Appendix 11.

a) The Wisdom of Solomon: Chapter 2.

The Epicurean verses which follow, and which find remarkable parallels in The Rubaiyat, are here expressed as the erroneous beliefs of the ungodly, which will ultimately result in their downfall and ruin:

1. For the ungodly said, reasoning with themselves, but not aright, Our life is short and tedious, and in the death of a man there is no remedy: neither was there any man known to have returned from the grave.

2. For we are born at all adventure: and we shall be hereafter as though we had never been: for the breath in our nostrils is as smoke, and a little spark in the moving of our heart:

3. Which being extinguished, our body shall be turned into ashes, and our spirit shall vanish as the soft air,

4. And our name shall be forgotten in time, and no man shall have our works in remembrance, and our life shall pass away as the trace of a cloud, and shall be dispersed as a mist, that is driven away with the beams of the sun, and overcome with the heat thereof.

5. For our time is a very shadow that passeth away; and after our end there is no returning: for it is fast sealed, so that no man cometh again.

6. Come on therefore, let us enjoy the good things that are present: and let us speedily use the creatures like as in youth.

7. Let us fill ourselves with costly wine and ointments: and let no flower of the spring pass by us:

8. Let us crown ourselves with rosebuds, before they be withered:

9. Let none of us go without his part of our voluptuousness: let us leave tokens of our joyfulness in every place: for this is our portion, and our lot is this.

The counter-argument for such views is expressed at the beginning of chapter 3, where we are told that the godly are happy in their earthly troubles and in death, for they know that their reward is in heaven.

b) Ecclesiastes.

The Book of Ecclesiastes contains many verses which have parallels in The Rubaiyat. The following are examples:

1.4-6: One generation passeth away, and another generation cometh: but the earth abideth for ever. The sun also ariseth, and the sun goeth down, and hasteth to his place where he arose. The wind goeth toward the south, and turneth about unto the north; it whirleth about continually, and the wind returneth again according to his circuits.

1.18: For in much wisdom is much grief: and he that increaseth knowledge increaseth sorrow.

2.11: Then I looked on all the works that my hands had wrought, and on the labour that I had laboured to do: and, behold, all was vanity and vexation of spirit, and there was no profit under the sun.

2.16: For there is no remembrance of the wise more than of the fool for ever; seeing that which now is in the days to come shall all be forgotten. And how dieth the wise man? as the fool.

3.20: All go unto one place; all are of the dust, and all turn to dust again.

7.15: All things have I seen in the days of my vanity: there is a just man that perisheth in his righteousness, and there is a wicked man that prolongeth his life in his wickedness.

8.14-15: There is a vanity which is done upon the earth; that there be just men, unto whom it happeneth according to the work of the wicked; again, there be wicked men, to whom it happeneth according to the work of the righteous: I said that this also is vanity. Then I commended mirth, because a man hath no better thing under the sun, than to eat, and to drink, and to be merry: for that shall abide with him of his labour the days of his life, which God giveth him under the sun.

9.5-10: For the living know that they shall die: but the dead know not any thing, neither have they any more a reward; for the memory of them is forgotten. Also their love, and their hatred, and their envy, is now perished; neither have they any more a portion for ever in any thing that is done under the sun. Go thy way, eat thy bread with joy, and drink thy wine with a merry heart; for God now accepteth thy works. Let thy garments be always white; and let thy head lack no ointment. Live joyfully with the wife whom thou lovest all the days of the life of thy vanity, which he hath given thee under the sun, all the days of thy vanity: for that is thy portion in this life, and in thy labour which thou takest under the sun. Whatsoever thy hand findeth to do, do it with thy might; for there is no work, nor device, nor knowledge, nor wisdom, in the grave, whither thou goest.

But, as with The Wisdom of Solomon, these verses are not simple Epicurean despair, for pleasure, achievement, power and wealth are merely the vanities of this life (“vanity of vanities…all is vanity” (1.2)), and to complain of lack of such things or the inequalities of their distribution is to complain about something that is of little consequence in comparison with knowing God. Such a view produces a peculiar reversal of values – be happy being miserable:

7.3-4: Sorrow is better than laughter: for by the sadness of the countenance the heart is made better. The heart of the wise is in the house of mourning; but the heart of fools is in the house of mirth.

As for complaining about the injustices of the world, the injustices are God’s will, and it is our purpose to overcome them:

7.10-14: Say not thou, What is the cause that the former days were better than these? for thou dost not inquire wisely concerning this. Wisdom is good with an inheritance: and by it there is profit to them that see the sun. For wisdom is a defence, and money is a defence: but the excellency of knowledge is, that wisdom giveth life to them that have it. Consider the work of God: for who can make that straight, which he hath made crooked? In the day of prosperity be joyful, but in the day of adversity consider: God also hath set the one over against the other, to the end that man should find nothing after him.

Again, though people complain about old age, it too, with all its infirmities, is part of God’s Plan: old age is another gift from God:

11.9-10: Rejoice, O young man, in thy youth; and let thy heart cheer thee in the days of thy youth, and walk in the ways of thine heart, and in the sight of thine eyes: but know thou, that for all these things God will bring thee into judgment. Therefore remove sorrow from thy heart, and put away evil from thy flesh: for childhood and youth are vanity.

In short:

12.13-14: Let us hear the conclusion of the whole matter: Fear God, and keep his commandments: for this is the whole duty of man. For God shall bring every work into judgment, with every secret thing, whether it be good, or whether it be evil.

For those interested, there is a fascinating article, “Ecclesiastes and the Rubaiyat” by Rev. William Byron Forbush, in The Biblical World vol.26, no.5 (November 1905), p.355-363. Rev.Forbush wrote:

“The reason why the Rubaiyat has become a fad and almost a religion, and the reason why Ecclesiastes has persisted in the canon, in which it is the only contribution of a skeptic, is because these books ‘face the Unseen with a cheer.’ They help us on rainy nights and amid November recollections to make a cheery mastery of fate.” (p.359)

The article is also interesting for Rev Forbush’s comment that, on the basis of 7.26, “Ecclesiastes is strictly a bachelor’s book” (p.358), and for the good reverend’s valiant efforts to render – somewhat freely, it is true – sections of Ecclesiastes in the metre of FitzGerald’s Rubaiyat! Here is a sample:

Yet Kings and Subjects do like shadows flit
Before the awful Throne where He doth sit.
From Earth’s flat sieve we fall like desert sand.
Who knows if He above regardeth it?

Rev. Forbush’s article became the basis for the introduction of his book Ecclesiastes in the Metre of Omar, published in 1906.

Also of interest is a little book of 32 pages by John Franklin Genung, Ecclesiastes and Omar Khayyam, subtitled “A Note for the Spiritual Temper of our Time”, published in New York in 1901. Genung was not an advocate of Omar's agnostic and epicurean philosophy. On the contrary, he was a Christian with a firm belief in God, Christ and the Afterlife. But he recognised, as the subtitle of his book indicates, that the huge popularity of Omar at the turn of the twentieth century reflected the spiritual temper of his time. And yet Genung did not see this as a bad thing, for in some ways Omar echoed the sounder philosophy of the Book of Ecclesiastes, and this could be seen as “Omar's service to our day.” (p.19) Genung's stance is that we cannot know for sure what awaits us after death, for as Omar says, there is a veil past which we cannot see. But, unlike Omar, he is sure that there is an Afterlife, and it is how we get there which is important. We should not - as some Christians do - concentrate on the promise of an Afterlife at the expense of what we do in this Life. In particular, we cannot afford to rely on a later reformation or repentance of a mis-spent life to get us into Heaven at the last minute, because we cannot know that that is how things work. All we can know about is what is here and now in this Life, and the good Christian will make the most of the here and now in a positive way - not by following Omar in drinking wine and doubting God, but in attending to his day to day deeds and labours, for it is in these that a man's true worth is measured, and by which he will earn his entry into Heaven. Genung set great store by Ecclesiastes 3.22: “Wherefore I perceive that there is nothing better than that a man should rejoice in his own works; for that is his portion: for who shall bring him to see what shall be after him ?” The following quote from Genung will serve to convey the flavour of the whole. He begins by quoting Omar's “truest and most impressive stanza” thus:

I sent my Soul through the Invisible,
Some letter of that After-life to spell;
And by and by my Soul return'd to me,
And answer'd, 'I myself am Heav'n and Hell.'

We may call the old Persian hard names if we like - perhaps he deserves them; - but let us thank him for words not only so true but so scriptural, reminding us that here, in our soul's resources, is all our heaven-material, and that now is the accepted time, now the day of salvation.

Here I think is the inspiring discovery which, aided so largely by the skeptics, our deeply earnest age is making; the positive attitude and motive to put in the place of its outworn brooding over future things. Make up life not with reference to a vague future, or to a shadowy place somewhere else, but right here, taking what you can rejoice in and wreak your soul's vigor upon now, and taking as you can hold out. There is a centre of life, a fibre of character, which grows not old with time nor suffers change with place; its wealth is all available now and within us, whatever the fates have for us outside. Because Omar moves in the consciousness of this, he has found the sane and sturdy heart of our time.

And now, having responded to Omar thus far, earnest present-day souls will leave him. You cannot make them stay with him. When it comes to the question what this newly adjusted life shall centre in, what its permanent tissue shall be, our true answer is not drawn from Omar but from Ecclesiastes. Omar sees nothing better than to have pleasure - or rather to vegetate - in a lazy self-indulgence; that is his heaven. Ecclesiastes, his wise soul taking note of an active world full of vigorous enterprises, and a God up there guiding it, bids us rejoice, bids us put our energy and enthusiasm in work.

A rather austere kind of present heaven, you think ? Wait till you have looked at it a minute.

“To rejoice in his own works.” Work, observe, - not play. That is, put your joy in the steady business of life, the thing that must bring livelihood to you and yours, the thing that your life with its sum of talents and skill and energies stands for; put your joy in this, not in life's occasional relaxations. That is your portion - to work, to be a producer. An all-wise Creator has planned it for you, and drawn out the plan in the terms of your best aptitudes and powers. He has given you energy, ingenuity, inventive skill; has endowed you with a sense of beauty, order, adaptation, art; has set before you great things to do, great problems to solve, great enterprises to accomplish. No man so humble but has some portion in these things. What lines of activity stretch out from the work we are all doing, and what a laborious world this is! So sublime does it look to Ecclesiastes as he contemplates all the varied energies coöperant in their place and time, that he says God “hath set eternity in their heart.” And now to rejoice in your own share of this work is to let your soul sing as it coöperates with God in building and beautifying His world. Can you think of anything on earth set more truly in the key of eternity than that? (p.20-2)

I leave readers to answer that last question as they will!

The ease with which Ecclesiastes can be read as an Omarian complaint against the mysterious ways of God, rather than as a refutation of such complaints, attracted the attention of Leslie Stephen in his book An Agnostic's Apology, first published in 1893. After quoting Ecclesiastes 9.5ff, and referring to the author of these verses as “the Preacher”, he wrote:

“If some of the Preacher's phrases may be forced to look another way, his doctrine is one which reads strangely in a Christian mouth - so strangely, one may say, that, if his book were now discovered for the first time, it would have as little chance of being added to the canon as the magnificent stanzas of Omar Khayyam of being incorporated with the gentle pietism of the “Christian Year.” Or, again, what is the true moral of the Book of Job, accounted to be the most impressive poetical treatment in all literature of the great problem of the unequal distribution of good and evil? Is it to be found in the odd statement - certainly not very edifying from any point of view - that Job was rewarded with six thousand camels and fourteen thousand sheep, besides oxen, asses, sons, and daughters; or is it not virtually a splendid declamation in favour of Agnosticism?” (From “The Thinker's Library” reprint, 1931 ed., p.57.)

By way of explanation, “The Christian Year.” was a collection of devotional poems for each Sunday of the year, written by John Keble, and first published in 1827. It became extremely popular throughout the Victorian period. Between 1827 and 1873, its publisher (James Parker & Co.) recorded that it had gone through 140 editions and sold 305,500 copies. With the expiration of its copyright in 1873, seven years after Keble's death (copyright laws were different then), other publishers leapt on the bandwagon and very many editions came onto the market - we know that Parker alone printed a further 70,000 copies between 1873 and 1875, for example. [See E.B. Pusey's Preface to Occasional Papers and Reviews by John Keble (1877), p.viii-ix, footnote g.] It seems not unreasonable, therefore, to assume that by the end of the nineteenth century sales had comfortably topped the half million mark.

For the Book of Job, see Appendix 2b (end.)

A note on Leslie Stephen is perhaps in order here. Aside from being the father of Virginia Woolf, Leslie Stephen (1832-1904) is probably best known today as the first editor of and major contributor to the Dictionary of National Biography. He was also the author of Hours in a Library, published in three series / volumes in 1874, 1876 and 1879. [In 1876, FitzGerald said he found the first two volumes “really delightful reading” (III.728), though he disagreed with Stephen on his assessment of Crabbe, as he complained to several of his correspondents (eg IV.233.) Subsequently FitzGerald had some correspondence with Stephen himself on the subject - see IV.553, 560 & 570.] Sir Robert Romer records an occasion on which he quoted a verse of FitzGerald's Omar whilst out walking with Stephen. “To my intense astonishment,” Romer wrote, “Stephen took up the words of the poem from the sentence I had quoted and went on without a break to the end.” [F.W. Maitland, The Life and Letters of Leslie Stephen, (1906), p.66.] Stephen is also on record as having taken some consolation in Omar on the death of his first wife. [III.704 - quoted at the end of chapter 13 of the main essay.] Like so many devotees of Omar, of course, Stephen had had his own crisis of faith. In 1854 he had been appointed to a Cambridge fellowship which entailed him taking holy orders, and he was ordained a deacon the year after (Maitland p.53 & 130.) He became, as it were, “a ‘parson’ against his will” (Maitland p.106.) But in the course of time “after the most serious reflection ” he became convinced that “the Christian position was untenable,” adding, “I therefore gave up my profession and took to literature” (Maitland p.150.) Somewhat oddly, though he had severed all ties with Cambridge by 1867, he did not formally renounce his holy orders until 1875 (Maitland p.263–4.)


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