Edward FitzGerald Biography


(British and Irish Poetry, Revised Edition)

Edward FitzGerald was born in a Jacobean mansion in rural Suffolk, England. His parents were cousins and came from what was then one of the wealthiest families in Great Britain. As FitzGerald grew up, he developed a great dislike for the arrogance, ostentation, and formality of manners that he associated withwealth, but his part of the family fortune allowed him to live life on his own eccentric and creative terms throughout most of his adult years. FitzGerald’s mother, Mary Frances FitzGerald, was a proud and dominating woman, and FitzGerald’s relations with her were always difficult.

If FitzGerald’s character was in part shaped by wealth and a troubled relationship with his mother, his early years also gave him a love for the quiet scenery of Suffolk, which would stay with him throughout his life. In 1818, FitzGerald was sent to the King Edward VI Grammar School in Bury St. Edmunds. There, he received a fine classical education and developed a number of important friendships. In 1826, FitzGerald went to the University of Cambridge, where he was an undisciplined but happy student who showed again his great gift for making friends. Among his many friends at Cambridge was the future novelist William Makepeace Thackeray.

After graduating from Cambridge in 1830, FitzGerald traveled briefly to Paris, spent time in London, Southampton, and Cambridge, and eventually made his way back to Suffolk. His family’s wealth made it unnecessary for him to pursue a career, and for the...

(The entire section is 613 words.)


(Great Authors of World Literature, Critical Edition)

Born in Suffolk on March 31, 1809, into a prosperous family originally named Purcell, Edward FitzGerald was able, after his graduation from Trinity College, Cambridge University, to devote his life to study, literary dabbling, and the pursuits of a country gentleman. In his Suffolk home he took up the study of Greek, Spanish, and Persian. He became the friend of Alfred, Lord Tennyson, William Makepeace Thackeray, and Thomas Carlyle. He was also the object of a bitter poem by Robert Browning occasioned by a slurring reference on FitzGerald’s part to Elizabeth Barrett Browning’s death and her novel in verse, Aurora Leigh.

FitzGerald’s translations—or rather, free adaptations—from the Greek and Spanish are of little literary interest. It was his version of the poetry of eleventh century Persian philosopher, scientist, and poet Omar Khayyám that made him famous. Following his usual method, he adapted rather than translated, until the result was almost an original poem. At first the Rubáiyát of Omar Khayyám generated little interest, but in 1860 it was accidentally discovered by Dante Gabriel Rossetti, who showed it to Algernon Charles Swinburne and others. Its reputation rapidly spread; revised versions were published, and by the end of the century it was the most quoted poem in English. Its haunting music and its facile Epicureanism made it popular among a generation that had wearied of Victorian moralizing. It has become trite through excessive quotation, yet some of its lines have become part of a nearly universal literary heritage. FitzGerald died at Merton, England, on June 14, 1883.