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Some lesser-known anecdotes about Edward FitzGerald

March 11, 2016

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We have corrected this item for an error in the original sourcing – see second comment below. 

There are many anecdotes about Edward FitzGerald, the ‘translator’ of the Rubaiyat of Omar Khayyam, that stress his idiosyncratic qualities.  Here are some lesser-known stories that show the poet in somewhat more everyday mode.  They were sent to us by Garry Garrard who found them in Thomas Wright’s autobiography;  Wright was, inter alia, the author of a biography of FitzGerald (see references at end of this post).

‘A lady writing to me said:

We were giving a party at Woodbridge and I crossed the street with a little loaf of fancy bread in my hand. FitzGerald, who was passing, suddenly stopped, and exclaimed, “Young lady, shake hands, I honour you”  “Why”  “Because you are not ashamed to be seen carrying a loaf.” As we shook hands I said “Since I am going by and by to carry it inside (pointing to my mouth) I don’t see why I should object to carry it outside now.”   FitzGerald smiled and tilting his head sideways said, “I hope you will always speak to me when we meet. I never recognise ladies, their bonnets are so much alike.”  “You should look a little lower than the bonnet,” I commented. “I will,” he said.’

‘Another day he met the same lady in Loder’s shop. She was wearing a dark blue serge dress with small round brass buttons, while pinned to the breast were some intensely vivid scarlet geraniums.   He said “Thank you madam, I am much obliged to you.” She replied, “I am glad to have given you pleasure, but how?”   He said, “By your choice of decided pure colour and bright points,” and he added, with the faintest half-melancholy intonation, “I give my nieces every year a dress of scarlet orange or green silk, but they never wear them.” ‘

‘One sweltering hot day he was seen cheerfully striding along a country road near Woodbridge with his feet bare, his stockings hanging out of his trousers pockets and his boots at the end of a walking stick which he carried over his shoulder. A gentleman who was on nodding acquaintance with him, called out to him while passing, “H-O-T, hot!”  FitzGerald, without stopping, or even turning his head, replied “F-O-O-L, fool.”’

‘FitzGerald called his boat The Scandal  “because nothing travelled faster.” A later owner, who changed its name to The Sapphire, described it to me as a “beautiful sailer only rather frisky, being too heavily sparred for her size.” ‘

References: 

Thomas Wright, Thomas Wright of Olney: An Autobiography.  London: Herbert Jenkins, 1936

Thomas Wright, The Life of Edward FitzGerald (2 vols.). London: Grant Richards, 1904

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2 Comments leave one →
  1. March 11, 2016 5:28 pm

    Lovely comments! I’ve read Robert Bernard Martin’s biography but I don’t recall these comments.

  2. March 13, 2016 10:08 am

    Thanks, David, for your comment. Yes, these really are little known stories. In fact, as Garry points out below, they actually come not from Thomas Wright’s biography of FitzGerald, but from his own autobiography, which was published rather latter.

    Garry explains the correct story as follows.

    ‘A gremlin crept into my blog item relating the new FitzGerald anecdotes (or maybe it was a djinn). They don’t come from Thomas Wright’s The Life of Edward FitzGerald and are not widely known. It was only after this was published in 1904 that Wright received these stories in letters that responded in kind; by that stage of course it was too late for his book. Instead he used them as a contribution to his own autobiography, published in 1936, which is read less widely.

    Thomas Wright of Olney: An Autobiography. Thomas Wright. London, Herbert Jenkins, 1936’

    We shall correct the information in the original post. Our apologies to Garry for the error.

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