Rafael Sabatini is one of my favourite authors, particularly of what I might call the romantic period of writing in Britain. I first met him when my brother gave me for Christmas (around 1965) a set of three of his works: "Captain Blood", "Scaramouche" and "The Sea Hawk". I read them all to tatters. Since then I have gradually added to my collection of his works, though it is by no means complete. I have tried to get hardbacks where possible, but paperworks will do if I haven't read the story. This site is by no means comprehensive in its details for Sabatini, you are advised to visit the Rafael Sabatini site for much more detail about the man and his works.
Rafael Sabatini (1875-1950) was an extraordinary man, born April 29, 1875 in Jesi, Italy, of an English mother and an Italian father. There is uncertainty as to whether his parents were actually married, and suggestions of illegitemacy amongst his heroes do occasionally appear in his books - Scaramouche himself is one such example. Both parents were excellent opera singers, and his mother an accomplished pianist. They travelled the world and Sabatini was exposed to many languages throughout his childhood, the learning of which was something he was able to embrace comfortably. Sabatini became quite fluent in English and Italian from exposure to his parents, and later by attending Catholic school in Portugal added a third language. As a young student in Switzerland, German and French soon followed. But he wrote primarily in English - "All the best stories are in English" he stated.
During his work as a Brazilian translator in Liverpool, England, he began to write historical romances, his first appearing in 1901 ('The Lovers of Yvonne') and his second in 1905, also the year he married Ruth Dixon. In 1909 they had a child, Rafael-Angelo, whom the family knew as "Binkie" for some undisclosed reason.
These early years of struggle changed in 1910 as Sabatini began to produce a book each year on average. Mostly romances, he also engaged in some excellent factual work, and issued books on "Torquemada and the Spanish Inquisition" and "The Life of Cesare Borgia". This latter subject - or at least the "High Renaissance" period of the "Cinquecento Italiano" - would appear in many books, Sabatini having been born near the Borgia's lands and possibly seeing a kindred illegitimate spirit in Cesare.
In 1927, Sabatini's wife and son were involved in a car smash, it was Sabatini himself who found them laying by the side of the road whilst driving to their rented home near Tintern Abbey in Herefordshire. Although Ruth recovered, their beloved son was mortally injured and expired soon after reaching Brockweir House. The marriage did not survive the dreadful blow, and the couple finally divorced in 1931.
Sabatini continued to produce his annual book, writing excellent material, though the world-wide depression prevented sales reaching the same levels as the offerings of Scaramouche (1921), Captain Blood (1922) and "The Hounds of God" (1928). The links are to the Wiki pages concerning the later films of these books, and open in a new window. He was heavily penalised financially when he lost a tiresome argument in court with the American Inland Revenue Service regarding taxation of the American movie rights to 5 of his books in 1938, a situation in which P.G. Wodehouse would also later find himself, the Sabatini case providing even today American Law students with interesting precedent. It seems Sabatini, on receipt of the tax demand, employed an "expert" who faked a letter which stated that following his intervention, the demand was not required, pocketed the fee and disappeared, leaving Sabatini to pick up the pieces. The 1932 book The Black Swan was later filmed (in 1942) with Maureen O'Hara and Tyrone Power and won an Oscar for its technicolor cinematography (by Leon Shamroy).
Directed by Michael Curtiz, it was the 1935 production of Captain Blood which provided a young Errol Flynn with his first ever Hollywood starring role, alongside the gorgeous Olivia de Havilland as Arabella Bishop and Basil Rathbone as the devilish Levasseur, in one of Hollywood's more faithful depictions of a Sabatini story - only let down by a cringe-inducing final scene. In that same year, aged 60, Sabatini married again, his former sister-in-law, Christine Dixon who had been married to Ruth's brother, herself a sculptor of considerable talent. Christine already had a son, Lancelot Steele Dixon, known as "Lanty". At the outbreak of the second world war, the popular Lanty joined the RAF. On the day he received his pilot's wings, he flew his Spitfire over the Sabatini's house, the Clock Mill at Hereford. Rafael and Lanty's mother watched from the garden as he flew around them, their pride suddenly turning to horror as the plane crashed in flames in the field beside the house. Christine would have nightmares for years, the image of her son burning to death in front of her something no woman should have to endure.
Sabatini wrote less after that, though what was produced was still excellent. But his health was failing and he had stomach cancer. Each year, the family spent time at Adelboden in Switzerland, skiing being - with fishing - one of Sabatini's most passionate pastimes. On the 1950 visit, made at his own insistence and against medical advice, he never left his room and died February 13th, being buried in the small cemetery in the town.
If you are interested in finding out more about Rafael Sabatini and his works, the site: www.rafaelsabatini.com is well worth a visit - the recently unearthed interview is especially interesting. Jesse Knight (who was the site web-master until his sad death in 2008) kindly gave me permission to include the link to it, and to use the images attributed to the site.
Visit the on-line Sabatini page at: http://digital.library.upenn.edu/books/. The link opens in a new window, and provides links to freely download the text from a large number of Sabatini's works.
On fishing: "Only those become weary of angling who bring nothing to it but the idea of catching fish."
Of his own art: "The writer of historical fiction must inform himself as closely and accurately as possible of the realities of the life with which he deals. Before he can come to a book, he must have rendered himself by study and research so familiar with every phase and detail of the life of the period chosen that he can move with ease within it, and so produce his effects that his narrative, without being clogged by a parade of his knowledge, will yet be fully informed and enlivened by it. That, at least, is his ambitious aim." (On the 1974 edition Hounds of God dust jacket.)
And this majestic paragraph from the introduction to the 1912 edition of "The Life of Cesare Borgia": "You will not seek here a Chronicle of Saints. Nor shall you find a History of Devils. It is an attempt to present as they really were certain very human, strenuous men, the creatures - as all men are - of the age and environment in which they lived. And theirs was a lustful, flamboyant age; an age red with blood and pale with passion at white-heat, an age of steel and velvet, of vivid colour, dazzling light, and impenetrable shadow; an age of swift movement, pitiless violence, and high endeavour, of sharp antitheses and amazing contrasts."
The book images shown above are from my own collection and show the pitifully few hardbacks I have with their dust-wrapper intact (and none are early editions). I have a beautiful British first edition (1927?) by Hutchinson of The Nuptials of Corbal (unfortunately without its dust jacket) which includes a number of fine colour plates (by the American illustrator Harold Brett) which I would scan in if it wasn't for the fact it would break the book's spine to do so. I have managed to scan in the frontispiece without causing damage, as shown here.
It used to be possible to pick up old, though rarely first, editions of Sabatini books at book fairs and book sales, or car boot sales, but I haven't seen one for ages now. I got all my Sabatini's that way, except for the leather bound ones which I found in an old book shop in Hitchin. They are still available on E-Bay, but the older ones can be of lower quality, though they are still reasonable for a collector, around £10 apiece. My dream was to own the 1924 complete autographed limited edition set (of, I believe, 34 books) of Sabatini's writings, but they are well into 4 digits and rarely complete, so it's going to be an unrealised dream, I think!
I have only a few hardbacks with their jackets intact, none very valuable. The earliest dust-jackets were introduced in the 1820s, the earliest currently known example dates from 1829. They only became really popular around the beginning of the twentieth century, when bindings became less decorative due to the expense and publishers used the cheaper to produce jacket as a colourful and attractive selling point for their books. The Wikipedia Article has a lot of interesting history, the link opens in a new window. The existence of a good quality, excellent condition dust jacket can raise the value of a particular edition dramatically.