Our new book, just published by I B Tauris in London, is sub-titled The Life and Letters of Edward FitzGerald. In it, we look in detail at the many letters of the ‘translator’ of the Rubáiyát, and other information, to see what this can tell us about the man Edward FitzGerald and the world in which he lived. The book contains a new assessment of FitzGerald as a person as well as many quotation from the letters, which give a clear idea of his distinctive views on a wide range of literary and other topics.
The following post summarises something of what we have learned about the circumstances and pressures under which FitzGerald created his first version of the Rubáiyát. They formed the basis of our presentation to the Rubaiyat Research Day in Cambridge on 9th July 2016.
Full details of the book are given at the end of the post. Copies can be obtained via the following link: http://www.ibtauris.com. For UK buyers, there is a special offer at a price of £17.50 using the code AN2; the offer lasts until 30th December 2016. The book will be published shortly in North America.
FitzGerald is sometimes portrayed as a rather sad recluse, especially in his later years, living a lonely existence in various locations in East Anglia. His letters tell a very different story. FitzGerald was a convivial and very supportive friend and family member. He was genuinely concerned about what happened to his close friends and their children, and he welcomed them and the younger members of his family to his final home in Woodbridge. He was a very perceptive and entertaining writer, both sharp and open in his comments on literature, the arts and the more ordinary aspects of life; we learn for example that he was a great lover of toasted cheese. And he was a very hard worker and a stickler for detail, something that shows up in the many exchanges with Edward Cowell, the friend and scholar who introduced him to Persian and to the verses of Omar Khayyám.
Edward Cowell found a manuscript of verses by Omar Khayyám in the Oxford Bodleian library in the spring of 1856. He copied them out into a little notebook and sent this to his friend FitzGerald. The latter was to work on the translation and interpretation of the verses over the next couple of years, finally arranging for their publication early in 1859. What is remarkable, as our study of the letters shows, is that FitzGerald achieved this at a time of great personal trauma. Several factors contributed to FitzGerald’s difficulties. First, Edward Cowell and his wife, who were both close personal friends, departed to work in India. Second, perhaps slightly on the rebound from the Cowells’ departure, FitzGerald entered into a disastrous marriage with Lucy Barton, the daughter of an old friend. They were quite incompatible, as well as very set in their separate ways, and the marriage lasted a difficult nine months. Third, another old friend and personal support, the Rev. George Crabbe, died late in 1857, and finally, early in 1859, his very close younger friend, William Kenworth Browne of Bedford, was badly injured in a riding accident and died six weeks later, almost at the same time as FitzGerald was organising the final stage of publication of his Rubáiyát.
The letters show that, through all these emotional difficulties, the thoughts and philosophy of the mediaeval Persian poet Omar Khayyám were ‘something of a consolation’ to FitzGerald. Hard work on his text may well have acted as a distraction from what was going on in his own life. Certainly we know that out of the trauma, FitzGerald produced a remarkable poem that many people have found a source of inspiration and consolation in their own lives. This is shown, for example, by the many little copies of the poem that were taken in the knapsacks of soldiers in two World Wars. FitzGerald’s poem has continued to be published up to this day, and has been the inspiration to artists, musicians and many others.
As well as giving us the story of how the Rubáiyát came into existence, FitzGerald’s letters tell us much more about his fascinating life and about the intellectual life and society of the Victorian period. They cover a seminal period of 53 years and, in our book*, we have analysed the correspondence in detail with many quotations, that show FitzGerald’s skill as a writer, his trenchant wit and his humanity. There is much of value there for us in the 21st century, just as the wisdom and thought of the Rubáiyát continues to be relevant in a world very different from that of mediaeval Persia or Victorian England.
* Martin, W. H. and Mason, S., The Man behind the Rubáiyát of Omar Khayyám: The Life and Letters of Edward FitzGerald. (London: I. B. Tauris, 2016). ISBN 978 1 78453 659 6.
Bob Forrest has found some new information about the memorial plaques put up to mark Edward FitzGerald’s residence at various locations. Many of us know the one on Kings Parade in Cambridge, but there is more to tell. We certainly did not know even that the Cambridge plaque was designed by the famous artist Frank Brangwyn. Here is what Bob Forrest says.
Charles Ganz, in his Introduction to the Golden Cockerel Press edition of The Rubaiyat, illustrated by John Buckland-Wright and published in 1938, wrote:
A medallion tablet, subscribed for by lovers of FitzGerald’s Rubaiyat, designed by Frank Brangwyn, R.A., and sculptured by Arthur Cribb, of Ditchling, Sussex, in Clipsham Stone, quarried in Rutlandshire, commemorates that FitzGerald lodged at 19 King’s Parade, Cambridge, from 1826-30. (p.10)
A little later, Ganz adds: A replica of the plaque, with the date of E.FG’s birth has been placed on Bredfield House, Woodbridge.
As many readers of this will know, the Cambridge plaque is still in place (Fig.1 above), but, alas, Bredfield House was demolished in 1950, and whether or not its plaque was rescued by anyone before the demolition is unknown.
However, in the Heron-Allen collection at the London Library there is a postcard bearing a picture of it (Fig.2 below), so we do know what it looked like. The postcard, incidentally, is addressed to Heron-Allen at his Large Acres address in Selsey, West Sussex, and is post-marked 19th June 1938. Also in the collection is another postcard, unaddressed, relating to the Cambridge plaque (Fig.3 below) This tells us that it was unveiled on October 23rd , and was clearly used as an invitation to the unveiling.
In order to commemorate Edward FitzGerald, it is proposed to place a Memorial Plaque upon the wall of No.19 King’s Parade, Cambridge, where he lodged as an Undergraduate of Cambridge University from 1826 to 1830.
The authorities of King’s College, and the tenant of the above address, have granted permission, and Mr Frank Brangwyn, R.A., has generously presented the design for the Memorial.
In order to meet the necessary expenses an Edward FitzGerald Memorial Fund has been opened at Messrs. Braclays (Barclays Bank, Cambridge) who will acknowledge any donations.
The leaflet, dated June 14th 1937, is signed by Ganz in his capacity as Hon. Sec. of the Memorial Fund, and its list of patrons, headed by the then poet laureate, John Masefield, includes, alongside the already mentioned Frank Brangwyn, Sir E. Denison Ross, Edward Heron-Allen, Eben F. Thompson and one “Alfred McK Treherne (Syracuse University)”.
Does anyone know more about the current location of the Bredfield House plaque? We also wonder whether the last patron mentioned was actually Alfred McK Terhune, FitzGerald’s biographer and editor of his letters?
In an earlier post, Bob Forrest summarised some results of his recent investigations into the very unusual book Life’s Echoes by ‘Tis True! published in 1926 by Col. R.J.R. Brown: see https://omarkhayyamrubaiyat.wordpress.com/2016/07/26/col-r-j-r-brown-and-lifes-echoes-by-tis-true/. Bob has now published a much fuller version of his research results on his own website. Readers can find this via the following link: http://www.bobforrestweb.co.uk/The_Rubaiyat/Appendices/app25/app25.htm
Bob has done an amazing job in digging up much previously unknown information about the author and his creation. He also gives a detailed guide to a very confusing and provocative book. It is well worth taking a look. Thank you Bob for sharing this work with us all.
Warren Jones has sent us a couple of interesting queries about interpreting the meaning of various quatrains of the Rubaiyat, particularly as presented in FitzGerald’s version. His query has two parts, the first relating to general studies of the meaning of individual quatrains, and the second concerning the specific interpretation to be given to elements in the final quatrain – number 101 in FitzGerald’s third and subsequent editions.
On general interpretation, Warren writes:
One thing that has always bothered me about the Rubaiyat is that I have never seen a book or website that tries to explain each and every quatrain. How can that be? I remember once reading that at a certain time in American history you could be sure to find two books on the parlor table: the Bible and the Rubaiyat. Really? Well, how can it be, then, that no one ever took the time to explain them all? I contend that it’s not a difficult poem, but there are parts that I don’t get. Fortunately, most of the beautiful passages are clear enough, but there are still some, like the stanza below, whose meaning eludes me.
On the final quatrain, the question is as follows:
“To me, most of the Rubiyat is clear enough, and I always get extremely irritated at the unnecessary and absurd “explanations” offered by various swamis. However, there is one stanza that has always bothered me, and that is the last one in the 3rd, 4th, and 5th versions. There are other lines whose meaning escape me, but it’s the beautiful lines, the ones with music, that I really care about.
“And when like her, oh Saki, you shall pass
Among the Guests Star-scatter’d on the Grass,
And in your joyous errand reach the spot
Where I made One—turn down an empty Glass!
“I know about the Persian custom of emptying a glass of wine on the ground, but what does this stanza mean? More specifically, the second and last lines. I know this will get me called a moron, but what does “grass” refer to? The universe? What does “Where I made One” refer to? What does “One” refer to?”
Does any reader have some useful response to these questions? Please post a comment below.
We have just been sent a copy of a new illustrated edition of the Rubaiyat, put together and illustrated by the artist Linda Carter Holman. The book is subtitled Along the Red Book Road, and it contains the 75 quatrains from FitzGerald’s first edition of the poem, together with an Introduction by Louis Untermeyer (reproduced from 1947) and a Preface by the artist. The verses are presented in pairs with an illustration by Linda Carter Holman opposite.
The 44 illustrations are based on the artist’s existing Southwest series of paintings. These are very joyous and colourful in style. To our European eyes they seem to reflect the sun and colour of the southern United States, with its native American and Hispanic heritage, and they fall in a tradition also occupied by painters like Georgia O’Keeffe and Frida Kahlo.
In her Preface, Linda Carter Holman explains how the Rubaiyat came to be significant in her personal and artistic life and how, for her, it is symbolised by the ‘red book’ which is a repeated element in her paintings. She also recounts the way in which her long term wish to create her own illustrated edition of the poem came to fruition and how the images she needed to accompany the text seemed to be there among her existing works. As with many illustrated editions, it is difficult sometimes for the outsider to see the connection between text and individual illustrations. But the whole makes a very attractive and enjoyable book, which should help to draw newcomers to take a closer look at a great poem.
For more information, and to purchase a copy of the book, please go to www.carterholman.com. The price for a signed copy from the first edition of 1000 is US $ 24.95; P&P may be extra. The ISBN is 9780976973225
Christina Abbott posted the following request as a comment on an earlier item on the blog.
I have a plaster copy of a clay plaque, a portrait of Omar Khayyam by Frederick Warren Allen, as seen in the 1921 publication of “Twenty years of the Omar Khayyam Club of America, 1921.” Whom should I contact about this? I’d like to put the information on my web site.
She has since provided some more information about this interesting plaque, together with a photo of it. These are shown below. If any readers can provide more information about the plaque or where records of it (and the Omar Khayyam Club of America), might be now be held, please add your comments below and we can put you in touch with Christina. It would be great to find the plaque itself. Christina writes:
My web site is www.fwallen.com, and F W Allen, who created the plaque, was my grandfather. I’m looking for information about the current location of the original portrait relief of Omar Khayyam. It was commissioned by the Omar Khayyam Club of America in Needham MA between February and May of 1911. The book in which it is mentioned (see above) was published in 1921 by the Rosemary Press and has been digitally reproduced. The illustration shown is a scan from the book. It is my understanding that all records and objects from the American Club were sent to the Omar Khayyam Club in London so I had hoped the plaque might be in storage or on display or purchased by a member. Does anyone know more?