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Royall Tyler to Mildred Barnes, February 12, 1903

New College

Feb. 12th

Dear Mildred.

I wrote you on receiving the Southey,See letter of January 23, 1903. which I have finished. It is delightful. So I fear you were not bargaining for two letters when you sent me your note from New York on Jan. 25th. But I hasten to write so that I may tell you about things before you leave civilization, In early March 1903, Mildred Barnes visited Robert Woods Bliss in Puerto Rico. See Robert Woods Bliss to Mildred Barnes, February 2, 1903, Bliss Papers, HUGFP 76.8, box 1. and as the mail steamers and their ways are a mystery to me, I am allowing plenty of time. First—I have heard all about Sir Richard Burton.Captain Sir Richard Francis Burton (18211890), an English explorer, writer, and linguist, was known for his travels and explorations within Asia and Africa as well as his knowledge of twenty-nine European, Asian, and African languages. He fell in love with his wife at first sight.Isabel Arundell Burton (1861–1890). See Mary S. Lovell, A Rage to Live: A Biography of Richard and Isabel Burton (New York: W. W. Norton, 1998).  She was fourteen, and they did not actually meet for years, but they both had resolved that they were made for one another—how good Fate was to that man, to give him such romantic surroundings. When Lady Burton burnt the papers she was very much shocked, and I think 99 out of 100 persons who consider themselves open minded, would have done the same. After the death her husband, Isabel Arundell Burton burned many of the papers of Richard Francis Burton, including journals and a draft translation of The Perfumed Garden, a fifteenth-century Arabic erotic guide. She acted to protect her husband's reputation, imagining that his spirit instructed her to burn the manuscript. Unfortunately for her designs, the offending work had two manuscript copies, and the other was in the possession of a friend, who has since published it—50 copies only and unauthorized.The Perfumed Garden of the Cheikh Nefzaoui: A Manual of Arabian Erotology, rev. and corr. translation (Cosmopoli: Printed for the Kama Shastra Society of London and Benares, 1886). No husband could I am told have been more devoted or faithful than he was, which says a good deal when one remembers the life he led. So, this book was actuated solely by his adorable love of research, and so few people can understand this, that he is of course misunderstood.

Have you ever come across the Vaux de Vire of Olivier Basselin and Jean le Houx? In the early seventeenth century, the lawyer Jean Le Houx published a collection of songs attributed to the French fifteenth-century poet Olivier Basselin, even though Le Houx himself had authored the songs. Jean Le Houx, The Vaux-de-Vire of Maistre Jean Le Houx, Advocate of Vire, trans. James Patrick Muirhead (London: J. Murray, 1875). They were two Norman poets, one of the 15th the other of the 17th centuries. They wrote odes in praise of the bowl in the quaintest old Norman French—hence the corrupted Vaudeville, "Vaudeville" is an eighteenth-century corruption of vaux-de-vire, a term for the satirical songs sung in the fifteenth century in the Val-de-Vire (or Vau-de-Vire), Normandy. which has often puzzled me. The odes have a certain flavor of Omar Omar al-Khayyám (1048–1142), a Persian astronomer, philosopher, mathematician, and poet. He is best known for the rubaiyaas (quatrains) in his Rubáiyát of Omar Khayyám, which were popularized by the embellished translations of Edward FitzGerald. about them, a fact which can hardly be counted in favour of the effusions which have appeared since Fitzgerald’s translation. Edward Marlborough FitzGerald (or Fitzgerald) (1809–1883), an English writer who authored five editions of his translation of the Rubáiyát of Omar Khayyám.

I think I wrote you about my Scots friend. He has died. It really upset me when I heard of it. I had looked on his society as a certain delight for time to come. I think he read too much. His subject was of course Literature, and he was struggling with Saxon when he died. When you say that certain things are impossible in New York, I look out upon the New College Cloisters, and smirk gently. The photographer has twice been at me, and I have twice stamped his results to earth. If I look like that I will not publish the disgrace.

Yours sincerely

Royall Tyler

 

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