In the LRB, Marina Warner on Edward Fitzgerald's version of the Rubáiyát of Omar Khayyám:
A glass-fronted Regency bookcase in a corner of the London Library opposite the lift holds a collection of rare and beautiful editions of Edward FitzGerald’s poem, Rubáiyát of Omar Khayyám. Since its first publication in 1859, it has appeared in every size and shape, giant and toy, on vellum and silk, in fabulous bindings stamped with peacocks’ tails and nightingales’ eyes; it has been printed by masters for tiny private presses, handwritten and illustrated by artists – beginning with the trio of William Morris, Burne-Jones and Charles Fairfax Murray, who helped launch the work after some friends came across it in a remainders box outside Quaritch’s. Two years had passed since the bookseller first published it, at the price of 1s, and not a single copy, it seems, had been sold.
That same year, 1861, Rossetti and Swinburne took it up with enthusiasm. Across the Atlantic, the American artist Elihu Vedder, a specialist in antiquarian Eastern fantasies, whose writhing snakes of healing wisdom and forbidding, yet full-breasted, goddesses of scholarship, history and memory still greet readers at the Library of Congress, followed the Pre-Raphaelite lead and produced a lavish edition of Omar Khayyám in 1884. The poem continued to attract devotees, and a whole company of eccentrics: the splendid London Library cache – more than 300 Rubáiyáts – was put together by the polymorphous Orientalist Edward Heron-Allen, who was an expert in cheirosophy (palm-reading), the leading light in the field of fidicinology (the study of instruments played with a bow), and wrote the definitive work on barnacles. Heron-Allen struggled to identify which poems by Omar Khayyám FitzGerald had rendered into English, the task proving so labyrinthine that he effectively had to back-translate FitzGerald’s quatrains into Persian. Baron Corvo did a version; Augustus John supplied the images for a translation into Romany Welsh. More recently, W.G. Sebald searched out FitzGerald’s grave in the churchyard in the village of Boulge in Suffolk, and, in the same way that FitzGerald chose to speak through Omar Khayyám, Sebald seems in The Rings of Saturn to speak through FitzGerald when he describes with evident fellow-feeling the poet’s misanthropic solitude.