London: Macmillan and Co.,, 1894. Item #04547
A Fine and Early Exhibition Binding by Zaehnsdorf
ZAEHNSDORF, binder. Rubáiyát of Omar Khayyám the Astronomer-Poet of Persia. Rendered into English Verse. London: Macmillan and Co., 1894.
Octavo (7 3/4 x 5 5/16 inches; 196 x 135 mm.). [iv], 112 pp.
Bound in 1894 by Zaehnsdorf in Full brown morocco, covers elaborately decorated in gilt in a wonderful floral design with roses and stems. Front cover also lettered in gilt. Smooth spine lettered in gilt and with similar floral decoration. Gilt ruled board edges, elaborate gilt floral design turn-ins, marbled end-papers, all edges gilt.
An early and very fine 'Exhibition' binding by Zaehnsdorf executed in 1894 (stamp-signed in gilt on front turn-in) and with gilt 'Exhibition' stamp on rear paste-down.
Edward FitzGerald’s version of Omar Khayyam’s quatrains was widely read only after it was taken up by the Pre-Raphaelites in 1861. The first version of the Rubáiyat had been published in 1859, the same year that Darwin’s Origin of the Species had appeared. A few years later, Matthew Arnold would publish “Dover Beach”, in which the melancholy long retreat of the “Sea of Faith” left humanity on a “darkling plain”. Already in 1850, in “In Memoriam”, Tennyson had raised questions about Christian doctrine and the immortality of the soul, only to dismiss them with suspicious glibness. The doubts and fears of the twelfth-century Persian philosopher were shared by many of his English and American readers. In the Rubáiyat, as the day wears on, its mostly agnostic protagonist becomes increasingly preoccupied by thoughts of mortality and judgment in a possible afterlife, and this too perfectly matched the Victorian preoccupation with death. Deathbed scenes were a popular staple of fiction and the cowled figure stalked through quite a few novels.