Rubáiyát of Omar Khayyám
Philadelphia: David McKay Co., 1942. Item #05322
A Finely Bound Rubaiyat
Illustrated by Willy Pogany
POGANY, Willy, illustrator. Rubáiyát of Omar Khayyám in English Verse by Edward Fitzgerald. Illustrations by Willy Pogany. Philadelphia: David McKay Co., .
Small folio (9 7/8 x 7 1/16 inches; 250 x 180 mm.). , [1, printers mark] pp. Sixteen full-page and four smaller black & white drawings, all with decorative borders.
Bound ca, 1942 by Maurin (stamp-signed in gilt on front turn-in). Full dark blue morocco, covers ruled in gilt with a central 'arabesque' design surrounded by four richly gilt decorated corner pieces. Spine with four raised bands, decoratively tooled and lettered in gilt, gilt-ruled board edges, elaborate gilt turn-ins, decorative end-papers, top edge gilt. A fine example.
First published in 1859, 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 height of the poem’s popularity corresponded with the heyday of the illustrated book, and such well-known illustrators as Willy Pogany, Edmund Dulac, René Bull and Frank Brangwyn received commissions to illustrate the poem. The drive to illustrate the Rubáiyat was given extra impetus first by the development from the 1860s onwards of wood-engraved colour illustrations and later, around the end of the century, by the coming of color halftone printing. The lushly exotic and sentimental colored illustrations, enabled by Victorian print technology, matched the melancholy hedonism of FitzGerald’s version of the Rubaiyat. Apart from the vast number of illustrated Rubáiyats, the proliferation of Omar Khayyam clubs was another manifestation of the cult. Their meetings furnished excuses for rumbustious drinking and the composition of appalling doggerel. The membership of London’s Omar Khayyam Club included an impressive number of convivial bookmen including Andrew Lang, Arthur Pinero, Arthur Conan Doyle and Edmund Gosse. Justin McCarthy, the politician and prolific hack novelist, presided. The literary dinners and the pastiches of Khayyam’s quatrains tended to stress the heedless bibulousness of the original work. But there is another aspect to the appeal of Khayyam to the Victorian and Edwardian reading public. 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.