The Omar Khayyam Club (article 31 march 1897)
From The Arthur Conan Doyle Encyclopedia
The Omar Kháyyám Club is an article published in The Sketch on 31 march 1897.
Report of a dinner of The Omar Kháyyám Club attended by Arthur Conan Doyle on 25 march 1897 at the Restaurant Frascati (Oxford Street, London).
The Omar Kháyyàm Club
The Omar dinner at Frascati's last week again illustrated the magnetic attraction of this club for every lion that may be roaring. Viscount Wolseley, Sir George Robertson, the hero of Chitral, Sir Mountstuart Grand-Duff, Mr. Justice Barnes, Sir Courtenay Ilbert, Professor Michael Foster, Sir Brampton Gurdon, Mr. J. M. Barrie, Sir Harry Johnston, who, as Mr. Gosse happily remarked, rules an Empire about the size of Russia, and, when he leans back on the padded velvet of his vice-regal chair, opens a volume of verse; Professor Ray Lankester, Mr. Alma-Tadema, R.A., George Frampton, A.R.A. — such an array of guests made a leonine uproar that was positively deafening. Moreover, the Club rejoiced in the acquisition of three new member, Mr. Austin Dobson, Mr. Alfred East, R.I., and Dr. Conan Doyle. Mr. Alfred East designed the charming picture on the menu, and Mr. Austin Dobson read a poem, which was heard with universal delight. Mr. Austin Dobson is no mumbling bard. He delivered his lines with a skilful modulation that any professional elocutionist might have envied. The poem will be published by-and-by. Meanwhile, here are some of its most felicitous lines—
- 'Twas Swift who said that people "view
- In Homer more than Homer knew."
- I can't pretend to claim the gift
- Of playing Bentley upon Swift
- But I suspect the reading true
- Is "Omar more than Omar knew,"—
- Or why this large assembly met
- Lest we this Omar should forget?
- (In a parenthesis, I note
- Our Rustum here, without red coat;
- Where Sohrab sits I'm not aware,
- But that's Firdausi (**) in the Chair!)—
- I say then that we now are met
- Lest see this Omar should forget,
- Who, ages back, remote, obscure,
- Wrote verses once at Naishápúr,—
- Verses which, as I understand,
- Were merely copied out by hand,
- And now, without etched plates, or aid
- Of India paper, or handmade,
- Bid fair Parnassus' top to climb,
- And knock the Classics out of time.
- Well, Omar Kháyyám wrote of Wine,
- And all of us, sometimes, must dine;
- And Omar Kháyyám wrote of Roses,
- And all of us, no doubt, have noses;
- And Omar Kháyyám wrote of Love,
- Which some of us are not above,
- Also he charms to this extent,
- We don't know, always, what he meant.
- Lastly, the man's so plainly dead
- We can heap honours on his head.
Mr. Gosse, with great felicity, drew a distinction between the two Lord Wolseleys, the Commander-in-Chief and the biographer of Marlborough; and to this the literary Wolseley responded in a most modest and unaffected speech, exalting the poet above all men, and expressing, the belief that, generations hence, there would be an Austin Dobson Club, the members of which would diligently read the verses that had delighted the Omarians that evening. The soldierly taste for poetry was further exemplified by Sir George Robertson, who remarked that men of action were really "dreamers and sentimentalists," and that his chief pleasure in the mountains of Chitral was the reading of Omar Kháyyám. Sir Mountstuart Grant-Duff, by way of being "in the movement," told amusing anecdotes of Persian dignitaries. The late Shah drank a great deal at a banquet in Berlin, and the French Ambassador whispered to his English colleague, "His Majesty is drunk!" Lord Ampthill replied, "Ah! mais dans la nuit tous les chats sont gris!"
(*) Field-Marshal Right Hon. Viscount Wolsley, (**) Mr. Edmund Gosse.
This high Persian tone was not maintained by Mr. Augustine Birrell, who expressed a wish that he might speak in rusty Latin, no as to be quite unintelligible to the company. He had to propose "the Guests of the Members," and he stood aghast at the distinction of these visitors. How they had been induced to come he could not imagine. There was Mr. Barrie, whom Southron readers professed to understand. Them was Mr. Kenneth Grahame, who had made all fathers realise how charming their children were, and how greet was the stupidity of parents. More especially, there was "Dr. Conan Doyle's guest," whose name for some mysterious reason is not mentioned, and who was probably a detective engaged in fathoming some hideous secret in Mr. Birrell's life. There was Sir Mountstuart Grant-Duff, who had made the mistake of writing "a really good-natured book," a fault which Mr. Birrell hoped to see amended in a future edition. Let down from the Persian altitudes, the company laughed without restraint at Birrell's pleasantries.
Among the members of the Club present at the dinner were Mr. Edward Clodd, Dr. Robertson Nicoll, Professor Thischon Dyer, Mr. Arthur Hacker, A.R.A., Mr. Max Pemberton, Mr. Coulson Kernahan, Mr. Moncure Conway, Mr. William Sharp, and Mr. Frederic Hudson. To Mr. Hudson, the secretary of the Club, Mr. Gosse paid a very warm tribute, the sentiment of which has been engrossed on vellum and signed by the members. More than that, Mr. Hudson has received a piece of plate from his brother Omarians on the occasion of his marriage.
A REMINISCENCE OF OMAR KHAYYAM.
- I sometimes wonder, when I see the rose
- Rest on Her bosom, where my head has lain,
- Whether, when She is dust, that rose's seed,
- Will find its nursery there, and bloom again.
- I sometimes wonder if the jessamine,
- Which added fragrance to her fragrant hair,
- Will with it later make a common cause
- And bloom again to make another fair.
- But most I wonder if the flower of love,
- Which lay upon the soul I could not see,
- Will find its fellows in Elysian fields
- And bloom again to bless and welcome me.
- Ah, yes, methinks the God who loves the rose,
- And loves the jessamine in my lady's hair,
- Will love the love that decorates her soul,
- And will not fail to make my heaven more fair.
- George Somes Layard