Monday, November 5, 2007

Pipe-lights and Peccadilloes: Omar Part 4

[Edward Fitzgerald to W. H. Thompson]

To W. H. Thompson
Market Hill, Woodbridge.
Dec. 9/61.

My Dear Thompson,

The MS. came safe to hand yesterday, thank you: and came out of its envelope like a ray of old times to my eyes. I wish I had secured more leaves from that old 'Butcher's Book' torn up in old Spedding's rooms in 1842 when the press went to work with, I think, the last of old Alfred's best. But that, I am told, is only a 'Crotchet.' However, had I taken some more of the pages that went into the fire, after serving in part for pipe-lights, I might have enriched others with that which AT himself would scarce have grudged, jealous as he is of such sort of curiosity. I have seen no more of Tannhauser than the Athenaeum showed me; and certainly do not want to see more. One wonders that men of some genius (as I suppose these are) should so disguise it in imitation: but, if they be very young men, this is the natural course, is it not? By and by they may find their own footing.

As to my own peccadilloes in verse, which never pretend to be original, this is the story of Rubaiyat. I had translated them partly for Cowell: young Parker asked me some years ago for something for Fraser, and I gave him the less wicked of these to use if he chose. He kept them for two years without using: and as I saw he didn't want them I printed some copies with Quaritch*; and, keeping some for myself, gave him the rest. Cowell, to whom I sent a copy, was naturally alarmed at it; he being a very religious man: nor have I given any other copy but to George Borrow, to whom I had once lent the Persian, and to old Donne when he was down here the other day, to whom I was showing a passage in another book which brought my old Omar up.

*In 1859, Fitzgerald, out of his own pocket, had Quaritch print up 250 copies of his translation of The Rubaiyat of Omar Khayyam. They did not sell very well at all and Quaritch began to remainder them in his bargain bin for as low as a penny. The story goes that Swinburne picked one up and passed it on to Dante Gabriel Rossetti, and from there (1861) it began to garner attention from the literary circles and beyond. Of the original 250 copies, only 50 seem to be in existence. Oh, for a penny pamphlet. . . . the first edition now goes for perhaps upwards of $30 to $40 thousand! [Pepys]

-from The Letters of Edward Fitzgerald (London: Macmillan, 1901 ) vol. 2

No comments: