Appendix 1: Edward Byles Cowell.

Page numbers in the following notes refer to Life and Letters of Edward Byles Cowell, by his cousin, George Cowell, first published in 1904.

a) In a letter to W.Aldis Wright, written in December 1887, Cowell wrote of verse 58 in the 1st edition (= verse 88 in the 2nd; verse 81 in the 3rd, 4th & 5th):

“There is no original for the line about the snake. I have looked for it in vain in Nicolas’; but I have always supposed that the last line in FitzGerald’s mistaken version of Quatrain 236 in Nicolas’ ed. which runs thus:

‘O thou who knowest the secrets of everyone’s mind:-
Who graspest every one’s hand in the hour of weakness,
O God, give me repentance and accept my excuses,
O thou who givest repentance and acceptest the excuses of every one.’

FitzGerald mistook the meaning of giving and accepting as used here, and so invented the last line out of his own mistake. I wrote to him about it when I was in Calcutta; but he never cared to alter it.” (p.304-5)

b) Cowell thought of taking Holy Orders when young (p.86) but never did, though later in life he did reconsider it (p.189). When in India he ran Bible Classes for the natives (p.161), and even after his return to England had a desire to see the Hindus converted to Christianity, genuinely for their own good. (p.335) As a result of his deep faith, Cowell had received FitzGerald’s translations of Omar “with something of a shock” (p.157). FitzGerald himself noted this in a letter to W.H.Thompson written in December 1861: “Cowell, to whom I sent a copy, was naturally alarmed by it – he being a very religious Man.” (II.419). This, actually, was despite his letter to Cowell, written in January 1859, saying of Omar: “I doubt you will repent of ever having showed me the Book.” (II.325)Though Omar never ruined their friendship, it is a fact that Cowell declined to have the fourth edition of The Rubaiyat dedicated to him (IV.205-6), and when, in 1898, long after FitzGerald’s death, Edward Heron-Allen dedicated to him his booklet (the text of a lecture he had given), Some Side-lights on Edward FitzGerald’s Poem, The Rubaiyat of Omar Khayyam, Cowell was not happy about it. In fact, when Heron-Allen planned a reprint of it, Cowell asked that the dedication be removed on the grounds that he wanted nothing to do with the “Omar Cult”, adding that if he needed guidance in this life, he preferred to go to Nazareth, and not to Naishapur. That is, to Christ and not to Omar. (Arberry, as note 1d, p.19-20)

c) Cowell was fascinated by Botany, and when in India, in 1859, he read Professor Balfour’s Botany and Religion, whose accounts of “the wonderful adaptation of the different parts of plants in the economy of the vegetable world” set him thinking of “the various thoughts of the Almighty mind.” (p.163) 

He seems to have had no particular interest in Astronomy (unlike Tennyson, for example), but he was alarmed by the prevalence of religious doubt generated by it, and by that “pride of human intellect” which led Auguste Comte to declare “that it was no longer true the heavens declare the glory of God – that was only true of an ignorant age – they now only declare the glory of Newton and Laplace.” (p.192) In a letter to Max Müller, written in 1897, Cowell wrote: “I often think that our great trial in these days is to keep our child-like trust in God amid and in spite of all the conflict of opinions round us – our faith is tested now in this way, instead of by persecution as in the old days.” (p.366)

George Cowell’s book, surprisingly, makes no mention of Darwin or Evolution, but it is clear that Prof. Cowell was no Bible-fundamentalist. In addition to Botany, he was also a keen amateur geologist and fossil-hunter. At Whitby in 1881 he amused himself by digging out fossil ammonites from the cliffs there, having recently read and been greatly interested by Buckland’s Bridgewater Treatise (27) (p.273-4). He was quite at ease with the newly established geological time-scales, and on a visit to Eastbourne in 1883, he was intrigued by the chalk-cliffs there: “I am always interested in the chalk, because I like to think of its being deposited at the bottom of the great cretaceous ocean which rolled, ages ago, with its waves and sunsets unseen by man.” (p.285)

d) Cowell had some interesting ideas on/ideas about the occurrence of remarkably similar folk-tales or literary themes in both East and West. Thus he believed that the Indian Mahabharata and the Persian Shahnamah were effectively Oriental re-workings of Homer’s Iliad (p.27); that at least 20 of the fables of La Fontaine have Hindu antecedents (p.208); that “India is the native land of fiction, and that half the popular stories of medieval Europe can be traced to ancient Sanskrit sources”(p.250); and that all the oldest stories of the West – like Cinderella – have an Eastern origin, as do Aesop’s Fables (p.338).

e) For Cowell’s work on The Jatakas, see pp.302, 332, 337, 340, 357, 401. The Jatakas are stories of the previous incarnations of Buddha, one of which, according to Cowell, and in accordance with note d) above, appears to be the fore-runner of Chaucer’s Pardoner’s Tale. (p.337)

f) Cowell’s article “Omar Khayyam, the Astronomer Poet of Persia”, published in March 1858 in vol. xxx of The Calcutta Review (p.149-162) is worth some attention here, not only for the fact that FitzGerald relied very heavily upon it for his introduction to his first (and subsequent) editions. But there are several other things worth noting from it. Firstly, Cowell notes that “it is not often that a great mathematician indulges in the relaxation of verse” (p.153), but in the case of Omar the situation is even more unusual, for:

“We find in his verses a totally different character to that which we should have naturally expected from the prevailing habit of thought in which he lived. Our ‘double natured poet’ is a Janus, whose two heads bear no similarity; the one half of his life and experience contradicts the other.” (p.154)

This contradiction we have already noted in respect of Omar’s philosophical works in relation to his verses, which has led some to postulate more than one Omar.

Secondly, Cowell tells us that, “Omar lived in an age of poetical mysticism, but he himself is no mystic” (p.155), to which he adds a little later:

“We have said that Omar was no mystic, – we find no trace of Sufeyism in his book. His roses bloom in an earthly summer, his wine is of mortal vintage; unlike all other Persian poets, every thing with him is real and concrete.” (p.157)

This, of course, is in direct opposition to his later view that Omar was a Sufi (III.54 n.2), this viewpoint possibly inherited from Nicolas, who himself may well have been strongly influenced by a Sufi collaborator (III.55 & 60-61.)

Thirdly, Cowell, as many others were later to do, draws parallels between Omar and Lucretius (p.154, p.158-9). Both lived “in an age and country of religious darkness” (p.159) where there was “no missionary’s step bringing good tidings.” (p.160) It is this, of course, which separates Cowell from the future western hedonistic followers of Omar: Omar’s despair was born of the age he lived in, but there was no excuse for those in the Christian West to follow him.

Finally, Cowell gives his own translation of some 30 of Omar’s verses in the course of his article. I have no doubt that they are very good translations, but it has to be said – that like so many other translations of Omar – they do not have that indefinable spark that makes FitzGerald’s renderings so good. As Cowell himself was to say of FitzGerald’s efforts many years later, in a letter to W. Aldis Wright written in July 1883, they are “too free to be called translations, yet what closer translations could ever give such a vivid idea of the original?” (Biography, p.283). See also section g below.

g) Cowell wrote an article about Edward FitzGerald for vol.4 of the 1889 edition of Chambers’ Encyclopædia (Biography p.469). It is largely routine stuff, but a couple of bits are of interest. Firstly, talking of FitzGerald as a person:

“One of his great characteristics was steadfastness in friendship; he was slow to form intimacies, but, once riveted, the link lasted till death. His outward manner was reserved, and he might sometimes seem a little wayward or petulant; but under all this cold exterior there lay a tenderness like Johnson’s, and a fine stroke of imagination or a noble deed would make his voice falter and his eyes fill with tears.” (p.660, col.1)

Secondly, of Omar’s verses, Cowell says that:

“FitzGerald at once recognised their beauty, and his name and the poet’s will probably remain indissolulably linked together. Here his genius as a translator appears at its height. He possessed to an extraordinary degree the power of reproducing on his reader the effect of the original; and though the original ideas are often altered, condensed and transposed in an apparently reckless way, these lawless alterations and substitutions are like those in Dryden, and they all tell; the translator becomes the ‘alter’ and not the ‘dimidiatus Menander.’” (p.660, col.2)

What Cowell means in this last sentence is that FitzGerald became the second Khayyam, and not just his imitator and adaptor. (Julius Caesar referred to the Roman dramatist Terence – an imitator and adaptor of the Greek dramatist Menander – as “dimidiatus Menander”. Dimidiatus means, literally, halved.)

h) Cowell wrote two articles on Hafiz for Fraser’s Magazine. In the first, published in the issue for September 1854 (p.288-295), he gave an account of the poetry of Hafiz, and gave translations of 12 of his Odes. In the second, published in the issue of February 1861 (p.228-234), he gave an account of the life and times of Hafiz. Only the first of these articles is of any particular interest here.

As regards Hafiz, Cowell and FitzGerald had the same disagreement as they were later to have about Khayyam: was he or wasn’t he a Sufi; was his wine real or symbolic of religious experience? Cowell’s view was that “the phrases of revelry and the praises of the transient joys of love and wine, which meet us at every turn, are but the mystical phraseology of the time, the veil which conceals under the joys of earth the visions of the poet or the ecstasies of the rapt enthusiast.”(p.289) Cowell admits that some of the poems of Hafiz “may have been written in the heyday of youth, and thus may originally have had literal meaning”, but he is sure that “the greater part of his odes….were written with a Sufi aim”, simply because of the many obviously mystical and symbolic allusions in them. FitzGerald disagreed. In a letter to Thomas Carlyle written in October 1854, he wrote:

“I think Cowell (as he is apt to do) gives Hafiz rather too much credit for a mystical wine-cup, and Cupbearer; I mean taking him on the whole. The few odes he quotes have certainly a deep and pious feeling: such as the Man of Mirth will feel at times; none perhaps more strongly.” (II.150)

As examples of the clearly mystical wine cup in Cowell’s translations, the following lines come from his Ode VII:

Bring the wine, for in the audience-hall of the Soul’s Independence
What is sentinel or sultan? What the wise man or the intoxicated?

And the following lines are from his Ode XII:

I was an angel once, and the highest heaven my dwelling-place;
Adam brought me hither, to this ruined tavern!

But the following lines from his Ode VI would appear to relate very much to earthly joys:

Now that a gale of paradise breathes from the garden
I and the joy-giving wine, and my houri-souled mistress meet.
Why should not the beggar make a boast of royal pomp today, –
His pavilion the shadow of the cloud, and his festal hall the bank of the field?

The above lines, of course, bear comparison with FitzGerald’s verses 10-11 (“With me along some Strip of Herbage strown etc”)Indeed, there are quite a number of parallels between Cowell’s Hafiz and FitzGerald’s Khayyam, and they are worth listing. I stress, though, that these are given as interesting parallel uses of imagery, and not to imply either influence of Khayyam on Hafiz, or of Cowell on FitzGerald. Some of the more striking parallels are also mentioned in the Verse by Verse Notes.

From Ode I:

If the revolution of the heavens be for a little space not as we wish,
Their revolving shall not be for ever in one fixed course; do not despair.

Compare verse 33 (“Then to the rolling Heav’n itself I cried.”)

Also from Ode I:

Take heed and never despond; thou knowest not the secrets of futurity;
There are hidden games behind the veil; do not despair.

Compare verse 32 (veil), verse 49 (chequer board) and verse 50 (polo). Cowell adds, in a footnote, that the idea that Creation is a game played by God “is very current in the East” and is also found in Greek Philosophy and Hinduism.

From Ode II:

They say that this was the song at ancient Jamshid’s banquet;
‘Bring the cup of wine, for Jamshid will not last!’

A curious couplet which uses Jamshid (who appears in FitzGerald’s verses 5 and 8) in much the same context as FitzGerald’s verse 16 (“How Sultan after Sultan with his Pomp/ Abode his Hour or two and went his way.”)

From Ode III:

Rest not thy trust on yon night-patrolling star; for that cunning thief
Hath stolen Kawus’ crown, and the girdle of Kay Khusraw.

Compare FitzGerald’s verse 9 (“Of Kaikobad and Kaikhosru forgot” – Kay Khusraw is a variant spelling of Kaikhosru); in The Shahnameh, (Kai/Kay) Kawus is the son of Kaikobad; the night-patrolling star is the Moon, here presumably used as a Measurer of Time-which-swallows-all, including the royal regalia of Kawus and Kay Khusraw.

From Ode IV:

How long wilt thou indulge in the morning draught, and the sweet morning sleep?
Awake, and take heed lest thy power of choice in life be past.
Seize the one or two moments when Fortune allows her face to be seen;
Seize the time, I say; for the course of life is hidden.

Compare verse 34 (“Drink! – for once dead you never shall return”) and verse 37 (“Ah fill the Cup….Why fret about them if To-day be sweet ?”)

From Ode V:

The morning dawns, and the cloud has woven a canopy, –
The morning draught, my friends, the morning draught!

Compare the morning draughts of FitzGerald’s verses 2 & 3.

From Ode VI:

He is not wise who would buy on credit and fling ready money away!

Compare verse 12 (“Ah take the cash in hand etc”)

Also from Ode VI:

Build up thy heart with wine, for this ruined world
Is resolved, when we are dead, to make only bricks of our clay.

Compare FitzGerald’s verse 8 (“a thousand scatter’d into Clay”).

From Ode VII:

The red rose is in bloom, and the nightingale is intoxicated.

Compare FitzGerald’s verse 6 (“Red Wine! – the Nightingale cries to the Rose.”)

Also from Ode VII:

Since from this caravanserai, with its two gates, departure is inevitable,
What matter whether the arch of life’s lodging be high or low?

Compare FitzGerald’s verse 16 (“Think, in this batter’d Caravanserai etc.”) Here, as Cowell points out in a footnote, the caravanserai is life, and its two gates are birth and death.

From Ode IX:

When Hafiz has lost himself, why should he value at a barleycorn
The empire of Kawus or Kay Khusraw?

Compare FitzGerald’s verse 9 (“Of Kaikobad and Kaikhosru forgot.”) The first line presumably means that when Hafiz has escaped from ‘self’ and thus achieved enlightenment. For Kawus and Kay Khusraw, see above.

From Ode XI:

Pass in purity the stage of old age, and mar not
The robe-of-honour of grey hairs with the flaunting robes of youth.

Compare FitzGerald’s verse 71 (“robb’d me of my Robe of Honour.”)

Moving on to Cowell’s article on The Rose Garden of Sadi, now, published in the March 1856 edition of Fraser’s Magazine (p.281-292) the Gulistan (=Rose Garden) is, as Cowell says, “a book of morals, but written for the story-loving East.”(p.282) It is largely prose but interspersed with snatches of verse illustrative of that prose. Cowell largely follows E.B.Eastwick’s 1858 translation of the prose (p.284), and FitzGerald was certainly familiar with this, though not too impressed by it (II.119 & 192). There is some overlap with Khayyam in Sadi’s dealings with the vicissitudes of life, notably as regards “the vanity of worldly grandeur, the nothingness of earthly prosperity” (p.287) which, in Sadi’s case, must have been reinforced by “the devastations of Asia by the scourge of the Mogul invasions” (p.288) The following extract from Cowell’s article (p.288) illustrates this. Mahmud of Ghazni, remember, is the Sultan Mahmud of FitzGerald’s verse 10:

We have the following wild story about the great Mahmud of Ghazni, the conqueror of India, and the iconoclast hero of the temple of Somnath:

“One of the kings of Khurasan saw, in a dream, Sultan Mahmud Sabuktagin, a hundred years after his death, when all his body had dissolved and become dust, save his eyes, which, as heretofore, moved in their sockets and looked about them. All the sages were at a loss to interpret it, except a derwish, who made his obeisance, and said, ‘He is still looking about him, because his kingdom is in the possession of others.’


Many are the heroes whom they have buried under the ground,
Of whose existence above it not one vestige is left;
That old carcase which they committed to earth,
Earth hath so devoured it that not one bone remains.
Still lives by his justice Nushirwan’s glorious name,
Although long ages have passed with no Nushirwan here.
Do good, my friend, while thou canst, and seize thy life as a prey,
Ere the cry rises in the street, ‘such an one is gone!’”

(Notes: Mahmud of Ghazni was the son of Sabuktagin; the (Hindu) Temple of Somnath in Gujarat was destroyed by Mahmud in 1024; Nushirwan the Just was a king of Persia – otherwise known as the Sasanid king Khusrau I or Chosroes I, he reigned in the 6th century AD.)

Cowell makes the following comment about Sadi:

“Sadi was a man of deep religious feeling, and there are ample proofs of it in his books. Like most Persian authors, he adopts the mystical phraseology of the Sufis; but we find in him far less of this style than in most of his contemporaries. It is confined chiefly to scattered verses and incidental allusions, which just serve to give a shade of the deeper colouring to the Gulistan’s varied picture.” (p.291)

This takes us back, of course, to the arguments over whether or not Khayyam (and Hafiz) were Sufis, for if Sadi could offer bits of Sufic imagery when it suited him, without actually being a Sufi, might not Khayyam (and Hafiz) have done the same?

Moving on to Cowell’s article on Jami, the Persian Poet, now, published in the November 1856 edition of Fraser’s Magazine (p.603-610), Cowell says that the odes (ghazals) of Jami are more symbolic in intent than those of Hafiz, and more pervaded with Sufi symbolism. In Jami “the cup, the breeze, the beloved, have all a mystical meaning” (p.604) and “the desert, with its pilgrims, seems one of his favourite subjects, and the caravan and the Caaba supply him with countless allusions.” (p.605) Thus, for example, the following couplet comes from Ode VIII (p.608):

Glad is the heart to meet the wayfarers journeying to thy door;
What better sight than the caravan to him who hath lost his road?

And from Ode X (p.608):

To Jami’s thirsty lips, oh, in bounty vouchsafe one cup
Of that wine, whose taste is freedom from the dregs of ignorance!

As in the case of Hafiz, there are a few parallels between Cowell’s Jami and FitzGerald’s Khayyam which are worth listing. I stress again, though, that these are given as interesting parallel uses of imagery, and not to imply either influence of Khayyam on Jami, or of Cowell on FitzGerald.

From Ode III (p.606) we have “when Heaven first kneaded the dust of man” – compare verse 53 (“With Earth’s first Clay They did the Last Man’s knead.”)

From Ode IV (p.606) we have “I have torn my heart away from the leaves of science and books of knowledge” – compare verse 40 (“Divorced old barren Reason from my Bed.”)

Also from Ode IV (p.606) we have “For fate will shiver (= break) thy life’s cup with the stones of circumstance” – compare verse 2 (“Before Life’s Liquor in its Cup be dry”) and verse 62 (“Shall He that made the Vessel…in an after Rage destroy!”)

It is interesting that there are far less parallels with Jami than there are with Hafiz.


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