Page:Quatrains of Omar Khayyam (tr. Whinfield, 1883).djvu/40

This page has been proofread, but needs to be validated.

xvi

INTRODUCTION.

lady who has collated all the MSS. of Omar in Europe tells me she has found in one place and another no less than 1200 quatrains attributed to him. She has, however, in an article in Frazer for May 1879, expressed the opinion that the number of genuine quatrains is not more than 250 or 300, and I am inclined to think this estimate high enough. But when one comes to consider which particular quatrains are to be pronounced genuine, and which imitations, it is not always easy to form a confident decision. The state of the case is this:—Out of all the quatrains passing under Omar's name hardly any stand alone. Almost every one belongs to a family, more or less numerous, to the other members of which it bears a strong family likeness. One can say with some confidence that all these replicas, paraprases and variations of the same ideas can hardly be the work of one and the same hand; but to distinguish with certainty the handiwork of the master from that of his imitators is a task probably beyond the powers of any foreign critic living 800 years after the poems in question were written.

In this difficulty, the rule I follow is to give what seem the best specimens of each class of quatrains, and to exclude the rest. In accordance with this rule, I exclude, in particular, a large number of quatrains in praise of wine, and exhortations to live for the day, which recur in the MSS. with most wearisome frequency. I cannot of course feel sure that the quatrains I retain are in all cases the identical ones written by Omar; all I pretend to do is to give samples of each class of quatrains attributed to him.