- Editing the Rubáiyát:Two Case Studies and a Prospectus
1. "The little anonymous brown-paper-covered pamphlet"
The Variorum and Definitive Edition of the Poetical and Prose Writings of Edward FitzGerald is an enjoyably preposterous example of Edwardian bookmaking.if the latter epithet may be applied to an American product. It was published in New York, by Doubleday, Page, and Company, in seven volumes, the first in 1902 and the last in 1903; though "published" is not quite the right word for an edition which, we are told on a half-title page, "consists of twenty-five sets on Japanese paper, one hundred sets on hand-made paper, and two hundred and fifty sets on a specially made paper, all numbered and signed." The copy in the Sheffield University Library is number 22 (of the two hundred and fifty); the number and signature are in red ink, and the only "off " note is that the "signature" is not that of a person: it just reads "Doubleday, Page & Company." I doubt that Frank Doubleday, the head of the firm, inscribed all, or indeed any, of the 375 copies. Some poor devil of a clerk did it, even though he might have preferred not to.1
Suppose we make the humane assumption that the publisher was not wholly mercenary, and that not all the buyers were book-snobs; how should we "read" the seven volumes of the Variorum and Definitive Edition (henceforward the V&D)? They are massive quartos, bound in stiff buff-colored cloth, the "specially made paper" watermarked in a florid script ("BFK Rives" alternating with the author's initials "EF"), the type large, the lines generously leaded.2 There are well over 2,000 pages in all. Our impression.we have resolved to be generous.is not one of padding, but of doing ample justice. But justice to what?
The question puzzled Edmund Gosse. "That fashionable vogue for the writings of FitzGerald which has been a prominent feature of taste during the last ten years, would have seemed a portentous thing to the sage poet of Woodbridge had he survived to endure it," he observed. "In all the editions and apparatuses, in all the clubs and eulogies, in all the wreaths and odours and panegyrics, which now surround his name he would have seen nothing but midsummer madness." It was time for common sense to prevail, "so that we may regain in the study of him a little of his own chaste moderation." And [End Page 87] this was the more necessary, because, as Gosse bluntly affirmed, "There is, at first sight, so little to be enthusiastic about, the actual out-put is so exiguous, the 'Works'.in comparison with those, let us say, of Tennyson or the Brownings.so like a small aster tied alongside with roses and camellias."3
These remarks would be at home in an adverse review of the V&D, but in fact they come from Gosse's Introduction. The book-trade is an odd business, but it is rare to come across a deluxe edition whose hired introducer begins by declaring that the contents are "exiguous." Perhaps FitzGerald's "Works" (Gosse's inverted commas are telling) deserve this small stroke of deflation in the very moment of their being puffed up. More likely the lack of "chaste moderation" in the design prompted Gosse to utter his protest, not against FitzGerald but on his behalf. If so, it was a shrewd response. Nevertheless we are left with the conundrum of the V&D; nor do its contents and method of arrangement, attributed on the title page to George Bentham, help to resolve the question of what its first readers thought they were getting.
FitzGerald's major publications, in chronological order, were as follows:
Six Dramas of Calderon (1853);
Salámán and Absál (1856);
Rubáiyát of Omar Khayyám (1859);
The Mighty Magician and Such Stuff As Dreams Are Made Of: two plays translated from Calderon (1865);
Here is the order of texts in the V&D:
Volume I: Rubáiyát of Omar Khayyám (1859), Salámán...