Saturday, 21 June 2008
The dozen or so entries in The Times give an outline, though hardly a picture of the man, who died at the age of 51 in 1964. In short: public school, water-colour artist, diplomat, active service during WW2 in North Africa and Italy, writer, translator and editor of many Italian Classics.
Born November 16th, 1912, the son of Arthur Phayre Colquhoun, educated at Ampleforth and Oxford (Christ Church) followed by the Royal College of Art. This was in the 1930s and afterwards, probably just a few years before WW2, he went to live in Ischia in Italy. The Times records [March 9th, 1938] an exhibition of his paintings, ‘Water-colours of Southern Italy’ at the Palser Gallery, King Street, St. James, London, SW1.
In 1940 he was appointed acting director of the British Institute in Naples. During the war he was an intelligence officer in the Western Desert. Assigned to the Eight Army he undertook a variety of roles in Sicily and Italy. Clearly his facility with Italian enabled him to play a key role liaising between ‘refugees, officials and the population’ [The Times, Obituary, March 24th, 1964], and was put ‘in charge of Civil Liaison’ [ibid.].
He did a lot of very effective work with the Garibaldi Brigade at Ravenna for which he was made an honorary freeman of Ravenna. After the war he was briefly Director of the British Institute at Seville and thereafter concentrated on his writing, editing and translating.
Colquhoun’s major contribution to the English understanding of Italian literature was to write a biography of Alessandro Manzoni [Manzoni and his times, 1954] and translate Manzoni’s The Betrothed, the first modern Italian novel, though the translation is no longer the standard one. Bruce Penman, the translator of the currently available Penguin edition, notes that Colquhoun's translation 'contains a surprising number of mistakes of interpretation. It is also sometimes too literal, with extensive passages in the historic present - a device which never sounds right in modern English' [Penguin Classics, 1972].
The first five volumes of The Oxford Library of Italian Classics [see below for a full bibliography] were savaged in The Times [November 9th, 1961] for their horrendous misprints leading the anonymous reviewer to conclude:
‘The fact that these volumes were printed in Italy is no excuse. The worst of them at least should be withdrawn for the honour of Oxford.’
Colquhoun’s translation of Lampedusa’s The Leopard which appeared two years after its posthumous publication in Italy in 1958 has faired better. It was reprinted in the standard Everyman edition in 1991. Colquhoun went on to be the dialogue consultant on Visconti’s filming of The Leopard.
The New York Times has a travel article on Lampedusa's Sicily by Adam Begley with an interesting slide show - mention of Visconti, but not Colquhoun:
Sicily through the eyes of the Leopard
A bizarre incident reported in The Times British Author Gaoled in Venice [October 9th, 1954] details an altercation in Venice’s Piazza San Marco with a policeman when ordered ‘not to cross the square while a film was being shot’. He was cleared the following April of the four month suspended prison sentence for being ‘found guilty of contempt of a State Official.
As a painter The Times describes him as in the style of Rex Whistler, and as a writer in the style of Norman Douglas ‘whom he knew well’ and ‘Like many painters he wrote a most vivid English’ writes his obituarist. At the time of his tragically early death he left two uncompleted works: a war novel and a history of Risorgimento.
He was married in 1935 to Elizabeth Joan Holford (b.1909) and they had one daughter – Mary Jane Grannina (b.1937) spelt in The Times Marriages column (April 16th, 1970) as ‘Giannina’. The marriage was dissolved.
Sunday, 24 February 2008
Between 1961 and 1966 Oxford University Press with the support of the Italian Institute and the Anglo-Italian Cultural Commission published 13 volumes in a series titled: The Oxford Library of Italian Classics. In the first year 5 titles were produced bearing the following raison d’etre on the back of the dust jacket:
With the end of the Second World War, large numbers of young ex-servicemen returned from Italy with a new awareness of Italian art and culture. For the first time since the turn of the century contemporary Italian writers became widely read, and the names of a brilliant new school became familiar to English readers. Nowadays good translations of modern Italian writers, known and little known, are familiar features of every public library.
In the early fifties came the beginning of an increased interest also in Italian writing of the past, notably with the translation into English of two classic works, Alessandro Manzoni’s I promessi sposi and Ippolito Nievo’s Le confessioni di un ottuagenerio. But there remained great gaps of what was available of a rich and varied literature. Machiavelli, for instance, was represented by numerous versions of Il principe and Discorsi while his plays and other literary works were comparatively neglected. Alfieri’s Vita and Pellico’s Le mie prigioni, which represented Italy to generations of our ancestors, were almost unknown except to specialists.
The object of the series is, principally, to remedy these omissions but there will also be room for new translations of familiar works when the opportunity occurs of including one of exceptional quality. Thus, while three of the first five volumes present works which are virtually unknown to English readers there is also a remarkable new translation, in terza rima, of Dante’s Inferno.
After the initial five volumes the general series description was dropped from the back of the dust jacket and only retained as a series entry: The Oxford library of Italian Classics; General Editor: Archibald Colquhoun, on the half-title page. The final two volumes by Pirandello and Leopardi were not published under the general editorship of Archibald Colquhoun – no series editor is named.
The first five volumes were printed in Italy by Officine Grafiche Fratelli Stianti Sancasciano Val Di Pesa (Florence), and the remainder by Richard Clay and Company Ltd, Bungay, Suffolk. In 1965 they became Richard Clay (The Chaucer Press), Ltd for Francesco Guicciardini’s Selected writings, and Leopardi’s Selected prose and poetry. The Imprint data would appear to suggest that as the former volume by Guicciardini details both the series editor: Archibald Colquhoun and The Chaucer Press, but the Pirandello only acknowledges the series editor on the back cover. The final volume in the series, Leopardi, Selected prose and poetry, makes no acknowledgement of Colquhoun as the series editor whatsoever. This may indicate that although printed (and possibly published) before the Guicciardini it was either that Colquhoun did not commission the Pirandello or the Leopardi or he stopped editing the series prior to its completion for some other reason. Of course there is another solution, his exclusion was merely a publisher’s or printer’s error.
Dante Alighieri [1265 – 1321]
The Inferno from La Divina Commedia, translated from the text established by La Societa Dantesca Italiana by Warwick Chipman, Introduction and notes by Fr Kenelm Foster. London: Oxford University Press, 1961. Printed in Italy by Officine Grafiche Fratelli Stianti Sancasciano Val Di Pesa (Florence), pp. xxviii, 151.
Italian regional tales of the nineteenth century selected and introduced by Archibald Colquhoun and Neville Rogers and translated by Bernard Wall, Archibald Colquhoun, Lovett F Edwards, Isabel Quigly, Constance Hutton, Neville Rogers, Angus Davidson, W J Strachan, Adeline Hartcup, Anthony Rhodes, George Arthurson. London, Oxford University Press, 1961. Printed in Italy by Officine Grafiche Fratelli Stianti Sancasciano Val Di Pesa (Florence), pp. xv, 268.
[Contents: Iginio Ugo Tarchetti (1841-69): The ghost in the raspberry bush, translated by Bernard Wall; Camillo Boito (1836-1914): A thing apart, translated by Archibald Colquhoun; Roberto Sacchetti (1847-81): Wedding eve, translated by Lovett F Edwards; Giovanni Verga (1840-1922): Cavalleria Rusticana, translated by Archibald Colquhoun; Edmondo De Amicis (1846-1908): Carmela, translated by Isabel Quigly; Salvatore Di Giacomo (1864-1934): Pasquino, translated by Constance Hutton; Renato Fucini (1843-1922): The witch. The monument, translated by Neville Rogers; Matilde Serao (1856-1927): Checchina’s virtue, translated by Angus Davidson; Edoardo Scarfoglio (1860-1917): The Phrynè case, translated by W J Strachan; Gabriele D’Annunzio (1863-1938): The hero, translated by Adeline Hartcup, The vigil, translated by Anthony Rhodes; Grazia Deledda (1875-1936): The sorcerer, translated by by George Arthurson.]
Machiavelli, Niccolò [1469 – 1527]
The literary works of Machiavelli: Mandragola, Clizia, A dialogue on language, Belfagor, with selections from the private correspondence edited and translated by J R Hale. London: Oxford University Press, 1961. Printed in Italy by Officine Grafiche Fratelli Stianti Sancasciano Val Di Pesa (Florence), pp. xxvi, 202.
Goldoni, Carlo [1707 – 1793]
Three comedies: Mine Hostess (La Locandiera), translated by Clifford Bax; The Boors (I Rusteghi), translated by I M Rawson; The Fan (Il Ventaglio) translated by Eleanor & Herbert Farjeon; introduced by Gabriele Baldini. London: Oxford University Press, 1961. Printed in Italy by Officine Grafiche Fratelli Stianti Sancasciano Val Di Pesa (Florence), pp. xxvii, 293.
Alfieri, Vittorio [1749 – 1803]
Memoirs: the anonymous translation from the Italian of 1810, revised and introduced by E R Vincent. London: Oxford University Press, 1961. Printed in Italy by Officine Grafiche Fratelli Stianti Sancasciano Val Di Pesa (Florence), pp. xix, 310.
Abba, Giuseppe Cesare [1838 – 1910]
The diary of one of Garibaldi’s Thousand, translated with an introduction by E R Vincent. London: Oxford University Press, 1962. pp.xxi, 166.
Fogazzaro, Antonio [1842 – 1911]
The little world of the past, translated by W J Strachan with an introduction by Tommaso Gallarati Scotti. London: Oxford University Press, 1962. pp.xii, 358.
Gozzi, Carlo [1720 – 1806]
Useless memoirs, the translation of John Aldington Symonds, edited, revised and abridged by Philip Horne with an introduction by Harold Acton. London: Oxford University Press, 1962. pp. xxiv, 285.
Pellico, Silvio [1788 – 1854]
My prisons, translated and introduced with notes by I G Capaldi. Foreword by Archibald Colquhoun. London: Oxford University Press, 1963. pp. xxiv. 199.
Manzoni, Alessandro [1785 – 1873]
The coloumn of Infamy. Prefaced by Cesare Beccaria’s Of crimes and punishments. Translated [respectively] by Kenelm Foster and Jane Grigson. With an introduction by A.P. d’Entrèves. London: Oxford University Press, 1964. pp. xxii, 212,
Guicciardini, Francesco [1483 – 1540]
Selected writings, edited and introduced by Cecil Grayson. Translated by Margaret Grayson. London: Oxford University Press., 1965, pp. xix, 170.
Pirandello, Luigi [1867 – 1936]
Short stories, selected, translated and introduced by Frederick May. London: Oxford University Press, 1965. pp. xxxvi, 260.
Leopardi, Giacomo [1798 – 1837]
Selected prose and poetry, edited, translated and introduced by Iris Origo and John Heath-Stubbs. London: Oxford University press, pp. xiii, 312.
Wednesday, 20 February 2008
An alphabetical list of the books published in this series:
Baker, John Alec (2)
Penguin, Sep 1984 (3) 
Bourne, George (George Sturt 1863–1927)
Change in the Village
Penguin, Jun 1984 
Cameron, David Kerr
The Cornkister Days: A portrait of a land and its rituals
Penguin, 1986 
Collis, John Stewart (1900-1984)
The Worm Forgives the Plough
Penguin, Jun 1986 
Holland, William (1746-1819) Edited by Jack Ayres
Paupers and Pig Killers: The Diary of William Holland, a Somerset Parson, 1799-1818
Penguin, May 1986 
Kitchen, Fred (1891-1961)
Brother to the Ox. The autobiography of a farm labourer
Penguin, Jun 1984 
Kilvert, Francis (1840-72)
Kilvert's Diary, 1870-79: Selections from the Diary of the Rev Francis Kilvert
Penguin, Sep 1984 [1938-40]
Philip, Neil (compiler)
Between Earth and Sky: Poetry and Prose of English Rural Life and Work Between the Enclosures and the Great War
Penguin, Jun 1984
Walton, Izaak (1593-1683)
The Compleat Angler, edited by Bryan Loughrey with a postscript by Lord Home
Penguin, Mar 1985 
Webb, Mary [1881-1927]
Penguin, Jun 1985 
White, T.H. (1906-64)
Penguin, Jun 1984 
Williamson, Henry (1895-1977)
Tarka the Otter, his joyful water-life and death in the two rivers, illus. by C F Tunnicliffe
Penguin, Apr 1985 
The Shining Levels: The Story of a Man Who Went Back to Nature, drawings by Elisabeth Trimby
Penguin, Apr 1986 
Young, Andrew (1885-1971)
A Prospect of Flowers. A book about wild flowers, illustrations from Gerard's Herbal.
Penguin, May 1986 
Chronology of the Penguin Country Library as published by Penguin:
Bourne, George Change in the Village
Kitchen, Fred *Brother to the Ox (4)
Philip, Neil (compiler) Between Earth and Sky (5)
White, T.H. The Goshawk
Baker, John Alec The Peregrine
Kilvert, Francis Kilvert's Diary, 1870-79
Walton, Izaak The Compleat Angler (6)
Williamson, Henry Tarka the Otter (7)
Webb, Mary Precious Bane
Holland, William Paupers and Pig Killers (8)
Wyatt, John The Shining Levels
Young, Andrew A Prospect of Flowers
Collis, John Stewart *The Worm Forgives the Plough
Cameron, David Kerr The Cornkister Days (9)
Original publication dates:
1653 Walton, Izaak The Compleat Angler
1799 Holland, William Paupers and Pig Killers
1870 Kilvert, Francis Kilvert's Diary, 1870-79
1912 Bourne, George Change in the Village
1924 Webb, Mary Precious Bane
1927 Williamson, Henry Tarka the Otter
1940 Kitchen, Fred Brother to the Ox
1945 Young, Andrew A Prospect of Flowers
1951 White, T.H. The Goshawk
1967 Baker, John Alec The Peregrine
1973 Collis, John Stewart The Worm Forgives the Plough
1973 Wyatt, John The Shining Levels
1984 Cameron, David Kerr The Cornkister Days
1984 Philip, Neil (compiler) Between Earth and Sky
I am very grateful to Martin Yates, Publications Officer of The Penguin Collectors Society for additional bibliographical information.
1. ‘This delightful, inimitably English series of books ranges from fiction to folk lore, from autobiography to natural history. Whatever the subject, each book has a special sort of relationship with the English or British countryside’, this is the only advert for the series in: Paupers and pig killers: The diary of William Holland, a Somerset Parson, 1799-1818. Penguin,1986.
2. All the books are in ‘B’ format [7 ½ x 5 in./ 198 x 129mm.]
3. First published by Penguin 1976.
4. *This volume and John Stewart Collis, The worm forgives the plough, are the only two volumes not using the publishers device on the half-title page: an engraving 1 X 1”, of an Oak tree with a cow grazing, and horse standing at its base, arranged around the top in a semicircle is the series title PENGUIN COUNTRY LIBRARY.
5. This is the only volume originally published by Penguin.
6. First published by Penguin in 1939 as a yellow cover Miscellaneous Main Series No 238. No introduction or notes but wood engravings by Gertrude Hermes.
7. First published by Penguin in March 1937 as Main Series No. 81 (orange cover, no introduction or illustrations).
8. Several of the volumes advertise other books in this series, but this is the only one giving an overview with a list of 9 further titles. The four missing from the entry are the final four on the above list. No General Editor is listed.
9. Penguin says that this was published in 1987, however the imprint is ‘1986’. It is also the only one of the series not indicated as such on both cover and spine, but only on the half title which states: ‘PENGUIN COUNTRY LIBRARY’ + the engraving. I wonder if this was an error, or a premonition that it was to be the final one in the series?
Sunday, 27 January 2008
one gets out of bed
and the planets don't always hiss
or muck up the day...'
[Anne Sexton, The big boots of pain]
Sleep was disturbed, my brain had moved into engage mode and was enjoying mulling over the latest discussion in the New York Times's Reading Room. The book in question was Walker Percy’s The Moviegoer. Two of American literature's great anti-heroes, Frank Bascombe and Rabbit Angstrom, were traced back to an earlier prototype, Binx Bolling. I was now fully awake and my thoughts drifted to an earlier model from another continent, namely Copenhagen's philosopher, Søren Kierkegaard.
Kierkegaard had been on and off my mind for forty years. In 1968 I'd briefly worked in a brick making factory located under the shadow of Surrey’s North Downs, shovelling sand, breaking up clay, and driving a dumper truck during the day. Crashing my mother's car, getting drunk, being sick, getting laid - at least trying to - and generally fooling around at night.
In between times I'd become fascinated by Kierkegaard. I was now sensing that Walker Percy and Richard Ford had chosen to doff their caps to the Dane. I had to make a choice, could I be bothered to try and prove the link and work up a hypothesis? It was all about anticipation - bringing to fruition seeds planted so many years ago, a sudden bloom in the desert.
It had been forty years since I'd really done any serious posing with Either/Or so I subsequently decided to ask Regine when she came down to make her porridge. Regine had read Kierkegaard more recently than me, when she was making choices about her life.
I briefly explained to Regine about the Reading Room's latest discussion group and then I asked her, "Do you remember what the choices were based on in Either/Or? Was it some ethically based commitment to God or life or aesthetics?"
"Kierkegaard lived a long time ago and trying to demonstrate that a couple of American writers are using him as a model for male angst is faintly ridiculous."
"Maybe" I replied, "but wasn't it all about a women - hadn't he been jilted or decided against marriage - and consequently re-appraised his life?"
I could hear the porridge bubbling and the sound of the wooden spoon scouring the iron base of the pot.
"For God's sake - it's seven in the morning. I want my porridge and you want me to tackle Kierkegaard with your own version of male reductive reasoning."
I watched – then switched tracks. I'd always found it vaguely decadent that my wife - like hundreds, maybe thousands of women throughout the suburbs made porridge, day in day out, without any knickers on. In our fourth decade of marriage it was just one of the curious ways in which I found married life both deeply fulfilling and revealing. It was bad news indeed for decadents that less people, particularly women, were now eschewing breakfast in favour of trimmer hips and tighter buns.
It is difficult to describe the next few minutes – or seconds – a blinding light filled the room and the weight of a powerful centrifugal force pressed down upon my body making it hard to breathe as I was pushed up against the radiator. As suddenly as the force had come it went, as did the light – but when I picked myself up off the floor Regine was missing. Everything was in order – no breakages – and the porridge still bubbled in its pot though it had been subjected to some force because it had slewed up to the rim. It had been like a great earthquake minus collateral damage.
In fear and trembling I searched the house and garden. I looked for signs of damage, of intrusion, of sudden electrical discharge – but there was no evidence of anything untoward – except Regine’s vanishing.
I phoned the police and after twenty minutes I insisted on being put through to someone who would take this matter seriously, comments about “a possible alien-abduction, Sir?” were hardly helpful. After a lengthy silence I found myself talking to Detective Inspector Climacus. He listened carefully, asked many questions and gave assurances that descriptions and the pertinent facts would be relayed to beat officers for a quick solution.
"The matter" he said "will either be resolved by the end of the day, or I fear that no answers will be found without considerable application. This is not the first case of this type that I've investigated - most have been brought home within twenty-four hours."
Inspector Climacus was a man whom I found reassuring and I felt that he would untangle the paradox of Regine's disappearance.
I decided to expand my own personal search. Although any notion of alien-abduction was clearly preposterous it kept playing on my mind. Her Majesty's Government had recently made available to the public data on thousands of sightings - were they all hoaxes or weather balloons?
Our back garden leads into a service lane running between us and the terraces behind. It was one of those lanes that in October is all autumn fruits and smudgy cats shooting into the verdure. Bill, our neighbour, was standing next to an enormous hole that had appeared under the hedge opposite his garage. It was about one and a half metres in diameter, when we tried to look down and make out how deep it was we only perceived increasing gloom, then complete darkness. Bill dropped a brick down it but no sound was heard.
"Seems like an old well has been uncovered," he said.
Was this hole in some way connected with Regine's disappearance? I told Bill about the events of the morning and the derisory remarks when I'd phoned the police. Bill agreed that alien-abduction was unlikely but added a strange statistic.
"Did you know that thousands of people in this country are insured against alien-abduction? I read it in the paper yesterday, I'll go and get the article, if you like."
Are people mad, I wondered? Who would claim - the abductee on their return from some far off planet? Or the forlorn spouse convinced that a sudden bright light and a force field was a visitation from a distant galaxy? Bill returned with the article. To my surprise it was not some tabloid nonsense - but an article in the Guardian, so it must be true, even though it was in their tabloid section:
The Question: Is insurance pointless?
Some 20,000 alien-abduction policies have been sold by a London-based firm Goodfellow Rebecca Ingrams Pearson (GRIP) and around 4,000 immaculate-conception policies ("Very popular with girls called Mary")...
"Do you think they give you a reduced premium if you take out both policies - just in case Mary was impregnated by aliens?"
Before Bill could respond we noticed a policeman coming down the lane towards us. He was still a few metres off but he raised his voice and shouted, "Do either of you know a woman called Regine?"
I was aghast, "Yes, she's my wife."
"We've had a report that a woman of that name has just been found at the recycling centre. She's shaken but basically OK and all she can remember is that her name is Regine Kore and that she lives at 11 Ennafield Way."
Maybe it's my cultural background but as I grow older I find a deep blue uniform and a large black helmet deeply re-assuring. My joy was so great that I wanted to give him everything I owned.
Ten minutes later Regine was brought home in a police car. She was very pale and her dressing gown and nightie looked badly crumpled. Then I noticed that her usual pink fluffy dogs had been replaced by a very sensible pair of men's brown tweed slippers. This was strange.
"I suggest sir, that you take your wife down to the hospital for a check up. There appear to be no injuries but you can't be too careful - nasty places recycling centres, glass, battery acid - even poisonous snakes from time to time. She was found in the clothing bin."
"Perhaps that's where she got her new slippers," I suggested. The policeman gave me a strange look and I decided to shut-up. The last thing I wanted was him thinking that my wife searched for her new clothes at the recycling centre.
As soon as they'd gone I asked Regine what had happened - cooking porridge one minute - gone the next.
"I want a cup of tea." She fell silent and couldn't be cajoled into saying anything more. As we were getting into the car Regine looked at me and said, "I was abducted."
We spent the rest of the morning at the hospital and it was only on our return that Regine opened up.
"A great earthquake, yes, that is a good way of describing it, time and space and matter became folded into one dimension. When stability returned I was staring up at the extractor fan over the cooker and I could see the steam of the kettle shooting out of the spout. I'd become the porridge - underneath was warm and the surface bubbly but at the same time smooth, almost luxurious. Then a large face appeared, definitely male - bearded and above his head a neon sign flashed 'ARKLAN'. Brown sugar was then sprinkled on me - it felt like when we were kids on the beach and someone dribbles sand on you to disturb your sun bathing or wake you up. Then he poured some cream on me and grabbed the pan by the handle. My mass slopped to the edge of the pot and I was amazed to see that I was in a huge field with daisies and rabbits and it was surrounded by a hedge."
"Were you frightened?" I asked.
"It all happened too quickly, because the man then poured me down his throat. I descended rapidly, buffeted on all sides and I was eventually decanted into a large cavern."
"As a pile of porridge?"
"No I seemed to be my self again. I looked around and was confronted by three hoodies on bikes. Their faces were obscured; the first carried an iPod, the second a mobile phone and the last one, the smallest of the three, a silver gun. The first one asked me a question."
"Night or day?"
I replied, "The one must follow the other - utter night would be as unbearable as eternal day."
The hoodie with the mobile phone asked, "Awake or asleep," but I said I would not answer without seeing the question written down.
Last of all the one with the silver gun asked, "Joy or sadness?"
"Always joy," I replied, "Always joy."
"He laughed quietly and said: 'Your greatest strength is your imagination', whereupon he pulled out the gun and pointed it as if he was about to shoot me. My body tipped back to avoid what was coming and I found myself falling again - but only for a short time - and then I landed on something soft. I was found by one of the Council workers who was sorting the clothes."
Regine looked tired. Then she smiled at me and asked, "That recipe you were looking for, 'Enigma de Filets Congalé', did you ever find it? I really do feel like eating something exotic tonight."