Peter Suart came in on Friday to sign his etchings for the new Gulliver’s Travels – the final stage of a project which has been in the pipeline for well over a year. Meanwhile I was polishing my letter to members announcing the publication. I came to the phrase ‘many believed that Gulliver’s Travels was a true – if exaggerated account’ and thought – surely not! By serendipity, my lunchtime stroll that day took me past the Royal College of Surgeons, in Lincoln’s Inn Fields, and I popped in to the Hunterian Museum. Among the fascinating items in that sometimes gruesome collection is the skeleton of Charles Byrne, the famous Irish giant – here it is, together with a contemporary print (I particularly like the small gentleman on the right).
Also on display is a portrait of another small gentleman, the famous ‘Count’ Jozef Boruwlaski who had reached the height of just 28 inches by the age of 22; he lived to the grand old age of 97 and is buried in Durham Cathedral. With such extreme examples to hand, and with explorers returning to British shores with incredible tales of wondrous discoveries around the globe, it is indeed conceivable that some people took Captain Gulliver at his word. (By the way, an unexpected fact about Count Boruwlaski is that he had a brother of six foot four!)I took the proofs of his Cicero illustrations down to Tom Phillips in Peckham and he was mightily impressed. Lying around his studio were various early ideas for his Rilke project. This one includes the first line of the Duino Elegies, in his own translation. Tom told me on no account to miss looking at the old waiting room in Peckham Rye station – ‘one of the finest rooms in England’. Here’s a photo, showing the shell of what must once have been Venetian grandeur. Thankfully, its restoration is now under way. Went to a fabulous performance of Puccini’s Il Trittico the other night. I was reminded of a project I have long cherished – to publish properly printed and bound opera libretti in parallel text. Those supplied with CDs are invariably printed in tiny type and the booklets tend to fall apart. Some libretti – such as those by da Ponte for Mozart, and Hofmannsthal for Strauss – are literary works in their own right and should be read as such. One could illustrate them with classic set and costume designs such as Alfred Roller’s for Der Rosenkavalier. Comments on this – and any other ideas raised in this blog – are more than welcome!