Sunday, January 14, 2007

Saint Tarcissus

I seem to be having quite a time with young Mr Tarcissus (I know that's not the correct spelling - it was the one Frederick Rolfe used).

I get a very kind mention in The Rare Book Review recently (see below), then my researches into the dedicatees of the original Frederick Rolfe poem get a little boost and then I come across another Victorian version of the story, as usual written as an 'uplifting' tale for kids.

As Robert Scoble points out in his article in The Rare Book Review, it is highly unlikely that Tarcissus was a boy saint at all. Much more likely a young man on his way to priesthood in the early, persecuted church. The tradition that he was a boy of thirteen or so nonetheless permeates the Victorian telling of his tale. In other accounts I have seen even the phraseology is similar and I would one day like to try and trace the various accounts and see if there is any obvious starting point for the way in which the Victorians 'spun' the tale. It may well be that most of this tradition that he was a young boy comes from Cardinal Wiseman's romantic epic of the early church, Fabiola, but it would take a look of work to show this beyond doubt and whilst the idea of doing it is appealing to my rather obsessive nature, I can't see it happening for a while yet. So, for your delectation, another account of the death of the 'boy' saint - told, presumably to encourage Victorian children to get themselves killed for Jesus - or more likely for the British - and Christian - Empire.

You might notice also that among the many, mainly Victorian illustrations of Tarcissus here presented only one depicts him as a young man rather than a boy (Thank you to the helpful friend who pointed me in the direction of the pictures).

PS. Nicolas, lovely to hear from you and I will be in touch soon. Thanks for leaving a comment on the blog a little while ago too... always nice when people do that.

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