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C.D. Warner, et al., comp.  The Library of the World’s Best Literature.
An Anthology in Thirty Volumes.  1917.
 
Edward Fitzgerald (1809–1883)
Critical and Biographical Introduction by Nathan Haskell Dole (1852–1935)
 
EDWARD FITZGERALD was the third son of John Purcell, and Mary Frances Fitzgerald his cousin. He was born March 31st, 1809, at Bredfield House near Suffolk. When the boy was five years old, Mr. Purcell took his family to France. In Paris they occupied the house in which Robespierre had once lived. The following year Mrs. Purcell’s father died, and her husband assumed the name and arms of the Fitzgeralds. Edward frequently referred to his Irish blood: he called himself “a scatter-brained Paddy!” In 1821 he was sent to King Edward VI.’s School at Bury St. Edmunds, where his two brothers were. He was there five years, and then went to Trinity College. Fitzgerald obtained his degree somewhat to his own surprise, for he had taken his course in a characteristically comfortable manner; as Mr. Wright says, “amusing himself with music and drawing and poetry.” After a brief visit at Paris, he returned to England and began to carry out the experiment of his semi-misanthropic retreat from the world; he became a vegetarian: “The great secret of it all,” he said, “is not eating meat!” He wrote his friend Allen:—“I cannot stand seeing new faces in the polite circles. You must know I am going to become a great bear, and have got all sorts of Utopian ideas into my head about society.” As he lived, he grew shyer and shyer even with his friends.  1
  He went to live near Naseby, where his father had an estate which included a large part of the celebrated battle-field. It was there in 1831 that he wrote his earliest known poem; it was printed in Hone’s Year Book, and shortly afterwards in the Athenæum.  2
  The dates of his letters to Frederic Tennyson and other friends show the pleasant rounds of his residences: now at Southampton, now in London, where his mother kept up great style, driving her four horses; now at Geldestone, now at Wherstead Lodge near Ipswich, where his parents lived for ten years; then at Boulge Hall, Woodbridge. At Boulge he lived in a one-story thatched cottage, just outside his father’s park. The Rev. George Crabbe gives this picture of him:—
          “He used to walk by himself, slowly, with a Skye terrier. I was rather afraid of him. He seemed a proud and very punctilious man…. He seemed to me when I first saw him as he was when he died, only not stooping: always like a grave middle-aged man; never seemed very happy or light-hearted, though his conversation was most amusing sometimes.”
  3
  In 1847 he contributed a number of notes and illustrations to Singer’s edition of Selden’s ‘Table Talk,’ but refused to allow his services to be acknowledged. He also wrote what he calls “a little dapper memoir” as a preface to the posthumously published ‘Poems and Letters’ of Bernard Barton the Quaker, whose daughter he married. In 1851 he published anonymously a little volume of less than a hundred pages, called ‘Euphranor.’ Couched in exquisite English, it appealed to a small but cultured audience. A second edition was called for, and then the demand for it ceased.  4
  Under the stimulating friendship of the learned Professor E. B. Cowell, he took up the study of Spanish, and in 1863 published a translation of ‘Six Dramas from Calderón.’ This was the only book to which he ever put his name. The same year he was amusing himself “with poking out some Persian which E. Cowell would inaugurate [inoculate?] him with.” He did not agree with Cowell in regard to the mystical interpretation of the wine-cup and cup-bearer. In 1855 he was “stilting into too Miltonic verse the ingenuous prattle of Jámi.” “It is an amusement to me,” he wrote, “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.” Omar Khayyám he considered the best and most satisfying of them all, but he called his version “very one-sided;… what I do, comes up as a bubble to the surface and breaks.”  5
  In 1857 he took up the ‘Agamemnon’ of Æschylus and began to make a very free translation of it, “not for scholars but for those who are ignorant of Greek.” He had no scruple about adding splendid passages to the ‘Agamemnon,’ such as Æschylus might have written had he lived in the nineteenth century. In the same way he raised the poetic level of Omar, as can be seen by reading the various versions of the ‘Rubáiyát.’  6
  Besides the works already mentioned, Fitzgerald made very free translations or paraphrases of several others of Calderón’s metrical dramas; of the ‘Œdipus Tyrannus’ and ‘Œdipus Coloneus’ of Sophocles; and of masterpieces of two Persian poets—‘Salámán and Absál’ of Jāmī, and ‘The Bird-Parliament’ or ‘Bird-Confab’ of Attar. These, together with a few fragments of verse, original or translated, form the bulk of the life work of a man who cared nothing for fame; who on the contrary avoided it with as much solicitude as most ambitious men seek to win it.  7
  The critics, not understanding his views, attacked him so severely for his versions of Calderón that he withdrew the volume from sale; but he kept on for his own amusement. “He jotted down materials for a vocabulary of rustic or rural English.” He also made for Notes and Queries (1870) a similar vocabulary of East-Anglican sea terms. These were collected with the aid of Captain West, his viking-captain of a herring-lugger which he built as an experiment in altruism. His edition of the ‘Rubáiyát’ of Omar Khayyám was published anonymously by Bernard Quaritch in 1859, after it had lain neglected for two years in the office of Fraser’s Magazine. It was equally neglected by the public; and the publisher, to whom he made a gift of the work, exposed the pamphlets for sale at a penny each. They were gradually picked up, and the germs of the Omar Khayyám cult were planted. It was almost ten years before a second edition was called for; in this the number of quatrains was increased from seventy-five to one hundred and ten. Professor Norton, in a private letter which we are privileged to quote, says, “Fitzgerald’s ‘Omar’ illustrates the miracle of trans-substantiation of the bare elements into the very blood and body of poetry.” Fitzgerald himself said, “A translation must be a paraphrase to be readable.” In 1864 Fitzgerald bought a small farm-house on the outskirts of Woodbridge, and enlarged it into a mansion which he called “Little Grange.” Here this “peaceable, affectionate, and ultra-modest man,” as Carlyle called him, lived his “innocent, far niente life.” In June 1883 he went to visit his old friend Mr. Crabbe at Merton Rectory. In the morning he was found “as if sleeping peacefully, but quite dead.” Mr. Crabbe wrote, “A very noble character has passed away.” He was buried in the little churchyard at Boulge, which has since become a shrine of pious pilgrimage.  8
  He left his friend William Aldis Wright a tin box, which was found to contain such of his papers and books as he thought might possibly bear to be published; and Mr. Wright issued them in two volumes, together with another containing his letters.  9
  Since then, Fitzgerald’s fame has been continually growing, and the world recognizes that he added at least one classic to universal literature.  10
 
 
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