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. 6186-6209.
[SIR JOHN MALCOLM, English statesman and historian, was born in Dumfriesshire, Scotland, May 2, 1769; went to India at fourteen; later studied Oriental languages, and became staff interpreter. In 1800 he was ambassador, and in 1802, 1807, and 1809 minister to Persia. He was president of Mysore, India, 1803-1805. He was a valuable commander and administrator in India, 1817-1830; died in England, May 30, 1833. His “Sketches of Persia” is a delightful classic; his other works are “History of Persia” (1815), “Memoir of Central India,” “Political History of India, 1784-1823,” and “Life of Lord Clive.”]
WHEN we arrived at the garden of Shah Cherâgh, within a few miles of the city of Shiraz, a halt was ordered for the purpose of settling the forms of our reception. These were easily arranged, as the Elchee, though his military rank, from the period of his first mission to the present, had advanced from that of Captain to General, claimed only the same respect and attention he had before insisted upon as the representative of a great and powerful government.
Ceremonies and forms have, and merit, consideration in all countries, but particularly among Asiatic nations. With these the intercourse of private as well as public life is much regulated by their observance. From the spirit and decision of a public Envoy upon such points, the Persians very generally form their opinion of the characters of the country he represents. This fact I had read in books, and all I saw convinced me of its truth. Fortunately the Elchee had resided at some of the principal courts of India, whose usages are very similar. He was, therefore, deeply versed in that important science denominated 6187 “Kâida-e-nishest-oo-berkhâst” (or the art of sitting and rising), in which is included a knowledge of the forms and manners of good society, and particularly those of Asiatic kings and their courts.
He was quite aware, on his first arrival in Persia, of the consequence of every step he took on such delicate points; he was, therefore, anxious to fight all his battles regarding ceremonies before he came near the footstool of royalty. We were consequently plagued, from the moment we landed at Abushehr, till we reached Shiraz, with daily, almost hourly, drilling, that we might be perfect in our demeanor at all places, and under all circumstances. We were carefully instructed where to ride in a procession, where to stand or sit within-doors, when to rise from our seats, how far to advance to meet a visitor, and to what part of the tent or house we were to follow him when he departed, if he was of sufficient rank to make us stir a step.
The regulations of our risings and standings, and movings and reseatings, were, however, of comparatively less importance than the time and manner of smoking our Kelliâns and taking our coffee. It is quite astonishing how much depends upon coffee and tobacco in Persia. Men are gratified or offended, according to the mode in which these favorite refreshments are offered. You welcome a visitor, or send him off, by the way in which you call for a pipe or a cup of coffee. Then you mark, in the most minute manner, every shade of attention and consideration, by the mode in which he is treated. If he be above you, you present these refreshments yourself: and do not partake till commanded: if equal, you exchange pipes, and present him with coffee, taking the next cup yourself: if a little below you, and you wish to pay him attention, you leave him to smoke his own pipe, but the servant gives him, according to your condescending nod, the first cup of coffee: if much inferior, you keep your distance and maintain your rank, by taking the first cup of coffee yourself, and then directing the servant, by a wave of the hand, to help the guest.
When a visitor arrives, the coffee and pipe are called for to welcome him; a second call for these articles announces that he may depart; but this part of the ceremony varies according to the relative rank or intimacy of the parties.
These matters may appear light to those with whom observances of this character are habits, not rules; but in this country 6188 they are of primary consideration, a man’s importance with himself and with others depending on them.
From the hour the first mission reached Persia, servants, merchants, governors of towns, chiefs, and high public officers, presuming upon our ignorance, made constant attempts to trespass upon our dignity, and though repelled at all points, they continued in their efforts, till a battle royal at Shiraz put the question to rest, by establishing our reputation, as to a just sense of our own pretensions, upon a basis which was never afterwards shaken. But this memorable event merits a particular description.
The first mission arrived at Shiraz on the 13th of June, 1800. The King of Persia was at this time in Khorassan, and the province of Fars, of which Shiraz is the capital, was nominally ruled by one of his sons, called Hoosein Ali Meerzâ a boy of twelve years of age. He was under the tuition of his mother, a clever woman, and a Minister called Cherâgh Ali Khan. With the latter redoubtable personage there had been many fights upon minor ceremonies, but all were merged in a consideration of those forms which were to be observed on our visit to the young Prince.
According to Persian usage, Hoosein Ali Meerzâ was seated on a Nemmed, or thick felt, which was laid on the carpet, and went half across the upper end of the room in which he received the Mission. Two slips of felt, lower by two or three inches than that of the Prince, extended down each side of the apartment. On one of these sat the Ministers and nobles of the petty Court, while the other was allotted to the Elchee and suite; but according to a written “Destoor-ool-Amal” (or programme), to which a plan of the apartment was annexed, the Elchee was not only to sit at the top of our slip, but his right thigh was to rest on the Prince’s Nemmed.
The Elchee on entering this apartment, saluted the Prince, and then walked up to his appointed seat; but the master of the ceremonies pointed to one lower, and on seeing the Elchee took no notice of his signal, he interposed his person between him and the place stated in the programme. Here he kept his position, fixed as a statue, and in his turn paid no attention to the Elchee, who waved his hand for him to go on one side. This was the crisis of the battle. The Elchee looked to the Minister; but he stood mute, with his hands crossed before his body, looking down on the carpet. The young Prince, who had hitherto been 6189 as silent and dignified as the others, now requested the Elchee to be seated; which the latter, making a low bow to him, and looking with no slight indignation at the Minister, complied with. Coffee and pipes were handed round; but as soon as that ceremony was over, and before the second course of refreshments was called for, the Elchee requested the Prince to give him leave to depart; and, without waiting a reply, arose and retired.
The Minister seeing matters were wrong, and being repulsed in an advance he made to an explanation, sent Mahomed Shereef Khan, the Mehmandar, to speak to the Elchee; but he was told to return, and tell Cherâgh Ali Khan “that the British Representative would not wait at Shiraz to receive a second insult. Say to him,” he added, “that regard for the King, who is absent from his dominions, prevented my showing disrespect to his son, who is a mere child; I therefore seated myself for a moment; but I have no such consideration for his Minister, who has shown himself alike ignorant of what is due to the honor of his sovereign and his country, by breaking his agreement with a foreign Envoy.”
The Elchee mounted his horse, after delivering this message, which he did in a loud and indignant tone, and rode away apparently in a great rage. It was amusing to see the confusion to which his strong sense of the indignity put upon him threw those, who a moment before were pluming themselves on the clever manner by which they had compelled him to seat himself fully two feet lower on the carpet than he had bargained for. Meerzâs and Omrâhs came galloping one after another, praying different persons of his suite to try and pacify him. The latter shook their heads; but those who solicited them appeared to indulge hopes, till they heard the orders given for the immediate movement of the English camp. All was then dismay; message after message was brought deprecating the Elchee’s wrath. He was accused of giving too much importance to a trifle; it was a mistake of my lord of the ceremonies; would his disgrace — his punishment — the bastinado — putting his eyes out — cutting off his head, satisfy or gratify the offended Elchee? — To all such evasions and propositions the Envoy returned but one answer: “Let Cherâgh Ali Khan write me an acknowledgment that he has broken his agreement, and that he entreated my forgiveness: if such a paper is brought me, I remain; if not, I march from Shiraz.”
Every effort was tried in vain to alter this resolution, and 6190 the Minister, seeing no escape, at last gave way, and sent the required apology, adding, if ever it reached his Majesty’s ear that the Elchee was offended, no punishment would be deemed too severe for those who had ruffled his Excellency’s temper or hurt his feelings.
The reply was, the explanation was ample and satisfactory, and that the Elchee would not for worlds be the cause of injury to the meanest person in Persia, much less to his dear friend Cherâgh Ali Khan; and a sentence was added to this letter by particular desire of Meerzâ Aga Meer, who penned it, stating “that everything disagreeable was erased from the tablet of the Elchee’s memory, on which nothing was now written but the golden letters of amity and concord.
The day after this affair was settled, the Minister paid the Elchee a long visit, and insisted upon his going again to see the Prince. We went — but what a difference in our reception: all parties were attentive; the master of the ceremonies bent almost to the ground; and though the Elchee only desired to take his appointed seat, that would neither satisfy the Prince nor the Minister, who insisted that, instead of his placing one thigh on the Nemmed, which was before unapproachable, he should sit altogether on its edge! This was “miherbânee, serafrâzee” (favor, exaltation), and we were all favored and exalted.
Such is the history of this battle of ceremony, which was the only one of any consequence there was occasion to fight in Persia; for in wars of this kind, as in other wars, if you once establish your fame for skill and courage, victory follows as a matter of course.
It must not be supposed from what has been stated, that the Persians are all grave formal persons. They are the most cheerful people in the world; and they delight in familiar conversation; and every sort of recreation appears, like that of children, increased by those occasional restraints to which their customs condemn them. They contrive every means to add to the pleasures of their social hours; and as far as society can be agreeable, divested of its chief ornament, females, it is to be met with in this country. Princes, chiefs, and officers of state, while they pride themselves, and with justice, on their superior manners, use their utmost efforts to make themselves pleasant companions. Poets, historians, astrologers, wits, and reciters of stories and fables, who have acquired eminence, are not only 6191 admitted into the first circles, but honored. It is not uncommon to see a nobleman of high rank give precedence to a man of wit or of letters, who is expected to amuse or instruct the company; and the latter, confident in those acquirements to which he owes his distinction, shows, by his manner and observations, that usage has given him a right to the place he occupies.
I heard, before I mixed in it, very different accounts of Persian society. With one class of persons it was an infliction, to another a delight. I soon found that its enjoyment depended upon a certain preparation; and from the moment I landed in the country, I devoted a portion of my time to their most popular works in verse and prose. I made translations, not only of history and poetry, but of fables and tales, being satisfied that this occupation, while it improved me in the knowledge of the language, gave me a better idea of the manners and mode of thinking of this people than I could derive from any other source. Besides, it is a species of literature with which almost every man in Persia is acquainted; and allusions to works of fancy and fiction are so common in conversation, that you can never enjoy their society if ignorant of such familiar topics.
I have formerly alluded to the cause which leads all ranks in Persia to blend fables and apologues in their discourse, but this subject merits a more particular notice. There has been a serious and protracted discussion among the learned in Europe as to the original country of those tales which have delighted and continue to delight successive generations. One or two facts connected with this abstruse question are admitted by all. — First, that the said tales are not the native produce of our western clime. They are decidedly exotics, though we have improved upon the original stock by careful culture, by grafting, and other expedients, so as to render them more suited to the soil into which they have been transplanted.
The next admission is that some of our best fables and tales came with the Sun from the East, that genial clime where Nature pours forth her stores with so liberal a hand that she spoils by her indulgence those on whom she bestows her choicest gifts. In that favored land the imagination of authors grows and flourishes, like their own evergreens, in unpruned luxuriance. This exuberance is condemned by the fastidious critics of the West. As for myself, though an admirer 6192 of art, I like to contemplate Nature in all her forms; and it is amidst her varied scenes that I have observed how much man takes his shape and pursuits from the character of the land in which he is born. Our admirable and philosophic poet, after asserting the command which the uncircumscribed soul, when it chooses to exert itself, has over both the frigid and torrid zones, beautifully and truly adds: —
The warmth of the climate of the East, the ever-teeming abundance of the earth, while it fosters lively imaginations and strong passions, disposes the frame to the enjoyment of that luxurious ease which is adverse to freedom. That noblest of all plants which ever flourished on earth has, from the creation to the present day, been unknown in the East. This being the case, the fathers of families, the chiefs of tribes, and the sovereigns of kingdoms are, within their separate circles alike despotic; their children, followers, and subjects are consequently compelled to address these dreaded superiors in apologues, parables, fables, and tales, lest the plain truth, spoken in plain language, should offend; and the person who made a complaint or offered advice should receive the bastinado, or have his head struck off on the first impulse of passion, and before his mighty master had time to reflect on the reasonableness of such prompt punishment.
To avoid such unpleasant results, every bird that flies, every beast that walks, and even fish that swim, have received the gift of speech, and have been made to represent kings, queens, ministers, courtiers, soldiers, wise men, foolish men, old women, and little children, in order, as a Persian author say, “That the ear of authority may be safely approached by the tongue of wisdom.”
There is another reason why tales and fables continue so popular in the East; we observe how pleasing and useful they are as a medium of conveying instruction in childhood: a great proportion of the men and women of the countries of which we speak are, in point of general knowledge, but children; and while they learn, through allegories and apologues, interspersed 6193 with maxims, to appreciate the merits of their superiors, the latter are, in their turn, taught by the same means lessons of humanity, generosity, and justice.
“Have you no laws,” said I one day to Aga Meer, “but the Koran, and the traditions upon that volume?” “We have,” said he, gravely, “the maxims of Sâdee.” Were I to judge from my own observations, I should say that these stories and maxims, which are known to all, from the king to the peasant, have fully as great an effect in restraining the arbitrary and unjust exercise of power as the laws of the Prophet.
It is through allegories and fables that we receive the earliest accounts we have of all nations, but particularly those of the Eastern hemisphere. We may, in these days in which exactness is so much valued, deplore this medium as liable to mislead, but must recollect that if we had not their ancient records in this form we should have them in none. One of the wisest men in the West, Francis Bacon, has truly said, “Fiction gives to mankind what history denies, and in some measure satisfies the mind with shadows when it cannot enjoy the substance.”
Those who rank highest amongst the Eastern nations for genius have employed their talents in works of fiction; and they have added to the moral lessons they desired to convey so much of grace and ornament, that their volumes have found currency in every nation of the world. The great influx of them into Europe may be dated from the crusades; and if that quarter of the globe derived no other benefits from these holy wars, the enthusiastic admirers of such narrations may consider the tales of Boccaccio and similar works as sufficient to compensate all the blood and treasure expended in that memorable contest!
England has benefited largely from these tales of the East. Amongst other boons from that land of imagination, we have the groundwork on which Shakespeare has founded his inimitable play of the “Merchant of Venice.”
The story of the Mahomedan and the Jew has been found in several books of Eastern Tales. In one Persian version love is made to mix with avarice in the breast of the Israelite, who had cast the eye of desire upon the wife of the Mahomedan, and expected, when he came to exact his bond, the lady would make any sacrifice to save her husband.
At the close of this tale, when the parties come before the 6194 judge, the Jew puts forth his claim to the forfeited security of a pound of flesh. “How answerest thou?” said the judge, turning to the Mahomedan. “It is so,” replied the latter, “the money is due by me, but I am unable to pay it.” “Then,” continued the judge, “since thou hast failed in payment, thou must give the pledge; go, bring a sharp knife.” When that was brought the judge turned to the Jew, and said, “Arise, and separate one pound of flesh from his body, so that there be not a grain more or less; for if there is, the governor shall be informed, and thou shalt be put to death.” “I cannot,” said the Jew,” cut off one pound exactly; there will be a little more or less.” But the judge persisted that it should be the precise weight. On this the Jew said he would give up his claim and depart. This was not allowed, an the Jew being compelled to take his bond with all its hazards, or pay a fine for a vexatious prosecution, he preferred the latter, and returned home a disappointed usurer.
Admitting that the inhabitants of Europe received these tales and apologues from the Saracens, the next question is, where did they get them? Mahomed and his immediate successors, while they proscribed all such false and wicked lies and inventions, accuse the Persians of being possessors and propagators of those delusive tales, which were, according to them, preferred by many of their followers to the Koran. But in the course of time Caliphs became less rigid. The taste for poetry and fiction revived, and Persian stories and Arabian tales deluged the land.
For some centuries the above countries were the supposed sources of this branch of literature, but, since the sacred language of the Hindus has become more generally known, the Persians are discovered to have been not only the plunderers of their real goods and chattels, but also of their works of imagination. These we, in our ignorance, long believed to belong to the nations from whom we obtained them; but now that Orientalists abound, who are deeply read in Sanskrit, Prâcrit, Marhatta, Guzerattee, Canarese, Syamese, Chinese, Talingana, Tamil and a hundred other languages, unknown to our ignorant ancestors, the said Persians and Arabians have been tried and convicted, not only of robbing the poor Hindus of their tales and fables, but of an attempt to disguise their plagiarisms, by the alteration of names, and by introducing, in place of the gods and goddesses of the Hindu Pantheon, the 6195 magi, and all the spirits of Heaven and the Earth, which peculiarly belong to the followers of Zoroaster.
Nothing, however, can impose upon the present enlightened age, and our antiquaries have long been and are still occupied in detecting thefts committed twenty centuries ago. In spite of the Persian and Arabian cloaks in which tales and fables have been enveloped, the trace of their Hindu origin has been discovered in the various customs and usages referred to, and it has been decided that almost all the ancient tales are taken from the Hitôpadêsa, and that still more famous work, the Pancha-Tantra, or more properly the Panchôpâkhyân, or Five Tales; while many of the more modern are stolen from the Kathâ-Sarit-Sâgar, or Ocean of the Steam of Narration, a well-known work, which was compiled about the middle of the twelfth century by order of that equally well-known Prince Sree Hertha of Cashmere!
I have sometimes had doubts whether it was quite fair to rake up the ashes of the long-departed Pehlevee writers; more particularly as there does not now exist one solitary book in their language which we could compare with the Hindu MSS., of which we have lately become enamored; but reverence for the learning of those who have decided the question, and dread of their hard words, with the very spelling of which I am always puzzled, has kept me silent. As I am, however, rather partial to my Persian friends, I must vindicate them from this general charge of robbery and fraud. They certainly acquired one of their most celebrated works of imagination from India, under circumstances that do equal honor to the just king Noosheerwân, his wise minister Boozoorchimihr, and the learned doctor Barzooyeh.
The work to which I refer is the Kartaka-Damnaka of the Brahmins, the Kalîla-wa-Damna of the Arabians, and the Fables of Pilpay of Europe. This book, originally written in Sanskrit, was first translated into Pehlevee, from that into Arabic, and next into Persian. So many learned Oriental critics, French and English, have given the names and dates of the translations, that I shall not repeat them, but give a short account of the first introduction of these famous fables into Persia, with some facts of the life and opinions of the wise and disinterested man through whose efforts his native country became possessed of this treasure.
Noosheerwân, deservedly styled the Just, who governed 6196 Persia in the beginning of the seventh century, hearing of the fame of a work which a Brahmin of Ceylon had composed, employed the celebrated physician named Barzooyeh to obtain for him a copy of this production. This was a delicate and hazardous enterprise, for the work, ever since the reign of a certain Indian King, named Dabshileem, for whom it was written, had been guarded with great care and jealousy, lest the profane should learn the wisdom that ought only to appertain to the wise and holy.
Barzooyeh, confident in knowledge and strong in allegiance, undertook to fulfill the commands of his Sovereign. He proceeded towards India, furnished with money and everything that could forward the objects of his journey. When he arrived at the Indian capital, he pretended that the motive which induced him to visit it was the improvement of his mind, by communication with the wise men for which it was at this period renowned. Amongst those whose society he courted, he early discovered one Brahmin, who appeared to him the very model of wisdom. His efforts were directed to gain his friendship, and believing he had succeeded, he resolved to intrust him with him with his real design.
“I have a secret to confide to you,” said he, one day, to his friend: “and you know, ‘a sign to the wise is enough.’ ” “I know what you mean,” said the penetrating Brahmin, “without your sign; you came to rob us of our knowledge, that you might with it enrich Persia. Your purpose is deceit; but you have conducted yourself with such consummate address and ability that I cannot help entertaining a regard for you. I have,” continued the Indian, “observed in you the eight qualities which must combine to form the perfect man: forbearance, self-knowledge, true allegiance, judgment in placing confidence, secrecy, power to obtain respect at court, self-command, and a reserve, both as to speech in general society and intermeddling with the affairs of others. Now you have those qualities, and though your object in seeking my friendship is not pure but interested, nevertheless I have such an esteem for you that I will incur all hazards to forward your object of stealing our wisdom.”
The Brahmin obtained the far-sought book, and by his aid and connivance a copy was soon completed. Noosheerwân, who had been informed of the success of his literary envoy, was impatient for his return; and when he arrived at the 6197 frontier, he was met by some of the most favored courtiers, sent by the monarch to conduct him to the capital. He was welcomed with joy, particularly by Noosheerwân; a great court was held, at which all who were dignified or learned in the kingdom were present. Barzooyeh was commanded to read from the volume he had brought: he did so; and the admiration of its contents was universal.
“Open my treasury!” said the grateful Noosheerwân; “and let the man who has conferred such a benefit on his country enter, and take what he finds most valuable.” “I desire neither jewels nor precious metals.” said Barzooyeh; “I have labored not for them but for the favor of my Sovereign; and that I have succeeded is rather to be referred to his auspices than to my humble efforts. But I have,” said he, “a request to make: the King has directed his able minister, Boozoorchimihr, to translate this work into Pehlevee; let him be further instructed that mention be made of me in some part of the book, and that he particularly specify my family, my profession, and my faith. Let all this be written, so that my name may go down to future ages, and the fame of my Sovereign be spread throughout the world.”
The King was delighted with this further proof of the elevated mind of Barzooyeh; all present applauded his perfect wisdom, and joined in supplicating that his request might be granted.
Noosheerwân, addressing the assembly, said: “You have witnessed the noble disinterestedness of this man, you know how faithfully he had discharged his duty, and what difficulties and dangers he has encountered and overcome in my service. I desired to enrich him with jewels and money, but such rewards have no value in his mind, his generous heart is above them; he has only asked that his name shall have a separate mention, and that his life up to this date shall be faithfully written. Let it,” said the Monarch, turning to Boozoorchimihr, “have a place at the very commencement of that book of wisdom which he has procured for his country.”
The above is the substance of the story, as given in the Persian translation of this work, made by Aboo’l-Fazl, and called Eiyâ-e-Dânish, or the Touchstone of Wisdom; and we have in the same volume some particulars of the religious tenets, or rather doubts, of the philosophic Barzooyeh, which merit a short mention.6198
The wise doctor, who is made to speak in his own person, expresses himself to this effect: “The questions regarding the attributes of the Creator, and the nature of futurity, have been sources of never-ending doubt and discussion. Every one deems his own opinions regarding these important subjects as the only true ones, and his life is wasted in efforts to raise his own sect and to disparage others; but how many of these persons are mere self-worshipers, in whom there is not a trace of real religion, or of the knowledge of God!
“How deeply do I regret that time which I myself lost in pursuit of these vain imaginations, searching every path, but never finding the true way, and never even discovering a guide. I have consulted the wise and learned of all religions as to the origin of that faith in which they believed; but I have found them only busied with propping up their own notions, and trying to overset those of others.
“At last, finding no medicine for the sickness of my heart, and no balm for the wounds of my soul, I came to a conclusion that the foundation of all these sects was self-conceit. I had heard nothing that a wise man could approve; and I thought that if I gave my faith to their creed, I should be as foolish as the poor thief who, by an unmeaning word, was deluded to his destruction.
“Some thieves mounted to the top of a rich man’s house; but he, hearing their footsteps, and guessing their object, waked his wife, to whom he whispered what had occurred. ‘I shall feign sleep,’ said he to her; ‘do you pretend to awake me, and commence a conversation, in a tone loud enough to be heard by the thieves. Demand of me with great earnestness how I amassed my wealth; and, notwithstanding my refusal, urge me to a confession.’
“The woman did as she was desired, but the husband replied, ‘Do forbear such questions; perhaps if I give you true answers somebody may hear, and I may be exposed to disagreeable consequences.
“This denial to gratify her curiosity only made the lady more earnestly repeat her interrogations. Apparently wearied with her importunities, the husband said, ‘If I comply with your wishes, it will be contrary to the maxim of the wise, who have said, “Never tell a secret to a woman.” ’
“ ‘Who,’ said the irritated lady, ‘do you take me for? Am I not the cherished wife of your bosom?’ ‘Well, well,’ 6199 said the man, ‘be patient, for God’s sake; as you are my true and confidential friend, I suppose I must tell you all; but never reveal to any one what you shall now hear.’ She made a thousand protestations that his secret should never pass her lips. The husband appearing quite satisfied, proceeded to state as follows: —
“ ‘Learn, my dear wife, that all my wealth is plunder. I was possessed of a mysterious charm, by which, when standing on moonlight nights near the walls of the houses of the rich, I could, by repeating the word, Sholim, Sholim, Sholim, seven times, and at the same time laying my hand on a moonbeam, vault on the terrace; when there, I again exclaimed, Sholim, Sholim, Sholim, seven times, and with the utmost ease jumped down into the house, and again pronouncing Sholim, Sholim, Sholim, seven times, all the riches in the house were brought to my view. I took what I liked best, and for the last time calling out Sholim, Sholim, Sholim, I sprung through the window with my booty; and through the blessing of this charm, I was not only invisible, but preserved from even the suspicion of guilt.
“ ‘This is the mode in which I have accumulated that great wealth with which you are surrounded. But beware and reveal not this secret; let no mortal know it, or the consequences may be fatal to us all.’
“The robbers, who had anxiously listened to this conversation, treasured up with delight the magic words. Some time afterwards the leader of the band, believing all in the house asleep, and having got upon the window, called out Sholim, Sholim, Sholim, seven times, and springing forward fell headlong into the room. The master of the dwelling, who was awake, expecting this result, instantly seized the fellow, and began to soften his shoulders with a cudgel, saying, ‘Have I all my life been plaguing mankind in acquiring wealth just to enable a fellow like you to tie it up in a bundle and carry it away; but now tell me who you are?’ The thief replied, ‘I am that senseless blockhead that a breath of yours has consigned to dust. The proverb,’ said the wretched man, ‘is complete versified in my fate; I have spread my carpet for prayer on the surface of the waters. But the measure of my misfortune is full; I have only one request to make, that you now put a handful of earth over me.’
“In fine,” adds Barzooyeh, “I came to the conclusion, that 6200 if, without better proof than delusive words, I were to follow any of the modes of faith which I have described, by final condition would be no better than that of the fool in this tale, who trusted to Sholim, Sholim, Sholim.
“I said therefore to my soul, if I run once more after these pursuits, a life would not be sufficient; my end approaches, and if I continue in the maze of worldly concerns I shall lose that opportunity I now possess, and be unprepared for the great journey which awaits me.
“As my desire was righteous, and my search after truth honest, my mind was favored with the conviction that it was better to devote myself to those actions which all faiths approve, and which all who are wise and good applaud.
“By the blessing of God, after I was released from such a state of distraction, I commenced my efforts; I endeavored to the utmost of my power to do good, and to cease from causing pain to animals, or injury to men.”
The wise physician adds in this passage a list of all the virtues after which he sought, and all the vices he shunned. The list is long, and appears to me to include the whole catalogue of human virtues and vices. Suffice it here to say, that his biographer assures us that his latter end was blessed, and that he left behind him a name as celebrated for virtue as it was for wisdom.
The preceding chapter concluded with an episode upon the life and opinions of the favored physician of Noosheerwân. I must in this return to my subject, the elucidation of the rise and progress of apologues and fables.
It will be admitted by all, that the Persians, in the luxuriance of their imaginations, have embellished wonderfully the less artificial writings of the Hindus. The lowest animal they introduce into a fable speaks a language which would do honor to a king. All Nature contributes to adorn the metaphorical sentence; but their perfection in that part of composition called the Ibâret-e-Rengeen, or Florid Style, can only be shown by example, and for that purpose I have made a literal translation of the fable of the “The Two Cats,” from which I suspect we have borrowed ours of the “Town and Country Mouse.”
“In former days there was an old woman, who lived in a hut more confined than the minds of the ignorant, and more dark than the tombs of misers. Her companion was a cat, from 6201 the mirror of whose imagination the appearance of bread had never been reflected, nor had she from friends or strangers ever heard its name. It was enough that she now and then scented a mouse, or observed the print of its feet on the floor; when, blessed by favoring stars, or benignant fortune, one fell into her claws.
“She became like a beggar who discovers a treasure of gold;
Her cheeks glowed with rapture, and past grief was consumed
by present joy.
“ ‘Am I, O God! when I contemplate this, in a dream or awake?
Am I to experience such prosperity after such adversity?’
“But as the dwelling of the old woman was in general the mansion of famine to this cat, she was always complaining, and forming extravagant and fanciful schemes. One day, when reduced to extreme weakness, she with much exertion reached the top of the hut; when there she observed a cat stalking on the wall of a neighbor’s house, which, like a fierce tiger, advanced with measured steps, and was so loaded with flesh that she could hardly raise her feet. The old woman’s friend was amazed to see one of her own species so fat and sleek, and broke out into the following exclamation: —
“ ‘Your stately strides have brought you here at last; pray tell
me from whence you come?
From whence have you arrived with so lovely an appearance?
You look as if from the banquet of the Khan of Khatâi.
Where have you acquired such a comeliness? and how came you
by that glorious strength?’
“The old dame’s cat requested to know what rich meat was, and what taste wheat cakes had? ‘As for me,’ she added, in a melancholy tone, ‘during my life I have neither eaten nor 6202 seen anything but the old woman’s gruel and the flesh of mice.’ The other, smiling, said, ‘This accounts for the difficulty I find in distinguishing you from a spider. Your shape and stature is such as must make the whole generation of cats blush; and we must ever feel ashamed while you carry so miserable an appearance abroad.
“ ‘When the perfume of his beloved passes over the tomb of a lover,
Is it wonderful that his putrid bones should be reanimated?’
“The old woman’s cat addressed the other in the most supplicating manner: ‘Oh, my sister!’ she exclaimed, ‘have I not the sacred claims of a neighbor upon you; are we not linked in the ties of kindred? What prevents your giving a proof of friendship, by taking me with you when next you visit the palace? Perhaps from your favor plenty may flow to me, and from your patronage I may attain dignity and honor.
“The heart of the Sultan’s crumb eater was melted by this pathetic address; she promised her new friend should accompany her on the next visit to the palace. The latter overjoyed went down immediately from the terrace, and communicated every particular to the old woman, who addressed her with the following counsel: —
“ ‘Be not deceived, my dearest friend, with the worldly language you have listened to; abandon not your corner of content, for the cup of the covetous is only to be filled by the dust of the grave; and the eye of cupidity and hope can only be closed by the needle of mortality and the thread of fate.
“The good advice of all the world is like wind in a cage,
Or water in a sieve, when bestowed on the headstrong.
“To conclude, next day, accompanied by her companion, the half-starved cat hobbled to the Sultan’s palace. Before this unfortunate wretch came, as it is decreed that the covetous shall be disappointed, an extraordinary event had occurred, and, owing to her evil destiny, the water of disappointment was poured on the flame of her immature ambition. The case was this: a whole legion of cats had the day before surrounded the feast, and made so much noise, that they disturbed the guests; and in consequence the Sultan had ordered that some archers, armed with bows from Turkey, should, on this day, be concealed, and that whatever cat advanced into the field of valor, covered with the shield of audacity, should, on eating the first morsel, be overtaken with their arrows. The old dame’s puss was not aware of this order. The moment the flavor of the viands reached her, she flew like an eagle to the place of her prey.
“Scarcely had the weight of a mouthful been placed in the scale to balance her hunger, when a heart-dividing arrow pierced her breast.
“A stream of blood rushed from the wound.
She fled, in dread of death, after having exclaimed,
‘Should I escape from this terrific archer
I will be satisfied with my mouse and the miserable hut of
my old mistress,
My soul rejects the honey if accompanied by the sting.
Content, with the most frugal fare, is preferable.’ ”
This fable is a fair specimen of the style of such compositions, but it is in the deebâchehs, or introductions to letters or books, that “the fiery steed of the two-tongued pen” (meaning a split reed) is allowed to run wild amidst the rich pasture of the verdant field of imagination.
A better proof of the latitude taken on such occasions cannot be given than in the preamble to the treaty concluded by the Elchee on his first mission to Persia, of which the following is a literal translation: —6204
“After the voice is raised to the praise and glory of the God of the world, and the brain is perfumed with the scent of the saints and prophets, to whom be health and glory; whose rare perfections are perpetually chanted by birds of melodious notes, furnished with two, three, and four pairs of wings; and to the Highest, seated in the heavens, for whom good has been pre-destinated; and the perfume mixed with musk, which scenteth the celestial mansions of those that sing hymns in the ethereal sphere, and to the light of the flame of the Most High, which gives radiant splendor to the collected view of those who dwell in the heavenly regions; the clear meaning of the treaty, which has been established on a solid basis, is fully explained on this page; and as it is fixed as a principle of law, that, in this world of existence and trouble, in this universe of creation and concord, there is no action among those of mankind which tends more to the perfection of the human race, or to answer the end of their being and existence, than that of cementing friendship, and of establishing intercourse, communication, and connection betwixt each other. The image reflected from the mirror of accomplishment is a tree fruitful and abundant, and one that produces good both now and hereafter. To illustrate the allusions that it has been proper to make, and explain these metaphors, worthy of exposition at this happy period of auspicious aspect, a treaty has been concluded between the high in dignity, the exalted in station, attended by fortune, of great and splendid power, the greatest among the high viziers in whom confidence is placed, the faithful of the powerful government, the adorned with greatness, power, glory, splendor, and fortune — Hajee Ibrahim Khan. On being granted leave, and vested with authority from the porte of the high king, whose court is like that of Solomon — the asylum of the world, the sign of the power of God, the jewel in the ring of kings, the ornament in the cheek of eternal empire, the grace of the beauty of sovereignty and royalty, the king of the universe, like Caherman; the mansion of mercy and justice, the phenix of good fortune, the eminence of never-fading prosperity; the king powerful as Alexander, who has no equal among the princes, exalted to majesty by the Heavens on this globe; a shade from the shade of the Most High; a Khoosroo, whose saddle is the moon, and whose stirrup is the new moon; a prince of great rank, before whom the sun is concealed. . . . And the high in dignity; the great and mighty in power; the ornament of 6205 those acquainted with manners . . . ; delegated from the sublime quarter of the high in power seated on a throne; the asylum of the world; the chief jewel in the crown of royalty and sovereignty; the anchor of the vessel of victory and fortune; the ship on the sea of glory and empire; the blazing sun in the sky of greatness and glory; lord of the countries of England and India. May God strengthen his territories, and establish his glory and command upon the seas, in the manner explained in his credentials, which are sealed with the seal of the most powerful, and most glorious, possessing fortune, the origin of rank, splendor, and nobility; the ornament of the world; the accomplisher of the works of mankind; the Governor General of India!”
This preamble is not less remarkable for its flowery diction than for the art by which it saves the dignity of the King of Persia from the appearance of treating with any one below the rank of monarch. It is also curious to observe that, after introducing the King of England, how skilfully he is limited to an undisputed sovereignty of the seas, that his power may not clash with that of the mighty Khoosroo of the day, “whose saddle is the moon, and whose stirrup is the new moon,” in his dominion over the earth!
Speaking on the above subjects to Aga Meer, I asked him if their monarchs were as much delighted with this hyperbolical style as the Meerzas or Secretaries. “Not at all,” said he; “the late king, Aga Mahomed, who was remarkable for his hatred of ornament and show in every form, when his secretaries began with their flattering introductions, used to lose all temper, and exclaim, ‘To the contents, you scoundrel.’ ” “Flowery introductions,” said the Meer, “if he had lived long enough, would have gone out of fashion; but the present king prides himself upon being a fine writer, both in prose and verse, and the consequence is, as you see in the preamble of this treaty, a composition which I know was honored by his particular approbation.”
It is but justice to some of the most distinguished Persian authors to add that there are many exceptions to this redundant style of composition. In the pages of their greatest poets — Firdousee, Nizâmee, Sâdee, and Anwerree — we meet with many passages as remarkable for the beauty and simplicity of the expression, as the truth and elevation of the sentiments; and many of their historians have given us plain narrations of 6206 facts, unencumbered with those ornaments and metaphors which are so popular with the generality of their countrymen.
How simply and beautifully has Sâdee depicted the benefit of good society in the following well-known apologue!
“One day as I was in the bath, a friend of mine put into my hand a piece of scented clay. I took it, and said to it, ‘Art thou musk or ambergris, for I am charmed with thy perfume?’ It answered, ‘I was a despicable piece of clay, but I was some time in the company of the rose; the sweet quality of my companion was communicated to me, otherwise I should be only a bit of clay, as I appear to be!”
And in another he has given, with equal force and simplicity, the character of true affection: —
“There was an affectionate and amiable youth who was betrothed to a beautiful girl. I have read, that as they were sailing in the great sea they fell together into a whirlpool: when a mariner went to the young man, that he might catch his hand, and save him from perishing in that unhappy juncture, he called aloud, and pointed to his mistress from the midst of the waves: ‘Leave me, and save my beloved!’ The whole world admired him for that speech; and when expiring, he was heard to say, ‘Learn not the tale of love from that wretch who forgets his beloved in the hour of danger.’ ”
We often meet with Persian letters written in a style at once clear and nervous. Of these there cannot be a better example than that addressed by Nizâm-ool-Moolk, the predecessor of the present Soobâh, or ruler of the Deccan, to Mahomed Shah, the weak and luxurious Emperor of Delhi. This letter, besides the merit of its style, possessed that of conveying a just idea of what Mahomedans conceive to be the duties and pursuits of a good and great monarch, a character which is with them invariably associated with that of a military conqueror.
The following extracts from this well-known production are very literal: —
“It is the duty of princes to see that the laws are strictly obeyed; that the honor of their subjects be preserved inviolate; that justice be rendered to all men; and that loyal nobles and ancient pillars of the State, whose claims to reward are established and acknowledged, be distinguished according to their merits. It is their duty, too, to seek for pleasure in woods and deserts; to labor unremittingly in the chastisement of the seditious and refractory; to watch over the rights and 6207 happiness of the lower order of their subjects; to shun the society of the mean, and to abstain from all prohibited practices, to the end that none of their people may be able to transgress against the precepts of religion or morality.
“It is also the duty of princes to be constantly employed in enlarging their dominions, and in encouraging and rewarding their soldiery; it being in the seat of his saddle alone that a king can properly repose. It was in conformity to this opinion the ancestors of your Majesty established it as a domestic rule, that their wives should be delivered on their saddlecloths, although the moment of childbirth is, of all others, the one wherein convenience and comfort are most consulted. And they ordained that this usage should be invariably be observed by their descendants, to the end that these might never forget the hardy and manly character of their progenitors, or give themselves up to the slothful and enervating luxury of palaces.
“It is not in the melodious notes of the musician, or the soft tones of the mimic singer, that true and delightful harmony consists; but it is in the clash of arms, the thunder of cannon, and in the piercing sound of the trumpet, which assembles together the ranks in the field of battle. It is not by decking out the charms of a favorite female that power and dominion are to be maintained, but by manfully wielding the sword; nor is it in celebrating the Hoolee with base eunuchs, that men of real spirit are seen to sprinkle each other with red, but it is in the conflict of heroes with intrepid enemies.
“It being solely with the view of correcting the errors of your Majesty’s government, and of restoring its ancient splendor, that the meanest of your servants has been moved, by the warmth of his zeal and attachment, to impart his sentiments to your Majesty, he has made up his mind to the consequences of this well-meant freedom, and will cheerfully submit to his fate; being in the mean time, however, determined (God willing) to persevere in the design which he has formed, of endeavoring to reëstablish the affairs of the empire by every means that may be consistent with his duty and with propriety.”
The affecting death of Yezdijird, the last of the Kaiânian race of kings, affords a fair specimen of that plain and distinct style in which some of the best histories of Persia are written. It is as follows: —
“When the inhabitants of Merv heard that Yezdijird had fled from Persia, and was within their territory, they were anxious 6208 to apprehend and destroy him. They accordingly addressed a letter to Tanjtâkh, the King of Tartary, stating, ‘The king of Persia has fled from the Arabs and taken refuge with us; we are not inclined to be his adherents, we are more favorably inclined towards you, whose approach we desire, that we may be freed from him, and place ourselves under your protection.’
“As soon as Tanjtâkh received this letter he desired to gain possession of Merv, and marched with a considerable army towards that city. Yezdijird, hearing of his near approach, and of the force by which he was accompanied, departed from the Câravânserâi, where he had alighted, at midnight, unattended and undetermined where to go. As he walked straight forward, he saw a light on the side of a stream, to which he directed his footsteps. He found a miller engaged in the labors of his mill, to whom he said, ‘I am a man in desperate circumstances, and have an enemy whom I have every reason to dread; afford me an asylum for this one night; to-morrow I will give you what may make you easy for life.’ The miller replied, ‘Enter that mill, and remain there.’ Yezdijird went into the mill, and laying sorrow aside, went composedly to sleep. When the miller’s servants observed that he was gone to rest, and entirely off his guard, they armed themselves with clubs, and falling upon him slew him. Having done this they stripped the body of the gold and silver ornaments, the imperial robe, and the crown: then taking the corpse by the feet, they dragged it along, and threw it into the milldam.
“Next day Tanjtâkh arrived at Merv, and the inhabitants sought Yezdijird in every direction. By chance the miller being met, was interrogated. He denied having any knowledge of him; but one of his servants, who was dressed in a woolen garment, having come before them, they, discovering that he smelt strongly of perfume, tore open his garment, and found Yezdijird’s imperial robe, scented with ottar and other essences, hid in his bosom. They now examined all the other servants, and found that each had some article secreted about his person; and after being put to the torture they confessed the whole transaction.
“Tanjtâkh immediately sent people to search the milldam for the body, which they soon found and laid before him. When he saw the corpse of the king he wept bitterly, and ordered it to be embalmed with spices and perfumes; and he further directed, that after it was wrapt, according to the usage 6209 of the Kaiânian monarchs, in a shroud, and placed in a coffin, it should be sent to Persia to be interred in the same place, and with the same ceremonies, as other sovereigns of the race of Kaiân.
“Tanjtâkh also commanded that the miller and his servants should be put to death.”