The arrival of an unpublished memoir offering up a scandalous version of the hitherto blameless public life of the revered oriental scholar, Sir Edmund Backhouse, sets Hugh Trevor-Roper on the trail of an outrageous confidence trickster. One of the great detective stories of our age, told with a pace and an infectious delight in the process of historical research, "The Hermit of Peking" would have made an outrageously imaginative work of fiction but for the fact that it is all true. Trevor-Roper unearths scholars with bizarre sexual fantasies, eunuchs, rare manuscripts and a malicious dowager Queen, and sets them all against the backdrop of a decadent and intrigue-ridden Imperial Court.
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An extraordinary work of scholarship, like Borges rewritten by P G Wodehouse – gripping, hilarious -- The Observer
It is one of those rare books which, once begun, you have to finish in a single night. -- Robert Nye, The Scotsman
One of the great classic biographies of an incorrigible rogue... delightful and uproarious. -- Colin Wilson
The reader is throughout amused, amazed and enthralled. -- Bernard Levin, The Times
Trevor-Roper's fine and absorbing narrative has lost nothing with time. -- The Times Literary Supplement
Then there was the case of the old Empress Dowager’s pearl jacket. This was a famous garment, the best-known item in her wardrobe, and it exercised a particular fascination on Backhouse, with his passion for jewellery. Backhouse approached Hall and informed him that he had an opportunity to purchase this valuable object, and he invited Hall to invest in a half-share of it. However, there were certain practical difficulties to be overcome before the Palace eunuchs would hand over the garment which (presumably) was not theirs to sell. In fact, Backhouse would have to make his way secretly into the Palace (which at that time was still occupied by the imperial family) and escape with his booty without alarming the Palace guard. This he proposed to do with the assistance, and in the company, of his ‘secretary’ - i.e. his boot-black factotum, Chang Ho-chai; but as the enterprise was risky, he intended to go armed. In other words, Backhouse, by his own account, intended to!
burgle the Palace in order to receive stolen goods.
Hall, by his own account, was ready to involve himself in the affair. He invested 50,000 Mexican dollars in the venture. He also lent Backhouse a revolver, which he had borrowed for the purpose, for self-defence in so perilous an undertaking. Then he sat back and awaited the return of his investment.
In due course Backhouse came to report the success of his burglary. According to his account, he had succeeded in penetrating the Palace, and although he had failed to secure the entire jacket, owing to an unseasonable panic among his Chinese accomplices, he had managed, with great difficulty and danger, which lost nothing in the telling, to cut 344 pearls from it. He had then made a dramatic escape, firing the revolver as he forced his way through the Palace guard. As evidence of his success, Backhouse showed Hall one of the pearls, ‘a drop-pearl of imperfect shape but beautiful lustre, which was valued by experts in America at 18,000 gold dollars’. He also returned the revolver with ‘a cordial letter of thanks’ to the original lender.
Lured by the bait of the single pearl, Hall waited to receive his share of the booty. He waited in China; he waited in America. But somehow it never came. He was fobbed off with a series of excuses, each more complicated and fantastic than the last. The pearls had been sent to London in the diplomatic bag with Backhouse‘s secret dispatches to the Foreign Office. They had been valued at £600 apiece. They were insured for £100,000. They were in a London bank, in the joint names of Backhouse and Hall. There was competition to purchase them. Grander and grander names were dropped: ambassadors, maharajas, viceroys...In the end, Hall could wait no longer: he was impatient of such excuses. So, with these melodious names ringing in his ears, but with empty hands, he retired to his home in Maine to reflect on this as on other strange Backhousian affairs.
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Book Description Penguin Books, 1978. Paperback. Book Condition: New. No Edition Stated. Bookseller Inventory # DADAX014004776X
Book Description Penguin Books, 1978. Paperback. Book Condition: New. book. Bookseller Inventory # 014004776X
Book Description Penguin Books. PAPERBACK. Book Condition: New. 014004776X We guarantee all of our items - customer service and satisfaction are our top priorities. Please allow 4 - 14 business days for Standard shipping, within the US. Bookseller Inventory # TM-014004776X