Bandello and Omar Kheyyam163


Having finished the Decameron, Payne set himself the task of translating the novels of Matteo Bandello, Bishop of Agen (1554–1573)​—​“the Thousand and one Nights of the Renaissance.” Apart from their intrinsic merit these novels have appealed to Englishmen because from Bandello’s picturesque pages the Elizabethan dramatists drew the stories on which they founded some of their most remarkable plays. Shakespeare is indebted to him for the plots of “Romeo and Juliet,” “Much Ado about Nothing,” and “Twelfth Night.” Massenger’s “Picture,” Webster’s “Duchess of Malfi,” and Fletcher’s “Triumph of Death,” and “Maid of the Mill,” are all founded upon Bandello’s novels.

Payne’s work, which ranks among the finest of his translations, appeared in 1890 in six volumes. Of Payne’s style in this delightful series, Mr. John Kettelwell164 says: “At the will of the Wizard our senses skip even as ‘Orpheus with his lute made trees.’ In and out the beautiful words scurry, like eddies in a river, and the archaisms are the interesting things the river carries, boughs of trees, whisps of hay, sprays of forgotten flowers.” Especially Mr. Kettelwell praises Payne’s flexibility: “The short sentences and monosyllables for action, the enamelled phrases, long drawn out, for beauty; the twisted verb, the dexterously misplaced adverb. Above all the style is direct.”

In 1887 Payne’s mother and her daughters Nora and Frances left Shrubhill House, Box, and settled at 104 Holland Road, London. Mrs. Pritchard resided, as we noticed, at Queen’s Gate. John, who was already something of an epicure, was very fond of Stilton cheese, and most particular as to the flavour. One evening he grumbled at the cheese given him by Mrs. Pritchard. On the following Saturday he dined at 104 Holland Road, where he also had Stilton cheese, which he pronounced “perfect” adding, “Now why cannot Annie have cheese like that?” A burst of laughter revealed to him that he had been trapped. The slice, indeed, had been cut from the very cheese that he had so heartily abused at Queen’s Gate.

Miss Rose Fisher had become the wife of Lieutenant (afterwards General) Mackay Heriot, and their little boy Oscar was a favourite with Payne. One day the two families spent an afternoon at the Zoo. The monkey house, as usual, proved the principal attraction, and Oscar’s eyes beamed with delight when he saw a marmozet. “Oh, do look at that dear little monkey!” he said, “Isn’t it just like my Uncle John!” The party was convulsed with laughter, none being more amused than Payne himself. Another little boy who got into Payne’s good graces was John E. Spencer Brind, now Lieutenant-Colonel Brind, D.S.O. Payne took him to the Botanical Gardens, and when the boy got home he said, “Nobody has such a garden as Uncle John. My Uncle’s garden is delightful. It is full of ponds, bridges, trees and flowers.”

Another little boy of whom he made a great pet, Payne took out into the fields to gather harebells and other flowers. On one of these occasions while Payne sat reading a book, the child, a mere baby, came up to him with large tears in his eyes, saying, “Tant make e blue-bells ’ing.” Even John Payne, poet as he was, failed just then to get a peal out of them, but subsequently in poem after poem the harebell figures, and was made to give out its music.

Payne had at this time two black cats​—​Day and Martin. He taught one to open his bedroom door, and it used to bring his slippers downstairs, carrying one at a time in its mouth. He did not care for dogs. If a dog behaved well and anybody praised it, he always insisted that it had a cat inside, or that it had a cat for its mother. “The cat,” he once said to me, “is the poet’s animal.”

He was an absolute genius in his appreciation of children, and seemed to understand everything they wanted without words. It was his habit when he kissed them to put both his hands under their chin and raise the little face towards him, and he used his hands in the same way when he kissed his sisters.

He was fond of proverbs and proverbial sayings,165 especially those of Arabic origin​—​“Man’s resolution uprooteth mountains” being one of them. Homely proverbs he often gave in their Latin form as “Ne sutor ultra crepidam” (Let the cobbler stick to his last).

Already Payne had become very much of a recluse. He was a limpet and would not leave his rock. There are two principal ways of keeping up the activity of the mind​—​first by work, second by contact with one’s fellowmen. Nobody could have worked harder than Payne, but from his fellowmen he every year more and more withdrew himself, till at last he saw scarcely anyone outside his own family except the Hutts,166 the Heriots, and the Nixes.167 Miss Hutt had artistic gifts and she designed the covers for several of his works.

As we noticed on an early page he was superstitious.168 He declared that the Easterns had learnt a great deal from nature. He still could not bear to hear people speak slightingly of table-turning. He regarded dreams as warnings. He took great notice of women’s dress. If, as he often did, he took Dr. Nix’s family to the Promenade concerts at Covent Garden or elsewhere it was not before carefully criticizing their attire. “We all,” said Miss Nix, “had to promenade before him.” Queen Victoria was among the admirers of his poetry. Against her taste in literature he therefore had nothing to say, but he often lamented her taste in hats and gowns. He sadly wanted to give her a few hints. If only she had paraded before him along with the Nix girls! But it was not to be.

He liked a woman to be womanly. He said “Women as men are ridiculous, but women as women are delicious. Give me a feminine woman! The clergy​—​the third sex as he called them​—​were not favourites with him. He liked to see dancing, and he often went to the ballets at the Alhambra and His Majesty’s. A ballet called “Excelsior” at the latter particularly pleased him, and he could never sufficiently praise the dancing of Madame Genée. He liked to frequent the long bar at the Criterion “in order to watch life,” and he would make remarks in a low tone to his friends respecting the carriage and conduct of its habitués.

His shortsightedness caused all sorts of amusement to his young friends when they called on him. When he poured out the tea there were liquids “floating all over the place.” His friends were fortunate if they did not get tea and coffee mixed.

With Swinburne Payne was again on excellent terms. Shortly after the publication of the Bandello, Swinburne wrote to Payne and asked: “When are we going to have some more of your inimitable poetry?” Among the admirers of Payne’s work both in prose and in verse was also W. E. H. Lecky, the historian, who joined with the Robinsons in their endeavour to make Payne known in America.

On 14 March, 1888,169 Sir Richard Burton wrote to Payne offering to lend him (if he could find it in his library, and ultimately he did find it) his copy of Zotenberg’s MS. of Zein ul Asnam. He says: “Delighted to hear that in spite of [writer’s] cramp Vol. 5 Bandello is finished.”

In July 1888 Sir Richard Burton170 was again in England, and he and Payne saw much of each other both at Payne’s own house and at the homes of their friends Mr. F. F. Arbuthnot and Mr. H. S. Ashbee.171

With Lady Burton Payne got on tolerably, though he did not like her. She was proud of her skill in Eastern cookery, especially in the preparation of the North African dish of kuskus172 or cous coussou, a sort of frumenty of millet, etc., and she used to hold it out as an inducement to Payne to visit her and her husband that she would make him a dish of this delicacy.173

Mr. H. S. Ashbee, who lived at 53 (the big corner house) Bedford Square, was a curious matter-of-fact, stoutish, stolid, affable man, with a Maupassantian taste for low life, its humours and its laxities. Of art and literature he had absolutely no idea; but he was an enthusiastic bibliophile, and his library, which included a unique collection of rare and curious books, had been built up at enormous expense. Somebody having described him as “not a bad old chappie,” Payne added characteristically, “and he has a favourite cat, which says something for him.”174 Burton, Payne, Arbuthnot, and Ashbee, as we said, often met. The serenity of these gatherings was never ruffled unless one of the company happened to introduce politics or Shakespeare. In a moment there were sparks, and Arbuthnot the Radical and Baconian and Payne the Ultra-Conservative and anti-Baconian175 straightway heaved rocks at each other. Burton, who loved a fight between any persons and for any reason, or no reason, looked on approvingly. Ashbee was inclined to side with Payne.

On one of these occasions Payne said impatiently, “I cannot understand any sensible man taking the slightest interest in this sickening controversy,” and then he pointed out one by one the elements that in his opinion made the Baconian theory ridiculous.176

“But,” followed Arbuthnot gently, but with something of a flash, at the same time, in his blue eyes, “Shakespeare had no education, and no person without an extremely good education could have written the plays erroneously published under the name of Shakespeare.”

“If,” retorted Payne, “Shakespeare had been without education, do you think the fact would have escaped the notice of such bitter and unscrupulous enemies as Nash, Greene and others who hated him for his towering superiority?”

“I merely study Shakespeare,” said Arbuthnot carelessly, “from a ‘curio’ point of view. For his poetry I care nothing.”

Whereupon Payne turned upon him savagely (it was like a lion rending a lamb): “A man who is insensible to poetry, be he who he may, must be a barbarian.”

Burton, who regarded himself as a poet, approved of the sentiment. Ashbee, whose outlook was solely bibliographical, dissented, and Arbuthnot sweetly changed the conversation to Balzac, a work upon whom he was writing,177 with the result, however, of another tempest, caused by the remark of Burton: “Balzac is simply a great repertory of morbid anatomy.” Gentle as was Arbuthnot, there were limits even to his endurance, and he hit out valiantly in behalf of his hero, Payne encouraging him.

Like the “blest gods” who “the genial day” used to prolong, the friends invariably finished their symposium with refreshment. The blest gods had nothing but nectar, but Burton and his friends supplemented their liquor with oysters. Burton’s letter to Payne of 26 September, 1888,178 is an invitation to one of these gatherings. “Arbuthnot,” he said, “will be in town on Tuesday, October 2. What do you say to meeting him at the Langham 7 p.m. table d’hôte hour? … It will be our last chance of a meeting.”

Payne, Sir Richard and Lady Burton, Arbuthnot, and Dr. Baker (Burton’s medical attendant) dined together on the evening appointed.

We can imagine their appearance, Burton, in spite of his age, still sinewy and muscular​—​looking like a devil,179 only fiercer; Arbuthnot, with his heavenly blue eyes, looking like an angel, only milder; Payne, with his heavy eyebrows, peaked beard and exotic appearance (who was likened by one of his friends to a Hindoo); Baker, slim and alert, drinking in all the conversation ; Lady Burton, hawk-nosed and fat, interjecting as opportunity offered matters irrelevant to the conversation or downright imbecilities. What that particular conversation was about we do not know, but Payne told me that one of the subjects frequently discussed by them was that of religion.

Payne’s own opinions on that subject have already been recorded in these pages; Arbuthnot regarded the great struggle of the twentieth century as the “war between Religion and Science.” He said, “It will be a war to the death, for if science wins it will do away with the personal God of the Jews, the Christians and the Mohammedans, the childish doctrine or dogma of future rewards and punishments, and everything connected with the supernatural. It will be shown that Law reigns supreme. The Police, representing Law and Order, will be of more importance than the clergy. Even now we might do away with the latter, everybody becoming his own priest​—​a great economy.”180 “Burton,” says Payne,181 “thought with me Roman Catholicism the best form of Christianity for the lower classes (i.e. the people who cannot think for themselves and who want their morality wrapped up in mythological sugary). We had a good deal of talk about this at different times, and he heartily agreed with my expressed opinion that the Mohammedan was a still better religion for the classes, indeed the best of all, as being the only practical ethical religion and almost free from the two great demoralizing elements​—​dogma and priestcraft. He thought with me that Mohammedanism was likely in the near future to replace (as a popular religion) Christianity, which has no practical value as a moral agent.”

Burton was apparently not in good health and spirits that day, and he went to bed about 9 o’clock, leaving Payne and Arbuthnot to finish the evening in the smoking room.

On 15 October Burton left London, to which he was never to return alive.

Burton’s letter to Payne of 15 January, 1886, is addressed to 5 Lansdowne Place, Brunswick Square; that of 26 September, 1888, to 10 Oxford Road, Kilburn. It is evident, therefore, that between those two dates Payne removed to the house in which so much of his best work was done.

The strain caused by the close application required by his translations was almost too much for him; his health gave way and his sight failed him. Even after his recovery he suffered continually from insomnia, which he calls “the worst of woes which were since Adam fell;”182 and readers of his poems will recall the series of sonnets in Vigil and Vision, entitled “The Night Watches.” In the first he exclaims:

How have I sinned against thy statutes, Sleep,

That thou this many a year forsaken hast

My sorry eyes, that, whilst, their cares off cast,

All else are sunken in thy drowsy deep,

I, only I, the weapon-watch must keep,

Revolving still in thought the piteous Past,

The laggard hours each heavier than the last,

Till the chill dawn in at my casements peep?183

One day when Payne and Lady Burton were guests at the same house, the subject of insomnia all of a sudden monopolized the conversation, and Payne mentioned how much he suffered from it.

“I know what will cure you,” said Lady Burton.

“Pray tell me,” said Payne.

“Say your prayers,” was the reply.

About this time Payne became deeply attached to the daughter of Stéphane Mallarmé, to whom he was drawn both by her beauty and her mental gifts, and hoped to marry her; but the Fates were not propitious.

Occasionally Payne, his mother and sisters visited Oban and other parts of Scotland. On one occasion, as his face and hands became blistered, he provided himself with a white yachting cap and brown silk gloves which in no way harmonized with his suit of blue serge. He laughed heartily at the appearance of the other tourists and the natives, forgetting or not grasping that he himself looked far funnier than anybody else. People whispered to one another, “That’s not an Englishman; it’s some distinguished foreigner.”

His mother’s agility among the mountains led him to call her “the bounding chamois”; but, indeed, it needed all the poor lady’s agility to keep up with him, for he was the same John Payne who in former years strode over Europe with three sisters and a big bag and thought he was enjoying himself.

On 21 November, 1888, Burton wrote to Payne from Geneva. He says184: “I am glad to hear you like the gentle rebuke administered [by Burton in the Essay accompanying his translation of the Nights] to Stead, Reeve & Co. You would greatly oblige me by jotting down, when you have a moment to spare, the names of reverends and ecclesiastics who have written and printed facetious books. In English I have Swift and Sterne; in French Rabelais, but I want one more; also two in Italian and two in German.

Now and again Payne spent a week-end at Walton with Mr. and Mrs. George Lewis. A letter in reference to an invitation to Walton is dated 27 June, 1889. “You must not think it my fault,” he tells Mrs. Lewis, “that I so seldom see you: it is always a great pleasure to me to do so, and I always accept, if at all possible, when I am asked. But Eberstadt’s time is so taken up with his cabotins185 and cabotines at this season of stress that it is no wonder if he can only now and then find a spare minute to think of arranging one of our (to me at least) most pleasant meetings, and I myself have too great a horror (morbid, no doubt, but natural to those who have all their lives been accustomed to look at happiness through other men’s eyes) of wearing out my welcome to dispense with asking.”

As early as 1886 Burton had published what he called his “old version” of the Arabic erotic work, The Scented Garden,186 the most complete text of which is preserved in the library at Algiers. This “old version” consisted of a translation of the first twenty chapters of the work, that is to say, about half. He then (November 1888187) entered upon the determination to translate the whole with elaborate annotations. Payne endeavoured to dissuade him from it, and for two reasons: first, because The Scented Garden is entirely without literary qualities, and secondly, because he considered that Burton had, in the Nights, dealt more than sufficiently with secretive oriental customs.

At my first interview with Payne, further particulars of which will be given later, the following conversation took place.

T. W. And now as to The Scented Garden? [no part of which I had then read].188

P. It is merely a collection of bawdy189 tales, without the slightest literary merit. There is a great difference between translating tales with an occasional impure passage and bawdy tales which are nothing else. Burton and I are as opposite as the poles.

T. W. Such books are the stapelias​—​the carrion flowers of literature.

P. A very good illustration, but The Scented Garden is not literature. These books give one the impression of putrid meat. I loathe and detest everything of the kind. You have no idea to what lengths the votaries of this craze have gone. Mr. ——— went so far as to have made purposely for himself a tea service of sixteen pieces, every piece being illustrative of one of the sixteen paintings made by Guilio Romano to accompany Pietro Aretino’s notorious sonnets. Only one set was to be made. I saw it in Paris. Was ever such folly and madness?

The Scented Garden is a filthy book without literary value of any kind. [He was thinking of Part I.] It is an exemplar of the extremest subtleties of sexual perversion. [He was thinking of Part II.] It consists of brutal and beastly stories. I begged Burton not to do it. You have no idea how in the East they split hairs over perversion. They go into it as into divinity. The time and thought spent on it is incredible.

T. W. How about the other publications of the Kama Shastra Society?

P. They are dull books. He then spoke in general terms of Burton, Ashbee, and Arbuthnot, observing among other things “Ashbee was a learned man in Oriental Literature, Burton was quite a simple man, not at all theatrical. Arbuthnot’s Mysteries of Chronology [published in 1900] is most interesting.”

While agreeing with Payne’s estimate of the various books mentioned, one must, in order to be fair to Burton, admit that The Scented Garden has an anthropological value; besides, any book that has come down from the thirteenth century, whatever its evils, is not to be ignored by scholars.

But Burton proposed not only to print The Scented Garden but to annotate it; and insisting, as he did, not only on the “enormous anthropological and historical importance,” not only of the text, but also of the proposed notes, was not to be deterred from his plan.

In my remarks on The Scented Garden in my Life of Burton, Vol. 2, p. 194, I observed: “Plumpness seems to have been the principal attraction in the sex.” Payne pencilled in the margin: “This shows the negroid origin of these stories. The true Arab likes a slender woman. Examples of this abound in the Nights. It is the negroid Moroccan African ‘Arab’ [so called] generally whose degraded taste leads him to like fat women.190 Old ——— went to Tunis on purpose to revel among the gross Tunisian women there, Jewesses principally.”

Burton’s letter to Payne of 28 January, 1890,191 written from Algiers, is chiefly about his endeavours to find manuscripts of The Scented Garden. He does not speak pleasantly about the French, or Paris through which he had recently passed. “Politics and money-getting,” he says, “have made the gay nation stupid as Paddies. In fact, the world is growing vile and bête. Et vivent les Chinois! A new Magyar irruption would do Europe much good.”

In May 1890 Arbuthnot left England in order to visit Burton at Trieste. He carried with him a copy of Payne’s translation of Alaeddin, which Payne had sent to Burton as a present, and also Zotenberg’s MS. of Zein ul Asnam which Burton had lent to Payne. The volume is prefixed by a poetical dedication to Burton:

Twelve years this day​—​a day of Winter dreary, etc.

Burton, writing in May 1890, says192: “At last Arbuthnot has brought the volume and the MS. I am delighted with the volume, and especially with the ascription so grateful in its friendly tone. I have read every word with the utmost pleasure. We might agree to differ about Cazotte.193 I think you are applying to 1750 the moralities of 1890. Arbuthnot’s visit has quite set me up, like a whiff of London in the Pontine marshes of Trieste. He goes to-day​—​damn the luck! but leaves us hopes of meeting during the summer in Switzerland. Best of good fortune to Bandello!

Burton died at Trieste 20 October, 1890, and a few days afterwards Lady Burton destroyed the unfinished manuscript of The Scented Garden.194

In September 1890 Payne’s sister Frances was married at St. Mary Abbotts, Kensington, to Lieutenant-Colonel Edward Willoughby Grenville Byam, fourth son of Lieutenant-General Edward Byam, 18th Hussars, of Byam House,195 Brighton, and Warblington Lodge, Havant. Payne bought a new suit to go to the wedding, but, overcome by shyness, he, instead of going, sent Mrs. Hutt, who lived next door, “to see and report on it.”

On 2 January, 1891, Payne lost his friend Max Eberstadt, to whose worth he paid an affecting tribute in the sonnet “To Max Eberstadt in Willesden Cemetery.” Writing to Eberstadt’s sister, Mrs. (afterwards Lady) Lewis, on 8 April, 1891, Payne says: “Many thanks for the two scores, which I shall value over and above their intrinsic worth (which you know is great in my eyes) as a remembrance of a friend196 who was very dear to me and whose untimely death will always leave a void in my life, as in yours. Indeed, I am never likely again to meet one so completely sympathetic with me on all questions of principle. Of course, on details the most sympathetic must occasionally differ, and even of this there were few examples between us; the only one of which I can think for the moment was in music, and was entirely confined to the letter B, he, to my mind, thinking too much of Brahms and Beethoven and not enough of Berlioz and Boito. I shall, of course, be delighted to come down to Walton. If Saturday the 18th would suit you, I could come on that day and stay over Sunday and Monday.”

In a postscript he says that Vols. 4–5 of Bandello “are to be delivered to-day.”

In March of the same year, 1891, Payne lost his great friend Théodore de Banville, who is commemorated in a sonnet in Vigil and Vision.197 In a letter to Mrs. Lewis of 21 April, 1891, there is an amusing echo of some of the words that had fallen from the reviewers of the Bandello. “I am still very unwell with perpetual sick headache and general nervous weakness and quite ‘unfit for publication.’”

At the end of March 1892 Payne had the pleasure of meeting at Mr. George Lewis’s198 Sir Charles Hall, whom he admired as a conductor of the Manchester Orchestra.199

In 1892, owing to the success of his translations, Payne was able to retire from business, which “had always been confined to the quasi-literary branches of conveyancing and chancery,” but he kept on his office200 (262 Marylebone Road201) till 1895.

In his clerk, Mr. Coulson Mead (for whom he obtained another post), he continued to take a kindly interest* and on one occasion, when Mr. Mead had been ill, he gave him “a dozen bottles of red wine, which had been for some years in his cellar.” This was, however, only one of many instances of his good nature and thoughtfulness for others.

Another person to whom Payne was very kind was Dr. Steingass, the Arabic scholar. Payne introduced him to Arbuthnot and Yacoub Artin Pasha, and about the end of 1892 gave him assistance in his translation of the Hariri.202

In 1893 Payne lost his mother. The same year his friend Mr. George Lewis received the honour of knighthood.203 In the following year he spent a holiday in the Black Forest in Germany.

A letter of Payne 17 November, 1895, to Lady Lewis contains at least one interesting reference: “With regard to Sir E. Burne-Jones, you know my sentiments which are and will always be the same; but I have long ago (very reluctantly) been forced to the conclusion that he does not reciprocate my sympathy for him and have therefore forborne to press my acquaintance on him; nay, more, I have avoided casual opportunities of meeting him on the principle of the old Arab adage (so frequently quoted in the Nights) ‘when the eye sees not the heart does not grieve.’”

In a letter to Lady Lewis of 17 December, 1895, Payne says: “I shall not fail to come on New Year’s Eve.” After speaking of his ailments (he was always getting chills, colds, and influenzas, owing to his dislike of the cult of the open window) he makes the following reference to Forbes-Robertson, the actor: “I enclose a view for Gertie204 of her beloved Johnston.205 I must say that it is a little too cruel, even for me who hold that ‘none but himself can be his parody’; as an actor, that is to say; as a man, he is all that is estimable.”

The postscript refers to George W. Smalley, New York correspondent of The Times, who for a time resided in England, an author whom Payne disliked.

“By the by I must stipulate that I am not to be expected to take Smalley down to dinner, should he arrive unexpectedly on New Year’s Eve.”

In or earlier than 1887, after finishing the Bandello, Payne set himself the task of translating into English the whole of the works of Hafiz. The first announcement of it in print is to be found in his friend Arbuthnot’s Persian Portraits, which was published in 1887. “It is rumoured,” says Arbuthnot, “that this arduous work [of translating Hafiz] is about to be undertaken by that very ardent worker, Mr. John Payne. … Difficult as are the tasks that Mr. Payne has already done, and done so well, the Hafiz will be found to be the most difficult of all.”206

“Hafiz, Dante, and Shakespeare,” Payne once said to me, “are the three greatest poets of the world.” As he had determined on an isometrical translation, that is, one in which the metre of every line corresponds with the metre of the original, the task was one that can only be described as almost superhuman. He told me that it occupied his whole thoughts and energies for nine years.

He commenced his labours by studying the Commentary made in the seventeenth century by the Turkish Boznian Soudi, of which he made a digest in three great volumes;207 and then he worked steadily for several years at the translating.

While he was thus engaged, the rendering of the Rubaiyat of Omar Kheyyam208 made many years previous (1859) by Edward FitzGerald was attracting wide attention. In my Life of Edward FitzGerald,209 while paying tribute, as must all lovers of literature, to the beauties of the poem, I pointed out that it cannot in the strict sense be called a translation of the Rubaiyat. It is not even a paraphrase. It is an adaptation. FitzGerald made use of only a certain number of Omar Kheyyam’s quatrains, and he did not trouble to follow Kheyyam’s order. He picked and chose and did as he liked. Thus the famous “Book of verses underneath a bough” stanza is derived from two of the quatrains, Nos. 149 and 155.210 But FitzGerald does not keep even to Kheyyam. He draws also upon Shakespeare, Calderon, and Carlyle, and here and there he introduces passages of his own. But to find fault with FitzGerald, the result of his labours being so beautiful, would be ungracious in the last degree. Having obtained a taste for Kheyyam, the world began to clamour for the whole poem. This led to the issue in 1880 of Mr. Whinfield’s variorum edition of the Persian text of 500 quatrains, with a metrical translation; and in 1897 of Mr. Heron-Allen’s literal translation of the 158 quatrains contained in the manuscript preserved in the Bodleian​—​the manuscript used by FitzGerald. Much of Omar Kheyyam still remained untranslated, and Payne resolved to render into English the whole of the work.

With this object in view, he put aside the Hafiz and devoted himself heart and soul to his new undertaking. He was further encouraged in his labours by a remark of his friend Yacoub Artin Pasha, who said that the original of Omar Kheyyam “ought to be written in letters of gold.” For the purposes of his translation he took as his standard text the Lucknow Lithograph of the Rubaiyat, which contains more quatrains than any other and is better edited. This text he minutely collated with a number of other texts, printed, lithographed, and manuscript, with the result that he was able not only to elucidate some obscure passages, but also to add about 80 quatrains to the 762 of the Lucknow edition. The work appeared in 1898 and proved, financially, a great success. It is prefaced by an admirable Introduction in which Payne discusses the merits and shortcomings of previous translations, and lays before his readers his own aims. He observes that the especial peculiarity of the Rubaiyat is the intricacy of the rhyme scheme, and in particular the prevalence of that form which for want of a better name he calls the Throwback Rhyme, as for example in the following quatrain:

45. Skinker, since ruin is of Fortune planned for thee and me,

This nether world is no abiding land for thee and me;

Yet, so the wine-cup in the midst but stand for thee and me,

Rest thou assured the very Truth’s in hand for thee and me.211

He mentions other peculiar rhyme forms, and tells us that he has endeavoured as far as possible to imitate them.

Those who go to Payne’s translation in the hope of meeting with the peculiar charm that attaches to FitzGerald’s verses will be disappointed. Who has not quoted sometime or other, nay many times, that delectable quatrain of FitzGerald’s:

A book of verses underneath the bough,

A jug of wine, a loaf of bread,​—​and Thou,

Beside me singing in the wilderness—

Oh, wilderness were Paradise enow!

But this pleasant morsel whets the appetite of most people and gives them a desire to hear more about Kheyyam himself, his loaf of bread and the jug of wine; and if they are of the masculine sex, they will probably not be uninterested in “Thou,” or “Heart’s Desire,” as she is also prettily called. FitzGerald’s work, with all its charms, is not satisfying. Payne gives all that is to be known. It is the complete Omar Kheyyam.

Quatrains 101, 174, 222, 595 and 833 perhaps show Payne at his best. 174 contains a charming compliment to Heart’s Desire:

In this world without faith, that our sojourning-place is,

Many things have I searched; but the end of the case is,

This only I know, that the cypress less straight

Than thy shape and less lucent the moon than thy face is.

222 runs:

An elder forth of the tavern and drunken with wine did fare,

The prayer-rag over his shoulder and wine cup in hand he bare.

“Ho, Gaffer,” quoth I, “what ails thee? How com’st thou in such a plight?”

“Drink wine,” was the answer he gave me; “the things of the world are air.”

409 is one of the very few quatrains in which the girl herself is supposed to be speaking. She tells the old toper that “Wit fails with age,” and that age tends to hold her “cheek’s pomegranate-flower mere paint.” Here, however, if her arrow was aimed especially at Kheyyam, she was unjust, for to the very end he remained as faithful to the pomegranate cheek (whose pomegranate cheek seems to have been immaterial to him) as to the jug of wine.

This work of Payne’s laid itself open to the most severe criticism. It is allowed by all competent authorities to be a most truthful and valuable rendering of the Persian poet, but it is charged with being, as poetry, not only uncouth, but also wearisome and unrememberable. In work of this kind, however, to be absolutely faithful and also to be continuously poetical is beyond the reach of any translator; and under this head Payne failed where every one else must certainly fail. In prose, a literal rendering combined with great beauty of expression is possible, Payne’s marvellous rendering of the Nights being an outstanding instance. In poetry, when dealing with work small in bulk, Payne could also achieve success, as his presentment of the Villon abundantly proves; but the far longer Rubaiyat turned a deaf ear to the blandishments of its translator. Nevertheless, for the brave attempt to achieve the impossible, and for the gift of a literal version of the Rubaiyat, versified in its author’s way, every lover of literature owes Payne a deep debt of gratitude.212

It was about the year 1896, that is, while Payne was near the end of his translation of Omar Kheyyam, that he wrote the affecting poem called “The Grave of my Songs,” with its touching references to Mrs. Snee and happier days. Of this, however, we shall have more to say when we come to deal with the book in which it was for the first time printed​—​Payne’s Collected Poems.

In 1898 Payne lost his friend Stéphane Mallarmé,213 whom he celebrates in a sonnet214 as

Friend of my youth with whom I shared the chance

Of life for thirty years in joy and woe.

Among those to whom Payne gave copies of the second edition of Songs of Life and Death was his brother Harry, and hereby hangs a pathetic story. Some years afterwards Harry fell in love with Miss Florence Collier. The attractiveness of her person was united to a warmth of nature which to Harry’s sweet and gentle disposition was irresistible, but his family were opposed to the union. Perceiving how troubled her lover was, Miss Collier, though it almost broke her heart to utter the words, suggested that after all it would perhaps be better that they should part. “I want you,” she said, “to have all the happiness in life possible. If I thought you were unhappy, I should be unhappy also.” The Fates seeming to be against them, they sorrowfully broke off the engagement. But the separation lasted only three days. Harry, finding the situation intolerable, resolved, come what might, to return to Miss Collier, and eventually, on 4 June, 1898, they were married. Two persons more suited to each other could not be imagined. Their life was a beautiful idyll. Fruits of this happy marriage were five daughters, one of whom died in early childhood. Harry215 survived his brother John,216 but by not many months. After his death Mrs. Payne, in going through his papers, found a copy in his handwriting of John’s poem “A Farewell” (the poem from Songs of Life and Death, which had been suggested by Simeon Solomon’s sketch “The Parting”), and folded up with it was a piece of paper containing the single word “Flo.” The poem had evidently been written out on one of the sad three days during which the lovers had been separated. Oh, how one wishes that John could have heard this lovely​—​this touching little story! That he could have heard that words of his had been the means of bringing about so sweet, so ideal a union. Solomon, in his reflections on the power of woman’s beauty, describes it as “terrible as an army with banners.” Not less powerful are the burning words of a great poet.

Harry was in the habit of reading his brother’s works over and over again. He said to his wife, “My dear, read and study them, the more you read them the more you will love them.”

In the summer of 1898 died Sir Edward Burne-Jones, and the following letter (28 August, 1898) was written to Lady Lewis after Payne had heard the news:

“I need hardly say how much I sympathize with you over our joint and grievous loss. You may imagine how great a sorrow it is for me, making fresh again the memory of dear Max’s217 untimely death, now seven and a half years ago; and you saw so much more of our beloved and revered friend that your grief must be yet more poignant, because more constantly present than mine. Alas! after fifty one’s feet stumble upon the graves of our dearest at every step and life becomes but a matter of memory.

“I am exceedingly sorry that I cannot avail myself of your kind invitation. As you know, my natural tendency as a man himself unhappy from the birth, is towards the unhappy; but at present I am much fettered by circumstances. I am daily expecting some friends from abroad, to receive whom I must be at home. Two of them [Yacoub Artin Pasha and his wife] are from the East; I have not seen them for several years and they are coming to London specially to see me. … I have been in Bohemia for some five weeks and have come back somewhat better in health.”

At this period the Hutts lived next door to Payne. Between his house and theirs was a speaking tube, and by means of a ladder on each side the garden wall visits could be exchanged without going through the street. He used to invite them and Mrs. and Miss Heriot to strawberry and cream teas under the bays.

[164] Paper read at the 14th Annual Meeting of the John Payne Society, 27 April, 1918.

[165] See also pp. 106, 173.

[166] See p. 113.

[167] See p. 159.

[168] See p. 15, and Vigil and Vision, p. 102.

[169] Burton’s Letters to Payne, No. 35.

[170] He was knighted in 1886. See p. 88.

[171] He wrote under the name of Pisanus Fraxi (Bee of an ash). Payne said to me, “We met at Ashbee’s in 1883 and 1887.” It was in the album of his daughter that Burton wrote the Arabic saying concerning women which may be translated: “Ask their advice ye men of wit, And always do the opposite.”​—​See my Life of Burton, ii. 140.

[172] Also spelt kouss-kouss. See The Romance of a Spahi, by Pierre Loti: Lotus Library, p. 106.

[173] Payne’s notes to Galley 55 of my Life of Burton.

[174] Letter to me 21 February, 1905.

[175] As late as 1911 in his poem “A Grave at Montmartre” (Prelude to the Heine) he was hitting at the Baconians.

[176] See also Payne’s poem “A Grave at Montmartre.”

[177] The MS. is in my possession.

[178] Burton’s Letters to Payne, No. 36. Written from “No. 48, The Langham.”

[179] One of his friends said: “He had the eyes of an angel, and the jaws of a devil.”

[180] Preface to his MS. Life of Balzac.

[181] MS. note at foot of Galley No. 69 of my Life of Sir R. Burton.

[182] Vigil and Vision, p. 26.

[183] Vigil and Vision, p. 25.

[184] Letters of Burton to Payne, No. 38.

[185] A French slang word now incorporated into the language and applied to artists much as Bohemians is used here.

[186] I go into the whole story of this in my Life of Sir Richard Burton, vol. 2, chap. 34.

[187] The Scented Garden now begun in real earnest. Burton to Payne, 8 November, 1888.

[188] I subsequently read Burton’s “old version” and Part I of the complete edition subsequently printed at Paris, that is to say the first twenty chapters of the work, which corresponded with Burton’s “old version,” the proof sheets having been lent to me by the publisher; but at the time my Life of Burton went to press Part II (completing the work) had not appeared, and I have never seen it.

[189] Payne avoided this word in print. See page 162.

[190] See also Payne’s Hafiz, ii. 116, where the attractions of the Arab women are compared with the “over-voluminous charms of the women of North Africa.”

[191] Letters of Burton to Payne, No. 39.

[192] Letters of Burton to Payne, No. 40.

[193] Payne had declared that Cazotte’s tales “are for the most part rubbish.”

[194] The complete story is told in my Life of Sir Richard Burton.

[195] Now the Union Club.

[196] Eberstadt.

[197] Page 64.

[198] Afterwards Sir George Lewis. He died 7 October, 1911.

[199] Letter of Mrs. Lewis to Payne, 3 March, 1892.

[200] Autobiography, p. 23.

[201] Now pulled down.

[202] See my Life of Sir R. Burton, ii., Appendix xi. Taken also from Payne’s notes to Galley No. 26 of my Life of Burton.

[203] He received his baronetcy in 1902.

[204] Lady Lewis’s eldest daughter.

[205] Forbes-Robertson.

[206] Persian Portraits, p. 62.

[207] See note to Payne’s Omar Kheyyam, p. 83.

[208] To keep to Payne’s spelling.

[209] Two vols., 1904.

[210] Of the Bodleian MS.

[211] Payne’s translations, pp. lxx and 12.

[212] Among those who thanked Payne for his “marvellous translation” was Mr. Heron-Allen.

[213] They were born in the same year, 1842.

[214] Vigil and Vision, p. 63. In Payne’s Latter Days are included two translations from Mallarmé.

[215] He died 12 Nov., 1916.

[216] John died 11 Feb., 1916.

[217] Max Eberstadt. See p. 104.