EDWARD FitzGerald is supposed to have taken up the study of Persian in 1853, under the direction of his friend, Professor E. B. Cowell. He says in a letter to Frederick Tennyson: “I also amuse myself with poking out some Persian which E. Cowell would inaugurate me with: I go on with it because it is a point in common with him and enables us to study together.” Two years later he is encouraging Professor Cowell to translate Hafiz “into pure, sweet, and partially measured prose,” which he says “must be better than what I am doing for Jámí, whose ingenious prat­tle I am stilting into too Miltonic verse.”

Again in 1857, in March, he says: “Only to-day I have been opening dear old Salámán: the original copy we bought and began this time three years ago at Oxford; with all my scratches of Query and Explanation in it, and the Notes from you among the Leaves.”

Even after he had got much interested in Omar and had translated some of his Quatrains both into English and into Latin, he was inclined to think Salámán was superior to anything he had read in Persian. He was still at work at it in September, 1858: “I believe I will do a little a day so as not to lose what little knowledge I had.”

In his correspondence very little is said of his Per­sian studies, but in May, 1879, in a letter to Pro­fessor Charles Eliot Norton he says, speaking of Professor Cowell: “This reminds me of all the pains he bestowed on me five and twenty years ago; of which the result is one final Edition of Omar and Jámí. … Omar remains as he was; Jámí (Salámán) is cut down to two-thirds of his former proportion, and very much improved, I think. It is still in a wrong key: Verse of Miltonic strain, un­like the simple Eastern; I remember trying that at first, but could not succeed. So there is little but the Allegory itself (not a bad one), and now condensed into a very fair Bird's Eye view; quite enough for any Allegory, I think.” He mentions it for the last time in a letter to H. Schütz Wilson in these terms: “I must thank you sincerely for your thoughts about Salámán, in which I recognize a good will toward the Translator, as well as liking for his work. Of course your praise could not but help that on: but I scarce think that it is of a kind to profit so far by any review as to make it worth the expense of Time and Talent you might bestow upon it. In Omar's case it was different: he sang, in an ac­ceptable way it seems, of what all men feel in their hearts, but had not had exprest in verse before: Jámí tells of what everybody knows, under cover of a not very skilful Allegory. I have undoubtedly improved the whole ??y boiling it down to about a Quarter of its original size; and there are many pretty things in it, though the blank Verse is too Miltonic for Oriental style.

“All this considered, why did I ever meddle with it? Why, it was the first Persian Poem I read, with my friend Edward Cowell, near on forty years ago: and I was so well pleased with it then (and now think it almost the best of the Persian Poems I have read or heard about), that I pub­lished my Version of it in 1856 (I think) with Parker of the Strand. When Parker disappeared, my unsold Copies, many more than of the sold, were returned to me; some of which, if not all, I gave to little Quaritch, who, I believe, trumpeted them off to some little profit: and I thought no more of them. But some six or seven years ago that Sheikh of mine, Edward Cowell, who liked the Version better than any one else, wished it to be reprinted. So I took it in hand, boiled it down to three-fourths of what it originally was, and (as you see) clapt it on the back of Omar, where I still believed it would hang somewhat of a dead weight; but that was Quar-itch's look-out, not mine. I have never heard of any notice taken of it, but just now from you: and I beli??e that, say what you would, people would rather have the old Sinner alone.”

The Allegory with lyrical interludes occupies from page 37 to page 117 in the fourth or 1879 edi­tion of the Rubáïyát of Omar Khayyám. It was never reprinted in its first form and though it ap­pears in the three-volume edition as well as in the two-volume (memorial) edition of FitzGerald's works and in one American reprint, it has never before the present time been presented by itself.

Yet it deserves it. The Allegory is like the best of works of that sort—interesting in itself as well as for the moral it conveys; and the graceful inter­ludes, throwing a side-light on the story are varied, original, and unique. There would seem to be no reason why “Salámán and Absál” should not have a wide popularity on its own merits.

In the present edition the text printed in the third volume of the “Letters and Literary Remains of Edward FitzGerald” has been used. It varies from that of the 1879 edition only in the spelling of one or two words. It seemed hardly worth while to call attention to the fact that there is a slight discrepancy in the employment of accents. An acute accent, as used by FitzGerald, merely indicates that a vowel is long and it is of so little importance whether Káshgari has one or none, or whether Maukáná and Loristání have one or two that no attempt is made to note these variants. The letter to Professor Cowell appears to have been written as a sort of preface to it, but was not prefixed to the edition of 1879 or to that of 1887.

Professor Cowell in a note prefixed to the “Bird Parliament” in the three-volume edition of Fitz- Gerald's works says: “FitzGerald was first in­terested in ‘Aṭṭar's Manṭiḳ-uṭ-ṭair’ by the extracts given in De Sacy's notes to his edition of that poet's Pandnâmah, and in 1856 he began to read the original in a MS. lent to him by Mr. Newton of Hertford. In 1857 Garcin de Tassy published his edition of the Persian text, of which he had previously given an analysis in his “La poèsie phi-losophique et religieuse chez les Persans”; and Fitz-Gerald at once threw himself into the study of it with all his characteristic enthusiasm. De Tassy subsequently published in 1863 a French prose trans­lation of the poem; but the previous analysis was, I believe, FitzGerald's only help in mastering the difficulties of the original. He often wrote to me in India, describing the pleasure he found in his new discovery, and he used to mention how the more striking apologues were gradually shaping them­selves into verse, as he thought them over in his lonely walks. At last, in 1862, he sent me the fol­lowing translation, intending at first to offer it for publication in the Journal of the Bengal Asiatic Society; but he soon felt that it was too free a ver- sion for the pages of a scientific journal. He then talked of publishing it by itself, but the project never assumed a definite shape, though I often urged him to print the ‘Bird-Parliament’ as a sequel to the ‘Salâmân.’”

The paraphrase, which is so entirely in line with the spirit and style of the “Salâmân and Absâl” is in itself worthy of being better known than it is, and it seems remarkable that the great and ever-growing popularity of the “Rubáiyát” should not have reflected light on the two Persian poems here for the first time associated as Professor Cowell sug­gested. The story of the translation is scattered through FitzGerald's letters in brief, unobtrusive references which are here collected.

In a letter to Professor Cowell, written from Lon­don and dated January 22, 1857, he says: “My great Performance all lies in the last five weeks since I have been alone here; when I wrote to Na­poleon Newton to ask him to lend me his MS. of Attár's Mantic uttair; and, with the help of Gar-cin de Tassy have nearly made out about two-thirds of it. For it has greatly interested me, though I con- fess it is always an old Story. The Germans make a Fuss about the Súfi Doctrine; but, as far as I understand, it is not very abstruse Pantheism, and always the same. One becomes as wearied of the man-i and du-i in their Philosophy as of the bulbul, &c., in their Songs. Attár's Doctrine seems to me only Jámí and Jeláleddín (of whom I have poked out a little from the MS. you bought for me), but his Mantic has, like Salámán, the advantage of hav­ing a Story to hang all upon; and some of his illustra­tive Stories are very agreeable: better than any of the others I have seen. He has not so much Fancy or Imagination as Jámí, nor I dare say, so much depth as Jeláleddín; but his touch is lighter. I mean to make a Poetic Abstract of the Mantic, I think.” The next day having received a letter from Pro­fessor Cowell, he wrote again—a sort of postscript which is illustrative.

“This morning,” he says, “I have been taking the Physiognomy of the 19th Birds. … There are, as I wrote you, very pleasant stories. One, of a Shah returning to his Capital, and his People dressing out a Welcome for him, and bringing out Presents of Gold, Jewels, &c. all which he rides past with­out any Notice, till, coming to the Prison, the Pris­oners, by way of their Welcome, toss before him the Bloody Heads and Limbs of old and recent Execution. At which the Shah for the first time stops his Horse—smiles—casts Largess among the Prisoners &c. And when asked why he neglected all the Jewels &c. and stopped with satisfaction at such a grim welcome as the Prisoners threw him, he says, ‘The Jewels &c. were but empty Osten­tation—but those bloody Limbs prove that my Law has been executed, without which none of those Heads and Carcasses would have parted Company &c.’ De Tassy notices a very agreeable Story of Mahmúd and the Lad fishing: and I find another as pleasant about Mahmúd consorting ‘incog:’ with a Bath-Stove-Keeper, who is so good a Fellow that, at last, Mahmúd, making himself known, tells the Poor Man to ask what he will—a Crown, if he likes. But the poor Fellow says, ‘All I ask is that the Shah will come now and then to me as I am, and here where I am; here, in this poor Place, which he has made illustrious with his Presence, and a better Throne to me with Him, than the Throne of Both Worlds without Him &c.’ You observed perhaps in De Tassy's Summary that he notices an Eastern Form of William Tell's Apple? A Sultan doats on a beautiful Slave, who yet is seen daily to pine away under all the Shah's Fa­vour, and being askt why, replies, ‘Because every day the Shah, who is a famous Marksman with the Bow, shoots at an Apple laid on my Head, and always hits it; and when all the Court cries “Lo! the Fortune of the King!” He also asks me why I turn pale under the Trial, he being such a Marks­man, and his Mark an Apple set on the Head he most doats upon?’ I am going to transcribe on the next Page a rough Draft of a Version of another Story, because all this will amuse you, I think. I couldn't help running some of these Apologues into Verse as I read them: but they are in a very rough state as yet, and so perhaps may continue, for to cor­rect is the Bore.

When Yúsúf from his Father's House was torn,
His Father's Heart was utterly forlorn;
And, like a Pipe with but one note, his Tongue
Still nothing but the name of Yúsúf rung.
Then down from Heaven's Branches came the Bird
Of Heaven, and said “God wearies of that Word.
Hast thou not else to do, and else to say?”
So Yacúb's lips were sealèd from that Day.
But one Night in a Vision, far away
His Darling in some alien Home he saw,
And stretch'd his Arms forth; and between the Awe
Of God's Displeasure, and the bitter Pass
Of Love and Anguish, sigh'd forth an Alas!
And stopp'd—But when he woke The Angel came,
And said, ‘Oh, faint of purpose! Though the Name
Of that Belovèd were not utter'd by
Thy Lips, it hung sequester'd in that Sigh.’

You see this is very imperfect, and I am not always quite certain of always getting the right Sow by the Ear; but it is pretty anyhow. In this, as in several other Stories, one sees the fierce vindictive Character of the Eastern Divinity and Religion: a ‘jealous God’ indeed! So there is another Story of a poor Hermit, who retires into the Wilderness to be alone with God, and lives in a Tree, and there in the Branches a little Bird has a Nest, and sings so sweetly that the poor old Man's Heart is drawn to it in spite of Himself; till a Voice from Heaven calls to Him—‘What are you about? You have bought Me with your Prayers &c. and I You by some Largess of Grace: and is this Bargain to be cancelled by the Piping of a little Bird?”

The Apologue here described FitzGerald after­wards began to turn into verse, but it remained a fragment and is printed with the gaps filled by Professor Cowell as a foot-note to the letter quoted.

A Saint there was who threescore Years and ten
In holy Meditation among Men
Had spent, but, wishing, ere he came to close
With God, to meet him in complete Repose,
Withdrew into the Wilderness, where he
Set up his Dwelling in an agèd Tree
Whose hollow Trunk his Winter Shelter made,
And whose green branching Arms his Summer Shade.
And like himself a Nightingale one Spring
Making her Nest above his Head would sing
So sweetly that her pleasant Music stole
Between the Saint and his severer Soul,
And made him sometimes [heedless of his] Vows
Listening his little Neighbour in the Boughs.
Until one Day a sterner Music woke
The sleeping Leaves, and through the Branches spoke—
“What! is the Love between us two begun
And waxing till we Two were nearly One,
For three score Years of Intercourse unstirr'd
Of Men, now shaken by a little Bird;
And such a precious Bargain, and so long
A making, [put in peril] for a Song?”

In March of the same year he says:

“I keep putting into shape some of that Mantic which however would never do to publish. For this reason: that anything like a literal Translation would be, I think, unreadable; and what I have done for amusement is not only so unliteral, but I doubt unoriental, in its form and Expression, as would destroy the value of the Original without replacing it with anything worth reading of my own. It has amused me however to reduce the Mass into something of an Artistic Shape.” And a week later, having left the letter unfinished, he says:

“To-day I have been writing twenty pages of a metrical Sketch of the Mantic, for such uses as I told you of. It is an amusement to me to take what Liberties I like with these Persians, who (as I think) are not Poets enough to frighten one from such excursions, and who really do want a little Art to shape them.”

In September, 1858, he just mentions his “amuse­ment” with the Bird Parliament: “Nor have I meddled with the Mantic lately: nor does what you say encourage me to do so. For what I had sketched out was very paraphrase indeed. I do not indeed believe that any readable Account (unless a prose Analysis for the History and Curiosity of the Thing) will be possible, for me to do, at least. But I took no great pleasure in what I had done: and every day got more and more a sort of Terror at reopening any such MS. My ‘Go’ (such as it was) is gone and it becomes Work: and the Upshot is not worth working for.”

In November of that same year he writes that he has nearly “finisht a metrical Paraphrase and Epitome of the Mantic,” but he adds: “you would scarce like it, and who else would?”

Nevertheless he worked out a “‘Bird's Eye’ View of the Bird Poem in some sixteen hundred lines” and left it untouched for nearly ten years. But in December, 1867, the French Orientalist Garcin de Tassy, at whom FitzGerald is always poking a little fun, sent him a copy of Attar's Birds in a literal prose translation.

He wrote Professor Cowell from Lowestoft: “Here, at Lowestoft, in this same row of houses, two doors off, I was writing out the Translation I made in the Winter of 1859. I have scarce looked at Original or Translation since. But I was struck by this; that eight years had made little or no alteration in my idea of the matter: it seemed to me that I really had brought in nearly all worth remembering, and had really condensed the whole into a much compacter Image than the original. This is what I think I can do, with such discur­sive things: such as all the Oriental things I have seen are. I remember you thought that I had lost the Apologues toward the close; but I believe I was right in excluding them, as the narrative grew dramatic and neared the Catastrophe. Also, it is much better to glance at the dangers of the Valley when the Birds are in it, than to let the Leader recount them before: which is not good policy, mor­ally or dramatically. When I say all this, you need not suppose that I am vindicating the Translation as a Piece of Verse. I remember thinking it from the first rather disagreeable than not: though with some good parts. Jam satis.”

That is the last mention of it and it was never printed in FitzGerald's lifetime. He might have said of this as he said of his Calderon translations: “All these things have been done partly as an amuse­ment in a lonely life: partly to give some sort of idea of the originals to friends who knew them not.” And here also Crabbe's lines were applicable:

“I might have made a Book, but that my Pride
In the not making was more gratified.”

It only remains to note the fact that Ferîdeddîn Attâr was born near the same Nishapûr where Omar Khayyâm spent his long life. The time of his birth is given as 1119. His father was a spicer and he is said to have followed the same trade, and to have taken his takhallus or Poetic name of Attâr from it. He afterwards became a mystic and a dervish. There is a legend to the effect that he was killed by a Tatar soldier in the invasion of Jengis Khan, having attained the age of 110. His chief works are “The Book of Council,” a series of didactic poems, “The Parliament of Birds,” and a prose history of the Mohamedan Saints.


Boston, June 23, 1899.