Boccaccio’s Man

An area of Bagni di Lucca which is all too often missed by the sightseer is Bagni alla Villa, just above the comune’s  swimming pool. Yet Bagni alla Villa is the comune’s original nucleus and here are the gracious villas in which illustrious visitors stayed: Montaigne, Shelley and Byron among them. Today, another illustrious person still lives in one of these villas together with his beloved cat Alessio. I try to visit Dr Franklin Samuel Stych on a regular basis. Sam, as he likes to be called by his friends, is now clearly not as active as he once was but his mind remains amazingly alert and he is one of the best people I know to have a really good conversation with.

On the 15th July, 2010, on the occasion of his ninety-fourth birthday, we celebrated Sam at a lunch at Bagni di Lucca’s Circolo dei Forestieri restaurant.

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Dr Franklin Samuel Stych was born in a part of Birmingham (then in Worcestershire, now East Midlands) in 1916 when the First World War was raging. Sadly, he never knew his father who was killed in action in the bloodbath of the battle of the Somme when 60,000 soldiers died on the first day. Sam’s mother never remarried. His first job was keeping accounts for a shopkeeper. News of Sam’s meticulous approach soon spread, holding him in good stead when he started working for the local Birmingham library service.

Sam saw service in the Second World War in the Royal Army Ordnance Corps (responsible for both supply and repair of weapons, armoured vehicles and other military equipment, ammunition and army clothing) and was stationed in North Africa and Italy (Naples) where his love for this country grew immensely. Indeed, he almost married a seventeen-year-old Neapolitan girl with, strangely for those parts, blonde hair. (Could she have dyed it? Sam quizzes.)

When Sam returned to the UK in 1946 he also returned to his great interest in libraries and bibliography, becoming a senior staff member in the municipal libraries. In 1951 he obtained his MA and moved to the Sheffield library services. One of his mentors was the great Italian scholar Professor Whitfield of Birmingham University. Sam retired forty-two 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 in 1977 with gladness. Sam often remarks to me that had he known he would have lived to be the age he is now he would not have retired so early!

There are several significant works by Sam, which have greatly contributed to a deeper understanding between Britain and Italy. Some of these books are:

  1. How to Find Out About Italy. This 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
  2. Boccaccio in English: a bibliography of editions, adaptations, and criticism. Sam devoted twenty 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 Boccaccio. His material was edited and prepared for publication by his former student, Michael Buckland, at the School of Information Management and Systems. This seminal work remains the most formidable tool for any research on Boccaccio. It has also inspired another of Sam’s friends, the Scottish artist and resident of Bagni di Lucca Jenny McIntosh, to present one of her most memorable exhibitions, “Boccaccio’s Women”, in Lucca in November 2011. (See
  3. A Study of the Works of Nicolao Granucci (1521-1603), with Particular Reference to the Sources and Analogues of His Novelle, to His Language and Style, and to His Life and Circumstances. Nicolao Granucci is an immensely intriguing figure in sixteenth century Lucca. Soldier of fortune, prisoner, cobbler and novella writer he was also a visitor to Bagni di Lucca. At the moment there is a renewed interest in Sam’s work in him and even a project to make it known to a wider public.
  4. Pinocchio in Gran Bretagna e Irlanda. Sam has also written an interesting study of the world’s favourite puppet. Collodi, of course, is not far from Bagni di Lucca

A fuller list of Sam’s works can be found at

Sam has received several honours in recognition of his work. Among these he is commendatore of the Grand Duchy of Tuscany. Through 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.

Completely self-sufficient and independent until a couple of years ago Sam still liked to visit the country where he was born and, indeed, only completed a successful journey there just a month before his celebration dinner.

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 unfortunately lacking in the age we live now. Here is Sam and Alessio the other day:

I love visiting people who have known other times and other ages – they have so much to teach us!

PS. Regarding Sam’s surname, Stych: this rare and interesting name is of Anglo-Saxon origin, and is a 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”.


6 thoughts on “Boccaccio’s Man

  1. I feel very honoured to have met such an interesting person in fact Francis and I met Sam at the Doctors surgery I was ecstatic to hear the english language spoken and so was Sam who until meeting with us had not spoken English with anyone else in Italy! Well the interesting fact is that my Babbo through work connections knew Professor Whitfield as well as Ian Greenlees so it is a small world indeed! Sam is now 97 so only 3 more years to reach his 100th Birthday we all look forward to celebrate this hopefully! Alessio is a brilliant creature and if he sits on your lap you know that you have been accepted as his feline friend and he is so very companionable.

  2. Bravo for this. I’ve been at the Biblioteca Statale recently reading Granucci’s works, so that I can publish something based on Sam’s thesis (I think it is too long and too academic to publish as is). Hopefully with our December Grapevine vacation I’ll make more progress faster.

  3. Pingback: A Sea Change | From London to Longoio (and Lucca and Beyond) Part Two

  4. Pingback: Sam’s First Birthday (in his New Centennial)! – From London to Longoio (and Lucca and Beyond) Part Three

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