Edward Fitzgerald (1809-83)

Criticism

Life
b. Suffolk; son of Mary Fitzgerald, of Anglo-Norman stock, who owned estates in England and Ireland and was counted one of the richest women in England; m. John Percell [Purcell] of Kilkenny, who surrendered his name and subsequently went through bankruptcies on his own account [i.e., not affecting his wife’s fortune]; experienced harsh childhood in circs. of great affluence, especially as regards his unloving mother (‘we children were not much comforted’); ed. King Edward Grammar School and Cambridge; lived privately on a cottage on his father’s estate at Boulge, and later at Woodbridge, and spent much time sailing with Suffolk fisherman, always in frock coat and top hat, and sometimes with a boa; a friend of Thomas Carlyle, for whom he researched Naseby Field [viz., Cromwell];
 
encouraged to attempt translations by his friend Edward Cowell; issued Euphranor, a Dialogue on Youth (1851), and plays by Calderon, Aeschylus, and Sophocles; kept scrapbook dictionaries of nautical terms and commonplaces; received a copy of the Persian poem by Umar Khayyam, whom Fitzgerald found akin to himself; married Lucy Barton appar. at request of her brother, 1856 - remarking on the blamange served at the wedding, ‘congealed bridesmaid’; marriage ended within a year; devastated by Cowell’s departure to India, but consoled himself by translating The Rubáibyát of Omar Khayyam (1859) - rubáibyát meaning ‘quatrains’; declared that the verses expressed an ‘Epicurean Pathos’ and called himself Edward FitzUmar on several occasions (i.e., to Jowett);
 
the sample verses he sent to  Fraser’s Magazine in 1858 were not published; the poem discovered by Rosetti and Swinburne in 1861; his identity disclosed by his publisher Quaritch in an advertisement of 1875; reissued thereafter with many, not always fortunate, emendations (5th edn. 1889); issued four editions of varying length, the last in 1879; containing 101 stanzas; suffered death of his long-time friend William Browne, following a hunting accident, 1886; also Attar’s Bird Parliament and Jami’s Salaman and Absal; lived latterly at Woodbridge, a practising vegetarian; frequent visitor to his friend George Crabbe; bur. in monumental tomb, Boulge; regarded by Havelock Ellis as one of those in whom ‘it is easy to trace an element of homosexuality’ (Sexual Inversion); T. S. Eliot’s line, ‘old man in a dry month, / Being read to by a boy, waiting for rain.’ reputedly refer to him; reputedly said that Tennyson’s In Memoriam seemed ot have been written by a ‘Poetical Machine’. PI ODNB OCEL RAF FDA

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Works
Joanna Richardson, Fitzgerald, Selected Works (1962) 755p.; C. Decker, ed.,  Rubáiyát of Omar Khayyám: A Critical Edition (1997) [with Introduction, xiii–xlviii].

A. M. and A. B. Terhune, eds., The Letters of Edward Fitzgerald, 4 vols. [1830-83] (Princeton 1980), 712pp., 629pp., 753pp. & 653pp, a monumental collection of 1,000 unpubl. letters to Carlyle, Thackeray, et al.;

See also Two Suffolk Friends, by Francis Hindes Groome (Blackwood 1895) [with] ‘A Suffolk Parson, Robert Hindes Groome and Edward Fitzgerald, an aftermath’ [Eric Stevens Cat. 1992]; Do., Stevens 1995]

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Criticism
T. Wright, The Life of Edward FitzGerald, 2 vols. (1904); A. C. Benson, Edward FitzGerald (1905); A. M. Terhune, The life of Edward FitzGerald, Translator of The Rubáiyát of Omar Khayyám (1947); P. de Polnay, Into an Old Room: A Memoir of Edward FitzGerald (1949). I. B. H. Jewett, Edward FitzGerald (1977); R. B. Martin, With Friends Possessed: A Life of Edward FitzGerald (1985).

[See entry on Fitzgerald by Sheldon Goldfarb in Oxford Dictionary of National Biography (2004) - online; a link to which is given with the BBC4 iPod version of Melvyn Bragg’s round-table programme and on FitzGerald with Charles Melville, Daniel Carlin, and Kirstie Blair, on BBC4, 21.05.2014 - online; accessed 22.05.2014.]

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Commentary
W. G. Sebald, The Rings of Saturn [English Version 1998] (London: Harvill 1999): ‘The only task FitzGerald finished and published in his lifetime was his marvellous rendering of the Rubaiyat of the Persian poet Omar Khayyam, with whom he felt a curiously close affinity across a distance of eight centuries. FitzGerald described the endless hours he spent translating this poem of two hundred and twenty-four lines as a colloquy with th dead man and an attempt to bring to us tidings of him. The English verses he devised for the purpose, which radiate with a pure, seemingly unselfconscious beauty, feign an anonymity that disdains even the least claim to authorship, and draw us, word by word, to an invisible point where the medieval orient and the fading occident can come together in a way never allowed them by the calamitous course of history. For in and out, above, about, below, / ’Tis nothing but magic Shadow-Show, / play’d in a Box Whose Candle is the Sun, / Round which the Phantom figures come and go.’ The Rubaiyat was published in 1859, and it was also in tha year that William Browne, who probably meant more to FitzGerald than anyone else on earth, died a painful death from serious injuries sustained in a hunting accident. The paths of the two men had first crossed on a walking tour in Wales, when FitzGerald was twenty-three and Browne just sixteen. In a letter written immediately after Browne’s death, FitzGerald recalled how deeply moved he had been when, on the morning after he had vonversed for a while with Browne on the steamer from Bristol, he met him again in the Tenby boarding house where they had both taken quarters and how Browne, with a chalk mark from playing billiards on his face, had seemed ot him then like someone he had missed for goodness knew how long. In the years that followed their first meeting in Wales, Browne and FitzGerald often visited each other in Suffolk or Bedfordshire, driving cross-country in a gig or rambling over the fields, lunching at inns, watching the clouds as they drifted eastward, and erhaps feeling the wing of time brush their temples. A little riding, driving, eating, drinking &c. (not forgetting smoke) fill out the day, Fitzgerald wrote. Brown would have his fishing rods with him, his shotgun, and watercolour requisites, whilst FitzGerald would take a book which he scarcely read because he would not take his eyes off his friend. We do not know whether he allowed himself, then or at any other time, to ponder the nature of the desire that moved him, but his constant anxiety for Browne’s health was in itself indicative of the depth of his passions. For FitzGerald, Browne was the personification of an ideal, but for that very reason he seemed overshadowed by mortality from the start, and prompted fears in FitzGerald [...]’ (pp.200-01; listed in Table of Contents as “Edward Fitzgerald’s Literary Adventures”.) In pages the follow, Sebald gives an account of the decline of the FitzGerald estates in Ireland, ‘hopelessly impoverished in the decades following the civil war’. (p.214.)

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Gayatri Chakravorty Spivak, ‘Can the Subaltern Speak?’ (1988): ‘The aura of the names owes more to writers like Edward FitzGerald, the “translator” of the Rubayyat of Omar Khayyam who helped to construct a certain picture of the Oriental woman through the supposed “objectivity” of translation, than to sociological exactitude.’ (Said’s Orientalism, 1978, remains the authoritative text here.)’ (Rep. in Patrick Williams & Laura Chrisman, ed., & intro., Colonial Discourse and Post-colonial Theory: A Reader, London: Harvester Wheatsheaf 1993.)

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References
D. J. O’Donoghue, The Poets of Ireland: A Biographical Dictionary (Dublin: Hodges Figgis & Co 1912) lists Six Dramas of Calderon (1853); Euphranor (1851), Omar Khayyim (1859), Agamemnon (1876), The Mighty Magician ((1877); Rubaiyat of Omar Khayyam (many eds from 1872); b. Suffolk 1809, son of Irish parents, John Purcell of Kilkenny and Mary Fitzgerald, his father changing his name; acquainted with Tennsyon, Thackeray, Carlyle, Crabbe, et al.

Website: The full text in the 1889 5th Edition is reproduced at Beyond the Pale [online; accessed 09.07.2009].

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Patrick Rafroidi, Irish Literature in English, The Romantic Period, 1789-1850 (Gerrards Cross: Colin Smythe 1980), Vol. I: calls his Irish connection ‘extremely tenuous’.

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Seamus Deane, gen. ed., The Field Day Anthology of Irish Writing (Derry: Field Day 1991), Vol. 2: counted by Thomas MacDonagh among those ‘whose relations with Ireland and Irish life were slight’ but included in Anglo-Irish anthologies (Literature in Ireland, 1916), [990].

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