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Fitzgerald, Edward (1809-1883)
"If you can prove to me that one miracle took place, I will believe he is a just God who damned us all because a woman ate an apple."

-- Edward Marlborough FitzGerald

Edward Marlborough FitzGerald (March 31, 1809–June 14, 1883) was an English writer, best known as the poet of the first and most famous English translation of Rubáiyát of Omar Khayyám.

He was born Edward Purcell, at Bredfield House in Suffolk. His father, John Purcell, assumed in 1818 the name and arms of his wife's family, the FitzGeralds. From 1816 the family lived at St Germain and at Paris, but in 1821 Edward was sent to school at Bury St Edmunds. In 1826 he went to Trinity College, Cambridge, where he joined the Cambridge Apostles. He became acquainted with William Makepeace Thackeray and William Hepworth Thompson. His friendship with Alfred Tennyson, also an Apostle, began in about 1835. In 1830 FitzGerald left for Paris, but in 1831 was living in a farm-house on the battlefield of Naseby.

With no employment, FitzGerald lived quietly, moving to his native county of Suffolk, and never again leaving it for more than a week or two. Until 1835 the FitzGeralds lived at Wherstead; from that year until 1853 the poet resided at Boulge, near Woodbridge; until 1860 at Farlingay Hall; until 1873 in the town of Woodbridge; and then until his death at his own house close by, called Little Grange. During most of this time FitzGerald was preoccupied with flowers, music and literature. He allowed friends like Tennyson and Thackeray to surpass him, and for a long time showed no intention of emulating their literary success.

In 1851 he published his first book, Euphranor, a Platonic dialogue, born of memories of the old happy life at Cambridge. In 1852 he published Polonius, a collection of "saws and modern instances", some of them his own, the rest borrowed from the less familiar English classics. FitzGerald began the study of Spanish poetry in 1850 at Elmsett and that of Persian at the University of Oxford with Professor Edward Byles Cowell in 1853. In middle life, he married Lucy, the daughter of Bernard Barton, the Quaker poet.

In 1853, he issued Six Dramas of Calderon, freely translated. He now turned to Oriental studies, and in 1856 he anonymously published a version of the Sálamán and Absál of Jámi in Miltonic verse. In March 1857 Cowell discovered a set of Persian quatrains by Omar Khayyám in the Asiatic Society library, Calcutta, and sent them to FitzGerald. At this time the name with which he has been so closely identified first occurs in FitzGerald's correspondence--"Hafiz and Omar Khayyám ring like true metal." On January 15, 1859 a little anonymous pamphlet was published as The Rubaiyat of Omar Khayyam. In the world at large, and in the circle of FitzGerald's particular friends, the poem seems at first to have attracted no attention. The publisher allowed it to gravitate to the fourpenny or even (as he afterwards boasted) to the penny box on the bookstalls.

But in 1860 Rossetti discovered it, and Swinburne and Lord Houghton quickly followed. The Rubaiyat became slowly famous, but it was not until 1868 that FitzGerald was encouraged to print a second and greatly revised edition. Meanwhile he had produced in 1865 a version of the Agamemnon, and two more plays from Calderón. In 1880–1881 he issued privately translations of the two Oedipus tragedies; his last publication was Readings in Crabbe, 1882. He left in manuscript a version of Attar's Mantic-Uttair under the title of The Bird Parliament.

From 1861 onwards FitzGerald's greatest interest had been in the sea. In June 1863 he bought a yacht, "The Scandal," and in 1867 he became part-owner of a herring-lugger, the "Meum and Tuum." For some years, till 1871, he spent the summer months "knocking about somewhere outside of Lowestoft." In this way, and among his books and flowers, FitzGerald gradually became an old man. He passed away painlessly in his sleep. He was "an idle fellow, but one whose friendships were more like loves." In 1885 his fame was increased by the fact that Tennyson dedicated his Tiresias to FitzGerald's memory, in some touching reminiscent verses to "Old Fitz."

This was but the signal for that universal appreciation of Omar Khayyám in his English version. The melody of FitzGerald's verse is so exquisite, the thoughts he rearranges and strings together are so profound, and the general atmosphere of poetry in which he steeps his version is so pure, that no surprise need be expressed at the universal favour which the poem has met with among critical readers. It became better known to the general public than any single poem of the time.

Of FitzGerald as a man practically nothing was known until, in 1889, Mr W. Aldis Wright, his intimate friend and literary executor, published his Letters and Literary Remains in three volumes. This was followed in 1895 by the Letters to Fanny Kemble. These letters constitute a fresh bid for immortality, since they discovered that FitzGerald was a witty, picturesque and sympathetic letterwriter. One of the most unobtrusive authors who ever lived, FitzGerald has, nevertheless, by the force of his extraordinary individuality, gradually influenced the whole face of English belles-lettres, in particular as it was manifested between 1890 and 1900.

The Works of Edward FitzGerald appeared in 1887. See also a chronological list of FitzGerald's works (Caxton Club, Chicago, 1899); notes for a bibliography by Col. WF Prideaux, in Notes and Queries (9th series, vol. vL), published separately in 1901; Letters and Literary Remains (ed. W Aldis Wright, 1902-1903); and the Life of Edward FitzGerald, by Thomas Wright (1904), which contains a bibliography (vol. ii. pp. 241-243) and a list of sources (vol. i. pp. xvi.–xvii.). The volume on FitzGerald in the "English Men of Letters" series is by AC Benson. The FitzGerald centenary was celebrated in March 1909. See the Centenary Celebrations Souvenir (Ipswich, 1909) and The Times for March 25, 1909.

The Rubáiyát of Omar Khayyám of Naishápur
FitzGerald's translation of the Rubáiyát of Omar Khayyám is notable for the frequency and ubiquity of quotations from it and allusions to it. Its popularity, still high, is in decline; but for about a century following its publication, it formed part of the mental furniture of most English-speaking readers.

Of the 107 stanzas in the poem (fifth edition), the Oxford Dictionary of Quotations (2nd edition) quotes no less than 43 entire stanzas in full, in addition to many individual lines and couplets.

The most familiar stanza is surely:

A Book of Verses underneath the Bough,
A Jug of Wine, a Loaf of Bread—and Thou
Beside me singing in the Wilderness—
Oh, Wilderness were Paradise enow!

Lines and phrases from the poem have been used as the titles of many literary works (Nevil Shute's The Chequer Board; James Michener's The Fires of Spring; Agatha Christie's The Moving Finger; Eugene O'Neill's Ah, Wilderness—slightly misquoted). Allusions to it abound in the short stories of O. Henry. Saki's nom-de-plume is a reference to it. In 1925, when Billy Rose and Al Dubin wrote the popular song A Cup of Coffee, A Sandwich, and You, they surely expected listeners to catch the reference to the famous quatrain quoted above.

FitzGerald published five editions of his translation of the Rubáiyát, of which three (the first, second, and fifth) are significantly different. (The second and third are almost identical, as are the fourth and fifth). The first and fifth editions are almost equally popular and equally often anthologized. The stanza above, from the fifth edition, is more familiar than the corresponding stanza in the first edition ("Here with a Loaf of Bread beneath the bough/A Flask of Wine, a Book of Verse—and Thou"). On the other hand, the lines "'Tis all a Chequer-board of Nights and Days/Where Destiny with Men for Pieces plays," from the first edition, are more familiar than their equivalent from the fifth: "But helpless Pieces of the Game He plays/Upon this Chequer-board of Nights and Days").

Persian literature scholar Dick Davis, in a 1989 introduction to the poem, strongly suggests that FitzGerald was gay (describing his marriages as "disastrous.") He points out suggestions of homoeroticism in the poem. "The sáki—the cup-bearer of Persian poetry may be of either sex... [but] is more often conceived of as a young man than as a girl—as a Ganymede figure, in fact." The line "this delightful Herb whose tender Green/Fledges the River's Lip on which we lean" suggests to Davis a reference to an adolescent boy's moustache; while the stanza

None answer'd this; but after Silence spake
A Vessel of a more ungainly Make:
“They sneer at me for leaning all awry;
“What! did the Hand then of the Potter shake?”

is read by Davis as FitzGerald's protest of the stigmatization of his sexuality.

The information on which this page is based has been drawn from research on the Internet. For example, much use has been made of, to whom we are greatly indebted. Since the information recording process at Wikipedia is prone to changes in the data, please check at Wikipedia for current information. If you find something on this page to be in error, please contact us.
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