FitzGerald’s Writings

The list follows no apparent order but begins with the Rubáiyát.   For this list and sketch, acknowledgements go chiefly to Robert Bernard Martin (With Friends Possessed) and to Edmund Gosse in his introduction, volume 1, to the Variorum and Definitive Edition of the Poetical and Prose Writings of Edward FitzGerald, Macmillan, 1902; also to Sheldon Goldfarb in his article on Edward FitzGerald in the Oxford Dictionary of National Biography, OUP, Oxford & New York, 2004, 19. 786-789, Michael Hillmann (Iranian Culture, note 18, pp. 200-203) and Christopher Decker (passim). Full citation of Martin, Hillmann and Decker can be found under Bibliography in this sidebar.  See also Dick Davis's article on FitzGerald in the Encyclopaedia Iranica.  On FitzGerald's importance, Hillmann 201: "As for FitzGerald's own name in English literature, if one dispassionately assesses his achievement in the Rubaíyát and acknowledges the significance of his published letters, that his place in English literature ought to be permanent becomes obvious."
  • Rubáiyát of Omar Khayyám, The Astronomer-Poet of Persia (the first edition reads ‘Translated into English Verse’ and subsequent editions read ‘Rendered into English Verse'). In 4 editions, the first 1859, then 1868, the third in 1872 and the final or fourth in 1879 along with Jami's Sálamán and Absál. For the “fifth” or posthumous edition, Decker, Introduction, xlv: ‘This “fifth” edition, often presented misleadingly as giving the text of the fourth edition authorized by the poet, has been one of the two most frequently reprinted versions of the Rubáiyát. It seems to represent the author’s “final intentions” for the poem, and it is often reprinted jointly with the text of the first edition (which of course seems to figure the author’s “original intentions”). Yet this “fifth edition” text contains alterations to the poem not made by FitzGerald.’ See Decker, Introduction passim, for American editions and pirated editions of the Rubáiyát of Omar Khayyám.

  • A Bird’s-Eye View of Faríd-uddín Attar’s Bird-Parliament. Worked on between 1856/1857 -1867 but remained unpublished. Martin, 253, says work on the Mantiq ut-tayr was a ‘kind of warm-up’ to the Rubaiyat. FitzGerald reduced the original 10,000 lines to 1,500. It was published posthumously, however, as part of FitzGerald’s complete works by FitzGerald’s literary executor, W. Aldis Wright.

  • Sálamán and Absál. An Allegory. Translated from the Persian of Jámi, 1856. This allegory of Jami’s, which preceded by three years the 1859 edition of the Rubaiyat, was a tribute to his mentor, Edward Cowell and a present to him, perhaps congratulations for Cowell’s First Class in the school of Literae Humaniores, Oxford, in 1856. Martin 176 draws attention to the parallel between the soon-to-be- purified Salaman by the death and release of his nurse-lover, Absal, and FitzGerald’s release by the death of his mother, and this final "separation" from the demands she had made on him.  Mrs. FitzGerald died while he was working through Jami.

  • Poem: 'The Meadows in Spring’ which FitzGerald submitted anonymously to the Athenaeum and to The Year Book in 1831. Both published the poem.  Because of its merits, it was thought that Charles Lamb had written ‘The Meadows in Spring.’ Lamb of course denied it and said to the editor of The Year Book that he had been ‘hoaxed with some exquisite poetry’ (Martin 70).   I know of no other published poem of FitzGerald’s – FitzGerald  would likely have jotted down his own verses as he did with ‘Bredfield Hall’ ( 1839), a farewell to the sad memories and to the house he had grown up in.

  • ‘Memoir of Bernard Barton’ – and the editing of 9 volumes of his friend, the Quaker poet Bernard Barton’s poetry after Barton died in 1848. FitzGerald wrote a memoir to Barton in the preface to the poems. FitzGerald apparently discarded many of Barton's poems and emended others. This effort was to help Barton’s daughter, Lucy, sell Barton’s works to pay debts. (Several years later FitzGerald married Lucy. The marriage soon after came to an end.)

  • Six Dramas of Calderón, Freely Translated by Edward FitzGerald, 1853. Cowell read Spanish with FitzGerald and inspired him in this venture. Edmund Gosse wrote: ‘FitzGerald, it is obvious, was excessively hurt [by an attack in the Athenaeum of a critic, who was dismissive of the work] and not the praise of Trench, nor the encouragement of Cowell, nor the love of Thackeray, nor the great disdainful smile of Tennyson could arm the wounded troglodyte with resolution enough to appear again, for the rest of his life, under the dangerous standard of his own name.’

  • Such Stuff as Dreams are Made of (La Vida es Sueño) & The Mighty Magician (El Mágico Prodigioso) – both are well-known plays of Calderón – begun when FitzGerald was translating “six dramas.” They were privately printed in 1865 and published posthumously.

  • Euphranor, A Dialogue on Youth, 1851. This was FitzGerald’s first effort (he was 42) but it was published anonymously as Gosse remarked, ‘with every contrivance of secrecy.  He had “a horror” that people would find out who had written “Euphranor”… with the result that, outside a little though highly-distinguished inner circle, it passed quite unobserved.’ This was a Platonic dialogue in which the author advocated the older virtues of heroic and generous actions, and activities that are physical and not simply intellectual. Cowell and FitzGerald’s friend, William Browne represented two characters in the dialogue but their identities were shielded by FitzGerald. There is this inscription on the title page of the 2nd edition in 1855: “Malim virum sine literis quam literas sine viro” -- “Better a MAN who doesn’t know his Letters than ‘A BOOK IN BREECHES’”

  • Polonius: A Collection of Wise Saws and Modern Instances. “The book consists of extracts from such writers as Selden, Bacon, Newman, and Carlyle, and illustrates a graver and more serious view of life than FitzGerald’s somewhat purposeless existence would have suggested.” Bold words written by A.C. Benson, Edward FitzGerald, Greenwood Press, New York, 1969 (originally Macmillan, 1905). FitzGerald also included some of his own aphorisms. ‘Taste is the feminine of Genius’ is an often quoted example. T.S. Eliot had read and used Benson (see Martin, 266) as a source in some of his poems in which he alludes to FitzGerald (see Vinnie-Marie D'Ambrosio's Eliot Possessed: T.S. Eliot and FitzGerald's Rubáiyát, New York University Press, New York and London,1989, especially the prologue and first chapter) .

  • Agamemnon. A Tragedy, Taken from Aeschylus, 1869. Martin 254 calls FitzGerald’s Agamemnon the ‘finest of his translations after the Rubáiyát.’  He had no plans so far as we know to translate the other two plays in this Oresteia trilogy.


  • The Downfall and Death of King Oedipus, a Drama in Two Parts (Oedipus in Thebes; Oedipus in Athens). These parts were privately printed in 1880 and 1881 respectively.  The changes to Sophocles are considerable (see Terhune 4.405-410 on reasons for the changes). “The dramas of Sophocles from which he worked are too familiar a part of our culture for us to accept the free transmutation of the original material as easily as we accept even greater liberties in the Rubaiyat because few of us know the Persian original” (Robert Bernard Martin, 273).

  • Sea Words and Phrases Along the Suffolk Coast,1869. Other glossarists, notably Forby in his Vocabulary of East Anglia, were interested more in ‘inland’ Suffolk words whereas FitzGerald preferred the language of the coast, the language of sailors (see Terhune 3.204  a letter written to the artist, Samuel Laurence in 1870). This small work was extracted from contributions FitzGerald had made to The East Anglian.  FitzGerald’s contribution to Suffolkisms includes the ‘Suffolk Superlative.’ An example was given by FitzGerald who referred to himself as “one of the ‘most translatingest’ men alive.”

  • Dictionary of Madame de Sévigné. The notes that FitzGerald compiled are in Trinity College [Cambridge] Library. FitzGerald was enamored of Madame de Sévigné – he had apparently gathered from her correspondence what he found witty and charming and had also made lists of persons referred to in her letters. Most of this work was done in the last 10-15 years of his life.

  • Readings in Crabbe, published by Quaritch in 1882. FitzGerald concentrated on poems from Crabbe’s ‘Tales of the Hall.’

  • Calendar of the life of Charles Lamb, privately printed in 1878.  Martin 274, says that FitzGerald ‘compiled [this calendar] for his own guidance, hoping that it would help convert others to a similar regard for Lamb.’

     FitzGerald's correspondence, over 4,000 letters, which in 'recent' days the Terhunes have compiled and annotated (see Bibliography) must be included in this list.  There are those who would say that FitzGerald achieved renown through his correspondence.  We do not have many letters written to him, as he discarded these letters once he had replied.   Over half the letters were written in the last 20 years of his life.  We know that FitzGerald was at times annoyed by the lack of response from friends to letters he had written them.  Martin raises the question, and I think his point is valid, if the failure of friends to reply  influenced his dislike of the way they lived, especially their work, for example, did it contribute to the criticism which FitzGerald leveled at Alfred Tennyson's poetry? In reading through some of  the letters, FitzGerald communicates  warmth, excitement and wit.  He 'gives away' as much of himself as we might expect of someone writing 150 years ago.