George Sandys 1578-1644
English translator, poet, and travel writer.
Sandys was considered a skilled poet, learned scholar, and one of the most sophisticated writers of the English language in his time. His immensely popular accounts of his travels set a new standard for travel literature, and his translation of Ovid's Metamorphoses, the first book written in America, was considered the best English version of that work. Although he wrote little original poetry, Sandys was praised for the meter and language of his decasyllabic, or heroic couplets, which influenced poets of the eighteenth century. Alexander Pope, for example, declared that “English poetry owes much of its present beauty to Sandys,” and John Dryden called Sandys “the best versifier of the former age.” All of Sandys's works reveal his great erudition and familiarity with classical sources. Modern scholars have continued to admire Sandys's translations for their originality and grandeur of language, and his travel writings are of interest because of the light they shed on seventeenth-century English society, culture, and attitudes.
Sandys was born in Yorkshire, England, the youngest son of Edwin Sandys, Archbishop of York. In 1589, he entered St. Mary's Hall at Oxford before transferring to Corpus Christi College. The details of his life between 1589 and 1610 are sketchy, but it is thought that he may have been admitted to the Middle Temple at the Inns of Court, where he studied law but never earned his legal degree, and that his family arranged his marriage to Elizabeth Norton. In 1615, Sandys published an account of his travels in A Relation of a Journey Begun An: Dom: 1610. Foure Bookes Containing a description of the Turkish Empire, of Aegypt, of the Holy Land, of the Remote parts of Italy, and Ilands adioyning. Scholars speculate that he went on the journey, which took place between 1610 and 1612, to escape his estranged wife and related legal troubles, as Norton's relatives had taken him to court for desertion and lack of financial support.
Around 1607, Sandys had become involved with the Virginia Company in London. After his trip abroad, he became an active stockholder in the company, and in August, 1621, he traveled to America and served as the company's treasurer in Jamestown; the colony's governor was his friend Sir Francis Wyatt, who was also his niece's husband. Shortly before he left for America, Sandys's translation The First Five Bookes of Ovids Metamorphosis appeared. The book was well received in literary circles: it was reprinted twice within a year of its publication and a new edition was issued in 1623. While on board the ship to Virginia in 1621, Sandys translated two more books of Ovid's classic work.
In Virginia, Sandys served as a colonial official whose duties included supervising the collection of annual rents, overseeing industry, promoting staple commodities, and hearing civil suits involving land, rent, tobacco, and trade. He was at Jamestown during the 1622 massacre of the colonists by the Tappahannocks and led the avenging party against the attackers. In addition to his activities as a colonist and civil servant—in Virginia, he is said to built the first water mill in America and started the American shipbuilding industry—Sandys translated the last eight books of the Metamorphoses. The entirety of Sandys's translation of the Metamorphoses appeared in London as Ovid's Metamorphosis Englished by G. S. in the spring of 1626, the same year Sandys returned to England. The book was probably published at the request of King Charles I, Sandys's patron.
Over the next fifteen years, Charles honored Sandys with several modest appointments, including gentleman of the privy chamber. In 1632, Sandys published another edition of Ovid, and in 1636 he produced A Paraphrase upon the Psalmes of David And upon the Hymnes Dispersed throughout the Old and New Testaments, a collection of verse paraphrases of 150 psalms and hymns. These poems were included two years later in A Paraphrase upon the Divine Poems with the addition of paraphrases from Job, Ecclesiastes, and Lamentations. This volume was prefaced by laudatory poems to Sandys from such well-known figures as Wyatt, Lord Falkland, Sidney Godolphin, Thomas Carew, Sir Dudley Digges, and Edmond Waller. In 1639, Sandys retired to Boxley in Kent. The following year, he completed a translation of the Dutch writer Hugo Grotius's Christus patiens, which Sandys rendered as Christs Passion. A Tragedie. With Annotations. Many consider Sandys's version to be superior to the original. His last published work, A Paraphrase upon the Song of Solomon, appeared in 1641. Sandys died in 1644 in Boxley.
Sandys's Relation occupies an important place in the tradition of Elizabethan travel books for its innovative approach to this literary genre. Sandys took the notes of his personal observations and added to them the accounts of ancient geographers and church fathers, as well as past and contemporary travelers and historians. Sandys also wove into his account his own translations of passages from various classical writers. His quotations are carefully placed in the narrative to emphasize distinctions between ancient and modern life, comment on human nature, and discourse on theological matters. Sandys's travel book also differed from those of his contemporaries in its cultural sensitivity and relatively measured attitude toward “heathen” religions.
If the Relation established Sandys's reputation as a world traveler and a man of learning, his translation of Ovid's Metamorphoses consolidated his fame as a scholar and poet, which culminated in the 1632 edition titled Ovid's Metamorphosis Englished, Mythologiz'd, and Represented in Figures. An Essay to the Translation of Virgil's Aeneis, which was a large folio edition with elaborate prose commentaries and copperplate engravings illustrating each book. Sandy's commentaries occupy at least as much space as the poetic text, and the work also includes a translation in decasyllabic couplets of the first book of Virgil's Aeneid.
Sandys's later work was concerned with biblical sources and themes. His A Paraphrase upon the Psalmes of David And upon the Hymnes Dispersed throughout the Old and New Testaments was first published in 1636 and two years later the paraphrases appeared in a folio edition with transcribed musical compositions by Henry Lawes together with paraphrases of Job, Ecclesiastes, Lamentations, and various songs of the Old and New Testaments. These paraphrases as well as his translation of Grotius's Christus patiens and the paraphrase of the Song of Solomon are notable for Sandys's use of decasyllabic and octosyllabic couplets, which were little used by his contemporaries. Sandys was thus a precursor of such eighteenth-century masters of the couplet form as Pope and Dryden. What readers and critics alike have found most remarkable about these paraphrases is that, while preserving all the elements of original compositions, Sandys also infused these works with his classical learning, imagination, and experiences as a world traveler.
During his lifetime and for more than a century after his death, Sandys was well known in literary circles. The Relation was one of the most popular books of its day—by 1670 it had gone through seven editions and references to it appeared in works by Francis Bacon, William Shakespeare, and John Milton. Sandys's translation of Ovid enjoyed similar success, going through at least ten editions in the seventeenth century. The work was considered the standard translation of Ovid, and as late as the nineteenth century John Keats and his contemporaries were reading Sandys's version. However, later generations for the most part have found Sandys to be a writer of little note. Modern scholars have pointed out that this evaluation may be attributed to Sandys's fondness for classical allusions, his scholarly interests, and the religious themes that predominated his paraphrases—qualities that had fallen out of favor in both life and literature over the centuries. Although Sandys's work does not enjoy a wide audience, critics still consider his translation of Ovid to be one of the best in the English language. He is also an important figure in English literature for his contribution to the development of travel literature and of the English poetic form of the heroic couplet.
A Relation of a Journey Begun An: Dom: 1610. Foure Bookes Containing a description of the Turkish Empire, of Aegypt, of the Holy Land, of the Remote parts of Italy, and Ilands adioyning (prose) 1615
The First Five Bookes of Ovids Metamorphosis (translation) 1621
Ovid's Metamorphosis Englished by G. S. (translation) 1626
Ovid's Metamorphosis Englished, Mythologiz'd, and Represented in Figures. An Essay to the Translation of Virgil's Aeneis (translation and criticism) 1632
A Paraphrase upon the Psalmes of David And upon the Hymnes Dispersed throughout the Old and New Testaments (paraphrase) 1636
A Paraphrase upon the Divine Poems (paraphrase) 1638
Christs Passion. A Tragedie. With Annotations [translator] (poetry) 1640
A Paraphrase upon the Song of Solomon (poetry) 1641
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SOURCE: Hooper, Richard. Introduction to The Poetical Works, Vol. 1, by George Sandys, edited by Richard Hooper, pp. ix-lv. 1968. Reprint. London: John Russell Smith, 1872.
[In the following essay, Hooper notes the high esteem in which prominent men of the seventeenth, eighteenth, and nineteenth centuries held Sandys, offers biographical information taken from contemporary accounts, discusses the publication and reception of various editions of Sandys's works, and concludes that Sandys has been overlooked as a poet.]
Such has been the growing taste for Sacred Poetry during the past forty years that little apology is needed for re-introducing to the public the works of George Sandys. The name of John Keble and his “Christian Year” are household words; and the impulse given by that beautiful work has doubtless awakened an interest in many a forgotten writer on divine themes. The revival, too, of more earnest religious thought has, perhaps, contributed towards the appreciation of such poetry. Let us compare the hymnology of our Church at the present day with what it was fifty years ago. Who does not remember even at a more recent date the coldness of our musical services, the jejune words of praise, consisting chiefly of a meagre selection from Sternhold and Hopkins or Tate and Brady, or, may be, some few hymns from which was carefully eliminated all that was warm and spiritual? Contrast this with the...
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SOURCE: Attenborough, J. M. “George Sandys, Traveler and Poet.” Westminster Review CLXIII (January-June 1905): 643-55.
[In the following essay, Attenborough provides an overview of Sandys's life and works.]
All frequenters of the second-hand book-shop must be familiar with the noble seventeenth-century folio volumes which bear on their backs the joined names of Ovid and George Sandys. Those who have had the curiosity to reach one down from its place have been well rewarded by the sight of its strange and magnificent illustrations. The few who have borne away a copy cannot fail to have been delighted by the once-praised but now-forgotten verses which fill its long columns. The verse, apart from its own intrinsic charms, has a twofold historic interest. It stands at the head of the “smooth versification” tradition, and gained for its author the description from Dryden of “the best versifier of the former age”; and it is the first fruits of North America's contribution to English poetical literature. Sandys went out in 1625 to the colony of Virginia as treasurer, and it was during his time of office there that his version, or at any rate the greater part of it, was made. “Sprung from the stock of the ancient Romans” he describes it, in his dedication to Prince Charles, “but bred in the New World, with wars and tumults to bring it to light instead of the Muses.” Sandys' Ovid was...
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SOURCE: De Beer, Edmond S. “George Sandys's Account of Campania.” Transactions of the Bibliographical Society, new series, XVII, no. 4 (March 1937): 458-65.
[In the following essay, de Beer argues that the account of Campania in the fourth book of the Relation is almost entirely derived from other sources.]
George Sandys's A Relation of a Iourney begun An: Dom: 1610, first published in 1615, was one of the most popular of seventeenth-century travel books.1 The account of Campania contained in the fourth book2 is probably the least important part of the work; the object of the present article is to show that it is almost entirely a compilation. General remarks applying to this part of the work should not be applied to the rest of it without proper inquiry.
In determining the sources used by seventeenth-century topographical writers there is one constant difficulty, the similarity of treatment to be found in many of the works on a given subject. The older writers copied one another freely or derived from the same predecessors; so that the determination of the actual source of a particular passage frequently turns on minutiae. In a mainly derivative passage every detail should so far as possible be accounted for; it is only by the elimination of all possible sources that the presence of any original matter can be established.
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SOURCE: Barker, Russell H. “George Sandys' Relation.” Transactions of the Wisconsin Academy of Sciences, Art and Letters XXX (1937): 253-73.
[In the following essay, Barker discusses Relation as a work written by Sandys for the purpose of educating his readers.]
Evidence is not hard to find for the popularity soon achieved by George Sandys' Relation, his account of a journey to Turkey, Egypt, the Holy Land, and the “Remote parts of Italy, and Ilands adjoining,” published in 1615. By 1670 the book had gone through seven editions, and parts of it had been included by Samuel Purchas among His Pilgrimes. During the seventeenth century the book was held in particular esteem for the account it gave of the East and for its picture of Jerusalem. It was this that Fuller most emphasized in his sketch of Sandys in the Worthies:1
He proved a most accomplished gentleman, and an observant traveller, who went as far as the sepulchre at Jerusalem; and hath spared other men pains in going thither by bringing the Holy Land home to them; so lively is his description thereof, with his passages thither, and return thence.
Sandys set out on his travels in 1610, just a little more than a hundred years after Wynkin de Worde published, among the earliest printed books in England, his Informacon for...
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SOURCE: Davis, Richard Beale. “America in George Sandys's ‘Ovid.’” William and Mary Quarterly, Third Series, 4 (July 1947): 297-304.
[In the following essay, Davis asserts that Sandys's experiences of the life and landscape of North America strongly influenced his translation of Ovid.]
The translation of the fifteen books of Ovid's Metamorphoses by George Sandys has been called “the first utterance of the conscious literary spirit articulated in America.”1 The circumstances of its production provides the basis for this assertion. Sandys, treasurer and director of industry at Jamestown from 1621 until late in 1625,2 probably brought his translation of five books of the Metamorphoses with him to Virginia and translated the remaining ten during his hours of recreation on the voyage and in the colony.3 At any rate, in 1626, a few months after his return to England, the first edition4 appeared.
Though America has been proud to claim a share in this work, the exact extent and nature of the share have been a real question. In a recent interesting and valuable monograph on “The Literature of Virginia in the Seventeenth Century,”5 Professor Howard Mumford Jones gives reasons for denying it a place in genuine American literature:
The first five...
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SOURCE: Davis, Richard Beale. “Courtier and Sacred Poet.” In George Sandys, Poet-Adventurer: A Study in Anglo-American Culture in the Seventeenth Century. London: The Bodley Head, 1955, 320 p.
[In the following excerpt, Davis examines Sandys's paraphrases and original poems and finds that the author's weaknesses and strengths were both the result of the fact that he was a scholar as well as a poet.]
Sandys' life from the publication of the 1626 Ovid to his death at the outbreak of the Civil War was apparently busy and happy. Not too much direct evidence as to his personal actions remains. But the surviving details pieced together with the knowledge of what his court circle was doing indicate congenial companionship and continued intellectual activity.
He had probably … become a Gentleman of the Privy Chamber soon after his return from Virginia, between 1626 and 1628. The duties of the Household were apparently not too arduous nor too confining, and there was usually in Charles I's time a comfortable annual income of £200 connected with the position. Presumably Sandys performed official duties for three months of the year and had the remaining nine to himself. Naturally the group of courtiers centred in Lord Falkland became his intimates, for they were those most interested in verse and scholarship. He probably witnessed the swearing in, as fellow-Gentlemen of the Chamber, of his...
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SOURCE: Davis, Richard Beale. “Sandys's Song of Solomon: Its Manuscript Versions and Their Circulation.” Papers of the Bibliographical Society of America 50 (1956): 328-41.
[In the following essay, Davis analyzes Sandys's intent in writing his paraphrase of the Song of Solomon, the manner of and motive for circulating the poem in manuscript, the reason for the delay in its publication, and the probability that there was a lost additional printed version of the poem.]
The ten known printed and manuscript texts of George Sandys' A Paraphrase upon the Song of Solomon (1641) present several problems regarding this particular poem and offer interesting suggestions as to seventeenth-century custom in the circulation of unpublished verse. Among the matters to be considered are the author's intent as to text, the manner of and motive for circulating the poem in manuscript, the reasons for the delay in printing this particular portion of a metrical paraphrase of the Scriptures, and the probability of a lost additional printed version of the poem. Materials for study include three printed and seven manuscript versions, no two of them identical even in phrase, all differing widely in spelling and punctuation. One manuscript text differs so markedly from all the others as to pose a special problem.
To understand what may be involved one must glance back a few years in Sandys'...
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SOURCE: Bush, Douglas. Foreword to Ovid's Metamorphosis, Englished, Mythologized, and Represented in Figures, by George Sandys, edited by Karl K. Hulley and Stanley T. Vanersall, pp. vii-xiii. Lincoln: The University of Nebraska Press, 1970.
[In the following essay, Bush compares Sandys's translations of and commentaries on Ovid's Metamorphoses to those of John Dryden, Arthur Golding, and others.]
We may look first at the translator, who, like so many writers of his robust and stirring age, was not merely a man of books. George Sandys (1578-1644) came of a prominent family. He was the son of Edwin Sandys, Archbishop of York, and a younger brother of Sir Edwin, one of the chief promoters of the Virginia Company. He attended Oxford (1589 f.) and in 1596 was admitted to the Middle Temple, where probably for a year or two he read law. A youthful marriage, previously arranged by the parents, led within a decade to separation and prolonged litigation. So far Sandys had followed the normal pattern of life for young men of his class (unless the ill-starred marriage is excepted as only seminormal), but in 1610 the Yorkshire squire embarked on travels of a kind not yet common. They resulted in a book which—with the unusual asset of illustrations—was one of the first and most lastingly popular accounts of the Middle East, A Relation of a Iourney begun An: Dom: 1610. Foure Bookes. Containing a...
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SOURCE: Powles, Marie A. “Dramatic Significance in the ‘Figures’ Prefacing Each Book of Sandys' Translation of Ovid's Metamorphosis.” The University of Dayton Review Vol. 10, no. 3 (summer 1974): 39-45.
[In the following essay, Powles examines the first plate preceding the title page of the 1640 edition of Sandys' Ovid, explaining the symbolic content of the illustration and showing how translator, artist, and engraver worked to present Sandys's version of Ovid's work in a unique way—as a play to be staged and interpreted by the gods.]
Although it is probably commonplace to suggest that the truly representative figures of any given literary period are not necessarily those normally regarded as possessors of extraordinary powers of creative ability, the truth of this statement is unquestionably borne out when we consider the grace of expression, imaginative creativeness and overall productivity of George Sandys, poet, translator, traveller and pioneer.1 Certainly those usually regarded as the most outstanding representatives of the Renaissance are Sidney, Marlowe, Spenser, Shakespeare and Milton. George Sandys, however, proved to be not only much more than an exceptional translator, who through his biblical and Ovidian translations came to understand how to make use of the heroic couplet to the fullest advantage, but a prose writer whose commentaries to his translation...
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SOURCE: Grose, Christopher. Introduction to Ovid's Metamorphoses: An Index to the 1632 Commentary of George Sandys, pp. vii-xi. Malibu: Undena Publications, 1981, 154 p.
[In the following excerpt, Grose discusses Sandys's commentary to his 1632 translation of Ovid's Metamorphoses, contending that it was influenced by Francis Bacon.]
They will repeale the goodly exil'd traine Of gods and goddesses, which in thy just raigne Were banish'd nobler Poems, now, with these The silenc'd tales o'th' Metamorphoses Shall stuffe their lines, and swell the windy Page, Till Verse refin'd by thee, in this last Age, Turne ballad rime. …
Thomas Carew, “An Elegie on the death of the Deane of Pauls, Dr. John Donne” (1633)
Thus does Thomas Carew seem to predict the course of English verse subsequent to the death of John Donne in 1631. As the elegist was well aware, the Ovidian gods and goddesses had already been wandering in English libraries for at least a decade; rather than prophesying, he testifies to the firmly reestablished popularity of Ovid's Metamorphoses. And Carew may have been commenting specifically on the success of the most recent and elaborately presented of the English Ovids, the Metamorphosis of George Sandys (1578-1644), the author most responsible for the renewed vogue of the banished poet. A late-Elizabethan student at...
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SOURCE: Percy, Lee T. “George Sandys: A Translator Between Two Worlds.” In The Mediated Muse: English Translations of Ovid, 1560-1700, pp. 37-70. Hamden, CT: Archon Books, 1984.
[In the following essay, Percy examines Sandys's translation of Ovid and argues that in this work Sandys displays qualities associated with both the Renaissance and with modern times.]
In 1623, on a tiny ship crossing the Atlantic “amongst the roreing of the seas, the rustling of the Shroude, and the clamour of the Saylers,” George Sandys, newly appointed treasurer of the Virginia Company, sat down to translate two books of Ovid's Metamorphoses.1 Later, in the midst of the distractions of government in the New World, he translated eight more. In 1626, soon after he returned from America, a small folio appeared containing his version of all fifteen books. The reading public, whose appetite had been whetted by the publication of the first five books in 1621, praised the 1626 translation enthusiastically, and in 1632 Sandys issued a second, enlarged edition.2 This edition, which is the one most people have in mind when they refer to “Sandys's Ovid,” differs from its predecessor chiefly in the addition of some prefatory material, engraved plates before each book, and elaborate commentaries after. The translation itself received only minor modifications.3
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SOURCE: Haynes, Jonathan. “The Literary Character of the Relation.” In The Humanist as Traveler: George Sandys's Relation of a Journey begun An. Dom. 1610. Rutherford, NJ: Fairleigh Dickinson University Press, 1986, 160 p.
[In the following excerpt, Haynes offers a detailed analysis of the literary qualities of Relation.]
It is already been said that the Relation is the most “literary” of English Renaissance travel books; the purpose of this chapter is to estimate what this means. The polish of its prose, the poetic translations with which it is studded, and the erudition with which it sometimes bristles are easy enough to notice, but they need to be understood as something more than a literary veneer, however attractive this is thought to be, let alone a layer of pedantry larded onto an original travel journal. It is the Relation's full engagement with humanist learning that is most significant about it in literary historical terms, and for interpretative purposes it is crucial to understand how it participates in a literary system, and how the experiences of Sandys the traveler are related to the purposes of Sandys the writer.
The presence of other texts in Sandys's book does not simply serve to mediate his perceptions of the eastern Mediterranean, though it certainly does that in important ways; the other texts are inherent in his subject matter, are his...
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SOURCE: Hoppe, Jody. “Illustrations in George Sandys' Translation of Ovid's Metamorphosis.” Soundings 20 (1989): 29-36.
[In the following essay, Hoppe maintains that the illustrations included in Sandys's translations of Ovid's Metamorphoses were important not only for their artistry but also for exposing Baroque style to a larger audience.]
Of bodies chang'd to other shapes I sing. Assist, you Gods (from you these changes spring And, from the Worlds first fabrick to these times, Deduced my never-discontinued Rymes.
These are the opening lines of George Sandys' Ovid's Metamorphosis englished, mythologiz'd and represented in figures. Dating from the seventeenth century, this translation of the Latin classic has received much attention for its literary value, but almost none has been paid to the engraved plates that were chosen to accompany the text. Each plate depicts a variety of vignettes from different tales related in the book of Ovid which follows. The complexity of the compositions and the multitude of figures challenges the reader to identify the images with the corresponding metamorphosis recounted in the text.
George Sandys traveled to Jamestown, in the Virginia Colony, in 1621 to become the resident treasurer of the colony. That same year he published The First Five Books of Ovid's Metamorphosis in England. Two more books were...
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Cawley, Robert R. “Burton, Bacon, and Sandys.” Modern Language Notes 56, no. 4 (April 1941): 271-73.
Contends that passages from Robert Burton's Anatomy of Melancholy and Francis Bacon's Natural History have their sources in Sandys's Relation.
Drake, Gertrude C. “Ovid's Metamorphoses, the Facsimile of the Caxton MS, and Sandys's 1632 Version.” In Papers on Language and Literature 7 (1971): 313-35.
Reviews the 1970 edition of Sandys' 1632 version of Ovid's Metamorphoses released by the University of Nebraska Press.
Hardman, C. B. “Marvell's ‘Bermudas’ and Sandys's Psalms.” Review of English Studies 32 (February 1981): 64-7.
Compares Sandys's paraphrases of the psalms with Andrew Marvell's poem “Bermudas.”
Ray, Robert H. “Marvell's ‘To His Coy Mistress’ and Sandys's Translation of Ovid's Metamorphoses.” In Review of English Studies 44, no. 175 (August 1993): 386-88.
Argues that Andrew Marvell's best-known poem is informed by his reading of Sandys's Ovid.
Rubin, Deborah. Ovid's Metamorphoses Englished: George Sandys as Translator and Mythographer New York: Garland Publishing, 1985, 190 p.
Describes and analyzes Sandys' most famous work....
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