Academic journal article Victorian Poetry

Appendix: Two Early Reviews of the Rubaiyat

Academic journal article Victorian Poetry

Appendix: Two Early Reviews of the Rubaiyat

Article excerpt

For many years it was thought that the earliest criticism of the Rubaiyat to appear in print was a review of the second edition, published in the North American Review in 1869, by Charles Eliot Norton. In 1960, however, an earlier review, dating from just six months after the publication of the first edition, was rediscovered in The Literary Gazette, a London weekly. (See Michael Wolff, "The Rubaiyat's Neglected Reviewer: A Centennial Recovery," VN 17 (1960): 4-6.) Both reviews are reprinted below. Norton discusses FitzGerald's volume together with J. B. Nicolas' French translation of Omar Khayyam (1867), upon which FitzGerald himself also comments in the introduction to his second edition (1868). Norton's extensive extracts from Nicolas' translation--translated in turn by Norton from French into English--have been omitted; otherwise, the reviews are here given in their entirety.

I. The Literary Gazette no. 66, New Series (October 1, 1859): 326.

Rubaiyat of Omar Khayyam, the Astronomer-Poet of Persia. Translated into English Verse. (Quaritch.)

OMAR KHAYYAM is a Persian poet who is little known in Persia, and who is still less known in Europe. Verbosity was certainly not one of his characteristics, and wanting this, he might possibly lack the passport to Oriental fame; but if the astronomer-poet of Persia appears as well in his native garb as he appears in English, it was certainly high time that he should be brought out of his obscurity. We learn that he was born at Naishapur, in Khorassan, in the latter half of the eleventh century, and died within the first quarter of the twelfth. He was much more celebrated for his astronomical and mathematical studies and acquirements than for his poetical powers; and yet it would appear that his poems are the only remains which have been preserved to perpetuate his memory. His history is intimately connected with that of two individuals who were notorious in their time:--Nizam al Mulk, Vizier to Alp the Lion and Malik Shah, son and grandson of Toghrul Beg the Tartar, who wrested Persia from the successor of Mahmud the Great, and founded that Seljukian dynasty which provoked Europe into the crusades, and Hassan al Sabbah, so celebrated among the crusaders as "The Old Man of the Mountains." These three were fellow-students under the Imam Mowaffak, of Naishapur; and, if we are to believe Nizam al Mulk, they made a mutual and romantic vow to benefit each other. When the Imam rose from his lectures, the three invariably associated together; and one day Hassan said to Nizam, and to the future poet-astronomer, "It is a universal belief that the pupils of the Imam Mowaffak will attain to fortune. Now, if we all do not attain thereto, without doubt one of us will; what, then, shall be our mutual pledge and bond?" "Be it what you please," was the answer. "Well," he said, "let us make a vow that to whomsoever this fortune falls, he shall share it equally with the rest, and resume no pre-eminence for himself." This was agreed to. In the course of time the historian became administrator of affairs during the sultanate of Sultan Alp Arslan. Hassan speedily made his appearance, and claimed the fulfilment of the youthful vow. His former friend at once recognised the claim, and had good cause to repent of his generosity ere long. Omar, the poet, also presented himself, but not to claim title or office. "The greatest boon you can confer on me," said he, "is to let me live in a corner under the shadow of your fortune; to spread wide the advantages of science; and pray for your long life and prosperity." The boon was at once granted; and at "Naishapur thus lived and died Omar Khayyam, busied," adds the Vizier, "in winning knowledge of every kind, and especially in astronomy, wherein he attained to a very high pre-eminence." Omar's Epicurean freedom of thought and expression rendered him the dread of the Sufis. The oriental mysticism of his age was altogether distasteful to him, and he soon made it apparent that he would make no compromise between faith and unbelief, between spiritualism and materialism, between this world and the next, between the religion of Mahomet and absolute scepticism. …

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