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  • 7/7/2011

Fitzgerald, Edward

part 1


(1809-1883),  British translator of The Rubaiyat of Omar Khayyam (by far the most famous translation ever made from Persian verse into English), as well as Jami’s Salaman o Absal and ?A??ar’s Man?eq al-?ayr.

FITZGERALD, EDWARD (b. 31 March 1809; d. 14 June 1883; Figure 1), British translator of The Rubaiyat of Omar Khayyam (London, 1859), as well as Jami’s Salaman o Absal (Salaman and Absal: an Allegory, Translated from the Persian of Jami, London, 1856) and ?A??ar’s Man?eq al-?ayr (Bird Parliament, first published as “A Bird’s Eye-View of Farid-uddin Attar’s Bird-Parliament”; Fitzgerald, 1903, VII, pp. 255-312). The first of these is by far the most famous translation ever made from Persian verse into English, and it had a considerable influence on the development of late Victorian and Edwardian British poetry as well as the awakening of a much wider interest, in English speaking countries and Europe, in Persian literature than had previously been the case.

FitzGerald was born into a wealthy Anglo-Irish family. In early childhood he lived at the family seat, Bredfield Hall in Suffolk, about which he later wrote what he considered the best of his few original poems.

 His name was his mother’s (Purcell was the name of his father, who had taken his wife’s name in deference to her superior social position and considerable wealth). His parents were more or less estranged during FitzGerald’s childhood and he saw very little of his mother; she was notorious for being largely indifferent to her children (Martin, pp. 31-34). As an adult he seems to have regarded her with a mixture of admiration (she was one of the richest women in England and strikingly beautiful), fear, and intense dislike. The occasional misogyny detectable in some of his writings can perhaps be traced to this cause. He was educated at King Edward VI Grammar School in Bury St. Edmunds, Suffolk, and Trinity College, Cambridge. He did not shine academically at Cambridge but it was there that he made friends with Alfred Tennyson, who would become the foremost poet of Victorian England, and William Makepeace Thackeray, later to be one of its major novelists. He also became friends with Thomas Carlyle, the Victorian essayist and historian. After graduating he returned to Suffolk, where he lived out the rest of his long life. Though he lived very simply and hated ostentation, he was cushioned by his family’s wealth from the necessity of earning a living and occupied himself with various literary projects including translations, an anthology of aphorisms, the occasional literary essay, the compiling of lists of dialect words, and the editing of others’ poems (including those of the two Suffolk poets Bernard Barton and the much better known George Crabbe). He married Lucy Barton, the daughter of Bernard Barton, (1856) but the couple separated within a year; FitzGerald made generous financial provision for his wife on condition that they never meet (Martin, p. 200). In later life he was more or less a recluse and was known to the inhabitants of Woodbridge, the town closest to his last very modest home, as a harmless if occasionally cantankerous eccentric; their nickname for him was “Dotty” (Victorian British slang for “Crazy”). He kept up a voluminous correspondence, both with his famous literary friends and with many lesser known figures, and his letters are among the finest Victorian examples of the genre.

To be continued ...

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