Between Faith & Doubt -- page 2 of 6

By July 14, seven finished designs were sent off to Boston as samples from which to work out mechanical procedures.

Vedder planned all aspects of the publication and was in continuous contact with the publisher to have his own way in the choice of format, paper, reproduction method, and binding. He was determined to make it an outstanding work of American book production, even though the publishers were wary of such an expensive venture. Because of the technical demands made by Vedder's plates, usual engraving procedures were impractical and a photomechanical process was finally agreed upon, although Vedder wrote in some consternation: "My idea was that you were going to produce a work by an American artist, engraved by an American engraver, and edited and published by an American firm, which would show that the progress we are so liberal in bragging about had a solid foundation" [6] Once matters were well underway, the publishers gave the venture wide publicity and arrangements were made in England with Bernard Quaritch, who had originally published the FitzGerald translation, to take care of London sales.

The handsomely bound volume, designed throughout by Vedder, was published in Boston on November 8, 1884, and was an immediate success. At the same time, the original drawings could be seen on exhibition at the Arts Club; Vedder had produced fifty-six full-page plates for the book. By Christmas the first of many deluxe editions was issued and before long it was impossible to think of Omar Khayyám without the images of Vedder.

Vedder's illustrated edition of the Rubáiyát expresses both his identification with FitzGerald's Omar and the extension of the poet's ideas in Vedder's own thoughts. Omar's message as communicated through the alembic of FitzGerald's versification certainly generated in Vedder what can be described as "the shock of recognition," that experience in which the depths of one human spirit are known by another across dividing time and space. Vedder testified as much in his draft for the "Notes" that always appear, as he requested, after the plates in all editions of his Rubáiyát. "Certainly three kindred spirits have here encountered each other and though the first two missed each other on earth by eight centuries, and the last two by twelve months [FitzGerald had died in 1883, just a year before the first Vedder edition was published], still in the heart of the survivor lingers the hope that in life 'sans end' they may all yet meet." [7]

The book provided the occasion and focus for Vedder's own developed and developing ideas. Regarded as such, it is not surprising that the images he made to accompany the works of Omar Khayyám speak more of Vedder and his pictorial world than of the Near East. There is little remaining of the fantasy and strangeness of the Arabian Nights that had been such an attraction for Vedder in his earlier years. Mystery there is, but it is the mystery of Hellenism and Christianity, not of the Orient. In a way, the Rubáiyát served only as a catalyst for Vedder's exploration of his own gradually developed set of values. Although the persistence of fate is a dominating theme for both Omar and Vedder, Vedder is less inclined to accept transciency as the only verity. His attachment to classical philosophy and Christian promise prompted Vedder to emphasize the dilemma of life rather than simply to go along with Omar's acceptance of evanescence. As ever, Vedder preferred to ponder the riddle rather than to embrace a pat solution.

For his own purposes, Vedder rearranged a large central section of Omar's quatrains. [8] Although he used FitzGerald's original sequence for the first thirty verses, he changed the order of verses 31 to 71. Verses 78 to the last, 101, follow FitzGerald's fourth edition of 1879. It should be noted that FitzGerald himself changed the order of the quatrains in the five different editions he produced; Vedder's reordering was not a fracturing of an established unity but the creation of a variant upon a variant. [9] A study of Vedder's plates and the text shows that his purpose in regrouping the quatrains was to present a theme and its complementary themes in a way that would make their relationship more evident and striking in support of his interpretation.

Consistent with Vedder's intentions, the illustrations are indeed "parallel but not identical" to the thought of the poem. One of the first differences that strikes the viewer is the fact that the pictorial idiom is not Iranian but classical. In Vedder's illustrations even Omar himself, in his simple flowing garb, becomes the elderly classical sage; the youths are Praxitelean in their grace and nudity, the nude females are related to Venus and the Fates, and the allegorical youth that appears in a number of plates is distinctly identifiable as Eros. When architectural settings occur they too place the imagery in the antique world with their classically derived arches and carefully rendered mouldings. Yet, ironically, these are all produced to the imagery of an Iranian poet


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