I posted some time ago an article on the mysterious and very learned Eugenio Zanoni Volpicelli (1856 – 1936) Consul General of Italy in Hong Kong and Macau between 1899 and 1919.
Here is a link to our old post:
Yesterday I was flipping through the pages of the book Russia on the Pacific and the Siberian Railway London, Sampson Low, Marston & Company, 1899 written by Zanoni Volpicelli using the pseudonym of Vladimir. He used such pseudonym, I believe, to hide the fact that he was a diplomat and to avoid a confusion of roles. Before being the Italian diplomatic representative in Hong Kong he had worked for the Italian Embassy in Seoul, Korea and for the Chinese Imperial Government. On the last page of this book I found out that under “By The Same Author” there is The China-Japan War, again under the name of Vladimir, also a work by Zanoni Volpicelli of which I was already aware and then, another book entitled The Philippine Islands. An Historical, Geographical, Social, and Commercial Sketch of the Philippine Archipelago.
The author this time is a John Foreman F.R.G.S. The acronym F.R.G.S stands for Fellow of the Royal Geographic Society and we know that Eugenio Zanoni Volpicelli in fact was a member. There are reasons to suspect that indeed John Foreman is another of the pen names he was using, not only because his British editor declares it to be so but also because of other points which I am going to explain.
This book on the Philippines was extremely successful and went through several editions, not only in London but also in New York and then in Shanghai, where it was published by the refined publishers Kelly & Walsh in 1899. Eugenio Zanoni Volpicelli before moving to Nagasaki – where he died in 1936 – had lived in Shanghai for several years.
The first London edition was dated 1890, then a second together with the one in New York are dated 1899 and 1903. Then a new one in London with T. Fisher and Unwind was published in 1906 together with the last Shanghai edition always with Kelly & Walsh.
A photo of John Foreman (see below) looks very close to another photo shot by Ah Fong in Hong Kong – where Zanoni Volpicelli is seen wearing a pit helmet – and was then transformed into a print to be then published on an Italian magazine.
Zanoni Volpicelli should have spent quite some time touring the Philippines – if he really was John Foreman – to collect data and pictures and not only he was fluent in Chinese, Korean , Japanese and Russian but certainly also in Spanish. I have found also a translation in English of a famous farewell message Ultimo Adios by Philippine’s National Hero José Rizal (1861 – 1896) who was shot by the Spanish and translated by ‘Bray – Volpicelli’ a clear sign that he knew Spanish and he had a direct interest in Philippines’s affairs.
Noticing the presence of an autographed copy by John Foreman on sale in Italy I have written to the bookshop and the reply seems to point to the existence of a John Foreman, unless Zanoni Volpicelli was so afraid that revealing his true identity would have compromised his position as Consul of Italy in Hong Kong and Macau. The book is dedicated on December 1903 to President Leopoldo Giuliani of Barga and it is signed as ‘John Foreman’. Leopoldo Giuliani a native of Barga was a friend of the poet Giovanni Pascoli and in his youth had emigrated to Great Britain setting up several successful bakery shops but he went back to Barga on retirement.
In Italy Eugenio Zanoni Volpicelli is unknown and no biography is yet available on him. Perhaps it is about time to write one because his life reads like a novel.
Strong criticism on this book by an American: