Edward FitzGerald was born Edward Purcell at Bredfield House in Woodbridge, Suffolk in 1809. In 1818, his father, John Purcell, assumed the name and arms of his wife's family, the FitzGeralds.
This name change occurred shortly after FitzGerald's mother inherited her second fortune. She had previously inherited over half a million pounds from an aunt, but in 1818, her father died and left her considerably more than that. The FitzGeralds were one of the wealthiest families in England. Edward FitzGerald later commented that all of his relatives were mad; further, that he was insane as well, but was at least aware of the fact.
In 1816, the family moved to France, and lived in St Germain as well as Paris, but in 1818, after the aforementioned death of his maternal grandfather, the family had to return to England. In 1821, Edward was sent to school at Bury St Edmunds. In 1826, he went to Trinity College, Cambridge. He became acquainted with William Makepeace Thackeray and William Hepworth Thompson. Though he had many friends who were members of the Cambridge Apostles, most notably Alfred Tennyson, FitzGerald himself was never offered an invitation to this famous group. In 1830, FitzGerald left for Paris, but in 1831 was living in a farmhouse on the battlefield of Naseby.
Needing no employment, FitzGerald moved to his native Suffolk where he lived quietly, never leaving the county for more than a week or two while he resided there. Until 1835, the FitzGeralds lived in Wherstead; from that year until 1853 the poet resided in Boulge, near Woodbridge. In 1860, he moved with his family to Farlingay Hall, where they stayed until, in 1873, they moved to the town of Woodbridge; thereafter until his death, FitzGerald resided at his own house close by, called Little Grange. During most of this time, FitzGerald was preoccupied with flowers, music, and literature. Friends like Tennyson and Thackeray had surpassed him in the field of literature, and for a long time FitzGerald showed no intention of emulating their literary success. In 1851, he published his first book, Euphranor, a Platonic dialogue, born of memories of the old happy life in Cambridge. This was followed in 1852 by the publication of Polonius, a collection of "saws and modern instances," some of them his own, the rest borrowed from the less familiar English classics. FitzGerald began the study of Spanish poetry in 1850 at Elmsett, followed by Persian literature at the University of Oxford with Professor Edward Byles Cowell in 1853. He married Lucy, the daughter of the Quaker poet Bernard Barton in Chichester on 4 November 1856, following a death bed promise to Bernard made in 1849 to look after her. The marriage was evidently a disaster, probably due to Edward's sexual leanings, for the couple separated after only a few months, despite having known each other for many years, including collaborating on a book about her father's works in 1849.
In 1853, FitzGerald issued Six Dramas of Calderon, freely translated. He now turned to Oriental studies, and in 1856 he anonymously published a version of the Sálamán and Absál of Jámi in Miltonic verse. In March 1857, Cowell discovered a set of Persian quatrains by Omar Khayyám in the Asiatic Society library, Calcutta, and sent them to FitzGerald. At this time, the name with which he has been so closely identified first occurs in FitzGerald's correspondence—"Hafiz and Omar Khayyam ring like true metal." On 15 January 1859, a little anonymous pamphlet was published as The Rubaiyat of Omar Khayyam. In the world at large, and in the circle of FitzGerald's particular friends, the poem seems at first to have attracted no attention. The publisher allowed it to gravitate to the fourpenny or even (as he afterwards boasted) to the penny box on the bookstalls.
But in 1860, Rossetti discovered it, and Swinburne and Lord Houghton quickly followed. The Rubaiyat slowly became famous, but it was not until 1868 that FitzGerald was encouraged to print a second and greatly revised edition. He had produced in 1865 a version of the Agamemnon, and two more plays from Calderón. In 1880–1881, he privately issued translations of the two Oedipus tragedies; his last publication was Readings in Crabbe, 1882. He left in manuscript a version of Attar of Nishapur's Mantic-Uttair. This last translation Fitzgerald called "A Bird's-Eye view of the Bird Parliament", whittling the Persian original (some 4500 lines) down to a much more manageable 1500 lines in English; some have called this translation a virtually unknown masterpiece.
From 1861 onwards, FitzGerald's greatest interest had been in the sea. In June 1863 he bought a yacht, "The Scandal", and in 1867 he became part-owner of a herring-lugger, the "Meum and Tuum". For some years, till 1871, he spent his summers "knocking about somewhere outside of Lowestoft." In this way, and among his books and flowers, FitzGerald grew old. He died in his sleep in 1883, and was buried at Boulge. He was, in his own words, "an idle fellow, but one whose friendships were more like loves." In 1885 his fame was increased by Tennyson's dedication of his Tiresias to FitzGerald's memory, in some reminiscent verses to "Old Fitz."
Of FitzGerald as a man practically nothing was known until, in 1889, W. Aldis Wright, his close friend and literary executor, published his Letters and Literary Remains in three volumes. This was followed in 1895 by the Letters to Fanny Kemble. These letters reveal that FitzGerald was a witty, picturesque and sympathetic letterwriter. One of the most unobtrusive authors who ever lived, FitzGerald has, nevertheless, by the force of his extraordinary individuality, gradually influenced the whole face of English belles-lettres, in particular as it was manifested between 1890 and 1900.
FitzGerald's homosexuality has been well-known since at least 1970, when H Montgomery Hyde published The Love That Dared Not Speak Its Name. An entire book documenting FitzGerald's passionate affair with a fisherman named Joseph Fletcher was published in 1908 (James Blyth, Edward FitzGerald and Posh). He was previously enamored, at 23, of a teenage youth named Kenworthy Browne, whose tragic early death while riding left Fitzgerald heartbroken. FitzGerald became a dedicated sailor, and his later years were passed among various fishermen and friends along the coast. It has to be admitted however that there remains some doubt as to whether FitzGerald's intense love for his various male friends ever found physical expression.
As he grew older, FitzGerald grew more and more disenchanted with Christianity, and finally gave up attending church entirely. This drew the attention of the local pastor, who decided to pay a visit to the self-absenting FitzGerald. Reportedly, FitzGerald informed the pastor that his decision to absent himself from church services was the fruit of long and hard meditation. When the pastor protested, FitzGerald showed him to the door, and said, "Sir, you might have conceived that a man does not come to my years of life without thinking much of these things. I believe I may say that I have reflected [on] them fully as much as yourself. You need not repeat this visit."
Burial: St Michael Churchyard, Boulge, Suffolk, England
The Love That Dared Not Speak Its Name: A Candid History of Homosexuality in Britain by H. Montgomery Hyde
Hardcover: 323 pages
Publisher: Little, Brown and Company; 1st edition (1970)
Amazon: The Love That Dared Not Speak Its Name: A Candid History of Homosexuality in Britain
First published in England under the title: The Other Love.
Edward Fitzgerald and "Posh" by James Blyth
Paperback: 234 pages
Publisher: Forgotten Books (April 26, 2010)
Amazon: Edward Fitzgerald and "Posh": "Herring Merchants"
Including a Number of Letters from Edward Fitzgerald to Joseph Fletcher or Posh Not Hitherto Published.
Towards the end of the summer of 1906 I received a letter from Mr. F. A. Mumby, of the Daily Graphic, asking me if I knew if Joseph Fletcher, the "Posh" of the "FitzGerald" letters, was still alive. All about me were veterans of eighty, ay, and ninety! hale and garrulous as any longshoreman needs be. But it had never occurred to me before that possibly the man who was Edward FitzGerald's "Image of the Mould that Man was originally cast in," the east coast fisherman for whom the great translator considered no praise to be too high, might be within easy reach. '...they were school classics.
Every new discovery of FitzGerald's life seems to create new wonder, new admiration for him; and there are, I hope, few who will read without some emotion not far from tears the sentence in his sermon to Posh. "Do not let a poor, old, solitary, and sad Man (as I really am, in spite of my Jokes), do not, I say, let me waste my Anxiety in vain. I thought I had done with new Likings: and I had a more easy Life perhaps on that account: now I shall often think of you with uneasiness, for the very reason that I had so much Liking and Interest for you."
CHAPTER I - THE MEETING
The biography of a hero written by his valet would be interesting, and, according to proverbial wisdom, unbiased by the heroic repute of its subject. But it would be artificial for all that. Even though the hero be no hero to his valet, the valet is fully aware of his master's fame; indeed, the man will be so...'