Bagni di Lucca’s most venerable citizen, Franklin Samuel Stych, best known as Sam, was ninety nine years old this fifteenth July 2015.
We celebrated Sam’s birthday with a pre-prandial drink at his residence in the upper part of the town centrered around the old thermal bath and the place where, among other worthies, Montaigne, Shelley and Byron stayed and where Whiskey, his new cat, now has pride of place.
Thanks to the courtesy of the Italian Red Cross we were able to transport Sam down to the Circolo dei Forestieri where a table was reserved under the front portico for our little gathering.
Sam hasn’t quite the appetite he once had but he still enjoyed his penne and his bacon and cheese course.
I’m not the world’s best cake maker but my Muscovy ducks, especially Flip, laid some excellent eggs, of which three were used in the preparation of a madeira cake.
The cake was brought in with candles supplied by Jenny, whose masterplan, the celebration was and were successfully blown out by Sam (I should add there wasn’t room to put 99 candle on the cake so two nines were used instead.
The mayor of Bagni di Lucca who has known Sam since he (the mayor) was a young lad joined us was most cordial towards Sam and his party and reminisced about past times. I could note there was a lasting bond of affection between the two.
Toasted with spumante we could all see that Sam was thoroughly enjoying his lunch, especially the wine.
I read out a speech which, since Sam appeared to like, is reproduced here:
Sam it gives us a great pleasure to join you here at the circolo dei forestieri to celebrate your 99th birthday.
Dr Franklin Samuel Stych was born in a part of Birmingham, which was then in county of Worcestershire, now East Midlands, in 1916 when the First World War was raging in its second year.
Let us cast our mind back to the events which happened in the year, month and day Sam was born
This rare and interesting name is of Anglo-Saxon origin, and is a form of topographical or occupational surname for a man who owned or cultivated a “stitch” of land. The name derives from the Old English pre 7th Century term “stycce”, meaning “a piece” of land, still found in Cambridgeshire and Essex field-names, and meaning “a ploughing land”. As a topographical name it denotes residence on or by such a piece of land. The modern surname has a number of forms, ranging from Stitch, Stithe and Stitcher to Stych and Styche.
Sam himself saw active service in the Second World War in the Ordnance department of the army and was stationed in North Africa and Italy where his love for this country grew.
When Sam returned to the UK in 1946 he also returned to his great love of libraries and bibliography and became a senior member of staff of the municipal libraries. One of his mentors was the great Italian scholar Professor Whitfield of Birmingham University. Sam retired about 43 years ago and when given the chance to acquire a residence in Italy through his connection with Ian Greenlees, the director of the British institute in Florence, made the move to Bagni di Lucca with gladness.
There are three significant works by Sam, which have greatly contributed to deeper understanding between Britain and Italy.
- How to Find Out About Italy is an excellent introduction to the bibliography relating to this country and, although published almost forty years ago, is in the opinion of many still highly relevant and useful
- Sam devoted 20 years of his retirement here in Bagni di Lucca to the creation of a comprehensive annotated bibliography of 2,242 items by Boccaccio, adapted from Boccaccio, or about His material was edited and prepared for publication by his former student, Michael Buckland, at the School of Information Management and Systems. (Incidentally, the same Michael phoned up in the morning to wish am happy birthday.)
This seminal work is now on the web and is, therefore, able to be constantly updated. It remains the most fundamental, formidable tool for any research on Boccaccio.
Sam has received several honours in recognition of his work. Among these he is elected as a commendatore of the grand ducal house of Tuscany
Sam has also written an interesting study of Pinocchio in Gran Bretagna e Irlanda, tr. Gaetano Prampolini, Firenze: Quaderni Della Fondazione nazionale Carlo Collodi n. 8, 1971. A you’ll know Collodi is only a short distance from Bagni di Lucca
Throughout his time here Sam has become the last remaining Englishman to link the present generation of residents and newcomers in the area with the classic coterie of cultivated English gentlemen who included such names as Ian Greenlees, Robin Chanter and, last but not least, Harold Acton. He is important not just for his great bibliographic works, not just for Bagni di Lucca, not just for Italo-English relationships but also for his quality of character.
Until recently self-sufficient, but still independent of mind, Sam receives visitors with pleasure and time spent with Sam is amply rewarded by his fine mind and wit.
Sam is an example to us all of kindness, scholarliness, decency, hospitality, courtesy and warmth, qualities which are enduring and which, all too often, are sadly lacking in the age we live in now.
Sam, cherish all your happy moments: they make a fine cushion for old age.
Sam, here’s to you with respect, love and friendship on your 99th birthday and may we soldier on and even see next year, three instead of two numbers on your birthday cake.
Yes, next year it’s Sam’ century and I’m sure we’ll all meet again to celebrate it the same style and joy as we celebrated it this year.