Authors: Edward FitzGerald

  • Last updated on December 10, 2021

Last reviewed: June 2018

English poet and translator

March 31, 1809

Near Woodbridge, Suffolk, England

June 14, 1883

Merton, Norfolk, England


Born in Suffolk on March 31, 1809, into a prosperous family originally named Purcell, Edward FitzGerald was able, after his graduation from Trinity College, Cambridge University, to devote his life to study, literary dabbling, and the pursuits of a country gentleman. In his Suffolk home he took up the study of Greek, Spanish, and Persian. He became the friend of Alfred, Lord Tennyson, William Makepeace Thackeray, and Thomas Carlyle. He was also the object of a bitter poem by Robert Browning occasioned by a slurring reference on FitzGerald’s part to Elizabeth Barrett Browning’s death and her novel in verse, Aurora Leigh. {$I[AN]9810000285} {$I[A]FitzGerald, Edward} {$I[geo]ENGLAND;FitzGerald, Edward} {$I[tim]1809;FitzGerald, Edward}

FitzGerald’s translations—or rather, free adaptations—from the Greek and Spanish are of little literary interest. It was his version of the poetry of eleventh century Persian philosopher, scientist, and poet Omar Khayyám that made him famous. Following his usual method, he adapted rather than translated, until the result was almost an original poem. At first the Rubáiyát of Omar Khayyám generated little interest, but in 1860 it was accidentally discovered by Dante Gabriel Rossetti, who showed it to Algernon Charles Swinburne and others. Its reputation rapidly spread; revised versions were published, and by the end of the century it was the most quoted poem in English. Its haunting music and its facile Epicureanism made it popular among a generation that had wearied of Victorian moralizing. It has become trite through excessive quotation, yet some of its lines have become part of a nearly universal literary heritage. FitzGerald died at Merton, England, on June 14, 1883.

Author Works Translations: Six Dramas of Calderón, 1853 Salámán and Absál, 1856 Rubáiyát of Omar Khayyám, 1859, revised 1868, 1872, 1879 Agamemnon, 1865 (of Aeschylus’s play) The Mighty Magician; Such Stuff as Dreams Are Made Of: A Drama, Taken from Calderon’s Vida es sueño, 1865 Oedipus Rex, 1880–1881 (of Sophocles’ play) Oedipus at Colonus, 1880–1881 (of Sophocles’ play) The Case of Dr. Bruening by Bernhard Menne, 1942 Gollancz in German Wonderland by Curt Geyer and Walter Loeb, 1942 Vansittartitis: A Polemic by Dosio Koffler, 1943 Nonfiction: Euphranor: A Dialogue on Youth, 1851 Letters and Literary Remains of Edward FitzGerald, 1889, 1966 Dictionary of Madame de Sévigné, 1941, 1971 (2 volumes) Letters of Edward FitzGerald, 1980 (4 volumes; Alfred McKinley Terhune and Annabelle Burdick Terhune, editors) Miscellaneous: Polonius: A Collection of Wise Saws and Modern Instances, 1852 The Variorum and Definitive Edition of the Poetical and Prose Writings of Edward FitzGerald, 1902–3, 1967 (George Bentham, collector/arranger) Bibliography Alexander, Doris. Creating Literature Out of Life: The Making of Four Masterpieces. University Park: Pennsylvania State University Press, 1996. This excellent book contains a fascinating account of how FitzGerald created the Rubáiyát. Emphasizes the psychological crises in FitzGerald’s life that created the energies necessary to turn a “translation” into a work of original genius. Bowra, Maurice. In General and Particular. New York: World Publishing, 1964. This collection of essays devotes one long essay to FitzGerald that deals sensitively and incisively with both his life and the Rubáiyát. It is particularly good on FitzGerald’s qualities as a translator and on the style of the Rubáiyát. France, Peter, ed. The Oxford Guide to Literature in English Translation. New York: Oxford University Press, 2000. Provides an invaluable account of all of FitzGerald’s translations, in which the Rubáiyát and his other works are compared with other translations of the same originals and placed within the history of translation. Martin, Robert Bernard. With Friends Possessed: A Life of Edward FitzGerald. New York: Atheneum, 1985. The standard biography of FitzGerald, a brilliant account of his life and work; particularly strong on his psychological character, his friendships, his literary achievement, his life in Suffolk, and his letters. Richardson, Joanna. Edward FitzGerald. London: Longman’s, 1960. A brief but very useful study of FitzGerald. Contains a good overview of his life, a balanced and reliable account of the Rubáiyát, and an especially strong section on FitzGerald as letter writer.

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