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The Ouseley brothers: their links to Persia and the Rubáiyát

July 16, 2018

Many readers of this blog will be aware of a manuscript of verses attributed to Khayyám which is in the Bodleian Library and is often referred to as ‘Ouseley 140’  (the library shelf mark). This is one of the two Khayyám manuscripts that Edward FitzGerald used as the basis of his famous version of the poem, published in 1859.

Some years ago, we became curious about the name Ouseley and the reason why it was attached to this copy of the Rubáiyát. This led us to William and Gore Ouseley, two brothers living in the late Georgian and early Victorian periods, both of whom were important collectors of Persian and Arabic manuscripts. Their collections largely ended up in the Bodleian Library, the so-called Ouseley 140 coming from the elder brother, William. The brothers were also notable writers and scholars, particularly William, and they separately travelled and worked in India in the period between 1787 and 1805. Subsequently they together undertook one of their most important journeys, an official visit to Persia between 1810 and 1815.

Sir William Ouseley 1767-1842                                        Sir Gore Ouseley Bart. 1770-1844

This journey has been the core focus of some research that we have recently completed.  The results of this work have now been published in a short book which tells the story of the two Ouseley brothers and how they came to be part of an important mission to Persia in the early nineteenth century.  Using four different reports of the journey east between 1810 and 1815, two by the Ouseleys and two by other members of the mission James Morier and William Price,  we describe where the travellers went, their experiences and what they found in Persia and the other countries they visited.  There is much to be learned about the way life was lived some 200 years ago, and the book contains verbatim quotations from the individual reports, giving the reader an idea of personal reactions and priorities on what was an extraordinary and eventful journey.

Full details of the book are shown below.*  It has been privately published and is for limited circulation to libraries and researchers.  If you are particularly keen to have a print copy, please contact us on , giving an indication of the nature of your interest in the subject.  A PDF version of the book can be accessed online via the link shown. **

One thing that disappointed us personally in studying the reports on this early mission to Persia is the lack of any mention of Omar Khayyám, his writings or his tomb.  Other major Persian poets are mentioned, notably Háfiz and Sa’di, but at that period, before FitzGerald brought him to worldwide fame, Khayyám was not important in Persian culture.  We also do not actually know whether William Ouseley acquired his copy of the Ouseley 140 manuscript of the Rubáiyát on this trip.  But thanks to research by Douglas Taylor, communicated to us by Bob Forrest, we do know that William Ouseley became well acquainted with the Rubáiyát and its contents and he discussed this work in a paper presented to the Royal Society of Literature in 1826.  It is possible that further research will lead to the discovery of more links between the Ouseley brothers and Khayyám and his Rubáiyát

* Martin, William H. and Mason, Sandra, The Ouseley brothers and their journey to Persia 1810-15: Insights into the world of the traveller in the early nineteenth century  (Dry Drayton, Cambridge: Leisure Consultants, 2018).  ISBN 978-1-873450-03-1.

** PDF version available on!AjchErtiuRImgqRh09rVJZq2mCOr5Q


William George Stirling – a full write-up

July 12, 2018

The work of the artist William George Stirling was the subject of some extensive debate on this blog earlier in the year;  see and related posts.  Bob Forrest who contributed much original research to the debate has now completed a full write up of his work on the artist and his contribution both to Rubaiyat illustration and in other areas.  Bob summarises his findings as follows

My article provides a provisional account of the life and work of Stirling, who illustrated both the enigmatic, opium–related, Lotus Library Rubaiyat in 1918, and the rather more orthodox, wine–related, Malay Rubaiyat of A.W. Hamilton in 1932. The later book was published openly bearing his name, but the earlier one bore only his initials in monogrammed form, which, intentionally or otherwise, hid his identity for many years.

Bob’s report can be found via the following link:
Bob is also preparing a print version of his report for publication as another in his series of privately circulated booklets on Rubaiyat artists.  Our thanks to Bob for enlightening us all further on this interesting subject.

Another first edition of FitzGerald’s Rubaiyat is on the market

June 25, 2018

Charles Mugleston has alerted us to the fact that another copy of the first edition of Edward FitzGerald’s Rubaiyat of Omar Khayyam is currently on the market.  It is being offered at auction by Chiswick Auctions in London, and bids can be placed online via the following link .  The live auction will be on 12th July 2018.  The auctioneers’ estimated price is £15,000-20,000.  This compares with the price for the copy of the first edition offered for sale last year by booksellers Peter Harrington, which was as much as £45,000, though we have no way of knowing whether that price was actually realised – see our earlier post .

Charles is anxious to encourage museums and other organisations in Suffolk to come together to try to buy this newly available historical copy of the work of one of Suffolk’s famous sons.  We quote from the letter that Charles has sent to relevant people in pursuit of his aims.

“[The county would] thus secure a representative copy for its collections to possibly add to the several Edward FitzGerald items curated by Christchurch Mansion yet sadly not on view… oh Ipswich – oh Suffolk wake up to your heritage – Edward FitzGerald’s golden legacy to you ! or, perhaps in Woodbridge.

With a collective effort, this item could be obtained and I would ask the EADT [East Anglian Daily Times] (who produced a beautiful souvenir book for the local 1909 EFG Centenary Celebrations) to take the lead – form a campaign to help raise the projected sum a.s.a.p.”

It would be wonderful if this campaign were succesful.  Good luck, Charles!

The Hunter Rubaiyat: Illustrating Fitzgerald’s Rubaiyat in a contemporary Australian setting

June 25, 2018

Joe Howard has sent us the following article about an exciting and unusual set of illustrations for the Rubaiyat of Omar Khayyam, created by Australian artist, Tallulah Cunningham.  We have been aware of this work for some time, but somehow it has never had a mention on our blog.  We are delighted to remedy this omission, thanks to Joe’s contribution.

Australian artist Tullulah Cunningham (TC), has produced an interesting and unusual illustrated Rubaiyat. This work is described in detail in her PhD Thesis: The Hunter Rubaiyat: Illustrating Fitzgerald’s Rubaiyat in a contemporary Australian setting. The thesis provides unprecedented insight into the design concepts, sources of inspiration and multiple methodologies employed by an artist in the creation of an illustrated Rubaiyat. It can be read and/or downloaded from:

The thesis contains a total of ca. 222 printed pages and there is just one copy of the final Rubaiyat.  My intention in writing this short article, covering only a few key points, is to make a broader audience aware of this work.

TC’s illustrated Rubaiyat is based on Fitzgerald’s first version. It consists of five woodblock prints, covering the Kuza Nama quatrains, and two hand-painted scrolls, each ca 4.5m long by 0.3m wide. These scrolls are called Summer Scroll and Winter Scroll.

TC initially rearranged the rubai into sequences representing the cycle of the four seasons. Several methods were used to accomplish this division, including identification of specific wording (spring, summer, snow, harvest), interpretation of less explicit words and phrases and the analysis of mood or temperature. To better represent the Australian climate, she then combined these into two roughly six-month intervals, representing summer and winter,

The primary inspiration for the illustrations is the flora, fauna, geography etc. of the Hunter Valley region on the east coast of Australia. In support of her work, the artist carried out extensive field studies at both industrial and rural locations.

TC describes many sources of her artistic and creative visions in addition to the Hunter Region, such as named Australian artists and the cultures of Britain, Persia and Japan. The Persian influence, for example, is evident in her use of geometric patterns that are mainly employed as beautiful backgrounds. Most of the quatrains are enclosed with cartouches and are calligraphed in a script TC developed. Extensive details are provided concerning the selection of materials and the physical construction of the wood blocks and scrolls.

The original artwork has been shown at exhibitions within Australia. In her thesis TC, refers to an “Image Appendices DVD/Draft Scrolls” which contains full images of the final work. I have been unsuccessful in obtaining a copy from the University. She also states, “In addition to exploring other physical locations to display The Hunter Rubáiyát, I will create an interactive website for the illustrations, making them accessible online.” An excellent image (shown above) from her Rubaiyat is given on her website:

Call to recognise Edward FitzGerald as a great Suffolk poet

May 24, 2018

Charles Mugleston has recently written an article on the Rubaiyat and Edward FitzGerald which has been published in Twelve Rivers, the journal of the Suffolk Poetry Society (Vol 9, Issue 1, Spring/Summer 2018).  In a stimulating presentation, Charles sets out his views on why the poem still has so much to offer us, and on the qualities that FitzGerald brought to his interpretation of Khayyam’s verses.  He concludes by raising an important outstanding question; “What is Suffolk doing to honour this man and his work?”  He asks, and answers as follows.

“Is there an Edward FitzGerald Poetry competition? No, not yet…”

“Is there an Edward FitzGerald Arts Festival? Um, no, not yet…”

Is there a devoted space – a room with items that belonged to Edward FitzGerald telling his life story …? Well there was … in Christchurch Mansion [Ipswich] … but is it there now? Um, no!”

We hope that Charles’ efforts will help to stimulate more interest in the Rubaiyat and FitzGerald in the poet’s home county.  For anyone who is keen to see the print version of the article in Twelve Rivers, it can be obtained through membership of the Suffolk Poetry Society – see .  We understand that the issue with Charles’ article will be available online later in the year.

Photo Poems – a new book of quatrains from Martin Kimeldorf

May 21, 2018

Martin Kimeldorf continues to remind us that the art of quatrain writing, and the inspiration of Omar Khayyam and Edward FitzGerald, are both alive and well in our 21st century society.  Martin has produced a new version of many of his highly apposite verses combined with a selection of his own photo art.  The prologue sets out what the book is intending to achieve.

In this sixth new title Photo•Poems, the author blends his previously published four-line quatrains with his award winning PhotoArt. Martin’s poems are inspired by Edward FitzGerald’s interpretation of the enduring verse found in The Rubaiyat of Omar Khayyam. The result is a very readable and engaging volume that celebrates life, confronts its many challenges, and poses fundamental questions about its meaning. Come lift a glass of your favorite beverage as you imbibe the words—and toast the joy of seizing the day.

The author believes humor and doubt are critical survival tools in these difficult times. To that end, he deploys the comedic devices of irony, satire, and paradox when reflecting on that peculiar journey we call life. In Quatrain VII he writes:

There’s no cure for being born human,
we create our own pain deep within…
Tease yourself to survive your Self.
Laugh often to avoid ending broken.

In the long tradition of inventive poets, scientists, artists and thinkers, Martin remains skeptical of dogma and convention, especially fundamentalism of any stripe. He also versifies on our species self-destructive potential.

This book draws heavily on the heroic fatalism first espoused in the earlier Stoicism, Epicurean and Buddhist philosophies; and later threaded throughout the Rubáiyát. Join the author in rejoicing before the mysterious, star-filled cosmos, as well as the early sunlight glancing off a spider’s dewy web.

Martin’s new book is available in print form via the following links.  Buy through at $19.95.  Buy through at £13.00.  For those who are happy with a digital copy, Martin has made a very generous offer to readers of this blog.  He writes as follows.

“In honor of Bill and Sandra’s enduring commitment to the FitzOmar world and their readers’ shared sympathies, I’d like to offer a free PDF which should be eminently readable on a reading pad or computer screen. Simply write the author ( and tell me how long you’ve been a subscriber to Bill and Sandra’s world.”

Thank you, Martin.  We appreciate this offer.

It is Omar Khayyam Day today!

May 18, 2018

Today, 18th May 2018, we celebrate Omar Khayyam Day and mark the 970th anniversary of the birth of this great astronomer, mathematician, philosopher and writer from Persia.  Whether he wrote any of the quatrains that are attributed to him is beside the point.  His life brought much richness to the world and we value both this and the verses that we have inherited.  Please join with us and raise a glass to his memory today.