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Sullivan, Dick

Edward FitzGerald's The Rubaiyat of Omar Khayyam. Dick Sullivan.
The Victorian Webb (2014)

We're lucky to have FitzGerald's The Rubaiyat of Omar Khayyam at all. It was by chance that he met Edward Cowell, one of the few Victorians who spoke Persian, and who was friendly enough to help him. (FitzGerald was no linguist.) It was by chance also that Cowell discovered an Omar Khayyam manuscript in the Bodleian (FitzGerald had tried to stop him going to Oxford). Even then FitzGerald, who was congenitally idle, might have done nothing if he hadn't undergone what, for him, was a decade of stress in the 1850s. (The work took his mind off things.) When he was translating the poem between 1857 and '59 Cowell was in India, connected by an efficient Victorian postal service. Cowell had also introduced him to Spanish, enabling to get his translating hand in on the plays of Calderon and two other Persian poems before tackling Omar.