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Hear the story of FitzGerald’s Rubaiyat in Woodbridge soon

September 24, 2021

If you can be anywhere near Woodbridge in Suffolk on November 7th 2021, it will be worth while visiting the Bull Inn on Market Square. The Bull was well known to Edward FitzGerald and it has also been the scene of meetings of the Omar Khayyam Club of London. From 2 pm on the afternoon of Sunday 7th November, Charles Mugleston will be retelling the story of FitzGerald’s Rubaiyat of Omar Khayyam, accompanied by relevant music. Persian tea and other refreshments will be served. Having heard Charles’ interpretation of the Rubaiyat before, we know that this will be an illuminating occasion even for those who think that they know FitzGerald’s poem well. Full details of this and other events at the Bull are shown below and can also be found on www.spiritofwoodbridge.com.

The new Khayyam Collection from Elmy Designs

September 10, 2021

Afsoon Elmy has sent us details of products that have been prepared by Elmy Designs under the heading of the ‘Khayyam Collection’. The collection comprises a variety of simple and well designed items, ranging from mugs to tote bags and from tea shirts to water bottles, each of which is decorated with an intricate design based on the name ‘Omar Khayyam’. An example of a cushion from the collection is shown on the right. More details can be found via the following three links. At present it appears that all products are being delivered from the USA, involving extra P&P costs for European buyers.

https://www.zazzle.com/store/elmy_designs

https://www.etsy.com/uk/shop/ElmyDesigns

https://elmy-designs.creator-spring.com/

More about the pirate Rubaiyat of 1883

September 8, 2021

In the previous post we highlighted the pirated copy of FitzGerald’s Rubaiyat of Omar Khayyam that was produced by Harry Quilter in 1883 – see https://omarkhayyamrubaiyat.wordpress.com/2021/09/01/harry-quilter-and-the-pirate-rubaiyat-of-1883/ .  Thanks to valuable contributions from some blog readers, we are now able to present some images relating to this rare edition of the Rubaiyat, and its production.

The first two images below have been provided by Jos Coumans, to whom many thanks.  They show the basic characteristics of the volume, described by Harry Quilter as being  ‘… the plain, unannotated text of the poem, bound in brown cardboard, and printed on sugar-loaf paper, in big Old English type …’.  Jos also alerted us to the comments about the pirate edition in J H McCarthy’s Introduction to his version of the Rubaiyat of Omar Khayyam published by David Nutt in 1889.  In this McCarthy recounts his version of the genesis of the Quilter edition at a dinner party at Quilter’s house, and he adds his own assessment of the volume as ‘… not an attractive book … [but] a literary curiosity … [and] indeed a very rare book …’  As mentioned in the earlier post, McCarthy, who was the first president of the Omar Khayyam Club in London, is one of the people identified as acquiring a copy of the pirate edition in 1883.

Our second set of images has been provided by The Diba Library of Persian Studies, to whom we are also very grateful.  On the left is the cover of a special presentation copy of the Quilter pirate edition of the Rubaiyat.  This copy was covered in old Italian silk brocade, and was originally given by Quilter to Rev. Stopford A Brooke, an Irish churchman and writer, who was for a time chaplain to Queen Victoria.  This fine copy was subsequently owned by Ambrose G Potter, the bibliographer of the Rubaiyat – see his entry no 138.  The image on the right shows a letter of 1921 to Potter from Eben F Thompson, an American enthusiast for the Rubaiyat and one of the founders of the American Omar Khayyam Club.  In the letter, Thompson discusses the publication and distribution of Quilter’s pirate, suggesting that the print run was probably no more than 50 copies, and that Quilter refused to sell the copies, but gave them to friends, some of whom may have helped to pay for the original printing.  He quotes a price of five guineas for a copy on the market in 1906.

Taken together with our earlier information, these new images and sources help to flesh out another fascinating story in the history of FitzGerald’s Rubaiyat over the past 162 years.  Our thanks again to all contributors.  If readers have addition material on the subject , please add your comments or send them to us on sandrabill@omarkhayyamrubaiyat.com and we can post them for you.

Harry Quilter and the pirate Rubaiyat of 1883

September 1, 2021
Portrait of Harry Quilter

A while back, Fred Diba sent us scans of some material relating to Harry Quilter and his interest in Edward FitzGerald’s Rubaiyat of Omar Khayyam.  Quilter was an English art critic, writer and educationalist, who was born in 1851 and died in 1907.  Among the documents, was an article entitled Omar Khayyam which appeared in What’s What, a kind of encyclopaedia, edited and substantially written by Quilter and published in 1902.

The full text of the article is shown as an image at the end of this post;  the image can be opened and enlarged to make it more readable.   It deals primarily with aspects of FitzGerald’s Rubaiyat of Omar Khayyam, rather than with the original Persian verses and their supposed author.  We comment briefly below on three particularly interesting points raised in the article. 

The first of these is Quilter’s reference, early on, to his involvement in the publication of a pirated edition of FitzGerald’s Rubaiyat.  To quote from the article ‘… we printed, quite unlawfully, the plain, unannotated text of the poem, bound in brown cardboard, and printed on sugar-loaf paper, in big Old English type …’.  This pirated edition has been identified as the one mentioned in Potter’s Bibliography as number 138.  We know of some copies of this edition which exist in the hands of collectors and libraries and we hope to be able to post images from the pirated version in due course.

The second point of interest are Quilter’s claims in the article of a possible link between his pirate edition and the Omar Khayyam Club of London which was founded in 1892.  Quilter writes ‘Possibly the club grew through this very edition.’  He states that several copies of the pirate were bought by a gentleman who was ‘… very prominent in the cult of Omar.’  This person has been identified as J H McCarthy who was a founder member and first President of the Omar Khayyam Club.  The thing we find strange, given Quilter’s comments, is that there is no sign that he himself had anything to do with the London Club.  In particular, he does not appear as a member or guest at any of the Club’s regular dinners.  Whether he chose not to be involved, or was not invited, we do not know.  But members would have known of him as a frank critic of some artists’ work, notably J M Whistler with whom he had a well-publicised feud.

The final point in Quilter’s article that stood out to us is his comment, towards the end, that Mr Gladstone [W E Gladstone, British Prime Minister] ‘… had been the first to make the poem [FitzGerald’s Rubaiyat] famous.’  Quilter goes on to suggest that the Prime Minister had discovered the book at Quaritch’s bookshop, taken a copy home, and ‘… talked it into almost instant popularity.’  He dates this event to 1878-9.  Such a date may well be when Gladstone discovered the Rubaiyat for himself, and he is known to have been a customer of Quaritch.  But the more generally accepted, and well attested, story is that the first edition of FitzGerald’s Rubaiyat was ‘discovered’ in Quaritch’s penny box much earlier in 1861, by Whitley Stokes and Jack Ormsby, and was gradually taken up by other writers and artists, notably the poet A C Swinburne, D G Rossetti the pre-Raphaelite painter and poet, and John Ruskin the artist and art critic. 

In our view, Quilter’s story about Gladstone is simply incorrect.  But the fact that he repeated it in print as late as 1902 suggests that the story must have had quite wide currency and acceptance at the time.  It would be interesting to explore the media and other writings of the time to see whether this account of the discovery of FitzGerald’s Rubaiyat appears in print elsewhere.

Beyond these three specific points, Quilter’s article is an interesting example of the turn of the century view of FitzGerald and his poem and the link between the verses and the concept of the ‘modern epicurean’.  It is worth reading in full.  We welcome any comments our readers may have on the article and the issues it raises.  Our thanks to Fred Diba for sending it to us, and for reminding us of the interesting pirate edition of the Rubaiyat of 1883 – incidentally the year of Edward FitzGerald’s death.

Article from What’s What (1902) on Omar Khayyam

Unusual Rubaiyat illustrations from Lawrence A. Patterson

August 18, 2021

Over the years, many different types of illustrations have been created by artists for FitzGerald’s Rubaiyat of Omar Khayyam. Some have clear subject matter, which is easily related to particular verses in the poem. Others seem much more obscure and symbolic in content, and require careful interpretation. One version in the latter category is that illustrated by Lawrence A. Patterson, which was published privately in 1926 by Johnck, Kibbee and Co of San Francisco.

Patterson was an American artist who was born in California in 1896 and died there in 1964. We now know this thanks to recent work by Bob Forrest who has been exploring Patterson’s life and works. His full article (referenced below) tells us that after early military service overseas and other travels, Patterson was based in California as a teacher, though he also had considerable success in illustrating a number of books for different publishers.

Bob provides images of the artist’s illustrations for the Rubaiyat and other volumes, and he discusses in some detail the interpretation of Patterson’s difficult imagery. One Rubaiyat illustration, for Quatrain 49, is shown here.

The full write up of Bob’s research on Patterson can be found on the following link https://bobforrestweb.co.uk/The_Rubaiyat/N_and_Q/Lawrence_A_Patterson/Lawrence_A_Patterson.htm. It shows yet again the varied life patterns of Rubaiyat artists as well as the great range of their work. Our thanks to Bob for sharing his research with us all.

Omar Khayyam Poems – New translation now available

July 29, 2021
Front cover

Several months ago, we posted an item about a new translation of the verse attributed to Omar Khayyam, which was being produced by Iranian American researcher Siamak Akhavan – see https://omarkhayyamrubaiyat.wordpress.com/2021/04/26/omar-khayyam-poems-a-modern-translation/. This book has now been published under the title Omar Khayyam Poems – A Modern Translation. It is available from publishers Resource Publications at a price for the paperback of US$8.00 or £6.00 plus P&P; all profits are being given by the translator to Persian cultural and educational programs. There is also a hardback edition. Full details are available on the publisher’s website https://wipfandstock.com/9781666715507/omar-khayyam-poems/.

In our earlier post, we gave more information about and comment on Siamak Akhavan’s aims in producing this new translation, plus some examples of his English verses taken from an earlier draft of the book. Readers also added their comments on the translations so far available. We have not yet seen a copy of the final book, but we add below the publisher’s blurb from the back cover, which includes endorsements from other experts. We look forward to having a further discussion on the book when readers of this blog have been able to look at the new translations. Please put your comments on this post or, if you prefer, send us your comments and we can post them separately.

Comments on back cover of book

Margaret R Caird and the Rubaiyat of Omar Khayyam

July 26, 2021

Margaret R Caird was an artist born in Edinburgh in 1896. She was brought up in the city and lived and worked there until the late 1930’s. In the late 1920’s she was commissioned by publishers Wm. Collins to illustrate Edward FitzGerald’s Rubaiyat of Omar Khayyam. Her work on the poem was published by Collins in many different editions, probably produced from 1930 onwards. She died in Eastbourne in 1961.

M R Caird: Title page small version

Most of the above is new information which we owe to research on Caird by the indefatigable Bob Forrest. The volumes containing her work on the Rubaiyat are quite widely available but most of us have been unable to date them with any degree of accuracy. Bob has now attempted to put the different editions in an approximate order of publication with a much clearer idea of their publication dates based on the inscriptions in many of them, and other relevant advertising material.

Bob’s research results are set out in full in an article on his website: see http://www.bobforrestweb.co.uk/The_Rubaiyat/N_and_Q/M_R_Caird/M_R_Caird.htm. The article gives full details of all the known editions of Caird’s Rubaiyat, with extensive examples of the covers and contents of the books and her illustrations. There are also details of other work by her and information about her life and family. It is a fascinating read both for people, like ourselves, who have struggled with the dating of Rubaiyat editions, and for those interested in the practical history of Rubaiyat publication. We all owe Bob many thanks for sharing this research with us.

Illuminated Manuscript of Rubaiyat with William Morris style Embroidered Binding

July 7, 2021

Roger Pass has sent us information about a very special Rubaiyat manuscript which was produced in 1904.  This formed part of a special exhibition and catalogue, arranged by American antiquarian booksellers Phillip J Pirages, to mark the International Kelmscott Press Day on June 26, 2021.  We reproduce here the summary description from the catalogue together with images of the very special embroidered cover and a page of inside text.

Embroidered cover

More details about the volume and those who worked on it are given in the catalogue which can be accessed via the following link https://www.pirages.com/pages/books/ST15043/modern-illuminated-manuscript-on-vellum-bindings-embroidered-morris-company-style/rubaiyat-of-omar-khayyam .  This indicates, inter alia, that the binding may have been designed by May Morris, William Morris’ younger daughter.  The calligrapher, Percy J Smith, studied and worked in the UK, and was later involved with the design of letter forms for Great War monuments.

Our thanks to Roger for sending us this information.  It is a beautiful book, but alas the price quoted, $48,000, is way out of our reach!

Description of the Book

(BINDINGS – EMBROIDERED [MORRIS & COMPANY STYLE]). (MODERN ILLUMINATED MANUSCRIPT ON VELLUM). SMITH, PERCY, Calligrapher. RUBAIYAT OF OMAR KHAYYAM. ([England]: 1904) 305 x 230 mm. (12 x 9”). [12] leaves. Translated by Edward FitzGerald.

BREATHTAKING CONTEMPORARY EMBROIDERED WHITE SILK, covers with leafy blue frame, central panel of upper cover with crewelwork depicting a Pre-Raphaelitestyle maiden playing a lute or rebec, with swirling, thorny roses in the background and tulips blooming at her feet, lower cover with blue banner bearing the name “Omar Khayyam” on a background of rose branches, smooth spine with 12 lozenges outlined in green thread, each enclosing an ivory or gold lily, all edges gilt. Initials in red, green, or burnished gold, title page with small chalice and grape cluster in burnished gold, first word of text, “AWAKE,” in large burnished gold majuscules. A breath of shelfwear to lower edge of boards, otherwise A MAGNIFICENT SPECIMEN IN OUTSTANDING CONDITION, SPARKLING INSIDE AND OUT. $48,000

Example of illuminated text

Some new exhibitions and other sources on Rubaiyat-related matters

July 1, 2021

Here are a couple of comments posted on the Background section of the blog that we feel deserve wider prominence. Thanks both to Lois and to Charles for their contributions.

loispawson June 30, 2021 10:16 am

… Your blog continues to be an amazing resource for my Illustration MA – I graduate in 2022 so have another year to go on my major project about the Rubaiyat of Omar Khayyam – which I never tire of reading and researching. A couple of recommendations for anyone interested in Persian culture that I’m enjoying are the HeyGo online virtual guided trips to cultural sites in Iran and the Epic Iran exhibition at the Victoria & Albert museum, which also has a great book. Thanks for your lovely blog.

Charles Mugleston June 30, 2021 1:07 pm

Good afternoon Lois and everyone,
Re Exhibitions connected with the Ruba’iya’t – there are two in Ipswich at the moment. One has just started at The Wolsey Gallery, Christchurch Mansion entitled ‘Power of Stories’ see http://www.powerofstories.co.uk and the other just finishing is ‘Pride in Suffolk’s Past’ at The Hold http://www.suffolkarchives.co.uk. Christchurch Mansion is a lovely place to visit and you can see E.F.G’s reading / writing desk upstairs alongside one of his chairs, then in the music room you can see his rosewood Broadwood Piano. ENJOY

Philatelic Omariana, or Khayyam for Stamp Collectors

June 18, 2021

Joe Howard has sent us a fascinating article on the subject of stamps and related items that have been issued with some relationship to Omar Khayyam and the Rubaiyat. In a number of cases, the products also include reference to the English version of the Rubaiyat by Edward FitzGerald. Our thanks to Joe for illuminating yet another aspect of the continuing influence of Khayyam and the Rubaiyat on our society.

Fig 1

I have not had an active interest in philately since I was a teenager. However, I recently came across an attractive set of six stamps, issued in Dubai, which piqued my interest because their illustrations are inspired by Fitzgerald’s translation of the Rubaiyat (Fig 1.). The stamps have identical postage values (60 Dirhams) but illustrate six different quatrains. These attractive illustrations, in two different styles, are delightful literal interpretations. On a complete half sheet of six stamps, the relevant quatrain is printed adjacent to each stamp. I have seen examples with the same stamps, but with the quatrains printed in French, German, and Persian. A full sheet (twelve stamps) may include two different languages.

Spurred on by this find, I located two sets, each of 17 different stamps, issued to celebrate the millennium. Each set includes a single Rubaiyat-inspired stamp. The first is from Guyana and has the relevant quatrain printed over a very colourful illustration (Fig 2.). The 17 stamps (all $35 postage value) celebrate events occurring during the period 1050-1100:  other examples are, the Battle of Hastings, the First Crusade and the introduction of the gondola to Venice.

Fig 2
Fig 3

The second set, “New Millennium – People and Events of the Twelfth Century, 1100-1150”, was issued by the Federated States of Micronesia. One stamp celebrates the death of Omar (given as 1126) and the illustration is of a figure holding a flask of wine and a loaf of bread, clearly represents the famous quatrain 11 (Fig 3.).  Other stamps in this set show porcelain, a water mill and Pope Callixtus II.

There are also stamps which utilize images of Omar Khayyam. Fig 4. shows a set of two stamps from Albania issued in 1977. One celebrates Omar as a poet, the other as a mathematician. The famous German mathematician, Karl Weierstrass (1815-1897) is said to have made the remarkable claim: “A mathematician who is not also a poet will never be a perfect mathematician.

Fig 4
Fig 5

A 2018 stamp (Fig 5.) from Iran shows both Omar and his impressive mausoleum.

The brightly coloured stamp shown in Fig 6.  is from Ukraine (2019), with the country name, in the Cyrillic alphabet, given directly below the image. Note that this image is similar to that found under the entry for Omar Khayyam on Wikipedia.com. The large (10 by 8 cm) and unperforated stamp shown in Fig 7. is also from Dubai (1967). On it, Omar is shown surrounded by the twelve signs and symbols of the zodiac and appears to be puzzling over a document-perhaps an astrological calculation.

Fig 6
Fig 7

Fig 8. shows a set of 14 stamps issued by Iran in 1923 to “…commemorate the death anniversary of Hakim Omar Khayyam, Persian mathematician, astronomer and poet.” Each stamp has “1123” on the left, “1923” on the right and “OMAR KHAYAM” towards the bottom. The unsophisticated nature of these three black printed elements, when compared with the complexity and elegance of the underlying stamp design, indicates that the black printing was not part of the original design concept. This is reinforced by closer examination which shows that the black elements are printed on top of the main design. These stamps were never issued, and most were destroyed. In 2017 this particular set was sold at auction, for $3,500.

Fig 8
Fig 9

My final item is a first day cover (Fig 9.). It was produced in 1981 by Mr. Grant Smith of Taylor County, West Virginia USA and is one of his “Land’s End” series of cachets*. The Omariana interest is in the text and illustrations on the front of the envelope, rather than the stamp itself. Clearly though the stamp, with its image of a person in a wheelchair and its slogan “Disabled doesn’t mean unable”, leads naturally to thoughts of the Kuza-Nama section of the Rubaiyat. We will see that this cover potentially refers to four different quatrains.

There is an obvious link between the image of the potter and the printed quatrain (number 60).

The background of the cover consists of concentric blue rings centred inside the lump of clay held in the potter’s left hand. This leads to the impression that there are waves emanating from the clay-possibly symbolizing the tremendous repercussions of the potter’s actions.

The illustrator has added the words “The Master Potter… Enabling Disabling” under the potter’s wheel/beside the quatrain. The choice of these present participles implies to me that the illustrator’s take on the theological debate (sometimes known as “the problem of pain”) is that the potter is directly responsible for making imperfect pots.  Possibly a comment on quatrain 63.

 A “moving finger” (hand) is writing in the sky. The powerful language of quatrain 51 may, in this context, be referring to the need for fortitude in the face of disability.

The prominent figure, of a scantily clad woman wearing a coat, is standing on a pot located on the potter’s wheel. I am grateful to Sandra and Bill for pointing out that her pose is identical to that of the male teacher in Sullivan’s illustration for quatrain 43.  There are other differences apart from that of gender: coat for a gown, hat for mortar board and the long pointer has been omitted. I have no clear explanation for the symbolism associated with this figure, other than the possibility that she is a finished “pot”. The significance of (a) the white (head and shoulders?) shape, between her ankles/calves and (b) the letters “g” and “p”, which are stacked at the base of the pot under the figure, are unclear to me.

Many of the items described above (not the stamps in Fig 8.) are currently available from on-line sources such as ebay.com or Hipstamp.com. If anyone has any comments or information on additional philatelic items referring to Omar or the Rubaiyat, I would be delighted to receive them: please add them below. *In philately, a cachet is a printed or stamped design or inscription, other than a cancellation or pre-printed postage, on an envelopepostcard, or postal card to commemorate a postal or philatelic event.