Limited Editions Club: The Kasidah of Haji Abdu El-Yezdi by Richard F. Burton (1937)

The Kasidah of Haji Abdu El-Yezdi by Richard F. Burton
LEC #92/8th Series V. 9 in 1937
Artwork: Decorations and illuminations by Valenti Angelo
Preface and Notes by Richard F. Burton
LEC #661 of 1500. LEC exclusive.

Click images to see larger views.

Front Binding – Happy Holidays readers! Before 2020 closes, we have one last book to cover, and it’s a fine way to conclude a solid year of book blogging: The Kasidah of Haji Abdu El-Yezdi by Richard F. Burton. Published in 1937, this is the second in a subseries of books where book illustrator extraordinaire Valenti Angelo created fully decorated miniature editions of literary works based in the Middle East; the first was The Rubaiyat of Omar Khayyam in 1935; following this was Vathek: An Arabian Tale in 1945 and The Book of Psalms in 1960. These all had a unique styling to them; leather bindings with intricate embossing of an Angelo design, a chemise along with a slipcase, and BEAUTIFUL interiors with heavily decorated pages with hand illuminated art done individually by Angelo himself. George Macy held the Rubaiyat as one of the great successes of the Club, much to his surprise. So it’s little wonder that Angelo would return to the design motifs of that edition with The Kasidah, Vathek, and the Book of Psalms.

Let’s touch on this text a bit before diving into the design further. The Kasidah of Haji Abdu El-Yezdi is in actuality an original poem created by British adventurer and Arabist Richard F. Burton, who created quite a mythos behind its publication to distance himself from the authorship. Per Wikipedia:

The Kasîdah of Hâjî Abdû El-Yezdî (1880) is a long English-language poem written by “Hâjî Abdû El-Yezdî”, a pseudonym of the true author, Sir Richard Francis Burton (1821-1890), a well-known British Arabist and explorer. In a note to the reader, Burton claims to be the translator of the poem, to which he gives the English title “Lay of the Higher Law.” It is thus a pseudotranslation, pretending to have had an original Persian text, which never existed. The Kasidah is essentially a distillation of Sufi thought in the poetic idiom of that mystical tradition; Burton had hoped to bring Sufist ideas to the West.

As the Translator, Burton signs himself “F. B.,” for Frank Baker, an English nom-de-plume from Francis (his middle name), and Baker (his mother’s maiden name). In notes following the poem, Burton claims to have received the manuscript from his friend Haji Abdu, a native of Darabghird in the Yezd Province of Persia. Describing Haji Abdu, Burton writes that he spoke an array of languages and notes that “his memory was well-stored; and he had every talent save that of using his talents” — an apt description of the true author.

This edition contains the Preface from “Baker”, as well as notes about the text that dive into its own meta about its creation. I suppose it’s in its own little self contained Burton universe, haha. Of course, Burton is best known for his work with The Arabian Nights Entertainments / The Book of the Thousand Nights and a Night, which was printed by the LEC twice; in 1934 with Angelo’s illustrations, where he did 1001 individual sketches! The Heritage reprint is covered here, and in 1954 with Arthur Szyk’s miniature paintings. And that is Burton’s bibliography with the George Macy Company.

Angelo, of course, is no stranger here; we’ve covered many of his editions, but still have several to go before I can say we’ve documented all of his contributions to the Company; he was prolific! As noted in my article on the most frequent LEC illustrators, he has 12 works to his credit, plus an additional 3 exclusives for the Heritage Press. We’ll be seeing Vathek next year.

Design Notes – Angelo was the designer of this edition. Per the QM:

As noted, it is a small book in a similar style with The Rubiyat, and Vathek and The Book of Psalms would follow in this design template.

Spine

Slipcase and Chemise

Title Pages – This is a unique edition as it has two title pages; one that serves as a more descriptive one, with Angelo, the LEC and the year featured; the following is a far more simple and decorative feast for the eyes. Unstated is Burton’s preface and notes under the guise of Baker.

Colophon – This is #661 of 1500, and was signed by Angelo.

Examples of Angelo’s decorations and illustrations (right click and open in new tab for full size):

Personal Notes – This was part of a lot I received from NYCFAddict, a fellow Devotee. I was delighted to discover these were much like Salome and The Song of Songs in their design; I love these intensely decorated pages, haha. This one is also in really good shape both with the book and the case; a boon with something as delicate as this! The book is a little stiff to open though; that’s why some of the photos are a little uneven. Apparently the original owner didn’t partake of its contents often.

1 thought on “Limited Editions Club: The Kasidah of Haji Abdu El-Yezdi by Richard F. Burton (1937)”

  1. Definitely will look out for this one. I have the HP Rubaiyat and Psalms. One note tho – I would challenge the claim that Burton did not live up to his talents. I’d argue that Burton is one of the most accomplished Englishmen of the 19th Century. His complete Arabian Nights edition is some 16 volumes if you include all of his notes. Yeah, I’m aware his translation has been challenged as overly salacious, but it is not THAT sexy. He also is one of the most daring explorers in recent history. He posed as a Muslim and made a trip to the Kaballah in Mecca, a feat that, had he been discovered, might have resulted in his death. His exploration of Africa, with his partner Speke, in search of the source of the Nile, is legendary. My girlfriend of 40 years ago came back from a trip to Florida for her aunt’s funeral with a gift for me from her aunt’s book collection: seven volumes of the Royal Geographic Society’s annual report, from 1859 until 1866. Wow. Leather-bound, with lots of foldout maps explaining where various explorers had roamed around the globe, often funded by the Society. They including Speke’s report to the Society, which took up an entire volume. These guys were amazing. At one point, Speke and Burton were attacked by the locals and they stood back-to-back, firing their pistols. A spear pierced Burton’s jaw, but they survived. Then Speke had a freak accident where a beetle crawled into his ear and died, and his ear became infected. So both of them were being carried in litters, but did they head for home? Noooo… They went deeper into Africa and explored Lake Tanganyika and declared it as the likely source of the Nile. And then he writes a fake classical Persian poem good enough for Macy to print!

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