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TRAN SLATOR OF OMAR KHAYYAM.
HITHERTo “The Rubaiyat of Omar Khayyam ” has not been for the multitude, but rather, like Browning's poems, the special cult of a select few. Clubs and coteries are formed for the study of the “Quatrains,” which FitzGerald has so exquisitely dressed in English that that language seems to be their native garb. But it is evident that the admiration and appreciation of this superb poem is growing. Omar is now joined with Keats and Shelley and Wordsworth and ever so many other British worthies in the Golden Treasury Series, which is very good company—far better than at one time was thought possible. It is forty years since “The Rubaiyat” quatrains were translated from the Persian and given to the English-speaking world by Edward FitzGerald. Had he translated them into
Choctaw his book could not have met with a colder
reception. It was neither noticed by the reviews nor sold by the booksellers. It excited no interest, and even “Old Fitz's " warmest friends, men like Thackeray and Tennyson, could find but few words of compliment. Copies of that edition are now worth their weight in gold, and not readily obtainable at that. Nevertheless FitzGerald still had confidence that his poem would find its way, and published editions of it in 1868, 1872, 1878 and 1879; but he died a few years later, in 1883, without having received much appreciation from the world. It was not until about 1884, with the publication of an American edition of “The Rubaiyat,” illustrated by drawings of Elihu Vedder, that the poem began to attract attention. From that day it has grown in favor, until now we see it in an edition that may justly be termed popular. The beauty and grace of FitzGerald's translation of Omar's poem are so striking that it always has been a question whether after all it is not an original poem by the Englishman. There are those who think that FitzGerald, and not Omar the Tentmaker, should be the name most prominent on the title-page, and that it is altogether improbable that a man could have lived nine hundred years
ago in the far-off Vale of Cashmere, and under the hanging gardens of Babylon, who was so accomplished in the arts of the world, had such an insight of life and was so disillusioned in respect to the world as the author of this poem undoubtedly was.
But the most liberal translation of “The Rubaiyat" gives the same impression of Omar, and there is no question that FitzGerald put in memorable verse what Omar had thought and written centuries and centuries ago. It only shows that man in that narrow Persian world of the twelfth century was precisely the same as he is in the wider world of the nineteenth century. The Persian singer of wine and love and philosophy was an occidental as well as an oriental, and spoke to the universal heart of man. With the same serenity of mind that Solomon exhibited, Omar looks upon the problems of life and death, sees that they are insoluble and proposes to make the best of it.
And fear not lest Existence, closing your
Readers of Tennyson's memoirs, and of Mrs Ritchie's biography of her father, are familiar with the name of Edward FitzGerald. He was at
Cambridge University with Tennyson and Thackeray, and remained their lifelong friend and correspondent. “Old Fitz,” as he was affectionately called by his intimate friends, was by nature and habit a recluse, and only at rare intervals mingled in society or visited his acquaintances in London. And yet he kept a keen eye upon the literary progress of his friends, and his letters to Thackerary and Tennyson show what a kindly pride he took in their successes and growing fame. The greater part of his life was spent at his home in the English village of Woodbridge, where he lived among his books. One singular episode in his career was his marriage. He was the friend of the Quaker poet, Bernard Barton, who had been Charles Lamb's friend. When Mr. Barton died he left Fitz Gerald the executor of his estate and the guardian of his daughter Lucy. The estate proved inadequate, and FitzGerald, not knowing what else to do, chivalrously offered his hand to his ward, which was accepted. It proved an uncongenial match, and in a short time husband and wife separated, never again to meet. FitzGerald was too much of a solitary, and too fond of his books, to have a wife. Needless to say that he provided for all her wants. She sur
vived him many years.