The Tale of two Romany Rubaiyats

Prefatory Note: In what follows I routinely use the spelling Gypsy, but adopt the variant spelling Gipsy when it occurs in book / article titles or in quotations. Likewise I use the spelling Romany as the name of the Gypsy language, and the variant spelling Romani when it occurs in titles / quotations. I make no attempt to decide which is the ‘correct’ spelling.

The illustrations for this article can be browsed here.

Romany Rubaiyat 1: John Sampson and Augustus John

Translations of FitzGerald’s Rubaiyat into foreign languages do not normally arouse much enthusiasm in me: interest, yes, but enthusiasm, no. But the Romany Rubaiyat (Potter #507) is not like so many others – it involves key participants in the Rubaiyat story in a merry–go–round of such readable unorthodoxy and even scandal, that it merits special attention.

Omar Khayyam – bish ta dui gilia chide are volshitika Romani chib John Sampsonestar dikimangriasa Augustus Johnestar was a translation of The Rubaiyat into Romany (specifically Welsh Romany) published by David Nutt in London in 1902. Its title–page is shown in Fig.1a, a translation being provided by the advertisement in Fig.1b: “Twenty–Two Quatrains of Omar Khayyam, translated into Welsh Romani by John Sampson, with a photogravure Frontispiece by Augustus John.” The advert also tells us that it was a limited edition of 250 copies, the “2 States” in Potter’s note being those on handmade paper and those on Japanese Vellum. The Frontispiece is shown in Fig.2a, and it is clearly a gypsy–oriented depiction of Omar with his Beloved “underneath the Bough”, but minus “a Book of Verses” – gypsy culture is oral not written, after all. Note the signature “Janik” to the lower left, this being a Romany rendering of John. (Fig.2b was an unused variant of it, of which more later.) The work was a slim little pamphlet of 10 pages, the first 2 featuring a dedicatory poem in Romany (of which more presently), the remaining 8 pages featuring the translations into Romany of 22 of FitzGerald’s verses, taken from the 4th edition (1).

John Sampson (2) was born in Ireland in 1862, but his family moved to Liverpool in 1871. His father died the following year, and because of the resulting financial straits, JS had to leave school at the age of 14 to take up an apprenticeship of seven years as a lithographer and engraver. At the same time, though, he attended night school, and taught himself the elements of poetry and language, taking a particular interest in the language and lore of the Gypsies, an interest which owed much to the works of George Borrow and Francis Hindes Groome, of whom more presently. At the age of 22, on finishing his apprenticeship, he set up in business as a printer. Meanwhile, philology had become JS’s passion, and the mysteries of the Romany language something of an obsession. For two years he collected vocabularies from the gypsies he met in Lancashire, Yorkshire and Cheshire, and he is said to have gone poaching at dawn with them on occasion (2a). (Later he is said to have feasted on hedgehogs with them, before a fight broke out and the police arrived (2b).) He became so well–known to, and respected by, the gypsies that he earned the nickname “the Rai”, meaning the gentleman or scholar.

JS had also taught himself Sanskrit so that he could trace gypsy words back to their origins in India, and indeed trace the migrations of the gypsy tribes via their dialects (2c). But he was fascinated by obscure languages generally, and he became an expert in Shelta, the secret language of the Tinkers. This was not without its dangers: once, in a tinkers’ tavern, when interviewing three evil–looking knife–grinders known as Manni, Double–Devil and the Shah, JS had to trap the unholy trinity behind a table while he beat a hasty retreat (2d). As he put it, he tracked Shelta “from one squalid lodging–house and thieves’ kitchen to another” (2e). Eventually, he published an article “Tinkers and their Talk” in the Journal of the Gypsy Lore Society (hereafter JGLS) (3), this appearing in the October 1890 issue. It was this article which brought him to the attention of Kuno Meyer, an internationally recognised philologist and lecturer in Teutonic Studies at the University College, Liverpool (later to become Liverpool University). Subsequent collaboration of the two men led, when JS’s printing business failed in 1892, to JS being appointed as librarian to University College, a post he was to occupy for 36 years until his retirement in 1928. During these years he worked on his magnum opus, The Dialect of the Gypsies of Wales (Oxford, 1926), the fruit of 30 years study. But long before its publication, his unique expertise in Romany and Shelta was recognised by Academia: in May 1909, at the age of 47, JS was awarded an honorary doctorate of letters at Oxford, a marvellous achievement for someone who had left school at 14.

When JS received his honorary doctorate at Oxford in 1909, there was a celebratory dinner, the menu for which was printed with each course translated into Romany. “On the facing page of the menu was printed a Romany translation of ‘A book of verses underneath the bough.’” (2f) – presumably, then, the opening verse of his Romany Rubaiyat, a translation of verse 12 of FitzGerald’s 3rd, 4th or 5th edition, as depicted in Figs 2a, 2b & 5. Unfortunately, I have been unable to trace a copy of this menu.

In 1894, JS married Margaret Sprunt, some ten years his junior. A couple of years later, they settled in Chatham Street, Liverpool, close to University College. They were to have three children (2g). In 1909, to facilitate his studies of the Welsh Gypsies, the family moved to Bettws–Gwerfil–Goch (2h), a village in Denbighshire, North Wales, with a move to the less remote Llangollen in 1916 (2i). During this period JS lived in lodgings in Liverpool for his day–time job as a librarian. Unfortunately for Mrs Sampson, that wasn’t all the move to Wales facilitated, as we shall see, and the marriage was effectively over by 1919, though the two never divorced.

JS died on 9th November 1931. At his request, his ashes were scattered at Foel Goch, “The Red Mountain”, about 6 miles south–west of Bettws–Gwerfil–Goch, the ceremony taking place on 21st November 1931. His funeral was attended by family members and friends, many of the latter being gypsies, an oration being read in Romany by Augustus John (more on this below.) There was no Christian ceremonial, the closest to it being when the gypsy mourners recited the Romany equivalent of “earth to earth, ashes to ashes, dust to dust.” (2j). All this didn’t please his family, and indeed he knew they wouldn’t approve of what he called his “heathen memorial” (2k). But the ceremony went ahead in accordance with his wishes, this unusual event even making the national press. It featured prominently as a front page feature in the Daily Mirror on 23rd November 1931. Perhaps not surprisingly, The Times gave a rather more restrained account of the proceedings in its “News in Brief” column on 21st November 1931 (p.15.)

Exactly how JS came to translate the Rubaiyat into Romany is not clear. He was never a member of the Omar Khayyam Club, nor ever a guest at one of their dinners. But he certainly had Omarian tendencies towards wine, women and song, probably too much so in the case of the first two. He was certainly a heavy drinker, and it is not much to his credit that, with his wife and children out of the way in Wales, he set up house with one of his young research assistants, Gladys Imlach, by whom he had had an illegitimate daughter in 1906 (2l). He also had an affair with another of his young female assistant researchers, Dora Yates, with whom he would exchange bawdy poems (2m). In fact, Dora Yates was to become his literary executor, and was eventually to set up the John Sampson Archive in the University of Liverpool, in which she took care to preserve a file of their bawdy lyrics. She was also to write her own book, My Gypsy Days, published in 1953, to which we shall return below.

As regards his Omarian leanings, it is known that JS firmly rejected Christianity (2n) – his funeral was essentially a pagan ceremony (2o), remember. He was also a poet in his own right, his book of Romany poems, with English translations, Romane Gilia, being published by Oxford University Press in 1931. In the poem “To a Chinese Girl” he asks her, “what doest thou here in this land of foreigners ? ...where gentiles prate of God and the Devil, and of Good and Evil ?”, adding, “Not of their creed am I.” Again, in the poem “The Romani Gaudeamus”, he writes, “Let us make merry while youth remains to us; after sweet Youth, after bitter Age, soon Mother Earth will receive us.” To the foregoing we should perhaps add that, given JS’s roving eye and his various mistresses, his poem “The Five Wives” may not be just a Romany fantasy! Incidentally, like the Romany Rubayat, Romane Gilia had a frontispiece by Augustus John (Fig.3).

Again, we know that JS had a fondness for the Yellow Book and the work of Richard le Gallienne (2p). But in the heady 1890s of the Aesthetes, editions of the Rubaiyat were legion, and he could have encountered any number of editions via any number of routes, and sadly nothing seems to be known about exactly how and when he first encountered it. Clearly, though, FitzGerald’s translation inspired him enough to translate it into Romany. How Augustus John became involved is known, however.

First, some background.

The main details of the life of Augustus John (AJ) are so readily available (4) that here we need only focus on some key details relating to JS, his Omarian leanings, and the Romany Rubaiyat.

AJ was born in Wales in 1878. He married Ida Nettleship in January 1901, and the need to support a wife and eventually children (they were to have five) meant he had to settle down and ‘get a proper job’ – he was not yet famous enough to do without one. This was how he came to be an instructor at the art school affiliated to University College, Liverpool (4a). It was here that he met JS in the spring of 1901 (4b). Like JS, AJ took a great interest in the life–style, culture and lore of the gypsies. More than that, he could not only speak Romany, but at times he lived the life of a gypsy: he and his wife and / or long–term mistress, Dorothy ‘Dorelia’ MacNeill (occasionally both, in a ménage à trois), with assorted children (he had four by Dorelia), would travel the country in a gypsy caravan. It was all distinctly unconventional, even for an artist.

The famous ménage à trois began in 1904, and lasted until Ida’s early death at the age of 30 in 1907. Thereafter Dorelia and AJ remained together until his death in 1961, despite his roving eye and numerous affairs with other women. Indeed, it is said that it was AJ’s roving eye which encouraged JS’s eye to rove more than it might otherwise have done (2q) – one suspects that JS envied AJ’s sexual freedom – recall his poem, “The Five Wives”, mentioned above. Unfortunately, on one occasion their eyes roved over the same young lady, and they nearly came to blows (2r). Part of the problem seems to have been that the romance of the gypsies attracted many young ladies to the Gypsy Lore Society, enough for it to become re–named in some quarters as the Gypsy Love Society (2s). But to get back to AJ’s collaboration with JS, Anthony Sampson wrote of JS, “The Rai”, thus:

The Rai sent poems or gypsy songs and stories to John, who in turn sent sketches of gypsies and others. ‘Now partner, you must play straight. No publishing songs without my collaboration – that is the bond,’ John wrote from Essex in 1905, trying at the same time to persuade the Rai to come south. ‘There are some German Gypsies in London – so two Romany Rais would find plenty to do just now in town.’ When the Rai translated some verses of FitzGerald’s Rubaiyat of Omar Khayyam into Romani, John drew a sketch of a gypsy boy and girl as a frontispiece, a generous gesture he would often repeat (5). (2t)

JS had finished his translation of Omar into Romany in 1901, and invited AJ to contribute a frontispiece (4c). But AJ seems to have done this more from gypsy motives than Omarian ones – hence the gypsy slant to his frontispiece. Like JS, he was never a member of the Omar Khayyam Club, nor ever a guest at one of their dinners. However, like JS, AJ had Omarian tendencies towards wine, women and song. He certainly liked a drink or three, and as regards women, in addition to his ménage à trois with Ida and Dorelia, he had numerous other affairs, as indicated above. These included one, in 1921, when he was 43, with a star–struck girl of 16, known as Chiquita, by whom he had a child (4d). His numerous affairs were not all plain sailing, however, and in 1910–11 he was pursued (“stalked” as we would now say) by Frida Strindberg, the wife of the dramatist August Strindberg, whom AJ dubbed the “Walking hell–bitch of the Western World” and “the tiger–woman from Vienna” (4e; 6a)). The story makes for amusing reading and one cannot help but think that the Almighty might have sent Frida as a punishment for AJ’s philandering. (The Lord also sent her in pursuit of Wyndham Lewis, but that is another story: in brief, he made a luckier escape than AJ.)

Talking of the Almighty, AJ rejected, or at least was irreverent towards, orthodox Christianity, being “in favour of the rehabilitation of the Earth–Mother and Child, whose image installed in a covered wagon would be drawn by oxen and attended by dancing corybantes.” Tongue firmly in cheek, he added, “as for the necessary miracles, Will Rothenstein could be depended on to turn wine into water for a start, and the rest would follow.” (6b) He also wrote:

I am no theologian, but I am by nature inclined to dispute the wisdom of those grave myth–makers who refuse their pantheon to all but one divinity. As far as the gods go, I confess myself a pluralist, though holding them, like earthly monarchs, to be all the better for careful limitation. No totalitarian! Even Christian theology, somewhat grudgingly, admits three, or, including the Virgin Mother, four members of the ruling Family, without counting Lucifer of course, while at the same time insisting on the essential singularity of all together. Such scholastic subtlety is too fine for some of us, and leads inevitably to argument or worse. (6c)

Like JS, then, AJ was effectively a pagan, though he did do a crude, though conventional, chalk, pen and wash drawing, “The Road to Calvary” (7a) and a rather curiously unconventional chalk drawing, “Suffer Little Children to come unto me”, in which Christ’s audience all wear modern dress, one adult male clearly wearing braces (7b). Finally, unlike JS, AJ’s funeral was to be rather conventional in the end – he was laid to rest at Fordingbridge Parish Church in November 1961 (4f).

I have seen little, then, to indicate AJ’s interest in the Omar cult or in FitzGerald’s translation, but much to indicate gypsy leanings (4g) and a hedonistic lifestyle. He was an early member of the Gypsy Lore Society (3) and on one occasion contributed a drawing, “Wandering Sinnte”, to serve as the frontispiece to volume 2 of the second series of their journal in 1908–9 (Fig.4) At any rate, as indicated above, AJ did the frontispiece to JS’s Rubaiyat, giving a gypsy twist to Omar and his beloved “beneath the bough.” Unfortunately, AJ said nothing at all about his frontispiece in his autobiographical Chiaroscuro, saying merely that JS “made numerous experiments in verse, including translations from Heine, FitzGerald, etc into Romani.” (6d); and he said nothing whatever about the Romany Omar in its sequel Finishing Touches. However, we do know that Fig.2a was one of three gypsy variants (8a) which he did, another of which is shown in Fig.2b, and we do know that he did two rather more orthodox Persian versions illustrating the same verse, one of which is shown in Fig.5 (8b). Unfortunately, these more conventional illustrations were destined to remain unused.

Romany Rubaiyat 1: Francis Hindes Groome and the Dedicatory Poem

The dedicatory poem of Sampson’s translation was to Francis Hindes Groome, and in fact, as we shall see, it was written by JS on the occasion of Groome’s early death at the age of 50 in 1902. Groome was a Suffolk–born writer, who initially developed an interest in gypsies via one of his teachers at school, and later delighted in meeting the gypsies of Oxford whilst at University there. Subsequently he wrote the article on Gypsies for the ninth edition of Encyclopaedia Britannica (1879) and various books on the gypsies, their social life, customs and folk–tales – notably In Gypsy Tents (1880) and Gypsy Folk Tales (1899). He also wrote a gypsy novel with the curious title Kriegspiel (1896). But he will be better known to most readers of this essay as the man who wrote Two Suffolk Friends (1895).

The book consisted of an essay by Groome on his father, Robert Hindes Groome (“A Suffolk Parson”) – he had been the Archdeacon of Suffolk – and an essay on his father’s close friend, FitzGerald (“Edward FitzGerald: an Aftermath.”) In the second essay we encounter that wonderful scene: “So over the garden–gate FitzGerald leant one June morning, and asked me, a boy of eight, was my father at home.” (p.68) He also tells us that, as a boy, he went sailing with FitzGerald, and, with his father, used to visit FitzGerald at Woodbridge. Years later, in 1877–8, he tells us, when he was the editor of the “Suffolk Notes and Queries” column of the Ipswich Journal, he had dealings with FitzGerald again. This was in connection with FitzGerald’s contributions on the derivations of words in the Suffolk dialect, all written under the pen-name “Effigy”, a play on his initials E.F.G. (p.78f)

Two Suffolk Friends was partially republished in 1902 under the title Edward FitzGerald: an Aftermath. The latter book was basically a reprint of the former’s essay, “Edward FitzGerald: an Aftermath”, prefaced by an essay of Theodore Watts–Dunton’s, “The Tarno Rye (Francis Hindes Groome)” – Rye here, of course, is a variant spelling of JS’s gypsy nickname, Rai (as gypsy is of gipsy, and Romany is of Romani). Watts–Dunton’s essay, originally published in The Athenaeum on February 22nd, 1902 (p.243–6) as an obituary of Groome (9a), makes it clear that the prefatory poem of JS’s Romany Rubaiyat was indeed written to mark Groome’s passing (p.23–4.) Obligingly, Watts–Dunton (who was a member of the Gypsy Lore Society (3), and had written a gypsy novel Aylwin, first published in 1898) provided a translation of it. This is worth reproducing here:

Scholar Gypsy, Brother, Student,
Peacefully I kiss thy forehead,
Quietly I depart and leave
Thee whom I loved – “Good Night.”

Sunny, smiling was the morning;
A light heart was thine, as, a youth,
Thou didst strike life’s trail
And take the ancient road.

The birds sang in the woods,
Man and maid laughed on thee,
The hills, field, and water thou didst love
The golden summer illuminated.

Then come the rain, cold, and wind.
All the day thou hast tramped bravely.
Now thou growest weary, night comes on.
It is time to make thy tent.

Across death’s dark stream
I give thee my hand; and what
Thou wouldst have desired for thyself
I wish thee – mayst thou sleep well.

Oddly enough, under the heading “To Francis Hindes Groome”, JS printed the Romany version and his own translation of it in the above–mentioned book of poems Romane Gilia, and his translation has only minor word differences to Watts–Dunton’s versified rendering (Fig.6). This rather begs the question of how much Watts–Dunton’s translation owed to JS, for though Romane Gilia was published in 1931, as JS tells us in its Preface, the poems (at least, the Romany versions) were actually written years before publication – in 1902 in the case of “To Francis Hindes Groome.” Incidentally, the first and last verses of the above were ‘recycled’ as AJ’s oration at the funeral of JS, mentioned above (2u).

Theodore Watts–Dunton and George Borrow

Watts–Dunton is probably best known today as having been the ‘minder’ of Swinburne for 30 years until the poet died in 1909. Swinburne, of course, had been one of that happy band of discoverers of unsold copies of the first edition of FitzGerald’s Rubaiyat in Bernard Quaritch’s penny box in 1861 (Dante Gabriel Rossetti and Whitley Stokes were two others.) But Watts–Dunton too was a Rubaiyat enthusiast. He was a member of the Omar Khayyam Club from 1896 until his death in 1914, and he wrote a poem “Toast to Omar Khayyam”, which first appeared in The Athenaeum on 11th May 1895 (p.609), and was subsequently reprinted in at least two editions of The Rubaiyat (10). It also featured in a collection of Watts–Dunton’s poems, The Coming of Love (1897), along with another poem, “Prayer to the Winds”, which was subtitled, “On planting at the head of FitzGerald’s Grave two Rose–Trees whose ancestors had scattered their petals over the Tomb of Omar Khayyam.” This latter poem being not so accessible to Rubaiyat enthusiasts, I quote the last six lines of it here as representative of the whole. I leave readers to judge the quality for themselves:

Hear us, ye winds, North, East, West and South,
This granite covers him whose golden mouth
Made wiser ev’n the Word of Wisdom’s King:
Blow softly over Omar’s Western herald
Till roses rich of Omar’s dust shall spring
From richer dust of Suffolk’s rare FitzGerald.

But to return to gypsy studies: Watts–Dunton had known both George Borrow and Francis Hindes Groome – the latter had contacted him after reading his obituary article on the former in The Athenaeum in 1881 (9b). All three of them had a fascination for gypsies. Watts–Dunton and Groome we have already dealt with: what of George Borrow, arguably the most famous of the three ?

Borrow (11) is best known today for his best–selling book The Bible in Spain (1843) and his semi–autobiographical gypsy–oriented novels Lavengro (1851) and its sequel, The Romany Rye (1857) – Rye again being a variant spelling of Rai. He also wrote Wild Wales: its People, Language and Scenery (1862). In fact Borrow was very widely travelled, having been across much of Europe, Turkey and Russia – among his lesser known works is Zincali: an Account of the Gypsies of Spain (1841). He was also a skilled, though apparently sometimes careless, linguist, with a knowledge of French, Spanish, Portuguese, Italian, German, Dutch, Danish, Swedish, Finnish, Hebrew, Arabic, Turkish, Persian and Russian, not to mention Welsh and, of course, Romany. In fact, in 1837 he had translated St Luke’s Gospel into Romany, and his last book was Romano–Lavo–Lil, a word–book of Anglo–Romany published in 1874. In 1835, whilst in St Petersburg and working on a Manchu Bible for the Bible Society (to his regret he was never able to go to China), he had published The Targum or Metrical Translation from Thirty Languages and Dialects, the languages including most of the foregoing list, notably Persian. This will remind many readers that Borrow and FitzGerald knew each other from about 1853 (12a). In October 1856 FitzGerald sent Borrow a Turkish dictionary (12b). More significantly for us, in a letter dated 24th May 1857, FitzGerald introduced Borrow to “one Omar Khayyam who was an Epicurean Infidel some 500 years ago”, rounding off his letter with a sample quatrain in Persian, without translation (12c). Not only that, but FitzGerald subsequently lent him the transcript of the Ouseley MS which Cowell had copied out for him (12d). Borrow was one of the very few people to whom FitzGerald gave copies of his first edition when it was published in 1859 (12e).

Returning to Watts–Dunton, now, he used to take long walks with Borrow in Richmond Park in London, and there is – or at least, was – an old oak tree there which bore both their initials ‘in memoriam’ (13a). As for Groome, he was described by Watts–Dunton as the man who had the most entirely won his heart and one who was free from writer’s vanity (13b). As indicated earlier, Groome died in 1902, aged only 50.

But there is more to the story of Groome and the gypsies than we have seen so far.

Francis Hindes Groome, Britannia and Esmeralda

Details are sketchy and uncertain, but it appears that in 1872 Groome ran off with a young married gypsy woman named Britannia Lee. Somewhat eccentrically, his friends and / or family sought to get him to come to his senses by posting a notice in the ‘agony column’ on the front page of The Times on October 11th, 12th, 14th, 15th, 16th & 17th of that year (the 13th was a Sunday). The matter being delicate, this could obviously not be done in English, so the appeal to come home was made in Romany! (Fig.7a.) In brief, it told Groome that he was breaking his mother’s heart and driving his father insane. (14) Presumably Groome did come back, for we hear little more of the matter. But he had clearly developed a taste for married gypsy women, for within two years, in 1874, he was ‘at it again’.

This time Groome eloped with Esmeralda Smith (15a) (née Lock or Locke (15b)), a woman of Romany extraction who at that time was unhappily married to the town clerk of Bridgnorth, Hubert Smith, a solicitor by profession. Smith was another character in our story who had an interest in gypsies, and he had published a book about them, Tent Life with English Gipsies in Norway (1873), in which he detailed his travels in Norway with Esmeralda and some of her family. Indeed, their marriage had taken place in Norway, it being announced, somewhat curiously, in Romany as well as English, in the Marriages column on the front page of The Times on 21st July 1874 (though the marriage had actually taken place on the 11th – Fig.7b). Interestingly, Smith’s book included a drawing of Esmeralda holding a tambourine (Fig.8a). Unfortunately, the marriage seems to have been in accordance with the wishes of Esmeralda’s parents rather than of Esmeralda herself. At any rate, when Esmeralda met Groome she fell in love with him, and the two eloped. They travelled around Germany, Groome earning some money by translation work, Esmeralda earning some money by singing and dancing in cafés and places of public entertainment. Subsequently they returned to Britain, first to London, where Esmeralda apparently earned some money through various music–hall appearances, but finally settling in Edinburgh in 1876, where they married following a sensational divorce from Smith, which made headlines in many newspapers – “The Solicitor and the Gypsy” was that in The Liverpool Mercury on March 3rd 1876, for example (16). But their marriage eventually failed – basically, though she loved him, her gypsy nature drove him to distraction, and they separated. In 1898, the exasperated Groome wrote to her, “We never must meet again this side of the grave,” and it seems they never did (2v). She apparently returned to the gypsy life, living for twenty five years in yellow and green caravan with her dog and cats, her eventual address becoming “The Caravan, Prestatyn.” (2w) Somewhat unromantically, she died in 1939 after being knocked down by a bus. Finally, as a rather curious aside, AJ tells us that that “Groome told Sampson that he hated Gypsies, but couldn’t keep away from them, which statement Dora Boswell pronounced ondiculous.” (6e)

Perhaps not surprisingly, Watts–Dunton makes no mention of Britannia Lee or Esmeralda Smith in his essay “The Tarno Rye (Francis Hindes Groome).” Some things are best left unsaid, as the saying goes.

But we are not finished with Esmeralda yet, for she is said to have modelled for Dante Gabriel Rossetti, like Swinburne, one of the discoverers of the remaindered Rubaiyat. One of the results, so the story goes, was a picture of Esmeralda on the parapet of Notre Dame Cathedral, Paris, in allusion to her namesake in Victor Hugo’s novel; another had her dancing in the street, playing a tambourine. Anthony Sampson, for example, quotes the story in The Scholar Gypsy (2x), as does the Gypsy website cited in notes 15a & 15b. Would that it were true, but alas, there is no evidence for it, and it seems to be something of a tall story, though an interesting one.

The story begins in Dora Yates’s book, My Gypsy Days (1953), in the course of her Chapter 8, “My Romani Sisters”, part 1 of which was devoted to Esmeralda:

It was not until after Borrow’s death in 1881 that Groome got into touch with Theodore Watts–Dunton who, hailing him as a brother authority on the Gypsy race and a fellow–Omarian, introduced the tarno Rai and his wife to Rossetti and others of his literary friends. (17a) On this Bohemian circle Esmeralda made a profound impression and Dante Gabriel has left an immortal record of her charm as the dancing girl or the ‘Romany Chy’ in more than one of his pictures. (p.105)

No Notre Dame here, then, but this detail too comes from Dora Yates, not from My Gypsy Days, but from her hand–written notes on Esmeralda in the Gypsy Lore Society Archive at Liverpool University (17b). Here Yates says quite categorically: “Painted by Rossetti on parapet of Nôtre Dame Paris, and when dancing in the streets with a tambourine.”

However, there are no known pictures of Esmeralda by Rossetti, on the parapet of Notre Dame or dancing in the streets with a tambourine. For a start, by Yates’s own account, Esmeralda met Rossetti in 1881 at the earliest, and the artist died in 1882. It is not impossible on the basis of dates, then, and indeed Rossetti did complete several paintings in the last year of his life. But if any such picture was ever done, it has not survived, or at least, its whereabouts are unknown. It is true that Rossetti did a drawing “La Gitana” (The Gypsy Girl), but nothing is known about it except that it was exhibited at the Burlington Fine Arts Club (B.F.A.C.) in 1883, since when it has been lost. However, “La Gitana” seems to have been drawn in about 1872, long before Esmeralda was introduced to Rossetti and his circle (17c).

So from whom did Yates get her information ? It seems fairly likely that she got it from Esmeralda herself, and that Esmeralda was just spinning a yarn, as she was certainly not above doing with her husbands. To give an idea of her inventiveness, when Esmeralda first fell in love with Groome, and Groome had left the vicinity, she told Hubert Smith that she had been bewitched and must see a gypsy wise man. Apparently she produced a letter from the said wise man to that effect. Smith agreed, and off she went – with Groome, of course, whose writing turned out to be suspiciously like that of the wise man. Again, when Smith filed for divorce, he attempted one last chance for a reconciliation. Esmeralda went to see him, and they spent the night together. But in the morning Esmeralda told Smith that she had had a dream foretelling Groome’s suicide unless she went to see him for a final goodbye. Smith agreed that she could go, giving her two hours to do so. She went, but never came back (17d). Such was Esmeralda’s (and Groome’s) honesty. And such was Hubert Smith’s gullibility, one might add.

Again, according to Dora Yates (15a), Esmeralda claimed to have appeared on the stage of the Edgware Road Music Hall in London with Vesta Tilley, the most famous male impersonator of her day. She gives no dates, but presumably it was just after she and Groome had returned to England from Germany, temporarily settling in London, and before they settled in Edinburgh to marry in 1876 – hence c.1875–6, given that they had eloped in 1874 and spent some time abroad. Now, Vesta Tilley was born in 1864, and so would have been at most about twelve years old at the time of Esmeralda’s alleged performance. This is not as impossible as it sounds, for she was certainly a popular stage performer by that age, and she did start a London tour in 1874 which might have overlapped with the time of Esmeralda’s claim. To date, though, I have found no evidence that Esmeralda actually shared the boards with her.

Romany Rubaiyat 2: W.E.A. Axon and H.T. Crofton

But, to return to The Rubaiyat, we are not quite finished yet, for John Sampson’s translation of The Rubaiyat into Welsh Romany had a modest predecessor – a translation of verse 12 of FitzGerald’s second edition into English Romany, by William Edward Armytage Axon (1846–1913), the Manchester–based librarian, bibliographer and journalist (18), and his friend, the Manchester–based solicitor and antiquarian, Henry Thomas Crofton (1848–1928) (19). Their translation was originally published in The Manchester Quarterly in July 1899 (Potter #812), and subsequently as a slim pamphlet of only four pages (Potter #506), titled Homer Tankeromengo ’dré Rómanes – A Quatrain of Omar Khayyam in Rómanes, published in Manchester in 1899, three years before JS’s more extensive Welsh Romany version. The pamphlet is so rare that I give images of its title page (Fig.9a) and text (Fig.9b) here. (The front cover is identical to the title page.)

We know, from two surviving letters from Crofton to Axon, dated 10th and 12th April 1899, which are preserved in the Axon Papers at the John Rylands Library in Manchester (20a), that the two collaborators discussed the faithful translation of this single verse in some detail. The first of the letters also makes it clear that “Homer Tankeromengo” is an improvised Romany rendering of “Omar the Tentmaker.” We also know, from another letter preserved in the Axon collection (20b), dated 16th September 1899, that John Sampson wrote to Axon as follows:

I was very much pleased with your and Mr Crofton’s Romani version of FitzGerald’s quatrain. Some time ago I gave away to a friend who was leaving England my own copy of FitzGerald in which I had scribbled at odd times my own attempted Romani translations of many of the quatrains. I am sorry I kept no copy of these, but you might be interested in one or two of those which I happen to remember. They are done into the Welsh dialect, in which all the words and inflections have a more definite and accurate usage than in English Romani. As the dialects differ in many little respects I give a bald literal interlinear translation.

He then gives five of the verses, pretty much as they appear in his subsequent pamphlet (verses XXI, XXII, VI, XVI & VIII), before continuing:

I forget how my own version of the quatrain, which you have so prettily translated ran, but a very little change would transform yours into the W. dialect.

Axon & Crofton’s quatrain corresponds to verse I in JS’s pamphlet. Curiously the version he gives in the letter is very different to that in his later pamphlet, and given that the pamphlet version contained 22 quatrains, whereas he could recall only 5 in the letter, one wonders if JS retrieved his annotated Rubaiyat from the friend to whom he had given it to facilitate the publication of the pamphlet. This being such an interesting document, it is reproduced here as Figs.10a, 10b, 10c & 10d. The pamphlet version of verse I is shown in Fig.10e.

A slightly different version of the story is given in the obituary of Sampson which appeared in the JGLS in 1932 (3rd series, vol.11, no.1, p.3–23.) Written by “Andreas” (= Scott Macfie (2y)), the relevant paragraph reads:

In the Manchester Quarterly of July 1899, and as a separate publication with cover, a title almost as long as the text, and an introduction, there appeared a single quatrain of Omar Khayyam laboriously translated without rhymes into ‘the speech of the English Gypsies’ by the joint toil of William E.A. Axon and H.T. Crofton. Sampson, nettled, immediately began to produce rhymed translations of quatrains in Welsh Romani, the first printed being one he gave to E. Gordon Duff to serve as dedication verse to his Sanders Lectures privately issued in the same year. Duff used to relate that the Keeper of the Printed Books at the British Museum asked: ‘What is this language, Duff ? I can’t find out. If you invented it, it is a very beautiful one.’ Twenty–two such quatrains were published in 1902, with a frontispiece by Augustus John, in a small quarto which is already one of the rarities of Gypsy Literature. (p.14)

Quite where the truth lies between the two versions of the story is anyone’s guess, but Sampson could certainly become quite jealous of any rival (2z).

But to get back to Axon, he had a flair for languages, like George Borrow, and wrote (though his name is not given on the title page) a curious little booklet titled The Name of God in 405 Languages (Manchester & London, 1870.) More relevant here, in the Report of the 57th Meeting of the British Association for the Advancement of Science held at Manchester in August and September 1887 (published in 1888) there appeared his short article on “Colour Names among the English Gipsies”; in 1890 the JGLS published his essay “Romany Songs Established”, this containing his translations of gypsy songs from Transylvania, Russia, Spain and England; in 1899 his article “A Welsh Gipsy Story” appeared in Notes & Queries (issue of Aug 26th, p.161–2); and in 1907 The Antiquary (of London) published his article “The English Gipsies in 1818”. Other articles / pamphlets include “English Dialect Words of the Eighteenth Century as shown in the Universal Etymological Dictionary of Nathaniel Bailey” (London, 1883) and, rather more off the beaten track, “On the Pronunciation of Deaf Mutes who have been Taught to Articulate” (Manchester, 1881) and “Shorthand in Church” (no place of publication, c.1895). But Axon had wide ranging interests spanning many years, as some of his titles show: “The Smallest Books in the World” (Manchester, 1876); “Mother Shipton’s Prophecies” (Manchester, 1882) – though he is not named on the title page; “Berber Folk–Tales” (Manchester, 1888); “The Significance of Kufic Coins in Northumbria” (Northumbria, 1888); “Thomas Taylor, the Platonist” (London, 1890) “On a Reference to the Evil Eye in the Anglo–Saxon Poem of Beowulf” (London, 1899); “A Fifteenth Century Life of St. Dorothea” (Manchester, 1901); “Archery in Manchester in the Sixteenth and Seventeenth Centuries” (Manchester, 1901); “Lancashire Sundials” (no place of publication, c.1907) and “Some Forged Antiquities” (Manchester, 1908) – well in advance of his time, he suggested that museums should catalogue some for future reference.

As a vegetarian and a dedicated member of The Vegetarian Society, of which he wrote a history of its first fifty years, he published “Shelley’s Vegetarianism” (Manchester, 1891); “An Arab Vegetarian of the Tenth Century” (no place of publication, c.1907); and – a question which not many of us have asked ourselves – “Was Swedenborg a Vegetarian ?” (Manchester, 1909.) Of particular interest to readers of this article, though, is Axon’s very rare pamphlet, “Edward FitzGerald and Vegetarianism”, published by the Vegetarian Society in 1909 (21a) – its title page is shown in Fig.11a. A couple of other titles will be enough to show some of Axon’s other lifestyle choices: “Tobacco and Disease” (London, 1872); “Kindness to Animals in Ancient and Modern Times” (Manchester, 1894); “England Free – and Sober” (Manchester, 1899) (Fig.11b) and “Drink and Death” (Sheffield, c.1900) (Fig.11c). These last two titles, of course, seem rather at odds with Axon’s interest in the wine–drinking Omar, and it is an amusing coincidence that in one of the five volumes of Axon’s tracts housed in Manchester Central Library (21b), the Axon & Crofton Omar pamphlet is sandwiched between “England Free – and Sober” and another temperance tract, “A Sermon on Malt” (Manchester, 1899) (Fig.11d). Yet another, rather curious, temperance tract by Axon is the single–page text of “The Prophet Mohammed and Wine” (Fig.11e). It was presumably printed in Manchester and is undated, though it was probably printed in about 1901 (21c).

Unlike JS & AJ, then, Axon did not lead a life of wine, women and song. His life was a conventional and respectable one of scholarly pursuit, and only the circumstances of his birth were unconventional. As Walmsley (18a) delicately puts it, he was “the natural son of a widower, Edward Armytage and Lydia Whitehead, a fifteen–and–a–half–year–old servant girl employed in his household.” The name Axon came from the family who fostered him, it seems, to which we should add that he retained contact with his mother, even though she moved to Yorkshire and married a blacksmith. (It does not seem as if he retained much contact with his father, however.) But if his life was respectably conventional compared with those of JS and AJ, the titles of some of his books and essays nevertheless mark him out as an interesting character, though today Axon is probably best known for his less exotic but more popular titles like Lancashire Gleanings (1883), Cheshire Gleanings (1884), Annals of Manchester (1886) and Echoes of Old Lancashire (1899). Finally, like JS, Axon was largely self–taught, and, if anything, had less schooling than JS. (18b) Also like JS, he became a librarian – at the age of 15 he became an assistant at the Manchester Free Library (18c). Again like JS, he was honoured, firstly with an honorary LLD by Wilberforce University, Ohio (for his literary achievements, particularly in support of racial equality for negroes) in 1899 (18d & 22), and secondly, by Manchester University with an Honorary M.A. shortly before his death in 1913, the ceremony taking place at his home, in his sick–room cum library, with him propped up in a chair (18e).

Axon’s name is associated with two other Potter numbers besides Potter ##506 & 812, namely Potter ##148 & 314.

Potter #148, the Broadbent Miniature Edition (no.5 of a series of Miniatures), was published by Albert Broadbent of Deansgate, Manchester in 1909. It was basically a popular, affordable edition of The Rubaiyat, with a short Introduction by Axon, who was presumably known to Broadbent as a prominent local literary celebrity. In it he expressed his clear admiration for FitzGerald as a poet:

Some of his Philistine contemporaries regarded with conventional amusement the unconventional poet and thinker, whose lot had been cast in their midst, but their names are already forgotten – indeed were never known – whilst his will live as that of one who has enriched the literature and thought of his fatherland.

Potter #314, A Treasury of Translations, consisted of a selection of Axon’s translations from foreign literature, set in verse form, the selection having been made by his publisher friend, Albert Broadbent, to form a booklet in his popular Treasury Series. It appeared first in 1902 and had run to a fifth edition by 1909. I have only seen copies of the editions of 1903 and 1909, however.

In the 1903 edition, as Potter says of the 1902 one, there is only a single quatrain “attributed to Omar Khayyam and also Hakim Sanäï” – “Beauty & the Dust” (p.13). As Douglas Taylor has discovered, the translation is of Whinfield (1901), quatrain 501:

Erst was the dust we tread beneath our feet
A woman’s face, – a woman fair and meet.
Soft blow the dust from Beauty’s shining brow,
’Twas once the ringlet of a woman sweet.

The quatrain appears again in the 1909 edition (p.22), but this edition now contains four others (on p.30), as follows. The asterisk is in the original:

One by one, men pass behind the Veil,
And none return its secrets to retail.
O, devotee, be humble in thy heart,
Prayer, proud and insincere, can naught avail.

Man is a creature made of sorrow’s clay;
For a few days, or even for one day,
He eats some hasty morsels here below,
Then lifts his foot and quickly jogs away.

Not one day from this world’s fetters free,
Each instant tossed on being’s stormy sea,
Apprentice I, who master ne’er became
Or of this world, or that which is to be.


The shining heavens will roll when we are dead;
Then rest upon this spring–time’s flowery bed.
We have not long for rest and joy, for soon
Another greensward from our dust is fed.

The first three of these are, as Potter indicates, translations from the French of J.B. Nicolas, being quatrains 227, 302 and 314. The fourth is a translation of Nicolas’s quatrain 348.

But we should add to this that Axon (again like JS) was a poet in his own right, and his collected poems were published in The Ancoats Skylark and Other Verses (1894). Poems like “Vegetarian Life” (a Sonnet Acrostic the initial letters of whose lines spell out the title – p.54) and “The Sun of Temperance” (p.55) reflect his lifestyle choices as mentioned above. (Fig.12) A closer affinity with Omar, though, is shown in the poem “A Pyramid” (p.15), written, he tells us, as “an imitation of a sonnet written by Nuñez d’ Arce.” (no direct reference to Omar, then.) I quote it here as an example of Axon’s work (23):

A king, who wisht remembrance for his name,
So that the world its sound would ne’er forget,
By thousand shrinking slaves in blood and sweat
Built up this mighty pyramid of fame.
But vain and sterile soon his dream became;
His deeds has History refused to write,
And Time, though old and blind, in rapid flight,
O’erturns his statues, and blots out his name.
The dust that on the hollow of his hand
The traveller looks at with an aspect grave,
Was it the dust of tyrant or of slave ?
All things are changed beneath Time’s potent wand.
God doth for overmast’ring human pride
Oblivion’s Eternity provide.

The reference to God in the last two lines, of course, again contrasts with Omar’s irreverence for the Almighty. Indeed, two of Axon’s poems titled “Hymn” (p.44 & 54 – for the latter see Fig.12) confirm that Axon was a devout Christian.

Among the Axon Papers at the John Rylands Library is an envelope containing what seem to be carbon copies of typed–out, but unpublished, poems (20c). One of these (Fig.13), taking its lead from I John 3.2, again denotes a strong Christian belief. But Omar again surfaces in a hastily written verse, on the back of a note dated March 8th 1909, from “A.B” to Axon, attached to a Vegetarian Society Summer School advert. (Note again the involvement of Albert Broadbent.) It reads, in FitzGerald’s format:

Eternity – a wondrous word a faire
Nor thou nor I its secrets can declare.
Behind [the?] curtain – talk of thee and me;
The Curtain falls – nor thou nor I are there.

This unique document is shown in Figs.14a & 14b. (Compare Whinfield (1883), quatrain 389.)

Finally, though we don’t know at what date Axon actually ‘discovered’ The Rubaiyat, Omar’s views on the transience of Earthly things and the fragility of human life must surely have been shared by Axon when his wife Jane died in July 1889, aged only 46; his daughter Katharine died in October 1890, aged only 18, and his granddaughter Helen Josephine died in June 1891, aged only 1. The Lord giveth, and the Lord taketh away, as the saying goes, but sometimes the Lord must seem to take things a little too far, even to the most devout of Christians.

As for H.T. Crofton, he was less prolific and less eclectic in his output. He wrote various books and articles on local history and on his own family history (he came from an old titled Anglo–Irish family.) His magnum opus in the field of gypsy studies, though, was The Dialect of the English Gypsies (London, 1875), co–authored with B.C. Smart. This was followed by English Gypsy Vocabulary (London, 1912), also co–authored with Smart. He also wrote various gypsy–related articles – “Gypsy Life in Lancashire and Cheshire” (Manchester, 1877); “The English Gipsies under the Tudors” (Manchester, 1880); “Early Books on Gipsies” (Manchester, 1881) and “Gipsy Folk–Tales” (Manchester, 1882.) He also wrote various articles for the JGLS, details of his presidency and vice presidency of the Society being given in note 3. His correspondence with Groome is mentioned in note 14.

Photographs of both JS and AJ are easily found, but photographs of Axon and Crofton are not so readily available, for which reason I give two here. The one of Axon (Fig.15) is from Walmsley’s biography of note 18, and shows him as he would have looked at around the time he was translating FitzGerald into Romany. The one of Crofton (Fig.16) is from the online source cited in note 19. Crofton is here obviously fairly young, but there is no known photograph of him at a more advanced age, so this one is the best we have at present.


Note 1: According to my annotated copy (see the Postscript below), JS’s verses I to XXII correspond, respectively, to FitzGerald’s verses 12, 17, 21, 22, 27, 29, 30, 32, 44, 46, 47, 55, 59, 63, 64, 70, 71, 72, 81, 94, 96 & 99 (no edition specified, but clearly the 3rd or 4th.) This is clarified by Sir Donald MacAlister’s Romani Versions (GLS Monographs no.5, 1928, p.60–7), where JS’s translations are given alongside their originals from FitzGerald’s 4th edition. Some of MacAlister’s own translations of Omar can be found in the same volume (p.52–9), these having originally been published in 1907 in his book Echoes (Potter #585.)

Note 2: An interesting and very readable account of JS can be found in Anthony Sampson’s book The Scholar Gypsy (1997) – his title presumably takes its lead from Matthew Arnold’s poem bearing the same title. The author was the grandson of JS. The book’s subtitle “The Quest for a Family Secret” relates to the illegitimate daughter of JS’s by one of his assistants, Gladys Imlach, as mentioned in the main body of the text. Most key details of JS’s life are readily found via the index of the book, and the following are references to the more obscure or less easy to find details:

a) p.30 ; b) p.76 ; c) p.16–7, 24, 31,121 & 147 ; d) p.30 & p.35–6 ; e) p.36 ; f) p.74–5 ; g) p.51–3 ; h) p.89 ; i) p.137 ; j) p.5 ; k) p.165 ; l) p.197ff ; m) p.110-2 ; n) p.26 ; o) p.165 ; p) p.51 ; q) p.78 ; r) p.108 ; s) p.107 ; t) p.63-4 ; u) p.5 ; v) p.27 & see also note 17b ; w) p.29 & see also note 17b. x) p.27 ; y) p.167 ; z) p.100 & p.167.

Note 3: The Gypsy Lore Society was founded in 1888 and, alongside JS, F.H. Groome & Theodore Watts–Dunton, it featured amongst its early members W.E.A. Axon, H.T. Crofton, Sir Richard Burton, Edward Clodd and Justin Huntley McCarthy. Crofton was the vice–president of the Society from 1888 to 1892, and its president from 1908 to 1909; Watts–Dunton was the Society’s president in 1909–10, and JS in 1915–16. AJ was not among the earliest members of the Society, but eventually became its president from 1937 until his death in 1961. One suspects that this extended ‘reign’ was the result of his fame as an artist, rather than of his knowledge of gypsies and the Romany language. I would suspect that Axon was never either vice–president or president simply because of his involvement in so many other organisations.

Sir Richard Burton, of course, is recorded as having read verses from The Rubaiyat at one of Monckton Milnes’s famous breakfast parties in 1861, and he penned The Kasidah, which he seems to have hoped would rival FitzGerald’s classic. (Main Essay Ch.9 & Ch.11; Notes on Verse 72; & Appendix 5.) His involvement with and sympathy for gypsies is not so well known, but see Frank McLynn, Burton: Snow upon the Desert (1990): p.2 (his belief that there was gypsy blood in his family); p.11 (natural affinity with gypsies; Burton a Romany name); p.18 (his youthful fling with a gypsy girl called Selina: cf Groome); p71 (his soft spot for gypsies “like Borrow” – like Borrow, too, he was like a gypsy in his lust for travel, and with a flair for languages, including Romany); and p.212 (his “fascination with gypsies and his identification with them.”) There is also the curious episode of his marriage to Isabel Arundell being foretold (to Isabel) by a gypsy fortune teller called – wait for it – Hagar Burton – see McLynn p.60 & p.128. He appears to have been supportive of, but not active in, the Society.

The Society’s Journal had a chequered history. Its first series ran to only three volumes between July 1888 and April 1892 after which came a gap, with a second series of nine volumes appearing between 1907 and 1916. After another gap, a third series of 52 volumes appeared between 1922 and 1973, followed by a fourth series of only two volumes, the contents of vol.1 appearing between 1974 and 1978 and vol.2, consisting of a single issue, appearing in 1982. There was then another gap, during which time the Society moved to the USA, the fifth series of the Journal beginning in earnest in 1991. It continues to this day.

All back–issues of the JGLS up to 1999 can now be accessed online at:

Note 4: Michael Holroyd, Augustus John: A Biography (Penguin Books ed, 1976). Most key details of AJ’s life are readily found via the index of the book, and the following are references to the more obscure or less easy to find details.

a) p.142 ; b) p.146–7 ; c) p.147–8 ; d) p.577f ; e) p.480f ; f) p.720–1 ; g) p.148–9 & p.356f.

Note 5: As early as 1914, JS had collected together 30 of his Romany poems (Sampson, as note 2, p.120). This was to become his above–mentioned book Romane Gilia, not actually published until 1931. Just prior to its publication, JS asked AJ to supply a frontispiece for it. In fact, AJ provided a series of six drawings of “gypsy courtship”, which became progressively “more and more indecorous”, adding, “I think perhaps the big girl with a chap gazing at her and not mauling her about would do best” – hence Fig.3. (Sampson, as note 2, p.161–2.) For two of the other five, see note 8b below. Compare AJ’s variants in Figs.2a & 2b, detailed in note 8a below.

AJ also contributed a frontispiece to JS’s book, The Wind on the Heath (Chatto & Windus, London, 1930), an anthology of literary quotes relating to gypsies, ancient to modern, and including a few translations of gypsy songs, for the genesis of which see Sampson as note 2, p.157–8. The frontispiece is shown in Fig.17, a nice example of AJ’s portraiture.

Note 6: Augustus John, Chiaroscuro: Fragments of Autobiography (Grey Arrow Books ed, 1962 used here; original ed by Jonathan Cape 1952). Also, Finishing Touches (Readers Union edition, 1966, used here; original ed. by Jonathan Cape 1964 – ie posthumously published), which is basically part 2 of Chiaroscuro. Unfortunately, both books are singularly devoid of dates – AJ had no head for such niceties, as he readily admitted: “Chronology is not my strong point” (Chiaroscuro, p.241.)

a) Chiaroscuro p.90–1, p.102–3, p.104–5, p.120–1, p.202–4.

b) Chiaroscuro p.67. This refers to Rothenstein’s austere attitude to serving alcohol at his dinner parties, as a result of which AJ used to visit The King of Bohemia public house on his way to dine with the Rothensteins. (See also Finishing Touches, p.25–6.)

c) Finishing Touches, p.131.

d) Chiaroscuro, p.51–2.

e) Chiaroscuro, p.55. Dora was presumably Dorelia Boswell (or Lock), Esmeralda’s sister – see Finishing Touches p.62

Note 7: John Rothenstein, Augustus John (1944). a) plate 77 ; b) plate 79.

Note 8a: My thanks are due to Victoria Partridge, Keeper of Fine and Decorative Art at the Higgins Art Gallery and Museum, Bedford, for information on this. The Cecil Higgins Gallery owns the original of Fig.2a, its provenance being given as ‘Sir Michael Sadler; Arthur Tooth & Sons Ltd, from whom purchased by Gallery, January 1961.’ A note on the two unused variants of it is given in the Gallery’s watercolour catalogue. One of these is clearly Fig.2b. A brief description of the other makes it clear that it was like Fig.2b (no background landscape) but with the man holding a glass, as in Fig.2a. The gallery does not know the whereabouts of either of these two variants, unfortunately. Fig.2b features in Rothenstein (as note 7, p.8), though with no information about it, or its whereabouts.

Note 8b: The picture in Fig.5 was sold at Sothebys in London, as Lot 194 of “A Great British Collection: the Pictures collected by Sir David and Lady Scott”, on 19th November 2008. It sold for £2500, buyer unknown. It was no.1 in Themes and Variations – The Drawings of Augustus John 1901–1931 (Lund Humphries Publishers Ltd, London, in conjunction with the National Museums & Galleries of Wales and Spink & Son Ltd of London, 1996.) This was the catalogue of an exhibition held in Cardiff, London & Conwy, between July and December, 1996. Fig.2a was no.2 in the catalogue. The note accompanying nos.1 & 2 says that, “Four pen and ink studies are known, two of which depict the man in a turban.” This would seem to imply that only two of the studies were in gypsy–mode, whereas the information given in note 8a above implies that there were three. Since the compilers of the catalogue clearly knew about Figs 2a & 2b (they reference Rothenstein) they presumably did not know about the third variant mentioned in note 8a. Incidentally, Fig.3 was no.75 in the catalogue, two of the variants on it being shown as nos 76 & 77.

Note 9a: It was also published later, with a short additional section at the end, in Watts–Dunton’s Old Familiar Faces (1906).

Note 9b: “Reminiscences of George Borrow”, Part I on September 3rd 1881, p.307–8; Part II on September 10th 1881, pp.336–8. This, like his obituary article on Groome, “The Tarno Rye”, was reprinted, with the addition of a Part III, in Watts–Dunton’s book, Old Familiar Faces (London, 1906).

Note 10: Potter #8 (John Lane, London & New York, 1901) and Potter #285 (Thomas B. Mosher, Portland, Maine, 1895.) Watts–Dunton’s “Prayer to the Winds” also appeared in the latter edition.

Note 11: Clement King Shorter, George Borrow and his Circle (Hodder & Stoughton, 1913) and The Works of George Borrow, edited with much unpublished Manuscript, by Clement Shorter (Norwich Edition, 16 volumes, 1923–4).

Note 12: Alfred McKinley Terhune and Annabelle Burdick Terhune, The Letters of Edward FitzGerald (4 vols, 1980.) a) vol.2, p.94–5; b) vol.2, p.240–1; c) vol.2, p.276–7; d) vol.2, p.284–5; 290–1; 418–9; e) vol.2, p.418–9.

Note 13: Thomas Hake & Arthur Compton–Rickett, The Life and Letters of Theodore Watts–Dunton (2 vols., T.C. & E.C. Jack, 1916.) a) vol.2, p.75 ; b) vol.2, p.76.

Note 14: The trail begins with Charles G. Leland’s book The English Gipsies and their Language (1893), p.183–5, where names are “protected”, as the saying goes. Leland, a founder member of the Gypsy Lore Society and its first President, tells us how one day (he doesn’t give a date) a cryptic message appeared in the personal column of The Times, which a friend of his thought was in some sort of code, and so, as a challenge, he set about trying, unsuccessfully, to decode it. On showing it to Leland, the latter immediately recognised it as being in English Romany (Fig.7a) and translated it (minus names) as: “I know of ––. Trust me and send word where you are. On my word I will not tell till you give me leave. Your mother’s heart is well nigh broken. I am afraid your father will go mad. He will forgive all. For God’s sake let him know something.”

Moving forward to the JGLS now (3rd series, vol.18, no.4, Oct 1939), a Note by E.O Winstedt says:

It may not be too inappropriate to append here a detail which should have been mentioned when Groome or Sanderson was being treated, that the Romani advertisement in the Times cited in Leland’s English Gipsies (p.184) was inserted by Sanderson trying to get in touch with Groome when he ran away with Britty Lee. It appeared in the issues of October 11, 12, 14, 15, 16 and 17, 1872, and reads: “R. Rashi to F. – Mandi jins of Brit: W: Patsa mandi, te bitcha lav ki tu shan. Opray minno lav, mandi’l kek pukka til tutti muks amandi. Tuti di’s zee se welni poggado. Shom atrash tuti dad’l jal divio. Yov’l for–del sor. For miduvels com, muk lesti shoon choomani.” Why the Gypsy is referred to as Britt W. I cannot suggest, as she is said to have been a Lee married to a Hughes. (p.196)

Sanderson was apparently the schoolmaster who first inspired Groome with his interest in gypsies.

In an article on “Groome’s Letters to Smart and Crofton”, in the JGLS (3rd series, vol.7, no.2, 1928), the author (John Sampson ?) says of Groome: “That he eloped with a Britannia Lee, who was married to a Hughes, and travelled with her for a while, is certain; but nothing further is known about her or her husband, and accounts of the beginning and the end of the alliance are vague and contradictory.” (p.63)

Note 15a: My account here is based mostly on Dora Yates’s account of Esmeralda in chapter 8 of her book My Gypsy Days (1953). The obituary article “Esmeralda Groome”, by her “Romani Pen” (=Romany Sister) in the JGLS, 3rd series, vol.18 (1939), p.153–8, was actually written by Dora Yates, and subsequently formed a large part of her account of Esmeralda in her book.

AJ devotes a short section to Esmeralda and the marriage in Chiaroscuro, as note 6, p.53–4. See also Sampson, as note 2, p.27–9, and the website

See also note 17b below.

Note 15b: She was born a Lock or Locke – the Locks were supposed to be an off–shoot of the Boswell family, hence she is occasionally dubbed “née Boswell” – eg in Chiaroscuro, as note 6, p.53. See, for example,

Note 16: To give but three examples, the case was headlined as “The Gypsy Divorce Case” in The Dundee Courier and Argus on March 3rd, 1876 (p.7, col.6); as “Amusing Divorce Case – Gipsy Marriage” in The Worcestershire Chronicle on March 4th 1876 (p.7, col.3); and as “Romantic Divorce Suit” in The Belfast Weekly News on March 11th 1876 (p.2, col.2.)

Note 17a: We do know that Esmeralda had met Theodore Watts–Dunton, for in Chiaroscuro, as note 6, p.54, at the end of his section on Esmeralda, AJ wrote:

Before I took leave of Esmeralda, she presented me with a book of poems, Rhoda Boswell’s Courtship, by Theodore Watts–Dunton, who had given it to her. Writing her name on the back page, she remarked Sor dinveriben, Raia (It’s all nonsense, Sir), which criticism I thought a little too severe.

Note 17b: The Gypsy Lore Society Archive, GLS C.1.8 (35–7 & 38). This is a file containing three letters from Groome to Esmeralda (items 35–7) and a hand–written note on Esmeralda, unsigned and undated, but in the handwriting of Dora Yates (item 38.)

In the third of the letters to Esmeralda, dated Dec 8th 1898, Groome said:

I never wish you anything but good, but we never must meet again this side of the grave. Perhaps on the other side we shall: I can’t say.

In her note on Esmeralda, which perhaps became the partial basis for her obituary article on her in the JGLS, and hence of ch.8 of her book, both cited in note 15a above, Yates gives one or two details not used later. The main one of these is the Rossetti painting on the parapet of Note Dame, but she also tells us that Esmeralda was forced into the marriage with Smith specifically by her mother; that after marrying in Norway and returning to England, she refused to live with her husband, and “settled in a tent on one of his lawns.” (This was presumably after the notable occasion, recounted in My Gypsy Days, on which she had floored him with a silver candlestick!) Yates also gives some precise dates thus: she was “knocked down by a motor–bus on Thurs Feb 22 [1939] in Prestatyn”; died in the Royal Alexandra Hospital, Rhyl, on 4th April 1939; and was buried at St Thomas’s Church, Rhyl, on 8th April 1939.

Note 17c: Virginia Surtees, in her book The Paintings and Drawings of Dante Gabriel Rossetti (1828–1882) – a Catalogue Raisonné (2 vols, Oxford, 1971), vol.1, p.130 (no.231) writes:

La Gitana, crayon, c.1872:

Nothing is known of this drawing except that belonged to Henry Ellis in 1883 when he exhibited it at B.F.A.C., no.142. Present whereabouts unknown. Ref M. no.255.

M. no.255 refers to H.C. Marillier, Dante Gabriel Rossetti: an Illustrated Memorial of his Art and Life (1899), p.253 (no.255). The c.1872 date was given originally in W.M. Rossetti’s listing in Dante Gabriel Rossetti as Designer and Writer (London 1889), p.286 (no.307). Now, “La Gitana” does not feature in William Sharp’s earlier listing in Dante Gabriel Rossetti – a Record and a Study (1882), so presumably the picture surfaced sometime between 1882 (Sharp’s book) and 1883 (the BFAC Exhibition.) Unfortunately we do not know on what basis W.M. Rossetti gave it the date “c.1872”, but if it was actually done in 1882, it might tie in with Yates’s story.

I wonder, too, if somewhere along the line the story of Esmeralda’s depictions by Rossetti has been helped along – albeit along a false trail – by two drawings – one in her first husband’s book Tent Life with English Gypsies in Norway (1873), p.499, and the other on the title–page of her second husband’s book, In Gipsy Tents (1880), mentioned above. These are shown in Figs.8a & 8b respectively. The date of Fig.8a might tie in with the “c.1872” date of “La Gitana”, but Esmeralda hadn’t even met Rossetti when the book came out. (The drawing, which is a very good likeness, is unattributed, though there is possibly a signature close to the tambourine, near to her left hand.) Anthony Sampson’s book The Scholar Gypsy (as note 2, p.28) titles Fig.8b “Esmeralda”, but in actual fact F.H. Groome simply gave it the title “Gipsy Girl” (it doesn’t look at all like Esmeralda), and unfortunately he didn’t name the artist. Since Groome’s book was first published in 1880 and he and Esmeralda didn’t meet Rossetti until 1881, this cannot be an unsigned drawing by Rossetti, and any assumption that it is, must be a false trail.

Note 17d: See the website cited in notes 15a & 15b; also the Bridgnorth website: .

Note 18: A useful biography of him by Robert Walmsley, “Dr Axon – Manchester Bookman”, can be found in The Manchester Review, Summer–Autumn 1964, p.138–154:

a) p.140 ; b) p.141 ; c) p.142 ; d) p.153; e) p.153–4.

Much information about Axon is now available online, of course.

Note 19: At the time of writing, a good online biography of him by Bruce Anderson can be found in the Rusholme & Victoria Park (Manchester) archive at .

No obituary of him seems to have appeared in the JGLS.

Note 20a: Axon Papers, Letters Box 6, #3647 (10th April) & #3649 (12th April).

Note 20b: Axon Papers, Letters Box 6, #3753.

Note 20c: Axon Papers, Supplementary Material Box 3 (contents unnumbered.)

Note 21a: The only copy of this known to me is in Manchester Central Library, in the Local Studies Reference Collection, at shelf–mark 613.26 A16. The booklet as a whole can be viewed here.

Note 21b: The library has over 200 items by Axon, though some of these are duplicates, and the majority are to be found in other libraries via COPAC. Particularly useful are the five volumes A to E, each containing numerous tracts & articles of Axon’s, bound together in date order, in the Local Studies Special Collections at shelf–mark 042 A1.

Note 21c: I say this because in 1900 to 1901 Axon had some correspondence with the Liverpool–based Office of the Sheikh–ul–Islam of the British Isles, the letters being preserved in the Axon Papers at the John Rylands Library. From one letter, dated Feb 21st 1901, we learn that Axon was interested in the Koran and was working on an article “Mohammed as a Temperance Reformer” (Letters Box 6, #4093). I have been unable to discover if this article was ever published, but I would assume that the text of Fig.11e (which is in vol.A of the bound volumes mentioned in note 21b) dates from around this time of Axon’s interest in the Koran.

Note 22: Wilberforce University was founded in 1856 as a joint venture between the Methodist Episcopal Church and the African Methodist Episcopal Church, basically as an educational and teacher–training establishment for black youth. Axon’s connection with it seems to have come mainly via a lengthy exchange of letters with William S. Scarborough (1852–1926), a black philologist and classical scholar who had become a professor at the University in 1877, and was to become its President in 1908, in which role he served until his retirement in 1920. In the Axon Papers at the John Rylands Library, Letters, Boxes 5 & 6, are a number of letters from Scarborough to Axon. He was a great fan of Axon’s work, and in a letter dated August 6th 1895 he wrote, “I devour everything of yours that comes into my hands”, adding, “Next year I hope to bring over a parchment conferring upon yourself the degree of LLD. This will be but a small token of our high appreciation of your great and varied literary achievements.” (Axon Papers, Letters Box 5, #3373.) In the end, the diploma was dated 15th June 1899, Scarborough, at that time Vice–President of the University, being one of the signatories. The diploma can be found in the Axon Papers, Supplementary Material Box 3.

According to Walmsley (as note 18, p.153), one of Axon’s friends thought he was awarded his doctorate partly on account of his pleas for justice for negroes published in the Manchester Guardian, partly for his popular biography of W.L. Garrison, the American abolitionist and social reformer, The Story of a Noble Life: William Lloyd Garrison (London, 1890), and partly for his support for the Garnet Memorial School for Girls in Liberia.

Certainly, in one of his earlier letters, dated Jan 1st 1890, Scarborough wrote that “the negro race has a true friend in your distinguished self” (Letters, Box 5, #3015) and it seems highly likely that Axon was behind a number of anonymously published pro–negro articles in The Manchester Guardian in the 1890s. (He was on the staff of the newspaper from 1874 to 1905, and many of his articles were unsigned. See also Walmsley p.151.) Presumably, too, Axon facilitated the publication of an article by Scarborough in The Manchester Guardian on May 23rd 1891: “A Negro’s View of the Negro Question in the United States.”

For Axon’s support for the girls’ school in Liberia, in 1888, see Letters, Box 4, #2796A and #2822.

Note 23: The Pyramid is often used as an emblem of the transience of earthly power and glory – see Main Essay, chapter 8; Verse by Verse notes on v.17, and Appendix 17b. The poem by Gaspar Nuñez d’Arce (1834–1903) to which Axon refers is “Ante una Piramide de Egipto”, written in 1879.


In addition to those mentioned in the body of the text, I must thank the staff in the Special Collections and Archives Department at the Sydney Jones Library at Liverpool University for providing access to the John Sampson Archive; the staff at the John Rylands Library, Manchester, for providing access to the Axon Papers, and for the images in Figs.10a, b, c & d, 13 and 14; and the staff at Manchester Central Library for their help in accessing their Axon Collection and for the images in Figs.11a, b, c, d & e. I must also thank Douglas Taylor for his helpful comments on various details and for providing a copy of his 1909 edition of Potter #314. Finally, I must thank Bill Martin & Sandra Mason, and Joe Howard, for proof–reading the text and providing various helpful suggestions as a result.

A Postscript

My interest in John Sampson’s Omar was aroused when I bought a sadly disbound copy of it, lacking both its covers and its frontispiece. Its particular value, though, was that it had been annotated in a neat hand, linking the Romany verses to their corresponding equivalents in FitzGerald, and it is these correspondences that are given in my note 1.

Now, the title page of my copy has the following inscription in the top left–hand corner, “Henry Nevi–molunaki / i kerimangreski kamimasa / 28.xi.02.” (Fig.18) According to the book–dealer from whom I bought my copy, this perhaps indicates former ownership by Henry Neville Hutchinson (1856–1927), clergyman, anthropologist and palaeontologist, author of Marriage Customs in Many Lands (1897), chapter 24 of which deals with the Gypsies and the Mormons, and (with J.W. Gregory, R. Lydekker et al) The Living Races of Mankind (c.1901–2), which makes a number of passing reference to the gypsies.

I made no headway with this inscription myself, despite tackling it using Sampson’s own book The Dialect of the Gypsies of Wales. Accordingly I approached the Gypsy Lore Society, and had a speedy reply from the Society’s Treasurer, Sheila Salo. She interpreted the inscription as a dedication written in a kind of Welsh Romany used by enthusiasts among themselves when they try to translate their surnames into that language. It probably reads, Sheila told me, “To Henry Newlight with the author’s regards, 28.xi.02”, though she is not sure about “light” and a literal translation involves “with the maker’s love”, which she says is probably the closest the writer of the inscription could get to “with the author’s regards.” I can trace no Henry Newlight, and though the writing in is similar in neatness to that of John Sampson, I am not wholly convinced it is his. (Compare the writing in Fig.18 to that in Figs.10a, 10b, 10c & 10d: browse here.)

If anyone reading this can elucidate further, please do let me know.


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