FitzGerald had begun to study the Persian language in 1853, being led thereto by his friendship with Cowell, ‘a great scholar’ as he declares in a letter to George Borrow. He dabbled in translations from the Persian during the next few years, and we find him, in a letter to Cowell in 1857, setting forth very lucidly his whole attitude of mind towards the poets of what to him was verily a newly discovered country:—

‘It is an amusement to me 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.’

This suggestion of lack of ‘Art’ recalls the statement of Lord Macaulay, that perhaps the fondness of Warren Hastings for Persian literature may have tended to corrupt his taste, making it occasionally turgid and even bombastic. Certainly every one who delights in FitzGerald’s letters has no reason to complain of any such effect upon his style. But no definite impulse to convert a Persian poem of small art into an English poem of consummate art would seem to have come to FitzGerald until the receipt from his friend Professor Cowell, then in India, of an actual manuscript of Omar Khayyám. He showed it to Borrow, who was ‘delighted at the terseness so unusual in Oriental Verse,’ and henceforth to all his friends and correspondents Omar is presented, an occasional quatrain being introduced now and again into one or other of the letters.

The whole book, then, as we have it here, was issued in 1859 in a brown paper wrapper by Bernard Quaritch, from Castle Street, Leicester Square. It consisted of some twenty pages of small quarto — a quite insignificant booklet, which seemed destined for an insignificant fate. If we may take FitzGerald’s correspondence as the test, he does not seem to have given it any further mention or thought, although certain friends who read it, Tennyson for example, praised it cordially enough.

In the interval, however, between FitzGerald’s first and second versions of the old Persian, there appeared a French translation by J. B. Nicolas, whose interpretation of Omar was quite other than FitzGerald’s. He believed that the poet was a mystic who shadowed the Deity under the figure of Wine and Wine- bearer, but with this view FitzGerald entirely disagreed, holding to the materialist and epicurean view that now generally obtains with what are called Omarians.

Then FitzGerald was led to produce a second version. In this second version there are one hundred and ten quatrains as against seventy-five in the first: in a third there are one hundred and one, and in yet a fourth the same number. The author’s variations are more striking than those of almost any poet known to us, except perhaps in the case of Wordsworth.

Each edition or version has verses not in the others, but in the first there is a verse that Mr. Swinburne, rightly or not, has declared to be ‘the crowning stanza’ and ‘the core or kernel of the whole,’ but which FitzGerald omitted from the three succeeding editions. It runs:—

‘But leave the Wise to wrangle, and with me

The Quarrel of the Universe let be;

    And in some corner of the Hubbub coucht,

Make Game of that which makes as much of Thee.’

Most people indeed will make the acquaintance of the poem through the first version, beautiful and captivating in every line. The poem has had overmuch of criticism, but no one who has read it will complain of its having received overmuch of praise. Of praise Lord Tennyson has given us the best. In his dedication

  By PanEris using Melati.

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