EDWARD FITZGERALD, whom the world has already learned, in spite of his own efforts to remain within the shadow of anonymity, to look upon as one of the rarest poets of the century, was born at Bredfield, in Suffolk, on the 31st March, 1809. He was the third son of John Purcell, of Kilkenny, in Ireland, who, marrying Miss Mary Frances Fitzgerald, daughter of John Fitzgerald, of Williamstown, County Waterford, added that distinguished name to his own patronymic; and the future Omar was thus doubly of Irish extrac­tion. (Both the families of Purcell and Fitzgerald claim descent from Norman warriors of the eleventh century.) This circumstance is thought to have had some influence in attracting him to the study of Persian poetry, Iran and Erin being almost con­vertible terms in the early days of modern ethnol­ogy. After some years of primary education at the grammar school of Bury St. Edmunds, he entered Trinity College, Cambridge, in 1826, and there formed acquaintance with several young men of great abilities, most of whom rose to distinction before him, but never ceased to regard with affec­tionate remembrance the quiet and amiable asso­ciate of their college-days. Amongst them were Alfred Tennyson, James Spedding, William Bod­ham Donne, John Mitchell Kemble, and William Makepeace Thackeray; and their long friendship has been touchingly referred to by the Laureate in dedicating his last poem to the memory of Ed­ward Fitzgerald. “Euphranor,” our author’s ear­liest printed work, affords a curious picture of his academic life and associations. Its substantial reality is evident beneath the thin disguise of the symbolical or classical names which he gives to the personages of the colloquy; and the speeches which he puts into his own mouth are full of the humor- ous gravity, the whimsical and kindly philosophy, which remained his distinguishing characteristics till the end. This book was first published in 1851; a second and a third edition were printed some years later; all anonymous, and each of the latter two differing from its predecessor by changes in the text which were not indicated on the title-pages.

“Euphranor” furnishes a good many character- izations which would be useful for any writer treat- ing upon Cambridge society in the third decade of this century. Kenelm Digby, the author of the “Broadstone of Honour,” had left Cambridge before the time when Euphranor held his “dialogue,” but he is picturesquely recollected as “a grand swarthy fellow who might have stepped out of the canvas of some knightly portrait in his father’s hall — per- haps the living image of one sleeping under some cross-leggedeffigies in the church.” In “Euphra­nor,” it is easy to discover the earliest phase of the unconquerable attachment which Fitzgerald en­tertained for his college and his life-long friends, and which induced him in later days to make fre­quent visits to Cambridge, renewing and refresh­ing the old ties of custom and friendship. In fact, his disposition was affectionate to a fault, and he betrayed his consciousness of weakness in that re­spect by referring playfully at times to “a certain natural lubricity” which he attributed to the Irish character, and professed to discover especially in himself. This amiability of temper endeared him to many friends of totally dissimilar tastes and qualities; and, by enlarging his sympathies, en­abled him to enjoy the fructifying influence of studies pursued in communion with scholars more profound than himself, but less gifted with the power of expression. One of the younger Cam­bridge men with whom he became intimate during his periodical pilgrimages to the university, was Edward B. Cowell, a man of the highest attainment in Oriental learning, who resembled Fitzgerald himself in the possession of a warm and genial heart, and the most unobtrusive modesty. From Cowell he could easily learn that the hypothetical affinity between the names of Erin and Iran be­longed to an obsolete stage of etymology; but the attraction of a far-fetched theory was replaced by the charm of reading Persian poetry in companion­ship with his young friend who was equally com­petent to enjoy and to analyse the beauties of a literature that formed a portion of his regular studies. They read together the poetical remains of Khayyám — a choice of reading which sufficiently indicates the depth and range of Mr. Cowell’s knowledge. Omar Khayyám, although not quite forgotten, enjoyed in the history of Persian liter­ature a celebrity like that of Occleve and Gower in our own. In the many Tazkirát (memoirs or memo­rials) of Poets, he was mentioned and quoted with esteem; but his poems, labouring as they did under the original sin of heresy and atheism, were seldom looked at, and from lack of demand on the part of readers, had become rarer than those of most other writers since the days of Firdausi. European scholars knew little of his works beyond his Arabic treatise on Algebra, and Mr. Cowell may be said to have disentombed his poems from oblivion. Now, thanks to the fine taste of that scholar, and to the transmuting genius of Fitzgerald, no Persian poet is so well known in the western world as Abu-’l-fat’h ’Omar son of Ibrahim the Tentmaker of Naishápúr, whose manhood synchronises with the Norman conquest of England, and who took for his poetic name (takhallus) the designation of his father’s trade (Khayyám). The Rubá’iyyát (Quatrains) do not compose a single poem divided into a certain number of stanzas; there is no continuity of plan in them, and each stanza is a distinct thought ex­pressed in musical verse. There is no other ele­ment of unity in them than the general tendency of the Epicurean idea, and the arbitrary divan form by which they are grouped according to the alphabetical arrangement of the final letters; those in which the rhymes end in a constituting the first division, those with b the second, and so on. The peculiar attitude towards religion and the old ques­tions of fate, immortality, the origin and the des­tiny of man, which educated thinkers have assumed in the present age of Christendom, is found ad­mirably foreshadowed in the fantastic verses of Khayyám, who was no more of a Mohammedan than many of our best writers are Christians. His philosophical and Horatian fancies — graced as they are by the charms of a lyrical expression equal to that of Horace, and a vivid brilliance of imagina­tion to which the Roman poet could make no claim — exercised a powerful influence upon Fitzgerald’s mind, and coloured his thoughts to such a degree that even when he oversteps the largest licence al­lowed to a translator, his phrases reproduce the spirit and manner of his original with a nearer ap­proach to perfection than would appear possible. It is usually supposed that there is more of Fitz­gerald than of Khayyám in the English Rubá’iyyát, and that the old Persian simply afforded themes for the Anglo-Irishman’s display of poetic power; but nothing could be further from the truth. The French translator, J. B. Nicolas, and the English one, Mr. Whinfield, supply a closer mechanical re­flection of the sense in each separate stanza; but Mr. Fitzgerald has, in some instances, given a ver­sion equally close and exact; in others, rejointed scattered phrases from more than one stanza of his original, and thus accomplished a feat of marvellous poetical transfusion. He frequently turns literally into English the strange outlandish imagery which Mr. Whinfield thought necessary to replace by more intelligible banalities, and in this way the magic of his genius has successfully transplanted into the garden of English poesy exotics that bloom like native flowers.

One of Mr. Fitzgerald’s Woodbridge friends was Bernard Barton, the Quaker poet, with whom he maintained for many years the most intimate and cordial intercourse, and whose daughter Lucy he married. He wrote the memoir of his friend’s life which appeared in the posthumous volume of Bar­ton’s poems. The story of his married life was a short one. With all the overflowing amiability of his nature, there were mingled certain peculiarities or waywardnesses which were more suitable to the freedom of celibacy than to the staidness of matri­monial life. A separation took place by mutual agreement, and Fitzgerald behaved in this circum­stance with the generosity and unselfishness which were apparent in all his whims no less than in his more deliberate actions. Indeed, his entire career was marked by an unchanging goodness of heart and a genial kindliness; and no one could complain of having ever endured hurt or ill-treatment at his hands. His pleasures were innocent and simple. Amongst the more delightful, he counted the short coasting trips, occupying no more than a day or two at a time, which he used to make in his own yacht from Lowestoft, accompanied only by a crew of two men, and such a friend as Cowell, with a large pasty and a few bottles of wine to supply their material wants. It is needless to say that books were also put into the cabin, and that the symposia of the friends were thus brightened by communion with the minds of the great departed. Fitzgerald’s enjoyment of gnomic wisdom enshrined in words of exquisite propriety was evinced by the frequency with which he used to read Montaigne’s essays and Madame de Sévigné’s letters, and the various works from which he extracted and pub­lished his collection of wise saws entitled “Polo­nius.” This taste was allied to a love for what was classical and correct in literature, by which he was also enabled to appreciate the prim and formal muse of Crabbe, in whose grandson’s house he died.

His second printed work was the “Polonius,” already referred to, which appeared in 1852. It exemplifies his favourite reading, being a collection of extracts, sometimes short proverbial phrases, sometimes longer pieces of characterization or re­flection, arranged under abstract headings. He occasionally quotes Dr. Johnson, for whom he en­tertained sincere admiration; but the ponderous and artificial fabric of Johnsonese did not please him like the language of Bacon, Fuller, Sir Thomas Browne, Coleridge, whom he cites frequently. A disproportionate abundance of wise words was drawn from Carlyle; his original views, his forcible sense, and the friendship with which Fitzger­ald regarded him, having apparently blinded the latter to the ungainly style and ungraceful man­nerisms of the Chelsea sage. (It was Thackeray who first made them personally acquainted forty years ago; and Fitzgerald remained always loyal to his first instincts of affection and admiration.*) Polonius also marks the period of his earliest at­tention to Persian studies, as he quotes in it the great Sufi poet Jalál-ud-dín-Rúmi, whose masnavi has lately been translated into English by Mr. Red­house, but whom Fitzgerald can only have seen in the original. He, however, spells the name Jallaladin, an incorrect form of which he could not have been guilty at the time when he produced Omar Khayyám, and which thus betrays that he had not long been engaged with Irani literature. He was very fond of Montaigne’s essays, and of Pascal’s Pensées; but his Polonius reveals a sort of dislike and contempt for Voltaire. Amongst the Germans, Jean Paul, Goethe, Alexander von Humboldt, and August Wilhelm von Schlegel at­tracted him greatly; but he seems to have read little German, and probably only quoted trans­lations. His favourite motto was “Plain Living and High Thinking,” and he expresses great rever­ence for all things manly, simple, and true. The laws and institutions of England were, in his eyes, of the highest value and sacredness; and whatever Irish sympathies he had would never have diverted his affections from the Union to Home Rule. This is strongly illustrated by some original lines of blank verse at the end of Polonius, annexed to his quotation, under “Æsthetics,” of the words in which Lord Palmerston eulogised Mr. Gladstone for having devoted his Neapolitan tour to an in­spection of the prisons.

Fitzgerald’s next printed work was a transla­tion of Six Dramas of Calderon, published in 1853, which was unfavourably received at the time, and consequently withdrawn by him from circulation. His name appeared on the title-page,— a concession to publicity which was so unusual with him that it must have been made under strong pressure from his friends. The book is in nervous blank verse, a mode of composition which he handled with great ease and skill. There is no waste of power in dif­fuseness and no employment of unnecessary epi­thets. It gives the impression of a work of the Shakespearean age, and reveals a kindred felicity, strength, and directness of language. It deserves to rank with his best efforts in poetry, but its ill-success made him feel that the publication of his name was an unfavourable experiment, and he never again repeated it. His great modesty, how­ever, would sufficiently account for this shyness. Of “Omar Khayyám,” even after the little book had won its way to general esteem, he used to say that the suggested addition of his name on the title would imply an assumption of importance which he considered that his “transmogrification” of the Persian poet did not possess.

Fitzgerald’s conception of a translator’s privilege is well set forth in the prefaces of his versions from Calderon, and the Agamemnon of Æschylus. He maintained that, in the absence of the perfect poet, who shall re-create in his own language the body and soul of his original, the best system is that of a paraphrase conserving the spirit of the author,— a sort of literary metempsychosis. Calderon, Æs­chylus, and Omar Khayyám were all treated with equal licence, so far as form is concerned,— the last, perhaps, the most arbitrarily; but the result is not unsatisfactory as having given us perfect English poems instinct with the true flavour of their prototypes. The Persian was probably some­what more Horatian and less melancholy, the Greek a little less florid and mystic, the Spaniard more lyrical and fluent, than their metaphrast has made them; but the essential spirit has not escaped in transfusion. Only a man of singular gifts could have performed the achievement, and these works attest Mr. Fitzgerald’s right to rank amongst the finest poets of the century. About the same time as he printed his Calderon, another set of trans­lations from the same dramatist was published by the late D. F. MacCarthy; a scholar whose ac­quaintance with Castilian literature was much deeper than Mr. Fitzgerald’s, and who also pos­sessed poetical abilities of no mean order, with a totally different sense of the translator’s duty. The popularity of MacCarthy’s versions has been con­siderable, and as an equivalent rendering of the original in sense and form his work is valuable. Spaniards familiar with the English language rate its merit highly; but there can be little question of the very great superiority of Mr. Fitzgerald’s work as a contribution to English literature. It is indeed only from this point of view that we should regard all the literary labours of our author. They are English poetical work of fine quality, dashed with a pleasant outlandish flavour which heightens their charm; and it is as English poems, not as translations, that they have endeared themselves even more to the American English than to the mixed Britons of England.

It was an occasion of no small moment to Mr. Fitzgerald’s fame, and to the intellectual gratifica­tion of many thousands of readers, when he took his little packet of Rubá’iyyát to Mr. Quaritch in the latter part of the year 1858. It was printed as a small quarto pamphlet, bearing the publisher’s name but not the author’s; and although apparently a complete failure at first,— a failure which Mr. Fitzgerald regretted less on his own account than on that of his publisher, to whom he had gener­ously made a present of the book,— received, never­theless, a sufficient distribution by being quickly reduced from the price of five shillings and placed in the box of cheap books marked a penny each. Thus forced into circulation, the two hundred cop­ies which had been printed were soon exhausted. Among the buyers were Dante Gabriel Rossetti, Mr. Swinburne, Captain (now Sir Richard) Bur­ton, and Mr. William Simpson, the accomplished artist of the Illustrated London News. The in­fluence exercised by the first three, especially by Rossetti, upon a clique of young men who have since grown to distinction, was sufficient to attract observation to the singular beauties of the poem anonymously translated from the Persian. Most readers had no possible opportunity of discovering whether it was a disguised original or an actual translation; — even Captain Burton enjoyed prob­ably but little chance of seeing a manuscript of the Persian Rubá’iyyát. The Oriental imagery and allusions were too thickly scattered throughout the verses to favour the notion that they could be the original work of an Englishman; yet it was shrewd­ly suspected by most of the appreciative readers that the “translator” was substantially the author and creator of the poem. In the refuge of his anonymity, Fitzgerald derived an innocent gratifi­cation from the curiosity that was aroused on all sides. After the first edition had disappeared, in­quiries for the little book became frequent, and in the year 1868 he gave the MS. of his second edition to Mr. Quaritch, and the Rubá’iyyát came into cir­culation once more, but with several alterations and additions by which the number of stanzas was somewhat increased beyond the original seventy-five. Most of the changes were, as might have been expected, improvements; but in some in­stances the author’s taste or caprice was at fault,— notably in the first Rubá’iy. His fastidious desire to avoid anything that seemed baroque or unnatu­ral, or appeared like plagiarism, may have influ­enced him; but it was probably because he had already used the idea in his rendering of Jámí’s Salámán, that he sacrificed a fine and novel piece of imagery in his first stanza and replaced it by one of much more ordinary character. If it were from a dislike to pervert his original too largely, he had no need to be so scrupulous, since he dealt on the whole with the Rubá’iyyát as though he had the licence of absolute authorship, changing, transpos­ing, and manipulating the substance of the Persian quatrains with singular freedom. The vogue of “old Omar” (as he would affectionately call his work) went on increasing, and American readers took it up with eagerness. In those days, the mere mention of Omar Khayyám between two strangers meeting fortuitously acted like a sign of free­masonry and established frequently a bond of friendship. Some curious instances of this have been related. A remarkable feature of the Omar-cult in the United States was the circumstance that single individuals bought numbers of copies for gratuitous distribution before the book was re­printed in America. Its editions have been rela­tively numerous, when we consider how restricted was the circle of readers who could understand the peculiar beauties of the work. A third edition appeared in 1872, with some further alterations, and may be regarded as virtually the author’s final revision, for it hardly differs at all from the text of the fourth edition, which appeared in 1879. This last formed the first portion of a volume en­titled “Rubáiyát of Omar Khayyám; and the Salá­mán and Absál of Jámí; rendered into English verse.” The Salámán (which had already been printed in separate form in 1856) is a poem chiefly in blank verse, interspersed with various metres (although it is all in one measure in the original) embodying a love-story of mystic significance; for Jámí was, unlike Omar Khayyám, a true Sufi, and indeed differed in other respects, his celebrity as a pious Mussulman doctor being equal to his fame as a poet. He lived in the fifteenth century, in a period of literary brilliance and decay; and the rich exuberance of his poetry, full of far-fetched conceits, involved expressions, overstrained ima­gery, and false taste, offers a strong contrast to the simpler and more forcible language of Khayyám. There is little use of Arabic in the earlier poet; he preferred the vernacular speech to the mongrel language which was fashionable among the heirs of the Saracen conquerors; but Jámí’s composition is largely embroidered with Arabic.

Mr. Fitzgerald had from his early days been thrown into contact with the Crabbe family; the Reverend George Crabbe (the poet’s grandson) was an intimate friend of his, and it was on a visit to Morton Rectory that Fitzgerald died. As we know that friendship has power to warp the judgment, we shall not probably be wrong in supposing that his enthusiastic admiration for Crabbe’s poems was not the product of sound, impartial criticism. He attempted to reintroduce them to the world by pub­lishing a little volume of “Readings from Crabbe,” produced in the last year of his life, but without success. A different fate awaited his “Agamem­non: a tragedy taken from Æschylus,” which was first printed privately by him, and afterwards pub­lished with alterations in 1876. It is a very free rendering from the Greek, and full of a poetical beauty which is but partly assignable to Æschylus. Without attaining to anything like the celebrity and admiration which have followed Omar Khay­yám, the Agamemnon has achieved much more than a succès d’estime. Mr. Fitzgerald’s renderings from the Greek were not confined to this one essay; he also translated the two Œdipus dramas of Soph­ocles, but left them unfinished in manuscript till Prof. Eliot Norton had a sight of them about seven or eight years ago and urged him to complete his work. When this was done, he had them set in type, but only a very few proofs can have been struck off, as it seems that, at least in England, no more than one or two copies were sent out by the author. In a similar way he printed translations of two of Calderon’s plays not included in the published “Six Dramas”— namely, La Vida es Sueño, and El Magico Prodigioso, (both ranking among the Span­iard’s finest work;) but they also were withheld from the public and all but half a dozen friends.

When his old boatman died, about ten years ago, he abandoned his nautical exercises and gave up his yacht for ever. During the last few years of his life, he divided his time between Cambridge, Crabbe’s house, and his own home at Little Grange, near Woodbridge, where he received occasional vis­its from friends and relatives.

This edition of the “Omar Khayyám” is a modest memorial of one of the most modest men who have enriched English literature with poetry of distinct and permanent value. His best epitaph is found in Tennyson’s “Tiresias and other poems,” published immediately after our author’s quiet exit from life, in 1883, in the seventy-fifth year of his age.

M. K.