Major-General Rudolf Anton Carl Freiherr von Slatin (1857-1932): Three Faiths

Said to be the inspiration for one of Karl May’s characters, von Slatin is one of those characters who make us feel utterly inadequate.

Born the son of a Jewish convert to Catholicism near Vienna, he was in the commercial academy when his father died rather suddenly.  By chance he heard of an opening at a German bookstore in Cairo.  The sheer unlikelihood appealed to him, and he was off to Egypt.

All thoughts of bookselling left him as he joined Theodore von Heuglin,  explorer and ornithologist into the mountains of Dar Nuba in Sudan.  Rough times and much rebellion in the area at the time, and Europeans were few.  Before he was through, von Slatin met such luminaries as botanist Dr Eduard Schnitzer (aka, Emin Pasha on his conversion to Islam, later to relieve Henry Morgan Stanley) and General Charles George Gordon. Continue reading

Geoffrey Willans, 1911-1958: As Any Ful Kno

If you know Lennon, you’re going to know McCartney, and if you don’t know Morecambe,  it’s pretty much a given you won’t know Wise.  There are precious few joint operations where, despite equal status on the playbill, one partner is a household name and the other an obscurity,  especially when the work itself remains vital.

Willans falls into that category.  The name alone draws a blank even from people who know and love his work.  Understandable, if tragic.

For one thing, he died relatively young.  For another, his partner was then young Ronald Searle; Searle who illustrated Willan’s greatest creation, Nigel Molesworth, the Curse of St. Custards. Continue reading