three pairs of lovers with space

THE VENICE LETTERS OF FREDERICK ROLFE, 1909-10

 

The “Venice Letters” of the eccentric English writer Frederick William Rolfe, self-styled Baron Corvo (1860-1913) were letters he sent from the Italian city where he spent the last years of his life to Charles Masson Fox (1866-1935), a timber merchant of Falmouth in Cornwall, and a fellow boy-lover.[1] Fox had come to Venice in September 1909, and Rolfe had managed to supplement his meagre and unstable income by introducing him to willing local boys. It is implied throughout the correspondence that he will be coming back for more, but apparently he never did. Fox’s side of the correspondence has not survived.

The letters were edited and first published by Cecil Woolf in 1969[2] and issued as a book “with illustrations by the author” in London in 1974. A little over half of them were sufficiently relevant to Greek love to be presented here, together with all of Rolfe’s said illustrations (all sketches of naked youths). The content of the rest is briefly summarised.

 

1909

1[3]

[No place or date]

Tuesday: but I shall have to wait for your address before I can post this.

Before I forget it, I have not received any particulars of E.[4] from Cockerton;[5] and I should very much like to have the Florentine addresses in order of merit.

I have never seen anything so comical as what happened after you left. I gave you the main facts, and now I will add particulars: but first I must tell you that, about five minutes after I had posted my last card to you, the Corfiote Greek Jew[6] actually came here to see me (a thing he had never done before, our acquaintance being merely a club[7] one), with a full and urgent offer of service. Fausto had told him what was wanted, and it appears that he is very anxious to employ himself in such a capacity, having heard about it, liking the idea, and ( — This is simply damnable. I have this moment been interrupted by a telephone call from my typhoidic friend[8] — a thing HE has never done before — asking me to meet him tonight and saying that his brother Saverio, a lion-cub of 13, wants to go out in my sandolo! The tortures of Tantalus were nothing to this.) — being dreadfully frightened of the method usual among his companions. He was delightfully delicate about it; and his English (I have told you that he knows English) was well worth writing down. I thanked him very much, told him that my friends were gone to England on business for the present, and regretted that as far as I personally was concerned, my poverty prevented me from taking any steps in the matter, at least for the present. He was a little offended; and I had rather a bother to make him understand that no offence was intended but that I simply meant that I was tied to this house and had no place in which to entertain him at present. But I think you'll agree that a non-mercenary Greek Jew of Corfu is worth cultivating when possible if only for his rarity. However, to go back to P. & G. and to C. and little G.[9] Knowing that their weak spot is their vanity, I didn't beat about the bush but just took them separately, and put them in a good humour by buying them a white linen suit and jersey each with a red sash. I am alluding to P. and G. his brother and C. And to each one I described what was wanted in the way of service. Of course they said, that was what they expected. So I suppose they understood the indications which you and Cockerton must have given though I'm bound to say that I was quite unaware of anything definite. And they were not only willing but glad to do whatever was required. I said that they would be wanted two at a time, and that I would send them orders when I got your instructions. I did this because it was useless to take P. to Burano on Monday,[10] he having expressed his willingness without persuasion — and impossible because I had drained myself on the clothes. Then, Saturday night, comes P. here, very modest and diffident, ostensibly to 'salute' me. After a lot of charming rambling, his real object oozed out or was squeezed out of him. His friend G. (not his little brother G. mind you) was so desolate in spirit at being out of it, regretted his foolish behaviour of last year, wanted me to forgive him and regard him favourably in future, had practised regularly with P. since March and would I kindly let him have another chance of displaying his skill and accomplishments. I said yes with pleasure, took him out and bought him a uniform like the others and told him that I would give him and P. an engagement when in a position to do so. So I was all ready for your definite statement of arrival; and should have given you and Cockerton the pick of the bunch. Frankly, you know, I couldn't undertake anything on my own account till I had fulfilled my obligations. Of course one can't admire the slavish tendency. But I firmly maintain that the best method is to begin with slaves and educate them out of slavery into intelligent and faithful servants. Well: then came Cockerton's telephone and your telegram and subsequent letter. I lay low through them all, until it was quite certain that you were not coming back. Then I paid myself out of the L. 20[11] (for which thanks) the extra L. 11.50 which I had spent on their clothes and went round telling them that you had been suddenly called to England and dividing the balance of L. 9.50 between them to console them for their disappointment. They were grieved but sweet about it, excepting little G. whom I don't like any more than does his brother P. That was the best which I could conceive: for I didn't want there to be any doubts this time, and it's always safer with Venetians, to arrange so that you can have your pick; because one or other is nearly certain to fail at the crucial moment.

Rolfe, probably in Jesus College, Oxford, 1907

I'm frightfully sorry you couldn't come back to enjoy the fun: but I'm not at all sorry to have had the experience, because now I know that when the gods are good enough to let me have a week to myself at Burano I can always get P. and G. to share it with me. If only I had a little place of my own, though, think of the visits of the Greek, and the typhoid, and his brother Saverio. Lord, when I think of it ! Now I'm going to write like blazes.[12] Do write to me often, and freely.. I'll always answer and burn your letters. Do this with mine please.

Kind regards to Cockerton. Whisper — I detest Jackson.[13] R.

 

2

Palazzo Mocenigo Corner, Venice.
October 25, 1909.

[Rolfe begins with a plea (with special instructions) for Fox to send him two woollen jerseys, as his wardrobe is inadequate to get him through the winter warm and presentable.]

You can't think how pleased I am that you should have noticed (and remembered) the 'manner' of P. and C. in telling their stories. Of course I notice all that kind of detail; because I am an artist. But I very rarely find another man equally observant and appreciative of these smaller and more exquisite touches which really have so pretty and satisfying a savour. All the same, though, what you saw is a very little thing compared with what you might have seen had I been free from frightful worries and had you had a little more time to spare. These Venetians, like all Orientals (for they really are Orientals you know) are frightfully shy of strangers; and it always takes time to get them to unstiffen and to let themselves go. When they do, they do it thoroughly. And that is just what happened. I do really think that all my actions and exertions of the past year only came into sudden flower at the moment when you were on the verge of going away. P. and C. and the rest knew me thoroughly by then. They had seen me in wealth and in poverty. They had got over their fear of me and knew me for one of themselves. And they also had thoroughly realized what I wanted and the benefits and personal pleasure accruing from letting me have what I wanted. Two things only — (as my manner is, I am analyzing the affair scientifically, on such evidence as I have) — prevented them from combining with me. The one thing was my pecuniary inability to do my part, viz. to provide opportunity and to make it worth their while. The other was a certain subconscious hesitation about doing the unusual, the uncustomary. For the Venetians are the slaves of 'Custom.' They fear 'Scorn' — (which only means the Charge of being Singular) more than anything else in Nature. But then you and Cock appeared; and there was no doubt but that you were of the same tastes and habits and dispositions as myself.

Venice by William Logsdail, late 19th century

It was evident then, to P. and C. and to the rest, that I was not singular, for there were at least two other signori like me. 'Well then' they argued 'we shall not be doing anything unusual, and we need not be afraid of "Scorn".' Dear simple creatures! And then, also, new clothes and money were given: and there was an opportunity of spending a day or two at Burano. So, as I imagine, they instantly threw all scruples over the windmill and were eager and ready and simply blazing to oblige us and themselves. Personally I think that Gildo's complete change of front, his fervent anxiety to go and do where Peter went and did, his simply complete ascent from sulky dignity to sparklingly brazen incontinence, was the most comical and also the most genuine and loveable feature of the whole affair. And I'm sure you can imagine far better than I can tell you the most tantalizing tortures which I suffer in consequence. To have offered the very thing that I have been yearning and still burn for, offered unreservedly, and not to be able even to touch it. Peter I know would gladly enter into my service and be a good zealous and obedient servant, at any moment when I was able to take him. And I ask nothing better.

But to have to refuse him for a whole year, and now to have to refuse Gildo too oh, it is too bitter. Do you see and sympathize with my position? I hope you do. And, of course, if you can think of any way of getting me out of my pickle and on my feet again, for Heaven's sake let me know. In return, beside the usual return, I'll engage to have your place and servants ready for you here at any time and for as long as you like. I am a powerful person and I loathe and detest to grind with all my might against this damnable impotence which chains me at present. The worst of it is I am so worn out that I have nothing at present to suggest. I seem to be at the end of my ideas, for the solution of my difficulties and I really don't believe I shall be able to think out plans, other than those already proposed, until I've had at least a week's rest and change of occupation either at Florence or with P. or G. in my service at Burano.

[The rest of the letter recounts his financial embarrassment due to a new literary agent in London being unable to sell his essays and stories, and complaints about the host who had taken him into his home in Venice.]

 

3

Pal. Moc. Cor.
[No date]

Dear F.,

Every day I live here something hurts me. No — this is something different to what I generally say. I have just touched upon it to you in conversation: but, the longer I live the more convinced I am that I shan't be happy until I have set it down in a written form, which you can shew to those whom it concerns. It may jog them: or it may not. Anyhow, I shall have relieved my mind of a burthen.

The Bathers, 1889, by Henry Scott Tuke, then the foremost English painter of boy nudes

(a) One thing which this world wants is some Tuke[14] pictures of the Venetian lagoon and some Tuke pictures of mediaeval gondoglieri poised on poppe in Venetian canals.

(b) But 'Tuke has all he wants at Falmouth.' Hum! Arnold of Rugby held that no man ought to be a school-master longer than 15 years at a stretch. And I fancy that the principle of that doctrine may apply to painters. By stagnating in one place and on one subject or kind of subject, they prevent themselves from much delight and the world from much glory. Tuke has made himself an immortal name with the flesh and sun and sea of Falmouth. He cannot possibly better it; and by persistence he may very likely worsen it. I (being an artist[15]) know quite well that he hasn't satisfied himself. But an artist never does. The thing is for him to know that he has worked in one groove long enough; and, for his own and his art's sake to try another.

(c) I suggest to him Venice. No Englishman paints Venice excepting the kaleidoscopic Brangwyn[16] and a mob of little lookers-through-smoked-glasses who paint in dirty earths and soap and wax. I am not talking of the Montalbas.[17] And the only Venetian (Italian) worth talking about who paints it is Giuseppe Miti-Zanetti,[18] who uses a process of his own, neither oil nor water, which certainly is wonderful, but purely architectural and atmospheric and generally nocturnal. Which signifies that a painter like Tuke would have a free field here: for there is not a single painter of young Venetians, poised, ('poise' is the unique characteristic) poised on lofty poops, out on the wide wide lagoon, at white dawn, when the whole world gleams with the candid iridescence of mother of pearl, glowing white flesh with green-blue eyes and shining hair poised in white air trembling like song in white light reflected in white smooth sea — of young Venetians poised on lofty poops out on the wide lagoon, at high noon, when all the world which is not brilliant is blue, glowing young litheness with its sumptuous breast poised in air like showers of acquamarines on a sapphire sea with shadows of lapis-lazuli under a monstrous dome of turquoise — of young Venetians poised on lofty poops out on the wide lagoon, at sunset, glowing magnificent young strength dominantly illumined, poised in an atmosphere of lavender and heliotrope in tremendous stretches of sea and sky all cut out of jewels, limitless amethyst and far-reaching turquoise, or, all burnished copper splashed with emeralds and streaked with blue, the insistent blue of borage. No one does these things: no one sees them, but me. But Tuke is the only man alive who can do them; and he has not seen them. And who but Tuke could do real mediaeval gondoglieri in long fantastically striped hosen of silk, proud in the pomp of brocade, poised on lofty poops in the luminous shade of some small canal by some wonderful old water-gate like the Casa Agnusdei, or that of the Casa Amore degli Amici, or the one of the Calle Tedeum? No one. And he does not. It is dismal.

(d) But he wants to race with the yachts. Maria Vergine, isn't there a whole line of racing yachts anchored off the Bucintoro terrace? Isn't the only thing necessary an accomplished English yachtsman to come and simply rule this roost?

(e) In short can't he have here better, and different, flesh, shapes, sun, sea, light, shade, opportunities, pleasures, than he can have at Falmouth? Then why rust there? I guarantee not to speak to him. And now I have done my best to free my mind.

R.

 

4

Pal. Moc. Cor.
November 8, [1909].

[Rolfe thanks Fox for a guernsey sent to him, and discusses his hopes of extricating himself from his financial difficulties through the help of a new firm of solicitors in London.]

Sketch by Rolfe

If this thing comes off and I get clear and some money in my pocket to play with I shall take a month's holiday and bring Peter and Carlo to England and live at an hotel at Falmouth where I can return your hospitality in a way which would enchant you. I have only seen them once since my last: but they are keener than ever. It was fearfully funny. I have been sticking entirely indoors, for reasons, and simply writing myself blind over this new book. But last Monday and Tuesday were great days here. All Saints and All Souls.[19] So I went across the lagoon on the bridge of boats to the cemetery at San Michele. All Venice was there with candles and flowers and lamps, decorating the graves of their dead. You never saw such gorgeousness of a garden. And the crowd! Well: I was slowly sauntering along a path, rather grim and sad myself being lonely and all that, when I spied Peter and Carlo and Gildo and Giuseppe and four more (one quite lovely and quite unknown to me, but smallish), quietly and silently kneeling on their wicked knees round the grave of one of their comrades and praying for the repose of his soul. They had clubbed together and got 6 lire of candles and 4 of flowers; and they had grubbed up the past year's weeds with their abominable hands and made the thing neat and pretty, simply for love, quite frankly and utterly without shame. I spotted them in the tail of my eye, passed, and did not interrupt, chiefly because I was poor as well as abashed. But one of them spotted me. I heard someone say 'Ecco'l paron!' ('There's the Master!') And the next minute they were all over me with their cheerful friendly salutations. It was charming. Never have I seen anything like the eyes of Gildo or a skin as white. Carlo was keen to enquire after ' 'I Sior Volpe' (meaning you, for I told them that was your name, they being quite unable to get nearer Fox than Focassa with their Venetian tongues). So then I went back to the grave and they shewed me their work with naive pride, which of course I praised. And we walked about to admire the other graves for quite an hour, sometimes one with me, sometimes another, and all of them taking occasion to say to me privately Sior when shall we go to Burano for the night?' Oh Lord! But, ISN'T IT COMICAL? If you only had come to me directly you arrived in Venice? Or if only I hadn't been fettered as I am!

[Rolfe concludes by explaining the dullness of his letter as being because he hasn’t been able to “get out and about.”]

 

5

Thursday [Probably toward the end of November 1909].

Dear C.,

Thanks for yours of 20th. Addresses duly noted: but can't find Via Niccolini on map.

What is it near ? I'll give photos to P. and C. when I see them, two to each. I'll keep the boat one if you don't mind in memory of such a decent day. As to what C. was thinking about, I suppose it was it. It always was huge; and, since he left my service in the spring, he has begun that period of life which makes it a more prominent feature in one's economy. Now this is very funny indeed — (By the bye, please on no account shew my letters to Nicholson[20] or give him any of my news. He is dangerous.) — It appears that I know Eduardo Bolck well; and have known him for a year, without the slightest suspicion of his amusements. He belongs to the 'Bucintoro'; and used to be there continually in spring and early slimmer, when I (having no home at all) spent most of my days drowsing there so that I should be fit to prowl about in the pupparin all night. E., I admired immensely and would have given anything to make his acquaintance. But we never got beyond ' Buongiorno' and a change of smiles of which I now and only now know the meaning. I can see now quite well that he was hanging about to give me a chance. I'll tell you why I say that. I always used to think it funny that he sat reading and rereading the papers in whichever room I was; and wondered what in the world his avocation was. And, one day, I found out that he was perfectly aware of everything I did or said there. There was the usual row with Fausto for not cleaning my boat. I made a long speech of abuse in Italian. And it's a Venetian dodge when found out by an English to pretend that he's unintelligible. So Fausto gaped and said 'Mi no go capio.' 'I don't understand' in Venetian. Instantly, before I could call him a pigeon-eating son of a priest, and translate my Italian into Venetian, Bolck (without looking up from his paper) cannonaded down Fausto's throat 'You know very well what this lord has said. He said so and so, you potato, you marionette, fox and vile one.'

The Bucintoro boathouse

Which of course means that, though he was sitting at the other end of the room, he was taking a friendly and extremely intimate interest in my affairs … Imagine then how anxious I am to go further with him. ....

Well, just before you came, he got into trouble at the Club, was one of five who broke a boat, and got posted to pay his share of damages. This I saw. Three paid, the 2 Bolcks never. (I don't know the brother.) And Eduardo ceased coming to the Club. I suppose that's why he frequented the Lido. So, last week, I sent a card (closed) to the address you gave me, saying that I should like to meet him to deliver a message from his American[21] friend at the Grand. But I have had no answer and don't know how to find him. He may be away; he may be frightened (though that's unlikely) or the address may be insufficient.

That is most likely: for you did not give me the number of the house and 'Via 22 Marzo' only means 'Twenty-second of March Street,' the twenty-second of March being the anniversary of some Venetian victory over the Austrians. If I could find him I should say that his friend and mine salutes him and wishes to know that he has got a job, and if he likes to write I'll translate his letter into American and forward it. Of course I may butt into him in the streets. If I do I shall say the same. But it's out of my power to do more, yet awhile. This is why.

[Rolfe explained that the negotiations by London solicitors referred to before, and which he had hoped would relieve him of his financial difficulties, had broken down. He had felt bad accepting money from Fox, but the consequence of this disappointment was he was suffering so much from cold and hunger that he was unable to carry on his important literary work.]

Sketch by Rolfe

Yes, do send me the confession. I want to see it particularly. I'll tell you why; and that will enable me also to explain my meaning about Nicholson. You must know that I know by heart all the books (ancient and modern) on the subject; and I always maintain that the modern ones are vulgar, cloying, inartistic, because they are written by amateurs. And I have also said that I could write two books (certainly two) which would have a rattling good story in them, told artistically with a vividness and a plainspokenness hitherto unheard of. Such books, privately published in Paris or Antwerp at £1 would sell like blazes. Well, talking like this to Nich, I wrote a specimen 10,000 words or so, giving it as my personal experiences; and sent the MS. to him for discussion. I thought that he and Victor[22] would be able to give some unique criticisms in the shape of their personal experiences, which we all know must be singularly pretty — Victor now being of an age and education to provide an intelligent analysis of his side of the question. Well: the result was startling. I'll give it in the order it occurred. (1) Nich wrote voluminously, shrieks of joy, and descriptions of his own experiences (written however in a style precisely like that of the storiettes pencilled up in the jakes at the Marble Arch) vulgar and commonplace beyond words, and shewing a total absence of the faculties of observing detail, of perceiving fine shades of difference, and so on, without which a man cannot possibly write a pleasurably-readable description of anything, much less of what is and can be the most idyllic thing in this world. (Incidentally it came out that he was a Born Pathic.) (2) Victor got up on his hind legs and preached at me. (3) Nicholson ditto. (4) Both implored me not to write any more of what I had written. (5) N. said he couldn't keep my writing and even was going to expunge it from his mind because it made him feel more wicked than he had believed it possible for anyone to be —, and, at the same time, the thing was so beautiful that he didn't dare to destroy it. (Oh yes; and he felt it his duty to renounce the embraces of Victor.) (6) Naturally I sat still, roaring with laughter at such a precious and pestilent pair of prigs. (7) Ten weeks later, I took the liberty of asking the meaning of his complete and sudden change of front after his previous hysterical ecstasies of joy. (8) He evaded an answer. (9) I said 'WHAT ARE YOU AFRAID OF?' (10) 'Of being false to my ideal' he whimpered. (11) Laughing louder than ever, I asked what had happened to my literary work, which he couldn't keep even in his mind, and daren't destroy, and yet hadn't the decency to return to me. (12) He had told Edward Carpenter[23] about it — and — then — burned it!!! Well: so I say, in the absence of further explanations, a man who could behave with such duplicity and cant, and who could take such a damned liberty with a writer's MSS, is not only a hypocrite but a dangerous person. The unscrupulous way in which he stole my sonnet and printed it in his book years ago, was bad enough.[24] I thought he had grown out of that dirty habit. But this theft of my MS. beats all. Comments please.

The Jewish Ghetto, Venice, by Heinrich Edelhofer, 1912

To-day I have had adventures. This morning I bought a pair of boots and a kilogramme of tobacco. Lunched here, stewed celery, dry toast, water. Afterwards went to the Bonvecchiati, had a steak and a litre of red wine (the new vintage which is just in and very heady); and then, feeling up to any devilry, went smoking for a long walk through Cannareggio into the Ghetto to look for Jews. For mind you, a satisfactory Jew is worth a dozen Gentiles. They have more spunk about them somehow. I saw one whom I am going to watch as likely to be ready next spring. From there I got over to the station bridge and by a long round to the harbour end of Zattere. A Sicilian ship was lying alongside the quay and armies of lusty youths were dancing down long long planks with sacks on their shoulders which they delivered in a warehouse ashore. The air was filled with a cloud of fine white floury dust from the sacks which powdered the complexions of their carriers most deliciously and the fragrance of it was simply heavenly. As I stopped to look a minute one of the carriers attracted my notice. They were all half naked and sweating. I looked a second time as his face seemed familiar. He was running up a plank.

And he also turned to look at me. Seeing my gaze he made me a sign for a cigarette. I grabbed at my pockets but hadn't got one; and shook my head. He ran on into the ship. I ran off to the nearest baccy shop and came back with a packet of cigs and a box of matches to wait at the foot of his plank. Presently he came down the plank dancing staggering under a sack. I watched him. Such a lovely figure, young, muscular, splendidly strong, big black eyes, rosy face, round black head, scented like an angel. As he came out again running (they are watched by guards all the time) I threw him my little offering. 'Who are you?' ' Amadeo Amadei' (lovely mediaeval name). The next time, 'What are you carrying?' ' Lily-flowers for soap-making.' The next time, 'Where have I seen you?' ' Assistant gondolier one day with Piero last year' — then — ' Sir, Round Table —' My dear F. I'm going to that ship again to-morrow morning. I want to know more. I couldn't stay longer to-day because of the guards but I shall try to get Amadeo Amadei to some trattoria for his lunch. I have a faint remembrance of his face, but only a faint one.

Venice by Giuseppe Miti Zanetti, called by Rolfe "the only Venetian (Italian) worth talking about who paints it"

It's as though he had grown up suddenly. I expect he was some ragamuffin whom Peter scratched up once suddenly, and since then he has developed wonderfully. And of course, Peter has been talking. Well, all I can say is that if this is a real Knight of the Round Table and knows his way to Caerleon, you may depend on me to collect information, which I of course will verify the first moment I am able. Peter, Gildo, Carlo and the Greek (and I take it also Eduardo) are private practitioners: for none of them have let slip the password. But this florescent creature one would think is a professional. However there will be news tomorrow. Here I stop to leave a blank space to show through the envelope. N.B. ' Signore' not ' Seniore' which means 'Elder.' Do write. I have only you to speak to.

R.

 

6

November 28, 1909.

[Rolfe first described his upset over finding that some silver curiosities he had pawned had just been sold, and the expense to which he submitted to repawn them to the new owner]

From there I went off to the Quay of San Basegio on the Zattere to see the Knight of the Round Table. It was getting dusk and I was just in time to see his lissome muscular figure come dancing down the long plank from the ship with his last sack of dried lily flowers silhouetted against the sunset. As he passed, I said, 'Do me the pleasure to come and drink a little beaker of wine: 'With the greatest possible respect to your valorous face,' he answered, passing on. When he had delivered his load in the warehouse, he came out and joined me. While he was working he had on a pair of thin flannel trousers tightly tucked into his socks, canvas slippers, and a thin sleeveless shirt open from neck to navel. Over this, his day's work done, he wore a voluminous cloak of some thick dark stuff and a broad-brimmed hat. He flung one end of the cloak over his shoulder like a toga. I describe his attire thus particularly, for reasons which will appear later on. 'Take me,' I said, 'to a quiet wine shop where we can have much private conversation.' We went through a few back alleys to a little quay in a blind canal off the Rio Malcontent where there was a very decent wineshop kept by an apparent somnambulist. I called for a litre of New Red (very fresh and heady) at 6d. We sat at the back of the shop among the barrels, our two chairs being together on one side of the only table there. The counter with its sleepy proprietor was between us and the door; and no one else was present.

Four boys in ancient Roman dress by Wilhelm von Plüschow, 1900/7

I asked him to tell me about the Round Table; and took care that he drank two glasses to my one. Of course I fed him with cigarettes. He said there was formerly a house on the Fondamenta Osmarin: but, owing to the fear which struck all Italy last year, when Austria seized Herzegovina and suddenly placed 80,000 men on the frontier where Italy has only 6,000 (remember this frontier is not 30 miles away, and Venice I know was frightened out of her wits) then the Venetians took a hatred of all Germans and went and smashed the windows, calling the boys and men there 'Eulenbergs'. Wherefore the committee (comitato) of the club, for it was a private club of Signiori of the very gravest respectability, moved the club to a house which they purchased at Padova, about an hour and a half by steamer and train. He said that the club used to be open day and night; and ten boys were there always ready for use. The fee was 7 fr. payment for the room and what you pleased to the boy, but you had to pay the latter in the presence of the steward and never more than 5 fr. even though you stayed all day or all night, i.e. 5 fr. and 7 fr. for 12 hours. Beside the staff, any boy could bring a Signiore. And many did, chiefly school-boys at some of the public or technical schools who liked to make a little pocket-money. But now, unfortunately, these and other Venetian boys were out of employment; for at Padova there is a great University with about 1,300 students of all ages, besides many schools; and students were generally in want of money. However, some of the Venetian unemployed occasionally have the luck to find an employer; in which case they make a little journey to Padova together, generally from Saturday to Monday, and derive mutual satisfaction from a Sabbath's concubinage. (I'm translating his Italian almost literally, because it's so comically naive.) He himself began at 13 or thereabouts in this way. One of his cousins being left an orphan suddenly came to live in his house and sleep in his bed. The cousin was 14 and, the bed being narrow, there was a certain mixture which pleased both. And suddenly both spat together. (You'd have shrieked to see his great black eyes and his big white teeth and his rosy young lily-fragrant face simply burst out laughing.) This being very diverting they hugged and hugged, belly to belly and did it again. So for many nights. Then a whore ate 80 francs of his elder brother, aet. 20, and gave him a disease, very disgraceful and perturbing to the family. Whereat, he and his cousin congratulated themselves on knowing a safer pleasure, and vowed to touch no whores. In a little while his cousin (they were both occasional gondoliers as I had suspected) heard of the Osmarin. A patron took him there. Amadeo Amadei, rather bucked, also went and asked for a job. They said 'Bring a Signore'. So he went and prayed to the Black Madonna of Spain at San Francesco della Vigna and she sent him a Count. Then he began. Many Counts and Princes and illustrious Signiori had he served there, having much strength and ingenuity in finding out ways to give pleasure, all of which pleased him too, as well as filling his pocket.

Photo by Wilhelm von Plüschow, ca. 1900

He found his patrons in this way. His first, the Count, had spoken to him on the Giardinetto where he was by chance lounging one morning, being out of work, and his shirt being open as usual, because he was appassionated for the air, the Count had stroked his breast while saying that he was a fine boy. To whom he said that he was as God made him and preferred to be naked. Upon which the Count took him to the Osmarin for the day. Thereafter, he always went with his breast bare, even in Piazza, and soon Signiori walked after him, to whom he nodded in the first discreet corner and so he gained patrons. But, since the Club was moved to Padova, it was difficult for an honest lad — he is 16½ — to find a way of employing his nights. During the day he works as a stevedore along the Zattere or in the harbour of Marittima, earning 3.50 generally, of which he has to give 3 fr. to his father, also a stevedore and earning the same. His elder brother is doing military service. His cousin gondoles for a merchant, i.e. a grocer with whom he lives and sleeps. One younger brother of 12 earns 1.50 as a milk-boy. Beside these three there are a mother and grandmother, five sisters and three small brothers to be kept out of the joint earnings of 8 fr. a day. Naturally he wants to earn money for himself.

He assured me that he knew incredible tricks for amusing his patrons. 'First, Sior, see my person,' he said. And the vivacious creature did all which follows in about 30 seconds of time. Not more. I have said that we were sitting side by side of the little table. Moving, every inch of him, as swiftly and smoothly as a cat, he stood up, casting a quick glance into the shop to make sure that no one noticed. Only the sleepy proprietor slept there. He rolled his coat into a pillow and put it on my end of the table, ripped open his trousers, stripped them down to his feet, and sat bare bottomed on the other end. He turned his shirt up right over his head, holding it in one hand, opened his arms wide and lay back along the little table with his shoulders on the pillow (so that his breast and belly and thighs formed one slightly slanting lane unbroken by the arch of the ribs, as is the case with fiat distention) and his beautiful throat and his rosy laughing face strained backward while his widely open arms were an invitation. He was just one brilliant rosy series of muscles, smooth as satin, breasts and belly and groin and closely folded thighs with (in the midst of the black blossom of exuberant robustitude) a yard like a rose-tipped lance.

And — the fragrance of his healthy youth and of the lily flower's dust was intoxicating.

Photo by Wilhelm von Plüschow (1852-1930)

He crossed his ankles, ground his thighs together with a gently rippling motion, writhed his groin and hips once or twice and stiffened into the most inviting mass of fresh meat conceivable, laughing in my face as he made his offering of lively flesh. And the next instant he was up, his trousers buttoned, his shirt tucked in and his cloak folded around him. The litre of wine was gone. I called for another. 'Sior' he said, 'half a litre this time, with permission.' So we made it half. Would I not like to take him to Padova from Saturday till Monday? Indeed I would. Nothing better. But because I see that you, my Amadeo, (i.e. Love God, quite a Puritan name) are a most discreet youth as well as a very capable one, I shall tell you my secret: for, in fact, you shall know that I am no longer a rich English but a poor, having been ruined by certain traitors and obliged to deny myself luxuries. To hear that gave him affliction and much dolour. But he wished to say that he was all and entirely at my disposal simply for affection; because, feeling sure that he had the ability to provide me with an infinity of diversions, each different and far more exciting than its predecessor, he asked me as a favour, as a very great favour, that I should afterwards recommend him to nobles who were my friends. And, without stopping, he went on to describe his little games.

He would let me lie on his belly, my yard in the warmth of his thighs, his body in my arms, his throat in my mouth, or his breast, his shoulders, his armpits to be bitten at my will, and I might lie there, still, so still, with his legs held in mine, my hands under his thighs to guide my yard when it swelled, as swell it should, swell, swell, stiff, till all of me throbbed and I thrust and thrust, striving to pierce his thighs, thrusting 242 times fiercely and more fiercely, thrusting with all of me — then — suddenly — a little opening of the fat of the thighs to let the strong yard through, panting and spitting with joy. Such indeed was his power of giving joy that he would urge me on, even then, to thrust more, fifty times more, even through, and a second time spit deeper joy before my yard should tire. He, if I wished it so, would spit simultaneously. Or, if I preferred, would lie on me while I was resting and spit four times in twenty-two minutes of the clock.

Photo by Wilhelm von Plüschow ca. 1893

This for the beginning of the evening. Then we could rest in each other's arms to recover breath for a little kissing and fondling. And he knew how to wriggle just a little all the time, flesh to flesh, entirely naked for the diversion of Signiori. Kissing, he thoroughly understood in every part, especially a certain kind of kissing in his patron's armpit, whose body he held in his arms, clasping his legs with his legs — kissing of a fury inconceivable, admirable for excitation. Next, he was ready to be rammed behind, spreading his knees as wide as they would go, and as for bounding meanwhile, well, I ought to see it, for truly he could bound (opening himself) so well that he would have the whole yard thrust among his hot interiors, till he himself was stiffened with it and the spitting took place in his throat. And also, as to spitting in the throat, let his patron but lie on the bed, legs hanging over the end, and he above would lie on the body, breast to belly, arms in advance opening the thighs; and he would suck at his patron's yard with his mouth, but his own feet high on the bed head, his thighs also open, he would dangle his own yard to be sucked at will by his patron's lips till, both together at a signal, both might drink the juices of one another.

A little sleep, locked together, for an interval. Then, both being very hot, for the sake of coolness before sleeping for the night and to appease his patron's lust, he would extend himself across the bed, his legs hanging here and head and arms hanging there, his body and thighs ready to receive his patron. Let him mount. Let him ride. I stretched out with him to do with me what he will. And then a night of sleep in embrace. Who wakes first lies along and on the other, taking his fill of pleasure. Perhaps the patron wishes a little passage in the streets to take the air. We return and begin again. I shall always have new twists of my body for the Patron. We eat lunch. We spend the afternoon in bed. We eat dinner. Perhaps we see a kinematograph. Then another night, meeting together for diversion as before. In the morning early we wake and cling together before parting. And so to Venice. Sior, I pray you to try me. Only for affection (pro affetto) let me make you know what I can do. I said I couldn't afford it. Would I not then let him come to my palace. Any evening after five till six in the morning he was at the disposal of this Signiore. No: I couldn't have him there; it was not convenient. Did he know of any place where we could go for an hour or so? It grieved him, but, No, not now. He had a patron, an artist, in Calle something on Zattere, also an English, who at 3.50 a day painted him naked on Wednesdays and used him for diversion then — but he could not take another patron there. I should think not, indeed. If I would go to Padova, he would pay his own fare. No. No. I was sorry. I was in despair. I would let him know when I could and then I most certainly would. Have some more wine. A thousand thanks but, no. Another cigarette. Twenty thousand thanks. So we came away.

He says that Peter and Zildo love each other and do everything to each other but to no one else, though he and Peter once had a whole summer night together on the lagoon in P's father's gondola. P. also is in much request among women but cannot spit more than twice a night. Whereas Amadeo has done it 8 times and vows that he could do 12 with a hot patron! Comments please.

R.

 

7

December 11, 1909.

Dear C.,

I changed the Order quite easily at a money-changers without signing it and got 6.25 for it, i.e. 2½d. more than its face-value. How this came about I do not know; and it is needless to inquire. But oh, my dear, my dear, if you only knew that each loan of this kind stamps me down deeper and deeper and more loathsomely into the mire — relieves me for the moment, but is worse than useless for setting me free and on my feet! This is not ungracious. I am indeed most grateful for your kind feelings to me. You are absolutely the only person in this world to whom I can speak openly and friendly.

Children Leaping into a Venetian Canal by Johann Ludwig Passini, 1893

Imagine then how I value your friendship — and how anxious I must be to deserve it and to maintain it. And, just because I have the most ardent desire to keep your friendship, which comes to me at a time when I have no other friend, — I implore you to read and ponder what follows as earnestly as you can. I am certain that this state of things cannot continue. Why is it that I have had so many friends in the past, and now have lost them all? The reason is simple. They got tired. They liked me; and they pitied my penury; and they gave me little teaspoonsful of help. But friendship is only possible among equals.

There must not be any money mixed up with it. And, by and bye, you also will get tired and bored and annoyed by the continual groans which I'm forced to emit, howling for a strong hand once for all to come along and haul me out of this damned bog and set me on my feet. It would not be such a very big thing, neither difficult nor unsecured. I could give a first charge on my new book ready in Feb., for two hundred sterling down and two pounds a week for six months. With that, I could instantly put myself in a decent position, secure all my property in proper management, and go on working like blazes at fresh books. For God's sake, make a violent effort then and get hold of some likely businessman to do this for me. That would be the act of a true friend; and you would have no more pain and infinitely more pleasure out of our friendship which has begun so extremely inauspiciously. I say inauspiciously for this reason — if you were an ordinary man, like C. or J.,[25] on seeing me shabby, miserable and poor, you would have done as they did and been civil and said good morning. That would have been natural. But, being one of ten thousand, you went a jolly sight further. The poverty and misery and shabbiness which were inauspicious enough to put them off, did not have that effect on you. But, it will, my dear, it will — unless we can change my inauspicious circumstances right soon. You'll get tired. And I shall lose a chance of keeping another friend . . . Now I know you're not the kind of man who does good deeds for the sake of a reward. So I'm sure you won't misunderstand what I'm going to say next. You say that you look forward to next Autumn. You also said, directly you got back to Falmouth, that you always seemed to get all the good things you wanted in a lump at the end of your holidays when you couldn't use them. Then wouldn't it be wiser to make arrangements to have them ready for you at the beginning of your next holidays, and not to have the trouble of so much fruitless hunting. Peter will be in the carabinieri by next Autumn, Zorzi (the Greek) in England, Amadeo and Zildo and Carlo much too big. But if I were free NOW, by the means described on the former page, I would have your place ready with suitable servants by next Autumn. And more — if I were free NOW, there wouldn't be any difficulty about putting my property in proper management and getting enough cash out of it to pay off the £260, and also, to bring Peter and Carlo to any place you liked in England for a month whenever you pleased. See that now. Think it over; and then strike out boldly.

Sketch by Rolfe

I've written again to Eduardo. I'm convinced that he's frightened out of his wits. And, as I said, it's extremely unlikely that the address which he gave Cockerton will find him at all.

'Via 22 Marzo' simply means 'March the Twenty-second Street.' And he doesn't give his number. Now the number is most important: for, in Venice, it's not the streets which are numbered, nor the parishes, but the districts of which there are six. It's like numbering the districts of London. A London address, say somewhere in Victoria Street Westminster, if given in Venetian fashion would be 'Victoria Street 5795 Westminster'. Another in Paddington would be ‘Praed Street 14523 Paddington'. And Eduardo's address ought to be 'Via 22 Marzo (let's say) 3615 San Moise Venice'. It's the house number that's lacking; and Heaven only knows how I'm to find it. However I've had another shot with a postcard now. And will report if anything occurs.

I'm glad you like my descriptions. Tell me, do they make you see, and feel, and give you pleasure, really? I particularly want to know: became writing is my trade, and I am always seeking to find out my faults and weaknesses so that I may improve them.

Writing's a poor sort of job: but I want to get mine as perfect as I can. And it's only perfect when I succeed in exciting my reader, carrying him out of himself and his world, into my world and the things which I am describing. The newspaper critics (who are about as tedious a class of men as you can find anywhere) say that my writing is 'extra-ordinarily vivid'. But that's not good enough for me. It doesn't tell me what I want to know, viz. whether my writing makes my readers' imagination see and smell and hear and taste and feel what I describe. I'm afraid I made rather a failure of the Amadeo incident. But it was so utterly out of the common, even here — his quick hot chatter, all to the point, poured into my ear like a torrent — his feverish anxiety to give himself, every atom of himself inside and out, entirely away — his lightning-like exposure of his stock-in-trade, stripping in a flash, tossing his big, rosy, muscular nakedness backward — the wriggle, the stretching out of all, the instant of stiff waiting, the alluring grin — and then the quick recoil and covering up. What he would be like in use I tremble to imagine.

The boiling passion of him was absolutely amazing. As far as I am concerned, I'm certain that a Saturday to Monday at Padua would simply be one long violent bout of naked wrestling and furious embracing so strengthening and invigorating to mind and body that I should be set up for a month. I'm not by any means a weak creature myself; and though I'm very slow to work up to a pitch, yet, when I am worked up I can behave quite terribly and not tire. And Amadeo is just ripe, just in his prime. I know that type so well. A year ago that day when he came to take the 3rd oar in my pupparin, he was a lanky uninteresting wafer. Since then, the work of dancing up and down planks with heavy sacks has filled him out, clothed him with most lovely pads of muscular sweet flesh, sweated his skin into rosy satin fineness and softness, made his black eyes and his strong white teeth and his mouth like blood glitter with health and vigour, and fired his passions to the heat of a seven times heated furnace. He'll be like this till Spring, say 3 months more. Then some great fat slow cow of a girl will just open herself wide, and lie quite still, and drain him dry. First, the rich bloom of him will go. Then he'll get hard and hairy.

Photo by Wilhelm von Plüschow, 1900/09

And, by July, he'll have a moustache, a hairy breast for his present great boyish bosom, brushes in his milky armpits, brooms on his splendid young thighs, and be just the ordinary stevedore to be found by scores on the quays. Oh Lord — and not to be able to devour his beauty so freely offered now! That's the sort he is. Do you know I'm convinced of this — there's a lot of lovely material utterly wasted and thrown away. Boys who like sporting with their own sex are rare. Oughtn't they therefore to be made welcome and carefully cultivated when they're found? And, isn't this a fact also? Given a boy, a fine strong healthy boy, who does actually enjoy the love of a male with all its naked joys, who burns for it, seeks it, flings himself gleefully into the ardent strivings of it with no reserve, with utter and entire abandon, offering himself a willing sacrifice or operating in turn with equal and greedy unreservedness, is it not a fact that such a one keeps his youthful freshness and vigour infinitely longer than the ordinary lad who futters the ordinary lass from puberty on? And isn't it also true that the passionate boy must have an outlet for his passion; and, if he (preferring the male) can't for whatever reason have what his nature prefers, doesn't he almost automatically sink into the arms of a female and instantly become 'man-like'. Look at Fausto. That Jew is a begetter of offspring. He certainly isn't a source of pleasure, pure pleasure, to his kind. He's young enough yet to be amusing, perhaps for ten minutes. But I defy anyone to regard him as a dainty morsel to devour, as a piece of sweet young flesh for the embracing of one's arms and thighs, as a lovely body panting with love to be hugged to one's own. And so I say with regard to all of the present set unless they are used and cultivated now, they will flower at Easter, fruit at Midsummer, and be fallen by the Autumn. Of course there are others. But how to find them ready when wanted? — Now I must tell you about my typhoid boy and his brother. I think I mentioned the first to you, Bettamio by name. I used to go and see him every day when he had typhoid (caught at Castelfranco[26]) last Augiist. We went a very long way in words on the road of love then. He was beautiful in bed, what I saw of him, which was not much, for his people were always present. But once we kissed hands.

Venetian Boatboy by Mosè di Giosuè Bianchi

His father's a captain-engineer in the Navy. He lives with his mother (separated privately from the father on account of difference of temperament, but not divorced) and two brothers of 13 and 11 (he is 16) in a poor but very respectable way. When he got better, he took a clerkship at 7 fr. a week; and I used to walk home with him at night. Of course I don't go to his mother's home ever. (He was ill at an uncle's house.) A bachelor can't go to a semi-divorced woman's house. Well: we were very friendly. He is dark, tall, slim, straight, very sweet-spoken, with engaging manners and a charming way of fondling one's arms. In fact we had just got to the point when he would have been delighted to be kissed on parting. Kissing would have become habitual. And, a boy like that, although he does go occasionally to a bordel, would only have been too glad to learn the safer sweeter way. Well, one day he didn't keep an appointment. After that, for various reasons, I made no attempt to see him for some days. First, because I am easily offended: next, because I was desperately poor, miserable, and unable to take the next step, to do what I wanted, in short to go with him to Burano for a night and a day, say Sat. to Mond. where we could have slept together. And for several weeks, until yesterday actually, we neither met nor had any communication. We had no quarrel. I simply made no movement to avoid him, nor to see him because I hadn't the means to see him naked. And he made no movement to see me, no doubt because he was shy. Then, yesterday he called me up on the telephone, would I meet him that evening as usual, said very shyly and hesitatingly. I said that I would write. This morning at 8 I was rushing out to hear a mass (I've been in bed since my last to you[27]) when I ran bang into Bettamio. (He was exquisite.) He raised his hat and held out a nervous hand and began to explain. He had forgotten the appointment. 'Why have you left me alone ?' Silence. 'I can't wait.' So I rushed on. I have just written him this:— 'I don't understand why thou hast saluted me on the street this morning. Either thou wishest to have me for your friend, or thou dost not. If, in truth, thou wishest to have me for a friend, why hast thou deserted me all these weeks? The appointment was that I might see thee in uniform (he's a Volunteer). I was at the Bridge of St Euphemia[28] from 6.30 to 8.30 and thou didst not come. Several weeks of silence followed. Thou hast not sought me, in person, or by letter, to explain or to excuse thyself.

Photo by Wilhelm von Plüschow, ca. 1900

And now, after long negligence, thou treatest me as though I had offended thee. Thou makest me tired. I have not offended thee; but by thee I am offended, me, a friend ready to give thee my all. If any trouble or ill fortune prevented thee, why has thou hidden it from thy friend? Why hide anything at all of thine from him? Why dost thou not give me the frankness and the confidence and also the affection which I have given to thee, and which thou must give to me if thou wishest to have me for a friend. I have been ill in bed and am not able even now to come out at night to talk. Therefore, write, if thou desirest, from heart to heart.'

I think you'll agree that this is a pretty plain declaration which either will finish with him or will bring him to my arms. If the former, he is not worth worrying about. If the latter, Heaven send me means to take him on the hop. This will be from Sat. to Mon. next ensuing. I do hope it will come off ; for I believe him capable of causing and enjoying ecstasies of pleasure. There is another reason also why I earnestly desire it: I have my eye on his brother (Gallieno or some such name) aged 13. When Bettamio was ill this youngster must needs have a day in bed in the same room too with a cold. He was quite naked and much too active to remain still, bounding about and scrambling across the room every now and then in an entrancing manner, manifesting fine and joyous thighs and a perfectly lovely little breast muscle extended to the shoulder. He is a lively creature with a sunny skin, hot eyes, chestnut locks, a big burning mouth; and likely by next Summer to be a bounding bouncing piece of virgin flesh well worth squeezing. I have an eye to the future you see.

[Rolfe next complained of having had a cold and of his difficulties keeping warm in the winter, preventing him from doing much writing.]

R.

N.B. On no a/c speak of Nicholson to me. He burned my papers out of sheer cowardice and spite. What about that photograph of two entwined? Do get the confession but first describe the confessor to me, age, appearance, condition, disposition, history.

 

8

December 28, 1909.

Dear F.,

A thousand thanks for your letter and the P.O's. The last have been a real joy: for they have enabled me to fee the Alphabet[29] and keep them in a good temper. These Venetians think such a lot of Christmas and the New Year that to let these festivities pass without the usual acknowledgements would have fatally injured future prospects. I told them that the tips came from you; and you would have chuckled to hear their comments.

Charles Masson Fox, "the lord with the moustaches"

Piero was particularly touching. 'Sior, is it from the lord with the moustaches or from the [erasure]?' I said that it was from the lord with the moustaches. 'Ah,' says P., 'it goes well. That lord has a heart like his moustaches, of pure gold. May his soul sit on Mary Virgin's lap!' None of them [erasure]. They [erasure]. I can't get anything else from them but that: except that Carlo explains elaborately that G. threw him without warning. Piero and Zildo instantly asked for the favour of my company at a cinematograph. So we went. It was a beastly show: but the step was in the right direction. You simply have no idea what magnificent creatures they are, both huge, growing larger every day, Piero long and sinewy, Zildo long and muscular, fine upstanding figures both plump enough to damn a saint, and as hot as fire. And Zildo's slow sweet splendid smile. Lor !

My second postcard to Eduardo is quite unsuccessful. I haven't the faintest notion how to find him. I rather fancy that I passed him in this Campo[30] one evening at dusk, but am not sure. If I were decently dressed, and had a place to ask him to, I should stroll nightly in Piazza San Marco. If he is anywhere, he is sure to be there. But I'm convinced that he is frightened, and will take some finding and some management when found.

And my postcard to Bettamio also failed entirely. He hasn't said a single word. But I met his young brother — Saverio is his name in San Trovaso. He took off his cap most politely and would have spoken: but I just nodded and passed on. The game to play in that quarter is to keep them at arm's length for the present. Later, when one is capable of doing anything it would not be a bad notion to cultivate Saverio at the expense of his brother. There's nothing wrong with the last, I'm sure, he's only very young and shy, and proud, and could be easily broken in, if one were not so helpless.

As for me, things have gone from bad to worse. I have never had such an unchristian Christmas in my life. Never! Neither beef nor turkey nor plum pudding nor mince-pie have passed my lips, and I ADORE them all. Not a single soul said or sent a single Christmas word to me excepting the servants here and the boys. No, not one. That abominable Nicholson sent me a picture of a gondola (coals to Newcastle) and a verse out of Isaiah about affliction being for one's good. He has a talent for the inopportune which amounts to positive genius.

[Rolfe describes how he now has to do the household chores of three servants whom his host has dismissed and his worries about what will happen to him when his host moves house.]

N.B. Have you forgotten the photograph of two entwined which you talked of sending me. I fancy that a few things of that kind in one's pocket book would be an excellent way of educating some of the people here, especially the untried ones whom I have in view, who naturally would be the most satisfactory.

I hope you enjoyed Clifton. What do you do there? If I knew more about you I could write more to your taste no doubt, and if I had known you were going to Clifton I could have mentioned two in Bristol quite worth anyone's while.[31]

[Rolfe complains of his host’s demand that he chop a lot more wood, and his pious manner in so asking.]

 

1910

9

[POSTCARD]

January 6, 1910.

Immediate need. Wire!

 

10

"Frederick Rolfe climbs out of a canal in Venice, where he worked as a gondolier" (From Look and Learn issue 585, 31 March 1973)

Same address.
Thursday [? January 13, 1910].

[Rolfe says he has wasted a month chopping wood instead of finishing his book. He did not mean to say “Send money” in his postcard, but rather to urge him to keep up his efforts in England to help him put his finances on a firm basis. Fox reminds him of a girl described in a novel described as determined to follow her whims without hesitation.]

What I propose to do with the wired 50[32] is to keep it in hand and spend a little now and then in keeping the creatures in a good humour by a tip or a kinematograph now and then . . . I can't spend your money on myself. It would look bad. One can't take alms from a man with whom one is on friendly terms or going to have business relations. See? So please, if you love me, go ahead and knock this damned brake off the wheel. Then you shall see me hum . . .

I found these photographs of Carlo and Zildo. The clothed ones you might like to give to Tuke. I think the ones of Carlo rowing are very sweet. Pity he has but one ball. If you like them, I fancy I can scratch up some others. Oh Lord yes, by all means send me as many photographs as you can spare, specially of couples entwined. They will be most educative. And never mind about the Confessions being poor. Of course they will be poor, because they are not written by a trained writer. But let me see them all the same.

It's the FACTS which I want. Give me the facts, and the personal emotions, feelings and experiences, and I'll guarantee to put them in a readable shape. So let me see the stuff anyhow. Then, if you like, let me correspond with the person through you. When I have some sort of a notion what he is like, and what his tastes are, and also his capabilities, I could set him an examination paper to answer, which, I fancy, would produce some very explicit and unusual information. The point, of course, would be that he and I are and should remain perfect strangers to each other, and you alone would be between. In this way research and revelation of very secret matters indeed would be insured. You ought, however, to let me see a photograph of the person's person to help my diagnosis of him.

Now try this. Tell me, do you want a very nice Jess, of 16? If so, I'll send you an address at Bristol . . .

A Venetian Bather by Paul Peel, 1889

Being unable to go to Florence, or to enjoy any of my numerous opportunities here, I have been thinking a great deal about something Cocker said when I saw you. You both preferred the small, the 14 — while my preference was for the 16, 17, 18 and large. I have been trying to understand your preference, to find a reason for it, and I totally fail.

This is why. There is not enough of a little person for me to enjoy all of it. It lies naked on its back. I stretch myself on its belly, my yard in the softness of its thighs. I clip it with my legs and arms: it hugs my body: and we begin to wrestle. But, where is its face?

Where are the sparkling eyes, in whose depths I may see the ripple of pleasure? Where are the hot sweet lips which I may devour with mine? Buried under my breast and half suffocated. And I cannot thus enjoy the long long joys of contact, the delicious rests in struggling, the kisses and the vigorous renewals. But a big and lusty young body, like Gildo's or Amadeo's or Piero's, gives me all I want. The long muscular legs strain my thighs widely to clutch them. My yard thrusts through the cleft of their big thighs, my belly feels the heat and throbbing of their raging yard; and my body stretches to its uttermost, clutching their writhing clinging bodies large and soft and heaped with lovely muscles in my arms, to reach their rosy mouths, to breathe their burning soft sweet breath, to kiss wildly in the fight, to laugh and kiss their brilliant sparkling eyes and every inch of them within my reach, and to sink panting on their great white shoulders or to bite their gorgeous throats, breast to breast and heart to heart. Do you see? A soft little body is all very well to lie in one's arms all night: but it cannot give me furious joys. I want one long enough to be face to face with me while I thrust through its thighs, and strong enough to struggle and to give as much joy as I take. (Oh when? Oh when?) Do talk about this subject in your next. Regarding Cocker [erasure] ...

N.B. It was not I who said he was [erasure]. It was Piero and Carlo. I liked him very well. Ask hint to write to me UNRESTRAINEDLY and I'll answer him as I only can.

Yours, R.

P.S. Now I go back to my chopping, quite content with the knowledge that you are doing your very best for me in England all the time. You can't do more than that, and you can't be unsuccessful. I will it otherwise.

 

11

Sketch by Rolfe

[Begun] January 20, 1910
[and completed January 27]

This letter is going to be done in bits.

What amazes me is that, though you know so little of me you do believe what I say, instead of discounting it or pretending to MAKE ALLOWANCES AS EVERYONE ELSE DOES. Of course this makes it possible and even delightful for me to treat you with perfect confidence and to give you absolute accuracy; whereas to all the rest I naturally answer fools according to their folly, and omit to cast my pearls before animals which prefer acorns.

Here is a budget of news: (1) about Zorzi and Fausto: (2) about a row between Piero and Zildo: (3) about a league against Piero by Carlo and Zildo: (4) and how the last two went to the play at your expense and wish to thank you for it.

(1) Yesterday I had a surprise visit from Zorzi and Fausto. Zorzi is 'Giorgio' the Greek. They came to present their respects to me at the beginning of the year (fairly late) and to ask whether I could do anything for poor Fausto. He has been sacked from the Bucintoro (where I don't dare to go till I pay my arrears) for the winter and wants a job. These Venetians are devils about sacking their servants when they don't want them. Consequently, during the winter there are shoals of boys simply starving for any kind of job. I could put my hand on eleven at this moment, glad enough to do anything. Fausto looked very haggard and miserable. His face is hideous though his figure is admirable. I'm not by any means keen on him, though I can't help feeling ragingly wretched at not being able to help him.

Thanks to you I gave him a small tip and a cigarette and said I'd remember him if I heard of a job. Oh for a little place, only a little place, of my own. One could always squeeze in an extra, like this, at a pinch, now and then. Impotence to help others, poor devils, is damnable. But Zorzi — Zorzi, my boy is simply splendid. He grows upon one. I haven't seen him for a month or more; and yesterday he struck me straight in the heart with a loud yell. Such soft smooth flesh! Such a delicate rounded form, strong and subtle.

The Olympic gold medallists: Georgio Cesano (seated) with the four he coxed to victory at Athens, 1906

He's a slight little fellow of 17, steered the Bucintoro eight to victory at the Olympic Games at Athens two years ago, and speaks English with the most delightful hesitation.

He has exquisite manners, is at school studying English, and comes to an antiquity shop in England next September. He came yesterday to assure me of his wish to serve me 'in any way, Signore, in any way'. I want most awfully to give him a job, after his school hours, and (if possible) from Saturday till Monday. Oh for a place of my own, etc.

(2) Piero and Zildo have quarrelled and parted. For more than a year now they have been lovers, working all day in Zildo's father's firewood business. Now Piero has no end of a tale about Zildo's infidelity! I'm inclined to fancy that Zildo has got to know of Piero's very occasional lapses towards the Fondamenta Osmarin, and has made the single experiment of going there too, all on the sly.

Zildo is so grave, so sweetly modest, that he would be certain to make his first experiment all alone and try to keep it secret. But he is so huge, so bursting with young vigour, that I suppose he simply had to break out in a fresh place somewhere. He himself admits nothing; though he still speaks most lovingly of Piero saying only that the latter suddenly and slightly unreasonably became 'fastidious' ( el ga presso una faslidia) and bounded away in a rage. Piero is almost incoherent with fury.

Zildo, according to him, is a traitor and an infidel, black, and indeed, almost Turkish !

Beyond that, he gave me no details. And one only has the fact that he, Peter is out of a job, pinched and wan with want of food, bunched up and shivering with cold, hanging miserably about on the Zattere in want of work. Oh, my dear, my dear, if only I had a little place of my own — what's enough for one is enough for two. If I had it, and Piero, I'd pick his brains and write such a book as never yet was sold in Paris at 25 francs a copy, illustrated, oh yes, illustrated.

Sketch by Rolfe

The part that I don't quite like is that Zildo's father has given Piero's living to Carlo and that Carlo and Zildo are what Zildo and Piero were till a fortnight ago. Also, there is no doubt but that Carlo rather rejoices in supplanting Piero. I don't quite approve of it. C. always had a living, a poor bare one, it's true, at his father's traghetto. His father and three brothers all had gondolas, and he is the youngest. But the unfortunate Piero is the oldest of about a dozen and his father can't possibly help him. His father actually has 12 sons and three daughters, all alive. I've seen Carlo and Zildo careering about the City with a boat full of fire logs many times. And imagine the chagrin of hungry Piero, who of course sees more of them than I do, living as he does on the very canal where they start from and return to every day !

I believe also that Zildo has taken Carlo on as concubine. Nothing else can explain Piero's shocked horror. My own consolation is that I can't believe the connection will last long. Carlo is a dear little dog; but he is incorrigibly liable to lapse into carelessness (which will lose him his job) and he's of luxurious tastes (so the wood sores and broken chilblains which I see covering his hands and wrists will be more than he can endure for long), and besides I know that he has in him the seeds of a born traitor who is congenitally incapable of being faithful to anyone for long.

(Here I go again — 25 Gennaio Jan.)

I had a word with Carlo that day 20 Jan. when I met them on the Fondamenta. Zildo left us together while he carried a load of logs into a house up an alley, leaving Carlo to mind the boat. 'How do you like sleeping with Zildo?' says I, abruptly. Sior, e molto pesante — Sir, he is very weighty and ravages me in his pleasure for an hour, suffocating me.' 'And you?' 'Twenty, thirty, forty thrusts through his sweet mountains, and then goodnight in his arms.' Zildo came back and both their eyes glittered like blazes. The simple little devils that they are !

And now I've got some real news for you. I had poor dear Piero all to myself yesterday morning on the Fondamenta Nuove. I was snatching a walk and met him on his daily hopeless tramp for work. (Lord, how my heart does bleed for him.) I gave him five francs from you and took him to a trattoria and filled him with polenta and wine. Then I picked his brains for a good hour; and found out everything. It's frightfully funny — even delicious. His word for Zildo, Zildo's conduct, manners, thoughts, words and works, is 'brutto' — ugly. Nothing worse than that. But 'UGLY!' And the facts are these.

Those two loved each other and ' the Paron' (the last being me). And they agreed together to love no one but each other, and 'the Paron' of course might do with them just what he pleased, at his pleasure. This agreement was made last summer. Piero accordingly gave up going to the Osmarin, and devoted himself entirely to Zildo till I should be ready for them. And, on New Year's Day, Zildo slips off secretly to the Osmarin with Carlo — (the insult to Piero of that, Carlo being an outsider!) — and enjoys five girls, one after another, stark naked and in broad daylight from 2 to 4 p.m. And Carlo followed on. 'Oh, what ugly creatures there are in this world!' comments poor Piero. (But imagine the joys of those girls over those two lusty and till then virginal ruffians!)

Photo by Wilhelm von Plüschow, 1890/1907

Piero found it out at night when Zildo had nothing to give him. He says that he couldn't sleep and took his clothes and went home.

Whereupon Zildo takes Carlo in his place; and those two have resolved not to risk disease but to be content with each other. 'So Sior, you see me friendless now' the piteous Peter ended. 'No, no,' I hastened to say, 'I am your friend always!' Whereat he burst into tears and began to kiss my hand. Oh my God, what a time I had to calm him. I was at my wits' end. At last, to gain time, I told him to meet me at the same place tomorrow and meanwhile I would try and think about something. But what to do I really do not know. If only another letter comes from you all would be well. At least I could give him a day's pleasure.

January 27.

Now I'm going to make you sit up. First of all I see that I've got this letter rather mixed, so I will finish it off as I began it, with number 4. I told you that I had tipped Zildo and Carlo in your name. Two days after they wrote hideous picture postcards saying that they had been to see Cavalleria and Pagliacci at the Rossini Theatre and thanked you for the pleasure of your gracious gentility. Very well. That ends that.

Now about yesterday. It appeared to me that the time was come to break out of all caution and prudence. So I did, as thoroughly as you please. Peter met me as agreed on Fondamenta Nuove. I explained to him exactly how I stood as to money, and I offered to give him all I had left of yours for his needs, or else to take him out for a day's pleasure.

If you could have seen how he beamed on me! He instantly chose the last. 'My pleasure is to be with my Paron,' he said. Fancy a great big boy of seventeen being as sweet as that! And he took my bag — I had a satchel full of papers for the sake of looking business-like — and declared himself at my disposition. So we took the steamer to Burano where we lunched on beef steaks and cheese and wine, not at the inn you went to but another up the street. Lord, how he wolfed. It was a fiendish day — snow all night and the snow at Burano a good yard deep and still snowing.

Postcard of Burano, ca. 1910

While lunch was preparing I buried myself in my papers, asking questions of the landlord as to population, depth of water in canals and so on, and making notes for my book.

While we lunched I had a scaldino of charcoal placed in a bedroom to make it comfortable for my siesta.

Then Piero and I went upstairs. I never saw anyone slip out of his clothes as he did — like a white flash — he must have unlaced his boots and undone all his bottom on the way up. Then he turned to me. He was scarlet all over, blushing with delight, his eyes glittered and his fingers twitched over my clothes with eagerness. As for his rod — lawks! As I came out of my guernsey he flung himself back on the bed, across the bed as he knows I like it, throat up, ankles crossed, thighs together and body expectant.

The clutch of us both was amazing. I never knew that I loved and was loved so passionately with so much of me by so much of another. We simply raged together. Not a speck of us did not play its part. And the end came simultaneously. Long abstinence had lost us our self-control. He couldn't, simply couldn't wait his turn, and we clung together panting and gushing torrents — torrents. Then we laughed and kissed, rolled over and cleaned up and got into bed to sleep, embraced. His breath was delicious. He pressed his beautiful breast and belly to mine and our arms and legs entwined together. So we took a nap.

I was wakened by a gentle voice 'Sior, Sior, Sior, with permission!' And his rod was rigid and ready. I took him on me. 'Slowly, and as hard as you like' I said. Oh what a time we had. He took me at my word splendidly and laboured with the sumptuous abandon of a true artist, straining his young body to his very utmost but holding himself in control prolonging the pleasure for the pure joy of it. As he writhed, I became excited in my turn and rolled him over to do with him ; and close-locked we wrestled, how long I don't remember but I know that presently we were both gasping for breath and as rigid as ever.

Sketch by Rolfe

For a few minutes we lay side by side, hugging, laughing, devouring each other's lips and each trying to clip the other's thighs with his own. Then we began again, more fiercely than ever, and finished the matter. ' Oh, che bel divertimento!' says Peter, squeezing me as we spouted — 'Oh, what a beautiful diversion.'

We took the 5.30 steamer to return to Venice. On the way he was most affecting. What a lover that boy is. He said that Zildo was nothing in comparison with me, that of all the pleasures he has taken, nothing has ever equalled this afternoon. As for the girls, let Zildo and Carlo take evils from them. They were 'ugly', and never had he believed that it could be as good as it was. Would I command him to come to my palace to serve me? No, that was impossible; when I was able to take a little apartment of my own, he should come and live with me. When? I did not know. Pray Sior, let it be soon. I asked whether he would serve if you came here. He blushed; 'I am the servant of the Paron and will be obedient always; but Sior, I pray to sleep sometimes in your arms.' His word for action is 'unlock'. He said that my key unlocked him most easily; if I wished him to try your key he would do his very best most willingly. But would I teach him to speak English so that he might surpass that ugly Carlo.

I got out my papers and made a little book, in which I wrote some Italian words with their English equivalents, like this: Stupido sciocce — siliful (i.e. silly fool) and numbers up to twenty and a few other words. He sat and learned them by heart, taking no end of pains. You can't think what a beautiful creature he really is, young, strong as a horse, slim and lithe and supple as a serpent, magnificently virile, with soft downy skin and firm hot flesh sweet as a baby's.

I asked him about sucking. No, he had never done nor had it; but gladly would he from me. Did one drink? Yes. Ah, what a beautiful diversion! So you see what joys are in store. And as to posterior treatment, he pronounced it 'ugly'. Zildo had done it once in the night and Peter had beaten him for being so 'ugly', i.e. brutto. How, he asked, could kisses of lips take place that way, kissing being part of the diversion of 'unlocking'. Dear thing!

When we parted I gave him the last two francs remaining to me and promised to write to you at once. This is the first chance I've had. And while I've been writing enclosed came.

I thought you'd like to see it, so I translate it literally. Isn't it delicious?

[Rolfe grumbles more about the uncertainty over his host moving and his being unable to do any writing under his present circumstances.]

R.

I send two photos of Piero taken last year at the wells in the Civic Museum. He wore that uniform when in my service. Do send me as many photos as you can spare.

 

12

Sketch by Rolfe

February 10, 1910.

[Rolfe describes the Carnival just celebrated in Venice. He suggests possible solutions to Fox’s business difficulties, including taking on himself as a partner.]

Meanwhile, as I say, I am at a standstill and the gear is getting rusty, so that any help you can give towards oiling the wheels will be thankfully accepted until we can set affairs in motion.

Many thanks for the picture. It is not the one I expected. You spoke of a picture of two hounds fighting and that is the one I want to see. This one is not bad, but looks a lazy dog, and you know that dogs in action are what I collect. What is the age, pedigree and condition of this one?

Regarding the candidate for examination, to whom am I to send papers? I suppose he offers practical experiments as well as theory. It would be useful to know where he has studied and for how long, whether he took up the subject of his own unaided choice, and whether he really means to pursue it. With this information before me I shall know what standard of papers will be suitable, and meanwhile any information I can give is at his service if he will write directly to me in definite terms.

By the by I ought to add this:— I'm taking for granted that the candidate is quite serious and earnest about his work. I am willing to give him all the help in my power — but he must clearly understand that I am far too busy a man to waste time over anyone who has not a consuming interest and wishes to improve himself.

I judge that the candidate would not present himself for examination if the case were otherwise; and one will be able to see from his answers what his present state of knowledge is and in what direction his future studies may best be directed. Anyway, first let him write to me at some length giving full particulars, and this without delay. Please quote my words to him.

There has been a row with Zorzi, who is violently enraged because I wouldn't lend him my red smock to masquerade in at the carnival. Poor Piero is still out of work and frightfully haggard. He came blushing yesterday asking for a loan of 8 francs for a pair of boots, his own being the merest mockery, worn to the ground and bursting. It grieves me to the heart to be only able to give him another pair of my own which can't possibly last him more than a week longer. I haven't seen any of the others since I last wrote.

[Rolfe finishes by describing a fine apartment with splendid views that Fox might consider taking on with him before it is snapped up.]

Sketch by Rolfe

 

13

[No place or date]

[Rolfe says that when Fox has troubles, that is just the time he should be writing to him to share them. If he gets sick of things there, he can join him in Venice. He commiserates on Fox’s illness, and describes his own plight in Venice without a boat.]

I haven't had any communication from the candidate for examination yet. Please send him my name and address and tell him to write freely, giving the information asked for in my last. I am most anxious to get to work with him at once and to treat his subject quite fully. That is why I say that perfectly open communication between us is essential as a preliminary. Is he serious? (That's most important; because it's no use fooling with examinations unless he really means to pass them and to benefit by taking a little trouble to pass them.) So let's begin, instantly. Meanwhile, send me what he wrote you.

Sketch by Rolfe

[Rolfe then describes the financial irresponsibility of his host, van Someren.]

The remaining Venice letters, 14-25, are of no Greek love interest. Piero (or “Peter”) Venerando, the 17-year-old youth formerly described as Rolfe’s lover, is briefly mentioned in letters 17 and 22-24, but only as drinking wine with him, then falling severely ill with syphilis and finally disappearing.

 

[1] “Fox was a quiet-mannered, retiring man. Of average build and height, he had a round face, large eyes under thick brows and a prominent moustache. In politics he was a Liberal and took an active part in the affairs of his home town. His principal recreation was chess, in which he distinguished himself as an amateur.” Soon after his correspondence with Rolfe, in 1913, he went to the police over a woman’s attempt to blackmail him over his alleged seduction of her 16-year-old son. The prosecution was successful, but the publicity damaged his business and ruined his reputation. [Cecil Woolf in the Introduction to the 1974 edition]

[2] In the journal Art and Literature.

[3] This is the earliest surviving letter in the correspondence. A postcard, which seems to have preceded it, has apparently been lost. [1974 editor’s footnote 1]

[4] This may refer to Eduardo Bolck, whose name recurs in subsequent letters, notably No. 5. [1974 editor’s footnote 2]

[5] The identity of Cockerton, later referred to as Cock and Cocker, eluded the editor of The Venice Letters, but was finally investigated and revealed by Robert Scoble in the chapter “The Quest for Cockerton” in his biography of Rolfe, Raven: The Turbulent World of Baron Corvo (London, 2013): James Stewart Cockerton (1862-1919) was a rich yacht-owner living in Dorset, who had  accompanied Fox on his holiday in Venice in September 1909, when Rolfe had met and hosted them. A few years later he ran into financial trouble and emigrated to New Zealand. It emerges in Letter 10 that, like Fox, he preferred boys of 14.

[6] Thanks to the details Rolfe gives of him in Letter 11, this boy, whom Rolfe later calls Georgio or Zorzi (the Venetian diminutive of Georgio) can be identified as Giorgio Cesana, who was born in Venice on 14 April 1892, and was therefore 17 at this time. He was a Jew sprung from immigrants from Corfu, and had won an Olympic gold medal at the age of 14 and 10 days, coxing a Venetian rowing boat the 1906 Olympic Games in Athens in 1906, remaining (in 2019) the youngest Italian Olympic gold medallist ever. See the last chapter, “The Splendid Olympian”, of Robert Scoble’s Raven: The Turbulent World of Baron Corvo (London, 2013) for more biographical details.

[7] Rolfe was a member of the Royal Bucintoro Rowing Club in Venice and used its facilities extensively. During periods of homelessness he gave the Club address as his own, and much of his later literary work was done there. There are frequent references to the Bucintoro in his novel The Desire and Pursuit of the Whole. [1974 editor’s footnote 4]

[8] This is Bettamio, who is referred to again in letter No. 7. [1974 editor’s footnote 5]

[9] P. is Pietro Venerando, G. is Ermenegildo Vianello, C. is Carlo Caenazzo, and little G. is Giuseppe. In The Desire and Pursuit of the Whole Rolfe was to commemorate Gildo as Zildo, who later is revealed as Zilda. [1974 editor’s footnote 6]

[10] It is evident from Rolfe's letter of January 20, 1910, that there is more in this apparently innocent reference than meets the eye. [1974 editor’s footnote 7]

[11] There were 25 lire to one £ sterling in 1909.

[12] Rolfe was working on his 'romance of modern Venice', The Desire and Pursuit of the Whole. [1974 editor’s footnote 9]

[13] Charles Kains Jackson was a City solicitor and journalist. He edited The Artist and was the moving force behind The Chameleon, which figured prominently in the trials of Oscar Wilde. In The Quest for Corvo Symons describes Jackson's first meeting (and subsequent friendship) with Rolfe which occurred at Gleeson White's house in Christchurch during the early Nineties. The letter quoted by Symons (op. cit., pp. 26-27), in which Rolfe refers to Jackson, was addressed to their mutual friend J. G. F. Nicholson (see footnote 23, below). [1974 editor’s footnote 10]

[14] Henry Scott Tuke, R.A., R.W.S., an English artist who enjoyed a great vogue during the Nineties and the early years of this century. Like Fox he was a Quaker and lived in Falmouth. His work was not remarkable for originality of design or vigour of construction. He concentrated on the special artistic problem of the treatment of nude flesh in sunlight, his models being nearly always boys, though he occasionally painted a female figure. He is represented in the Tate Gallery by two of his most important pictures: 'August Blue', representing four boys bathing from a boat, and 'All Hands to the Pumps', one of his few grey subjects. In the biography of the painter by his sister, Maria Tuke Sainsbury, it is recorded. that in about 1890 Tuke sent some drawings to Rolfe, 'perhaps to help him in' the murals on which he was then engaged. 'Rolfe was too fantastic a man to attract [Tuke] much,' according to Mrs Sainsbury. [1974 editor’s footnote 13]

[15] Rolfe was an artist of some versatility. After his rejection from the priesthood and before turning to literature he worked intermittently as a painter. Few of his pictures have survived, but the processional banners he painted for St Winefride's, Holywell, are still in existence. [1974 editor’s footnote 13]

[16] (Sir) Frank Brangwyn, R.A., the English decorative painter, practised nearly all the visual arts and crafts, from architecture to book illustration. One example of his work in architecture is the British Pavilion for use at the Biennial Exhibition in the Public Gardens at Venice. At the time when Rolfe was writing Brangwyn was the one living English artist of whom any foreigner had heard and his prestige in this country was correspondingly great. He executed commissions from all over the world. During his later years he lived at Ditchling, in the settlement of Roman Catholic artists and craft workers. [1974 editor’s footnote 15]

[17] Augustus Montalba and his four spinster sisters were English by birth and had settled many years earlier in Venice. Each of the Montalba sisters was in her own way a gifted artist, the most successful being Clara. She was a frequent exhibitor at the Royal Academy and her work was widely known on the Continent. [1974 editor’s footnote 16]

[18] Giuseppe Miti Zanetti, an Italian painter, etcher and lithographer of some repute in his time. Born in Modena, Miti Zanetti settled in Venice as a young man and the result was a succession of land- and sea-scapes depicting that city, many of which possess a remarkable lyrical quality. [1974 editor’s footnote 17]

[19] Rolfe's account of the incident that follows recurs in the twenty-sixth chapter of The Desire and Pursuit of the Whole, on which he was then engaged. [1974 editor’s footnote 21]

[20] John Gambril Nicholson was a schoolmaster who had apparently first met Rolfe as a pupil at Saffron Walden Grammar School where Rolfe was a master. He was also boysexual and wrote poems and novels with Greek love themes, including The Romance of a Choirboy, posted on this website. According to Robert Scoble, Raven: The Turbulent World of Baron Corvo (London, 2013) p. 310 (who does not state his evidence for this), it was he who wrote to Rolfe in 1909 telling him of Fox’s imminent visit to Venice, allowing him to read between the lines that Fox would be interested in introductions to Venetian boys as well as the city sights.

[21] According to Robert Scoble, Raven: The Turbulent World of Baron Corvo (London, 2013) pp. 311-2, the italicisation of “American” twice in this letter is meant to indicate to Fox that it is fictitious and code for a rich tourist: “Rolfe is hoping that his rude will excite Bolck’s curiosity and greed, and persuade him to introduce himself to Rolfe at last.”

[22] Frank Victor Rushforth (born c. 1890), had met Nicholson in about 1902. He was a member of Caius College, Cambridge, where, in 1909, he took the Wesleyan Lay Preachers' Examination. He went out to India the following year and is believed to have died there shortly afterwards. [1974 editor’s footnote 25]

[23] Edward Carpenter, English writer, social reformer and pioneer of a return to rural simplicity. Earlier in the year Rolfe had begun writing a counter-blast to Carpenter's long prose-poem Towards Democracy under the title Towards Aristocracy. [1974 editor’s footnote 26]

[24] The reference is to Nicholson's Love in Earnest (1892) which included a sonnet, composed originally by Rolfe and revised by Nicholson, entitled 'St William of Norwich (Painted by F. W. Rolfe).' After the book was published Rolfe threatened the author with legal action, with the result that the publishers were obliged to remove from unsold copies the leaf containing the plagiarized sonnet. [1974 editor’s footnote 27]

[25] Cockerton and Charles Kains Jackson. [1974 editor’s footnote 28]

[26] Castelfranco Veneto, a town and episcopal see of Venetia, in the province of Treviso. [1974 editor’s footnote 31]

[27] November 28th. [1974 editor’s footnote 31]

[28] The bridge of St Eufemia is on the Giudecca waterfront, facing the Zattere. [1974 editor’s footnote 31]

[29] This expression is used by Rolfe to mean that he rewarded P[eter], C[arlo], Z[ildo] and others of the clan. [1974 editor’s footnote 32]

[30] Campo San Polo. After Piazza San Marco this is the largest square in Venice. Palazzo Mocenigo Corner, a beautiful work of 1548, by Michele Sammichele, is No. 2128A. [1974 editor’s footnote 33]

[31] One of the two Rolfe had in mind was John Markoleone, the Jewish boy whom he had met in Bristol the previous year. He describes this boy in some detail in his correspondence with Professor Dawkins. [1974 editor’s footnote 36]

[32] Although Fox appears to have made fairly frequent contributions to Rolfe's finances, the sums which are acknowledged, other than this 'wired 50', are rarely more than a pound. We may reasonably conclude that the 50 were lire and not pounds. Rolfe's reference earlier in this letter to 'the way you chuck it about' may well contain an element of mild sarcasm. It is noteworthy that in his final letter Rolfe asks Fox to send him five pounds, a request to which his correspondent apparently failed to accede. [1974 editor’s footnote 38]