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 EC and C S than I did, and I hopewhen 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."

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