From The Bibliophile Library of Literature, Art, & Rare Manuscripts, Vol. XVIII, compiled and arranged by Nathan Haskell Dole, Forrest Morgan, and Caroline Ticknor; The International Bibliophile Society, New York-London; 1904; pp. 6209-6217.
IN Persia, all time has reference to sunrise. Caravans start two, three, or four hours “before the sun,” and visits of ceremony are frequently paid, as the Governor of Koom proposed in my case, two or three hours after sunrise. I joined his highness in the procession, and walked beside him to the gate, where, as is usual before the houses of the great, there sat a dervish, a man of wildest aspect, with long, black hair falling upon his shoulders. He was dressed in white, from turban to his bare feet. He shouted, “Allah-hu!” while the governor’s procession was passing, and scowled at me with most obvious disgust, appearing extremely offended at the civility with which the prince governor shook hands and expressed his hope of seeing me in the morning.
The Governor of Koom is a great personage, to whom the Shah has given the title of Itizad-el-Dowleh (the Grandeur of the State). He is married to the eldest daughter of his majesty, the Princess Fekhrul Mulook. Her highness has also a title from her imperial father; she is addressed as “the Pomp of the State.” It is easy to see that the Itizad-el-Dowleh has neither vigor, energy, nor ability, and that the advantages of his natural good breeding are wasted by excesses, such as Persian viveurs most delight in. He owes his position, his title, and his wife to the contrition of the present Shah for having consented to the murderous execution of his father, the Mirza Teki Khan, the great Ameer-el-Nizam, whose conduct as commander in chief of the army and acting grand vizier, in the early part of his majesty’s reign, is referred to by Persians with unbounded pride and satisfaction. They speak of Teki Khan 6210 as having been honest, as having had no itching palm for public money or for private bribes — a political phenomenon, therefore, in their eyes. The handsomest and largest caravanserai in Teheran is, as I have said, named after him; and over the Ameer’s tomb in that city the repentant Shah has built a structure, the blue dome of which is one of the most prominent features in the general aspect of Teheran.
In his high station, he was of course the object of jealousy and hatred; enemies intrigued against him, and represented to the young Shah that Teki Khan not only held himself to be the greatest in the empire, but that the Ameer-el-Nizam boasted of his personal security as guaranteed by the Tsar of all the Russias. The Shah listened unwillingly, for Teki Khan was high in favor and repute, and was his majesty’s brother-in-law, having been recently married to a sister of the King of Kings. But Nazr-ed-deen was versed in the traditions of his house. All men say he is a true Kajar, and his dynasty won and has retained power by killing, or rendering impotent, by blinding or maiming, any who was suspected of rivalry.
Teki Khan was disgraced, and sent away from the sight of “the Shadow of God”; but it was long before the Shah would consent to his being put to death. Day after day his enemies urged that he should be disposed of, and suggested the sending of assassins to the country palace near Kashan, in which he and the princess, his wife, were living, with orders to kill him in his apartments. The Shah hesitated; he had some affection for his sister, who was devotedly attached to her distinguished husband. The princess believed that Teki Khan’s life was in danger, and never quitted his side, knowing that her presence was his chief security. At last his enemies spread a report that the Tsar intended to interfere, and to obtain from the Shah an assurance of the safety of the Ameer. The plot was now successful. The Shah was told that the Russian envoy was about to demand that the person of Teki Khan should be inviolable, and it was artfully represented that this would render the Shah contemptible in the eyes of his subjects, who, in their anger, would probably depose or murder himself. He was persuaded to give his consent to the immediate assassination of Teki Khan, in order that his death might be accomplished before the Russian envoy applied for audience.
The Shah gave way, and the murderers set out with glee to take the life of the ex-minister, who had been so great a 6211 benefactor to his country. Their only remaining difficulty was in detaching the princess from Teki Khan, and this they accomplished by stratagem, representing themselves as bearers of returning favor from the Shah. Teki Khan received them alone, expecting to hear that his imperial master was once more his friend. But he was quickly undeceived. Yet these emissaries of “the Shadow of God” were no hireling assassins, anxious to finish their job with fatal dagger in the quickest possible manner; they were men who had come, with true Persian cruelty, to enjoy personal and political revenge in watching the long-drawn agonies of their victim. They seized and stripped Teki Khan, cut the arteries of his arms, and then stood by and beheld, with gloating, his encounter with death.
Time quickly brought the truth to light, and the Shah felt guilty of the murder of the noblest of his subjects. His majesty had two daughters; his sister, the widow of the Ameer, had two sons. The four children were betrothed in marriage, and the penitent sovereign pledged himself to regard the welfare of the boys he had made fatherless. So it happened that the elder had become his majesty’s son-in-law and Governor of Koom, with power to keep for himself the surplus of the results of taxation, after paying into the imperial treasury the sum at which the province of Koom is assessed to the revenues of the State.
On the morning after I had seen his highness, at “one hour after the sun,” which at that season was eight o’clock, I heard a noise of arrival, and stepped out from the mud hovel, which was our only apartment, on to the wide roof of the stables of the chapar-khanah. Four of the governor’s servants, splendid in costume and armory, had arrived, to be my escort to the palace. Our way led through the crowded bazaar, and the servants, who marched before me, did all possible honor to the occasion by the most offensive rudeness to the people. I threatened to lead the way myself if they did not cease from pushing the women and men alike aside, sometimes knocking them down upon the trader’s stalls, in their zeal to exhibit the importance of their master and of his visitor.
No one complained, and in no case was there apparent even a disposition to return their blows; for the violent manner in which they pushed and drove the people with their sticks frequently amount to assault. “Away, sons of a burned father!” “Away, sons of dogs!” they cried, belaboring 6212 the camels and asses, which were slow to perceive the necessity of clearing the center of the path for our passage. There may be some alleys in the East End of London with entries as mean and dirty as that of the palace of the Itizad-el-Dowleh; but, then, in London the path is not choked, as it was at Koom, with bits of sun-backed clay, and with heaps of dust, contributed in part from the breaking-up of the mud cement with which the walls are plastered.
The white-clad dervish spit, with unconcealed disdain, as I entered; and on emerging from the passage into a courtyard, in which were placed a square tank and a few shrubs, there was a crowd of about thirty servants and hangers-on, who bowed with that air of grave devotion which is a charm of Persian manner, and followed toward the mud-built house, a single story high, which bounded the courtyard on the farther side. The rooms of Persian houses very rarely have doors, and a curtain of Manchester cotton, printed in imitation of a Cashmere pattern, was hung over the doorway of the Itizad-el-Dowleh’s reception room, which was not more than fifteen feet square.
His highness looked very uncomfortable in his coat of honor, which, I believe, was a present from his imperial father-in-law. It is common in Persia for the sovereign to send a coat when he wished to bestow a mark of favor; and, of course, if the garment has been worn by “the Shadow of God,” the value of the present is greatly enhanced. The State coat of the Itizad-el-Dowleh was made from a Cashmere shawl, of which the ground was white. The shape was something like a frock coat, except that it had no collar, and the waist was bunched up in gathers, which gives, even to well-made men, an awkward and clumsy appearance. It was lined throughout with gray fur, resembling chinchilla. Upon his head he wore the usual high black hat of Astrakhan fur. His black trousers were wide and short, after the Persian manner, allowing an ample display of his coarse white socks and shoes. He rose from an armchair, which had probably formed part of the camp equipage of a Russian officer, and on his left hand there were ranged three similar chairs — folding chairs, with seats of Russian leather. The walls and ceilings were whitewashed, and the floor, as is usual, covered with the beautiful carpets of the country. The governor’s chair and mine were placed on a small Austrian rug, which was probably valued for its glaring stripes of green and white; 6213 the farther corners of it were held down by glass weights, on the under side of which were photographic portraits of the Emperor Napoleon III. and of the Empress Eugénie.
The Itizad-el-Dowleh could speak a few words of French, and understand simple phrases in that language; but he had never been to Europe. While we were exchanging civilities in French, two servants were brewing tea upon the floor with a steaming samovar. The infusion was sweetened in the pot, for Persians are of one mind in the matter of sugar, and invariably like as much as the water will hold without ceasing to be fluid — that which chemists call a saturated solution. The tea was served on metal trays of Persian design, in pretty cups of French porcelain, with lemons cut in halves; and afterwards pipes were brought in, the live charcoal which was laid upon the damp tobacco being blown occasionally by the servants until the tube reached the mouth of the smoker. I refused, and the jeweled mouthpiece of the flexible tube was then presented to the governor, the water bowl of the kalian being held by a slave, while his highness languidly inhaled the smoke.
I am sure that my dislike for tobacco was not unwelcome to any one of the grandees of Persia. To a true Mussulman, it is very disagreeable to place in his mouth the tube which has just quitted the lips of an infidel; and I have heard of Persians of rank being provided with a double mouthpiece, so that, after fulfilling the hospitable duty of presenting the pipe to a Christian guest, they could unobserved slip off the piece from which he had drawn the smoke, and enjoy the second without defilement. The feeling which leads English people to wipe the brim of the loving cup before passing the goblet to a neighbor has no place in the Persian mind. The governor knows perfectly well that the pipe from which he draws a few puffs of smoke will be finished by his servants; and indeed a kalian is always tried, after it is lighted, by the pipe bearer, who, if necessary, keeps it alight by smoking until his master is ready for it. The pipe is always followed by black coffee, thick, strong, and sweet, the quantity served to each person never exceeding the medical dose of “two tablespoonfuls,” in china cups without handles, which, in the house of the great, are usually secured in metal egg-cups of gold or silver, studded with turquoises and garnets. After the coffee one looks for leave to go — to obtain permission to retire; a word which, in Persia, is always supposed 6214 to be given by the greater person, whether the visitor or the visited.
In Persian fashion, the governor placed himself and all his power at my disposal; but I found it impossible to make him understand that at the suggestion of Mr. Ronald Thomson, the very able secretary of he British Legation in Teheran, I wished to see as much as could be permitted of the sacred buildings of Koom. We sent for the clerk of the Indian Government Telegraph, which has a testing station in Koom; and with his help it was arranged that the Itizad-el-Dowleh’s servants should take me to the Mesjid-i-Juma, the oldest mosque in Koom, to the tomb of Feth-Ali-Shah, and that I should enter the doorway of the golden-domed mosque of Fatima, and look upon — for it could not be expected that an infidel should approach — the shrine of that sacred sister of the most holy Imām Réza.
The two servants who were appointed to lead this excursion looked as if they had been chosen for their strength; they were two of the largest, most powerful men I had seen in Persia. The Mesjid, or mosque, of Juma was very like the mosque of Kasveen, but rather more decayed and dilapidated; and from this we passed quickly to the tomb of Feth-Ali-Shah, which was in the outskirts of the town. The tomb is a parallelogram, in shape like many which were erected in English churchyards a hundred years ago. It is a simple structure of brick, covered with very beautiful tiles, with brown letters raised in high relief on a ground of blue, not much unlike the samples of this work which have been procured for the South Kensington Museum by Major Smith. Over the tomb there is a small building or mosque.
From the resting place of Feth-Ali-Shah, I returned through the center of the town toward the grand mosque containing the shrine of Fatima. I expected difficulty there. Koom is renowned throughout Persia for devotion to Islam and for hatred of infidels. Not long ago, an Armenian doctor was in imminent danger, from the fact that he, a Christian, had entered this mosque in disguise. It appears that he had in this way been successful in seeing the Caaba at Mecca; and this success had, no doubt, made him contemptuous as to danger from the fanaticism of Persia. Clothed as a pilgrim, he had entered the mosque we were approaching; and having seen the shrine of Fatima, was leaving the building. He met with a moollah in the doorway, and could not refrain from boasting of his success. 6215 “There is not much to see here,” he said, and compared it with Mecca. The priest’s suspicions were aroused; he told the bystanders that he believed the sanctuary had been violated by a Christian, who had committed the graver offense at Mecca. The anger of the people grew hot and hotter by talking together; and at last a crowd rushed down to the chapar-khanah, where the pretended Moslem was staying, in the mud hovel which we occupied during our stay in Koom. He was warned just in time to save his life by flight over the back wall of the posthouse.
My appearance in the courtyard of the mosque caused great excitement. Along the sides of the inclosure, which is nearly half an acre in extent, there are seats, upon which idlers of the “Softa” class, and beggars, with no pretensions to learning, but with abundant fanaticism, were sitting. Most of them rose at the sight of my procession, which was making directly for the main door of the mosque. In the center was the usual tank, around which were ranged a few shrubs in wooden boxes; the golden dome of the mosque rose, glittering and grand, in the foreground. In the doorway hung a heavy chain, festooned in such a manner that none could enter without a lowly bending of the head; and behind this stood a black-bearded moollah, wearing a huge turban of green — the sacred color — and next him I recognized, with a sense of coming defeat, the wild-looking dervish who had cursed and frowned at me from the doorway of the governor’s palace. His face now wore an expression really terrible.
The two gigantic servants of the Itizad-el-Dowleh, who led the way, mounted the steps, and, standing outside the chain, informed the priest that it was the governor’s wish that I should be allowed to enter so far as to be able to see the shrine and the surrounding tombs. The moollah replied with an angry negative, and the dervish supported him with wild gesticulations. The servants pushed forward, evidently thinking that I should demand the fulfillment of their master’s order. But to force a passage appeared to me not only very dangerous, but unjustifiable; and, from all that we had seen of Persian mosques and shrines, I doubted if the contents of this mosque were sufficiently interesting to warrant the slightest risk or disturbance. Clearly, too, the moollahs were stronger in this matter than the governor. Already a crowd watched the altercation, and every man in it could be relied on to support the moollahs, while in 6216 the crowded bazaar close at hand they had a reserve of force willing and eager to do the work of fanaticism — a force which could destroy any other power in Koom. I ordered a retreat; and, lest the servants should not understand my words, beckoned them to quit the doorway. Fortunately I had learned to beckon in the Persian manner. I had noticed that when I held up my hand and waved it toward my face in the European way, our servants did not understand this direction. The hand must be turned downward, and the waving done with the wrist uppermost. This was the sign I made in the courtyard of the mosque at Koom. Our position in recrossing the long courtyard was not very enviable; in Persia the vanquished are always contemptible; but there were no unpleasant manifestations.
In Koom we found it impossible to refill our empty wine bottles. Something stronger than the Maine Liquor Law prevails in this sacred city and in that of Meshed, where the brother of Fatima is buried. Intoxicating liquors appear to be absolutely unattainable, and intoxication is accomplished by those who desire that condition with bhang, or opium. That which can be purchased anywhere in Koom, cheaper and of better quality and manufacture than elsewhere in Persia, is pottery, for which the town is famous. The water bottles of Koom are seen all over Persia. The clay, when baked, is fine, hard, and nearly white, and the potters have a specialty in the way of decoration. They stud the outside of their bottles with spots of vitrified blue, like turquoises, in patterns varied with yellow spots of the same character. The effect is very pleasing. In the bazaar of Koom we bought three delicious melons, each about a foot in diameter, for a kran, the value of tenpence in English money.
The muezzin was shouting “Allahu akbar,” and the call to the daybreak prayer, when our caravan set out for Pasangan, the next station south of Koom. There is difficulty, as we afterward found, in the passage of a ship of three thousand tons’ burden through the Suez Canal; but there is much greater difficulty in passing a takht-i-rawan through the bazaar at Koom at about seven o’clock in the morning. What with the opposing stream of traffic and the anxiety of all to see the English khanoum, the operation was most difficult. After enduring many collisions with loaded camels and mules and donkeys, we escaped from the crowd of black hats and brown hats, green turbans and white turbans, and were once more in the open 6217 plain, where the only variety occurred in the fording of water-courses which crossed the path between artificial banks raised for the purpose of irrigation.
We thought we had never beheld a more lovely sunrise than that in the faint light of which the chapar-khanah of Pasangan. Above, yet near to the horizon, having a clear space beneath it, there hung a dense dark cloud. In a moment this was infused with rose color; then it became a floating mass of gold, increasing in splendor until the arisen sun passed behind it, and over all was gloom. Through the day we rode across the dusty plain to Sin-sin, a mud-built chapar-khanah and caravanserai, so entirely the color of the plain that it was difficult, when there was no shadow, to see the buildings before we were close to the walls. When the usual operations of sweeping out the bala-khanah and covering the doors and windows with hangings had been performed, the carpets laid, our beds set up and made, the table spread for dinner, I sat, as usual, on the roof, avoiding the smoke holes. Through the clouds rising in one of these holes I could see Kazem tending his stew pots in an atmosphere dense with smoke, and unendurable to any but those who are accustomed to sit on the ground. Outside, the scene was, as always, charming, as always, of magnificent extent, and as invariably bounded on every side by mountains. In the plain, toward the town of Kashan, a few patches of softest green, the wheat crop of next year, were the only vegetation. Before us, distant two days’ march, lay the snowy outline of the highest mountain pass in Central Persia. Cold and clear in the falling sunlight, it seemed very near; and the black, serrated outline of the lower ranges against the silver sky gave that aspect to the landscape, which, while it fills the mind with melancholy, is accepted as most beautiful.