reid used one of the full–page drawings — the least erotic one, and the only one he could ‘get away with’ back in 1968 — as plate VI in his book, and it featured as Fig.7 in the main text of Appendix 26 (it is reproduced as Fig.5 here.) The other full–page drawing is shown here as Fig.6, together with an assortment of the smaller illustrations and miniatures.

Of the pen–drawings generally, Reid wrote:

The technique is so accomplished that the pictures seem, at first glance, to be copper engravings in perfect keeping with the book. Their subject matter is frankly erotic, far more so than would be acceptable in any commercial edition, but never pornographic. Indeed they are distinguished by good taste. Here are lovers entwined in every amorous posture, but the figures are gracious, the settings idyllic. Love, naked and unashamed, is shown to be truly lovely. (Check–List p.21)

It is certainly true that the drawings are very accomplished in technique, and look like copper engravings at first glance – the title page (Fig.1) and colophon (Fig.12) miniatures particularly so. That the majority of the drawings are “frankly erotic”, no–one would deny; but that they are “never pornographic” is debatable. This being a unique extension of JBW’s Golden Cockerel Rubaiyat, I was tempted to reproduce all of the drawings added to it so as to give a complete digital record of it. But as I said in the main text of Appendix 26, as JBW moves away from the 8 plates version of The Rubaiyat to the 13 plates version, his illustrations become more about the couple he draws than about the poem. This applies even more so to the extra–illustrated copy, which, frankly, becomes not unlike an edition of the Kama Sutra featuring Omar and his Beloved in leading roles. (In fact, the bodily contortions in some of the illustrations rather remind me of some of the erotic temple sculptures of India.) In other words, the illustrations have very little, and mostly nothing, to do with FitzGerald’s classic text. For this reason I have not used here, for example, the half–page illustration on p.66 depicting ‘rear–entry’ sex (likewise its smaller variant on p.94), nor the oral sex scene squeezed in between the end of the final verse and the footnote on p.92. Likewise, it seemed superfluous, from an Omarian point of view, to reproduce JBW’s depiction of Omar’s beloved as a sort of erotically charged version of Titian’s “Venus of Urbino” (p.74, with a milder variant on p.90.) On the other hand, to cut out all ‘the naughty bits’ because they don’t relate to Omar would be to go too far the other way, as the actual essence of JBW’s ‘interpretation’ — ‘approach’ is probably a better word — would then be lost, and that would be a pity. This is a unique document, albeit one produced for non–public scrutiny, and it deserves to be treated fairly, without being overly expurgated. I have, therefore, included a sample of the ‘raunchier moments.’

None of the drawings which JBW added to the book feature on the pages on which the text of FitzGerald’s first edition is printed. This is not really surprising, since the text is interleaved anyway with the 8 copper plate engravings of the regular edition (p.32–61 inclusive.) The first 31 pages are mostly illustrated with miniatures (Figs 2–4 – browse), the first of the full–page illustrations, that included by Reid in his Check–List, featuring on p.24 (blank in the regular edition.) (Fig. 5).The second full–page illustration features on p.62 (blank in the regular edition) with two miniatures inserted into spaces on the facing p.63 (Fig.6.) The illustration on p.62 is certainly one of JBW’s ‘raunchier moments’, but being one of the two full–page illustrations, and so skilfully drawn to boot, it cries out for illustration here. Thereafter (Figs.7–11 – browse) we are treated, if that is the right word, to an erotic extravaganza of sexual activity bearing next to no relation to FitzGerald’s verses. That on p.70 (Fig.7) at least depicts a few pots to relate it to the potter’s shop, but beyond that JBW seems simply to be following his own sexual fantasy. The illustration on p.87 (Fig.10) is representative of numerous other ‘raunchier moments’ not illustrated here.

This is not to say that I do not think that a full digital record of this unique book should not be stored in the electronic equivalent of the “private case” at the British Library (and at other key reference libraries.) On the contrary, I think it should be – but as a display of JBW’s more erotic artwork, rather than as an example of Omarian interpretation and illustration. I hope that this will be done eventually. Meanwhile, I am very grateful to Frederick Koch, who bought the book from Anthony Reid back in 1985, for giving his permission to have it fully photographed, and to John Olsen, his librarian, who not only took the photographs from which the selection illustrated here is taken, but patiently fielded my many questions about it.