Saturday, June 6, 2015

The Literary Cranks of London - Omar Khayyam Club

We could find no further copies of  the 1894 London journal The Sketch which in that year was running a series 'The literary cranks of London.' However the 1899 publication The Book of Omar and Rubaiyat has an essay on the Omar Khayyam Club entitled 'The literary cranks of London' by 'A Member' which is almost certainly reprinted from the series. The book shows a menu card for the society designed by the PRB artist Simeon Solomon. The other club in the series was 'The Johnson Club' - there were possibly more.
Mention is made here of 'The Ghouls' which may pay further investigation... Of the many societies that flourished then the Omar Khayyam is one of the few to have survived and still meets. There is also an American chapter.



The literary cranks of London are as the sand of 
the sea-shore for number, and yet they have 
rather diminished than increased during the last few 
years. The Wordsworth Society no longer collects 
archbishops and bishops and learned professors in the 
Jerusalem Chamber to solve the mystery of existence 
under the guidance of the great poet of Rydal, and one 
is rather dubious as to whether the Goethe Society has 
much to say for itself to-day, although in its time it 
has crammed the Westminster Town Hall with enthu- 
siastic lovers of German literature. The Shelley Society 
one only hears of from time to time by its ghastly bur- 
den of debt, a state which perhaps reflects the right 
kind of glory upon its great hero, whose aptitude for 
making paper boats out of Bank of England notes, if 
apocryphal, is, at any rate, a fair exemplification of his 

capacity for getting rid of money. And as to the 
Browning Society, with its blue-spectacled ladies, deep 
in the mysteries of Sordello, if the cash balance, 
which is said at Girton to have been expended in 
sweetmeats, had any existence, at the London centre, 
one knows not what confectioner at the West End 
has reaped the benefit.
There are, however, some 
fairly flourishing organizations at this moment. One 
of them is the "Sette of Odd Volumes," another 
the Johnson Club, to say nothing of the "Vaga- 
bonds," the " Ghouls," and the latest comer, the Omar 
Khayyam Club. 

This society was formed in an informal way 
without any desire to attract public attention. We 
were simply bent upon making an occasion, once a 
quarter, to eat a dinner, to gratify our own feelings of 
companionship and to gratify further our intense ap- 
preciation of Edward FitzGerald's famous quatrains. 
Not one of the original members of the society — and 
there were seven or eight of them — had any knowledge 
of Persian, and it was not at all with the famous poet 
of Persia, as he is known to the great scholars of our 
time, that we concerned ourselves — it was only that 
poet as interpreted by Edward FitzGerald with his 
wonderful interpretation of life as understood by a 
great number of people at the present day. The 
society was practically started by three men, all of 
whom talked it over together for a very long time 
beforehand ; one of these was our indefatigable secre- 
tary, Mr. Frederick Hudson. As I have said, there 
were some eight of us who first agreed to form this 
club, and we each invited one or two guests to the 
first dinner ; one of the eight, Mr. Arthur Hacker, the 
well-known artist, made us a menu card, and Mr. 
Hacker was good enough to introduce to the society 
Mr. Solomon and Mr. Shannon, two brother-artists, 
who each in turn has been victimized to the extent of 
a menu card. Mr. Justin Huntly McCarthy came 
as a guest, and I mention this because an absurd 
statement got abroad that he was the founder of the 
Omar Khayyam Club ; we, however, were very glad 
to have Mr. McCarthy, because he has done some ex- 
cellent work in the vein of Edward FitzGerald, and 
because, also, he has himself made a translation of 
Omar, which is the delight of every book collector on 
account of its curious type and other bibliographical
eccentricities. Mr. McCarthy was elected our first 
chairman, and we added a very considerable number 
of members to the society, which, it was arranged, 
should not exceed fifty-nine, this number having no 
more erudite significance than the fact that it was in 
the year 1859 that Edward FitzGerald published his 
famous translation or paraphrase. 

Among the guests of the club — many of whom 
have since become members — one may mention Mr. 
Edward Clodd, Mr. Edmund Gosse, Mr. Sidney Low 
(editor of the St. James Gazette), Judge Keene, 
whose Persian studies have carried him very much 
into the regions of FitzGerald's original, and several 
other well-known men in literature and art. The 
most dramatic incident in connection with the club 
has already been fully stated in the press: this was 
the visit of certain of our members to FitzGerald's 
grave at Boulge, near Woodbridge. 

As I am putting on record for all time the 
account of the origin of a club which is likely to 
last longer than some of the cranks which have been 
mentioned, I may as well recapitulate the story of
that visit. Some years ago Mr. William Simpson 
was travelling in Persia with the Afghan Boundary 
Commission as special artist of the Illustrated London 
News, Mr. Simpson, an enthusiastic Omar Khay- 
yamite, and one of our earliest members, bethought 
himself of a pilgrimage to Omar's tomb, and with a 
single companion, rode some miles to the spot where 
the great Persian is buried at Naishapur. He found 
one of the wishes of Omar singularly realised — the 
wish that rose-leaves should twine about his tomb — 
and he brought back with him some seed of those 
very rose-bushes, which was sent to Mr. Thiselton- 
Dyer at Kew Gardens, and there duly cultivated. 
For some time — long before the Omar Club was 
thought of — it was a pet project with Mr. Edward 
Clodd and Mr. Simpson that the rose-bushes which 
should grow at Kew from the seed culled on Omar's 
tomb should be transplanted to FitzGerald's grave. 
But the existence of a society gave special facilities 
for carrying out this project, and our visit to Boulge, 
with its accompanying ceremonial (sanctioned, it may 
be said, by the executors of Edward FitzGerald), is 
now matter of literary history. Let that pass ; 
suffice to say, without having any ambition to be 
known to the public, or, indeed, to concern our- 
selves with the outside world, we are going to settle 
down in the future in a quiet sort of way to this 
quarterly dinner of a few good friends and comrades. 
Perhaps our spirit could not be better exemplified 
than in the letter which Mr. Theodore Watts, the 
eminent poet and critic, wrote to the Secretary on 
the occasion of our last dinner ; I trust he will par- 

don me for reproducing his letter, and I cannot in 
any better way conclude what little there is to be 
said on the subject — 

"Although I am compelled to forego the great 
pleasure of dining with you on Friday," writes Mr. 
Watts, " I must not miss the opportunity of telling 
you how entirely I admire, and aspire to be in sym- 
pathy with, what I am sure must be the temper of 
an Omar Khayyam Club. The King of the Wise 
was, first and foremost, a good fellow, as every line 
of his poems shows ; so was old Fitz, the greatest 
man, save Nelson, that has been produced even by 
East Anglia, and I must say that I never came across 
a genuine, thoroughgoing disciple of the Master who 
was not a good fellow. No mean and ill-conditioned 
man could possibly enjoy the philosophy of the 
Rubaiyat. Now, as I myself would far rather have 
the character of a good fellow among good fellows 
than the character of a man of genius, what I have said 
above is meant for high praise of your club. And 
no one could possibly have taken more interest
in thelate charming ceremony got up by my 
friends E C and C S than I did, and I hope when
you print an account of it you will not forget to
send me a copy, as I want to read certain verses 
by McCarthy (another and still older friend) which,
I hear, have appeared somewhere, but I cannot 
discover where." 

No comments:

Post a Comment