This blog on the Rubaiyat of Omar Khayyam and related subjects has now been in existence since April 2012, over four years ago. A look at the subjects covered in the posts shows the wide range of aspects of the field in which people have either been researching, or have been seeking information. They have ranged from details about obscure illustrators or editions of the Rubaiyat to the interpretations of FitzGerald’s version of certain quatrains, and from aspects of Khayyam’s philosophy to comparative ‘translations’ of the Persian verses into English and other languages.
Over the past four years, there have been a number of examples where requests for help with data have been met by those who already knew about the subject or who were willing to spend some time of their own examining the subject and using the resources to which they had access, notably their local academic libraries. We have been involved in a couple of such co-operative research projects. They have also used personal networks of contacts in the field, something that we hope might be enhanced by the kind of international Rubaiyat groupings mentioned in a recent post – https://omarkhayyamrubaiyat.wordpress.com/2016/10/13/greater-co-operation-among-rubaiyat-collectors-and-researchers/.
Most of the colleagues who have posted items on the blog are following their own specific interests and priorities in their enquiries. But there are still many more topics to be explored. We are interested to know whether there are any obvious research topics that our readers feel are being neglected, despite the many interesting subjects currently being investigated. In particular:
Are there some areas of research which might help us to do more to bring the Rubaiyat to public awareness to students and others today? – see earlier post on this subject, https://omarkhayyamrubaiyat.wordpress.com/2016/10/10/the-rubaiyat-of-omar-khayyam-for-the-21st-century-how-can-we-bring-it-more-into-current-thinking-and-discussion/.
Is there scope for more co-operative research in Rubaiyat related topics, particularly on projects that might involve local schools or universities in part of the research efforts?
Please share your thoughts and add your comments on these important questions.
The artist and poet Austin P. Torney has put much effort in recent years to producing versions of the Rubaiyat in various media including print, digital, and video editions. He has now reissued a number of these, including a new version, entitled Rubaiyat of Omar Khayyam Ancient Times, with which he says he is ‘completely satisfied’.
Details of Austin’s new Rubaiyat editions can be found via his blog https://austintorney.wordpress.com. As we have commented in previous posts (see below), Austin takes a very eclectic approach to Rubaiyat verses, presentation and illustration, using vibrant colours with both ancient and modern imagery. This approach may not be to the taste of traditionalists, but it has an immediacy which may attract new readers and viewers. Judge for yourself by following the YouTube links from Austin’s blog.
Three New Rubaiyats:
Rubaiyat of Eternal Secrets
Rubaiyat of Rhymes and Reasons
Two New Versions:
Rubaiyat of Omar Khayyam Ancient Times
Austin’s Golden Rubaiyat Persia-Fumes
Rubaiyat of Omar Khayyam Resplendent
Austin’s Golden Rubaiyat Art Scapes
Two Joinings by interleaving:
Rubaiyat of Omar Khayyam Ancient Times Resplendent
Austin’s Golden Rubaiyat Persia-Fumes Art Scapes
Several Large Collections that bring similar themed books together: The Superlative Omar Khayyam Rubaiyat, The Complete Lore and Legends, and more.
Austin adds : “also of interest, I provide a Theory of Everything. Omar was among the pioneers who wondered about the Great Wheel. This is the be-all and end-all to my productions, for now.”
Earlier posts on this blog about Austin Torney’s work include particularly the following:
The Rubaiyat of Omar Khayyam for the 21st century. How can we bring it more into current thinking and discussion?
At the Rubaiyat Research Day held in Cambridge early in July this year, the final session was devoted to a discussion of ‘Where do we go from here?’ Some of the topics put forward for consideration are shown in the table below.
Underlying the discussion was a basic agreement that the Rubaiyat has something to offer all of us in the 21st century, both as a literary work in English, Persian and other languages, and as a statement of a general approach to, and philosophy of life. The comments and suggestion ranged widely. In the rest of this post, we focus on some ways of giving the Rubaiyat a higher profile today, posing various question about possible action on which we should like to have readers’ reactions. Please comment below. Other aspects of future development will be covered in later posts
Giving the Rubaiyat a higher profile today
Most Rubaiyat enthusiasts have had the experience of being faced with a blank look, particularly from younger people, when the subject of the Rubaiyat is mentioned. In contrast to the position 100 years ago, when most educated people would have been aware of the poem and its content, today it seldom figures in the reading lists in school, university or outside. There are unrecognised quotes in the media or in keynote speeches, but that is it. Yet, as Tony Briggs and others pointed out in Cambridge, if you take the trouble to tell people more about the Rubaiyat, they react very positively both to the language and the substance of the poem, and want to know more – for more of Tony Briggs’ comments see https://omarkhayyamrubaiyat.wordpress.com/2016/07/21/a-reduced-rubaiyat-full-of-wisdom-but-is-it-omarian-wisdom/ .
Obviously each of us who wants people to know more about the Rubaiyat can publicise the subject among our own contacts. A more general question is Should we try to do more about wider publicity, particularly using social media and other digital resources? For example, the posts on this blog are reproduced on Twitter but not yet on Facebook. How far is this route to spreading awareness likely to be effective, and are there other ways of influencing reading lists which we should be investigating? Practical suggestions for action please.
New editions of the Rubaiyat have continued to be published regularly since 2000 (more on this in a later post). But Tony Briggs has also suggested that modern readers of the Rubaiyat are initially put off both by the length of the poem and by the multiple variations in which FitzGerald’s and other versions are presented. He has suggested both a ‘reduced Rubaiyat’ of perhaps eight quatrains which contain the essence of the message of FitzGerald’s poem and a ‘composite edition’ based on FitzGerald’s three main editions. The latter would probably need the efforts of a group of experts, and there is an obvious danger that agreement among them might be difficult to obtain. But: Are either of these projects something that might usefully be promoted?
Your reactions please. Subsequent posts will deal with Greater co-operation among Rubaiyat collectors and researchers, and Possible new areas for research and investigation relating to the Rubaiyat.
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.