That one of the world's most fascinating and instructive books of travel should have been allowed to remain out of print for many years is past comprehension. Yet such has been the fate of Edward Browne's Year Amongst the Persians, which, published in 1893, somehow failed to attract the attention it deserved. Having by the present re-issue obtained, as it were, a new lease of life, it will, we may hope, at last take its rightful place among the great Classics of Travel. It is, however, more than a mere record of travel, and goes far beyond the ordinary limits of such works, for apart from its lively and entrancing descriptions of Persia and its people, it is an infallible guide to modern Persian literature and thought, and as such should always find its place on the student's shelf beside the author's monumental Literary History of Persia.
The pleasant, if difficult, task has been imposed on me, as
one who for forty years enjoyed the intimate friendship of the
author, to prefix to this new issue a short biographical memoir.
The life of Edward Granville Browne, outside his year in Persia,
was singularly devoid of adventure, and in the events of that
year his biographer can add nothing to what he has himself
related so vividly in the present volume. My sole aim, therefore,
is to give a picture of the manner of man he was; to convey to
the reader his personality, his charm, his gifts, his prejudices and
his enthusiasms without attempting a chronological survey of
his life. Dates and details in no way help us to understand the
mind of a scholar, in his own day the greatest exponent of
Persian life and letters.
Edward Granville Browne was born at Uley, near Dursley
in Gloucestershire, on 7th February 1862. His father, Sir
Benjamin C. Browne, for many years the head of R. and W.
Hawthorn, Leslie and Co., engineers and shipbuilders of
Newcastle-on-Tyne, came originally from Gloucestershire, and his
mother was a Northumbrian. He was sent to a preparatory
school, to Glenalmond and to Eton, but nowhere did his
teachers discover how to make him happy, nor, apparently, how
happy he might have made them. Like many another man of
latent gifts, he underwent the discipline of purely wasted years
undiscovering and undiscovered; but it is perhaps inevitable
under any system of public schooling that the most impressionable
period of a boy's life must be spent in trying to be exactly
like every other boy; and woe betide the one who cannot
conform! Of his happy college days, and his simultaneous study
of Medicine and Oriental Languages he tells us all we need to
know in the Introduction to the present volume. The turning-point
in E. G. B.'s career was the Russo-Turkish war of 1877. All
through his life his sympathies were unfailingly drawn towards
any nation that was small and oppressed, and when he saw Turkey
being crushed by the great Russian Tsar, the picture of the gallant
struggle against defeat made by the losing side and the cant of
the anti-Turkish party in England made him feel he "would have
died to save Turkey." It is important to remember that this
deep feeling for the Turks was, in this lad of sixteen, totally
unconnected with any prejudices such as would naturally have
stirred in him after he had begun to study the languages and
history of Islamic peoples. It was the misfortunes of a Muhammadan
power that brought him to the threshold of the treasurehouse
of Oriental lore, of which nature had made him one of the
rightful inheritors. If he was to serve Turkey in any capacity,
Turkish must be studied, and, all unknown to himself, with the
first perusal of Barker's Turkish Grammar, his career as an
Orientalist had begun. The youth to whom Latin and Greek
In 1882 he had spent the Long Vacation in Constantinople,
but Persia and not Turkey was destined to be the lodestar of
his life, and this was no-doubt due to the superior attractions of
Persian literature, especially in the field of Sufi mysticism, which,
while he was studying medicine, took a very firm hold of his
imagination; and it now became his chief ambition to visit the
country that had given birth to Hafiz and to tread "the pure
Earth of Shiraz." When at last in 1887, thanks to his Pembroke
Fellowship, he was able to undertake this journey, and entered
the country of his dreams, he encountered in the Babi movement
a phase of Persian life which was to occupy his devoted attention
for many years to come. It was no doubt the long and often weary,
but always instructive, hours he had spent with Mirza Muhammad
Bakir in Limehouse, that had fitted him to grasp from the
first the hair-splitting heterodoxies of this sect, which had
produced so many brave martyrs, and whose sufferings made
such a ready appeal to his sympathetic mind. His understanding
of spoken Persian when he first came among the people was
already of a standard rarely attained by Europeans after years
of residence, for he was at once able to discuss metaphysics, and
to grasp the full meaning of quoted verses which were new to
him. Anyone who has merely read Persian poetry in texts knows
that this last was no simple achievement; for although modern
Persian is in many respects an easy language, especially in regard
to its accidence and the regularity of its verbal forms, it happens
to be in the matter of vocabulary as difficult as any other language,
seeing that it has a claim on any Arabic word whatsoever,
It is a strange fact that a gift for languages in almost all cases
is a gift for a particular group or type of languages, and it is
quite conceivable that if E. G. B. had not been accidentally
attracted to the languages of Islam, he would never have taken
up linguistic studies at all. I do not think other tongues ever
came easily to him, for although he readily learnt to read, speak
and write Arabic, Persian and Turkish, he never acquired the
same fluency in other languages, and obviously found French
and German far less easy to speak than those infinitely more
difficult idioms; but he confesses that he never derived much
pleasure from Hindustani, which was one of the subjects in his
Tripos, although it is an Islamic language. Certain people are
only able to pick up quickly certain languages, but it is further
a fact that they have particular gifts in respect of those languages.
E. G. B. had no ear for music, and he did not pronounce imitatively
even those languages he knew best. But he spoke them with the
same fluency that characterised his English talk. He was
not really interested in languages as such; neither Semitic nor
Iranian philology made any appeal to him, although at one period
he developed a keen interest in the earliest examples of modern
Persian and its dialects, as witness his articles in the Journal of
the Royal Asiatic Society, 1894, 1895 and 1897.
I think that the intellectual life of this scholar may best be
depicted by an enumeration of the special phases of enthusiasm
through which he passed. They almost admit of chronological
arrangement, though they do not coincide exactly with the list
(I) The Islamic languages, with special regard for Persian poetry, 1879.
(2) Persian Sufiism, especially the Masnavi of Jalalu'd-Din Rumi, 1880-1887.
(3) The Babis, his interest being first aroused by reading Count Gobineau's Religions et Philosophies dans Asie Centrale, a work for which he had the profoundest admiration, and secondly by meeting and receiving the confidences of many Babis in Persia (see pp. 223 sqq.) which led him to devote precious years to the study of a subject which was not perhaps wholly worthy of so much strenuous labour, especially in view of the later development of Beha'ism and the resultant obscuring of the Bab, 1890.
(4) The history of Persian literature, in which subject he laid the foundation of his later work by a careful study of the Biographical Anthologies known as tadhkiras, 1895.
(5) When he first set about his great work on the Literary History of Persia he became much engrossed by the story of the deciphering of the cuneiform Persian and of Pahlavi and by the great controversy between Sir William Jones and Anquetil du Perron, 1900.
(6) With the second volume he became especially interested in the Shahnama of Firdawsi, and at this time began to appreciate fully the great pioneer work of Theodor Noldeke.
(7) Volume III brought him for the first time into close touch with the history of the Mongols, and led him to suggest to the Gibb Trustees the publication of the two greatest works dealing with this subject, namely the Jahan-gusha of Juwayni and the Jami'u'-t-Tawarikh of Rashidu'd-Din. In this connection may be mentioned the deep interest he took, as early as 1880, in the Isma'ilis of Persia and in the literature of the Hurufis.
(8) The next phase was the deep concern he showed in
the Persian revolution and the controversial and tendentious
(9) With his preparations for the fourth volume he became entirely engrossed in the rise of the Safavis, especially in the founder of the dynasty and in the revival of Shi'ism, 1918-20.
(10) Arabic Medicine. In 1919 he was invited to deliver a course of four FitzPatrick lectures at the College of Physicians on Arabic Medicine, which appeared in book form in 1921. This was the first occasion he had of utilising his combined knowledge of Arabic and of Medicine on an extended scale, although his medical studies had already stood him in good stead in other of his writings, notably in connection with his translation of the Chahar Maqala, which has a chapter devoted to Doctors.
(11) Towards the end of his life, when he had seen the fourth volume through the press (1924), he devoted most of his time to making a catalogue of the many valuable manuscripts he had collected, especially in the last decade, by the purchase of the collections of General Houtum-Schindler and of Haji 'Abdu'l- Majid Belshah.
Apart from his purely literary activities he devoted much
time to the promotion of Oriental studies in the University,
and was mainly responsible for the creation of a School of Living
Oriental Languages in Cambridge in connection with the Sudan
Political Service and the Consular Department of the Foreign
Office. Mention must also be made of his practical efforts in the
In between these enthusiasms which occupied his hours of
quiet work--and it was always a marvel how those hours were
extracted from the twenty-four, seeing that he never grudged
giving his best to all who came to his rooms, or later on to his
house--he devoted much time to the management of the affairs
of the E. J. W. Gibb Trust. Among the earliest friends with
whom he was brought into contact by his Turkish studies, was
E. J. W. Gibb, who devoted the whole of his life to the study of
Ottoman poetry. When in 1901 Gibb died, only one volume of
his monumental History of Ottoman Poetry had appeared, although
the rest of the work was nearly complete. As a labour of love
E. G. B. took upon himself the most onerous task of seeing the
whole work through the press, and completing the unfinished
portions; and this involved an immense amount of patient
research, seeing that every quotation had to be verified, and that
the Turkish originals of the many poems translated in the body
of this work had to be traced to their sources, often in rare
manuscripts, and copied for the printer. It would be hard to
overestimate the unselfish devotion to which this undertaking bore
witness. But his tribute of esteem to the great Turkish scholar
did not end here. In order to perpetuate the memory of E. J. W.
Gibb, Mrs Jane Gibb, his mother, left a sum of money yielding
considerable yearly interest to be controlled by a body of trustees
and to be employed in the publication of texts and translations
of Turkish, Persian and Arabic books, and it fell to the lot of
E. G. B. to carry into effect this laudable bequest. In 1904 he
established, with five other scholars and the widow of the Turkish
scholar, the "E. J. W. Gibb Memorial," which has since that
time published more than forty volumes of texts and translations;
and it was E. G. B. who, up to the time of his death, was
the moving spirit of the Trust, which has conferred on scholars
In later life he became a rich man, and was thus freed from all
financial anxiety, permitted to practise his natural generosity
and enabled to buy all the books he needed; and never was
an assured competency better bestowed by Fortune. For his
liberality knew no bounds, and the number of Orientals alone
who, deserving or undeserving, were the recipients of his charity
is hard to estimate. But his kindness never seemed to lie so much
His married life was of the happiest, and in Alice Blackburne- Daniell he found an utterly devoted wife, a wonderful mother of his two sons, and a help-meet fitted by intellectual gifts to appreciate his talents and to encourage him in his scholarly labours; and the hospitality of Firwood Library quickly made up for the desertion of the Pembroke rooms. Mrs Browne was indeed the ideal wife for such a man, and during their nineteen years of undisturbed happiness she devoted to him all her thoughts and all her strength. In November 1924 he was suddenly stricken with a severe heart attack, which brought his activities to an end. For eight long months every effort was made to restore his strength, but when, in June 1925, his wife, worn out with the constant anxiety, suddenly collapsed and died, there was no one who could take her place, and he never rallied from the blow. He only survived his wife's death by six months, during which time, by a tremendous effort of will, he answered in his own hand all the letters of condolence he had received, numbering over 300 in all, but his life's work was finished.
He was a most punctilious correspondent and wrote letters
with the same ease in Arabic, Persian or Turkish as he did in
English, and his correspondence in all these languages was
voluminous. Both in English and in Arabic he had a wonderfully
neat writing, and his own books and manuscripts were
always annotated with the greatest care and legibility.
What has been said regarding his correspondence and his
hospitality is merely an indication of his great natural generosity
in the matter of time, which is the commodity which scholars
are apt most to grudge. But with time he was a magician, for
he always seemed to find it for his own work, no matter what
the distractions of the day and night might have been. I can only
say from personal experience that in the many weeks and days
I have spent with him, I hardly ever remember to have caught
It is not my purpose here to describe his numerous works, or even to provide a list of them; for this I would refer the reader to Professor R. A. Nicholson's Introduction to the forthcoming Catalogue of E. G. B.'s manuscripts.
He was held in the deepest esteem and affection by the Persians,
and I cannot support this statement better than by quoting
from an article in French which appeared in a .Teheran newspaper,
Mihan, 6th of Rajab, A.H. 1334:
"Je dois maintenat vous exposer, en grandes lignes, les services qu'il
a rendus a la Perse. Ces services peuvent se diviser en deux categories:
"Il n'y a personne dans notre histoire dont les services rendus a la litterature persane puissent etre compares a ceux de Browne exceptes ceux rendus par les grands rois tels que Mahmoud Ghaznavi le Patron de Ferdowsi et Sandjar Seldjoukide, le Protecteur de Anwari. Et tandis qu'eux travaillaient dans l'interet de leur propre pays Browne faisait tout pour la renaissance et la propagation d'une langue qui n'etait pas la sienne.
"Passons maintenant aux services qu'il a rendus a la cause nationale persane.
"Deja en 1887 quand Browne ecrivait son ouvrage intitule 'Un an au milieu es Persans' ou il racontait son voyage en Perse, il plaignait le people persan d'avoir un gouvernement corrompu a sa tete. A partir de 1906 ou la Revolution s'est declaree en Perse, notre Regrette Ami a consacre une grande partie de son temps a defendre notre cause....
"En parlant des services que notre regrette Ami a rendus a la cause
nationale persane je n'ai pas voulu parler des aides materielles et morales
qu a apportees aux refugies persans, victimes de la tyrannie etrangere, qui
avaient pris le chemin de l'Europe pour echapper au sort funeste qui les
attendait dans leur patrie meme. Le chateau de Firwood pres de Cambridge
our vivait Browne etait un asile pour tous les Persans qui se rendaient en
Angleterre, et l'hospitalite qu'il reservait a nos compatriotes etait sans
"Apres ce court expose vous voyez, Messieurs, quels motifs nous ont pousses a organiser cad reunion commemorative. Dans la personne de Browne nous aeons peru un grand Ami qui a consacre tout son etre pour nous faire connaitre au monde. Cad grande ame genereuse n'avait pas seulement de la sympathie et de l'admiration pour notre pays mais de l'amour, de l'amour pur, profond et desinteresse que l'on voit dans toutes ses ouvres et dans chacune des lignes qu'il a ecrites.
"Nous aeons envers lui une grande dette de gratitude qui ne pourra etre
acquittee que par les generations a venir. Browne vivra toujours dans nos
coeurs et la Perse gardera de lui le souvenir ineffacable, le souvenir
precieux et cher d'un grand et noble Anii qui a tout fait pour reduire ses
souffrances et la faire aimer."
The tributes paid to him after his death, both in the public
press and in private letters, all testify as much to his personal
qualities as to his profound learning. On the Continent and in
America he was regarded as the greatest authority on Persia,
and he was universally recognised as one of the foremost
Orientalists of his day. In 1921, on the occasion of his fifty-
ninth birthday, he received a complimentary address, accompanied
by beautiful presents, signed by a number of representative
Persians, expressing their appreciation of the services he
had rendered to their language and literature. In 1922, on his
sixtieth birthday, he received, in addition to letters and addresses
from Europe and Persia, a volume of Oriental studies, to which
scholars of every country had contributed articles. He never
sought for honours and did not care to take a Doctor's degree
at Cambridge, which he could have done any time, but it is
remarkable that he received so little public recognition from
learned Societies abroad. From the Shah of Persia he received
the order of the Lion and the Sun, he was in 1922 elected a
Vice-President of the Royal Asiatic Society, in 1903 a Fellow
of the British Academy, and in 1911 a Fellow of the Royal
College of Physicians. Had he wished he might have been
Master of Pembroke, but he disliked administrative work and
In reading this great book of travel, in which the discoveries are confined to the soul of the people, one cannot fail to be struck by the great toleration the author shows towards the weaknesses of the Persians. The fact that one of his hosts had become the terror of those he governed and was guilty of a thousand unjust executions and judgments, does not in any way lower E. G. B.'s admiration of his gracious manners or his fine library. He so loved his Persians that he forgave everything, and only stayed to praise and admire.
He had a certain dislike of things Indian, due perhaps to a difference between the Indian and the Persian spirit, and reinforced by a grudge which he bore Indian Muslims because they pronounced Persian unlike the Persians themselves. Another element in this was his disapproval of Anglo-Indian officials, who were his constant bugbear. His anti-Indian prejudices extended even to Indo-Persian poets, that is, the Persian poets like Amir Khusraw and Sa'ib who settled in India, although quite late in life, while he was writing the fourth volume of his great Literary History, he was at length compelled to recognise their merits and make the amende honorable. His feelings towards Indian Muslims also underwent a complete change partly on account of the favourable impression created by some young Indian students who came to study Islamic literature under him in Cambridge during the last six years of his life, and partly owing to his great admiration for the writings of Maulavi Shibli Nu'mani of Aligarh.
That Edward Browne was a genius no man could deny, and
his genius was of two distinct kinds; he not only fulfilled the
condition of possessing the capacity for taking infinite pains
but also had the genius which reveals itself in the inspiration of
the spoken word. For it was in his talk and conversation that
the scholar, the wit, the enthusiast and the man of heart were
To write dispassionately of so dear a friend has been no easy task, but my aim was to represent this great scholar in the light of common day, so that some lasting memorial should remain of his intellectual progress and his mental outlook, of his steadfast ideals, his simplicity of character and his untiring devotion to the cause of sound scholarship.
BUT AFTERWARDS. Thus saith the humblest and unworthiest of His
servants, who least deserveth His Bounty, and most needeth His Clemency
(may God forgive his failing and heal his ailing!): When from Kirman and
the confines of Bam I had returned again to the city on the Cam, and ceased
for a while to wander, and began to muse and ponder on the lands where I
had been and the marvels I had therein seen, and how in pursuit of
knowledge I had forgone the calm seclusion of college, and through days
warm and weary, and nights dark and dreary, now hungry and now athirst I
had tasted of the best and of the worst, experiencing hot and cold, and
holding converse with young and old, and had climbed the mountain and
crossed the waste now slowly and now with haste, until I had made an end
of toil, and set my foot upon my native soil; then, wishful to impart the
gain which I had won with labour and harvested with pain (for "Travel is
travail"4 say the sages), I resolved to write these pages, and, taking ink
and pen, to impart to my fellow-men what I had witnessed and understood of
things evil and good.
Now seeing that to fail and fall is the fate of all, and to claim
exemption from the lot of humanity a proof of pride and vanity, and
somewhat of mercy our common need; therefore let such as read, and
errors detect, either ignore and neglect, or correct and conceal them
rather than revile and reveal them. For he is lenient who is wise, and
from his brother's failings averts his eyes, being loth to hurt or harm,
nay, meeting bane with balm. WA'S-SALAM.
1 Kur'an, ii, III; iii, 42, etc.
2 Kur'an, vi, II; xxvii, 71, etc.
3 Kur'an, ii, 36, 59, 106, etc.
4 So Burton has well translated the Arabic proverb: "Es-seferu kit'atun mina's-sakar." ("Travel is a portion of hell-fire.")