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Biography of Edward Fitzgerald

Portrait of Edward Fitzgerald

Edward Fitzgerald was a nineteenth century translator principally known for “Rubaiyat of Omar Kayyam”.

When and Where was he Born?

31st March 1809, Bredfield House, Near Woodbridge, Suffolk, England. He was christened Edward Purcell.

Family Background:

Edward Fitzgerald was the third son of John Purcell who, in 1818, took his wife’s name and Coat of Arms on the death of her father.


King Edward the Sixth Grammar School, Bury St. Edmunds, Suffolk. Trinity College, Cambridge. Met his lifelong friend William Makepeace Thackeray and also Thomas Carlyle and Alfred Lord Tennyson. Although he knew people from the Apostle’s Group such as Tennyson he was never invited to join them formally.

Timeline of Edward Fitzgerald:

1816: Fitzgerald’s family moves to Paris, France.

1818: The family return to England and change their surname from Purcell to Fitzgerald which was Fitzgerald’s mother’s maiden name. She had just come into a family fortune on the death of her father who was one of the wealthiest men in England.

1826: Edward Fitzgerald goes up to Cambridge University.

1830: He visits Paris.

1831: He returns to England.

1835: Fitzgerald moves to Boulge, near Woodbridge, in Suffolk.

1844: He is introduced to Persian literature by his new friend Edward Cowell.

1850: He begins studying Spanish poetry.

1853: Cowell goes up to Oxford University. Fitzgerald now devotes his time to oriental studies.

1856: FitzGerald marries Lucy Barton in Chichester on 4 November. She was the daughter of the poet Bernard Bartonon and he had pledged to look after her. They are separated in August 1857 due to being totally incompatible. Cowell discovers a manuscript of the Rubaiyat of Omar Khayyam in the Bodleian Library, Oxford, known as the Ouseley manuscript which dates from 1460. Cowell goes to India to become Professor of History at the new Presidency College in Calcutta. He then moves on to be Principal at the Sanscrit college. He finds another copy of the manuscript in the Asiatic Society Library in Calcutta. Publication of his anonymous version in Miltonic verse of “Salaman and Absal of Jami” .

1857: Fitzgerald receives a copy of the Indian manuscript.

1859: He publishes a anonymous copy of his translation of the “Rubaiyat of Omar Khayyam”.

1860: The “Rubaiyat” is discovered by D.G. Rossetti and Algernon Swinburne and becomes a tremendous and influential success. Fitzgerald moves with his family to Farlingay Hall.

1863: He develops a love for the sea and buys a yacht called “The Scandal”.

1867: Fitzgerald becomes joint owner of a Herring Boat “Meum and Tuum”. Cowell returns to England to become Professor of Sanscrit at Cambridge University.

1868: Fitzgerald publishes the second version of “The Rubaiyat”, still choosing to remain anonymous.

1872: Publication of the Third Edition of “The Rubaiyat”.

1873: He moves back to Woodbridge.

1879: Publication of the fourth Edition of “The Rubaiyat”.

(1885:) Tennyson dedicates his work “Tiresias” to Fitzgerald.

(1889): The Fifth Edition is published posthumously.

(1895): Publication of Fitzgerald’s letters to Fanny Kemble.

When and Where did he Die?

14th July 1883 in his sleep at the Old Rectory, Merton, Norfolk, England. He was on a visit to see his friend George Crabbe the grandson of the poet.

Age at Death:


Written Works:

1851: “Euphranor: A Dialogue of Youth”.
1852: “Polonius: A Collection of Wise Saws and Modern Instances.
1853: “Six Dramas of Pedro Caulderon” (Translations from the Spanish).
1859: “The Rubaiyat of Omar Khayyam”. (Translation form the Persian).
1882: “Readings in Crabbe”


FitzGerald marries Lucy Barton in Chichester on 4 November 1856. She was the daughter of the poet Bernard Bartonon and he had pledged to look after her. They are separated in August 1857 due to being totally incompatible.

Site of Grave:

St. Michaels Church, Boulge, Suffolk. England. A cutting from a rose bush from the tomb of Omar Khayyam at Nishapur in Iran was planted on Fitzgerald’s grave in 1893.

Places of Interest:


Woodbridge Museum, Community Heritage Building, Tide Mill Way, Woodbridge, Suffolk, IP12 1FP.

Further Information:

Charles Mugleston’s website has some fascinating information and quotes about Fitzgerald, one of Suffolk’s greatest bards.