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Persia and the Persian Question, volume I

by George N. Curzon

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Chapter 1

INTRODUCTORY

The things to be seen and observed are the courts of princes, especially when they give audience to ambassadors; the courts of justice, while they sit and hear causes; and so of consistories ecclesiastic; the churches and monasteries, with the monuments which are therein extant; the walls and fortifications of cities and towns; and so the havens and harbours, antiquities and ruins, libraries, colleges, disputations and lectures, where any are; shipping and navies; houses and gardens of state and pleasure near great cities; armouries, arsenals, magazines, exchanges, burses, warehouses, exercises of horsemanship, fencing, training of soldiers, and the like; comedies such whereunto the better sort of persons do resort; treasuries of jewels and robes; cabinets and rarities; and, to conclude, whatsoever is memorable.

— BACON, Essay xviii. on 'Travel'

IN this introductory chapter, before proceeding to my narrative, I wish to make clear to my readers the threefold object of which I have in view. Perhaps I shall best explain to them the primary aim of this work if I quote the opening words of my first letter from Persia to the 'Times:' —

The visit of the Shah of Persia to England in 1889 and the official and public reception accorded to him throughout the country have reawakened that interest in Persia and the Persian question which the remoteness of his dominions and the increasing indifference of the English public to interests lying outside their immediate ken had allowed in recent years to languish. The attentions paid to the distinguished visitor by all ranks, from the Sovereign downwards, and the efforts made to impress him both with the resources and with the friendly consideration of Great Britain, were evidences that the Shah was regarded as much more than an interesting Oriental potentate afflicted with a taste for foreign travel, and deserving to be run after


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and cheered as the latest social lion. The public was dimly aware that motives of higher policy were at work, and that the monarch who was brought in state up the Thames, and fêted at the Guildhall, and conducted on a business-like progress through the principal manufacturing centres of the kingdom, was both an ally of the British nation and an important factor in the determination of our policy in the East. Even those who knew or cared little for Imperial politics were conscious that Persia is a country providing an extensive and profitable market for English and Anglo-Indian trade, and that on the most mercenary grounds, if on no other, a good understanding with its ruler is in the highest degree desirable. At the same time, in spite of the general recognition of the uncommon significance of the visit and of the practical expediency of a hearty welcome, there were not wanting symptoms both in the press and in the House of Commons that there were many who misunderstood, or could not read, the signs of the times; and it was more than hinted that there was something ridiculous in making such a lively fuss about a monarch who probably despised these tokens of interested attachment, and from whom nothing could be expected in return. The true bearing in its many and momentous ramifications of the Persian question was but imperfectly grasped; and what is in reality a problem of the most abstruse statesmanship was discussed as though it were a casual obligation to be decently discharged and then conveniently forgotten.

It is in the belief that such an impression exists, and with the conviction that it both is mistaken and may be disastrous, that I propose to describe, from the evidence of my own eyes in Persia itself, the character and dimensions of the Persian problem, and to indicate to English readers what is their stake in that distant country; why they are compelled to regard its policy and development with such acute concern; what is the meaning and what may be the results of a Persian alliance; and why it is so impossible to treat either the ruler or his people with polite indifference. There are many questions which in the course of my narrative will, I hope, come under examination. Such will be the present policy of the Shah's Government, the character, quality, virtues, or vices of the Persian Administration, the likelihood of reforms resulting from the European tour of the sovereign, the question of the succession to the throne, the strength and possible utility of the army, the opening for railroad enterprise in Persia, the political sympathies of the people, the relative degrees of influence possessed by Russia and Great Britain, the designs and ambitions of the two Powers, the meaning and significance of the Khorasan question, and the alleged danger to British commercial competition in the different provinces of the Shah's dominions. The late Sir C. MacGregor, when travelling in Persia in


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1875, soon after the Shah's first visit to Europe, left on record this opinion: —

'I do not think our reception of the Shah has produced at all a good impression. The Persians know that we are anxious about the Russians, and they look on it as a purely political matter; and, while the enthusiastic reception their Shah met with in London adds much to his importance in their eyes, it has not in any way improved our position. The idea, I think, is that we are very anxious for Persia to be on our side when the struggle with Russia comes, and that we will pay extravagantly for her assistance. This I cannot help regarding as a great pity.'

I shall endeavour to ascertain whether such an impression still exists among the subjects of the Shah, or how far their training in the rudiments of politics has progressed in the last sixteen years. In fine, Persia, from an Englishman's point of view, and from the point of view more particularly of an English politician, will be the subject of my communications. Long residents in the country usually undertake, and are incomparably better qualified for, the task of describing local customs and manners, of which a traveller can form but a hasty and imperfect judgment. But a political problem may fairly be consigned to interested hands, and can be so committed with the greater safety if an honest endeavour is made, as will be in this case, to regard it, not from any narrow or selfish, but from an Imperial standpoint, and in its due relation to the broader question of Asiatic politics as a whole, of which it constitutes no unimportant part.

 

In the above paragraphs is indicated with sufficient precision the political aspect of this work. I need not conceal the fact that it is in the elucidation of that aspect that personally I am most concerned, and that I would sooner be author of a political treatise that commended itself to the well-informed than of a book of travel that caught the ephemeral taste of the public. Nor do I make this admission merely because success if attained in the one department may have some permanence, while in the opposite case it can scarcely be other than fugitive, but because, in the contemplation of the kingdoms and principalities of Central Asia, no question, to my mind, is comparable in importance with the part which they are likely to play or are capable of playing in the future destinies of the East. Turkestan, Afghanistan, Transcaspia, Persia — to many these names breathe only a sense of utter remoteness or a memory of strange vicissitudes and of moribund romance. To me, I confess, they are the pieces on a chessboard upon which is being played out a game


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for the dominion of the world. The future of Great Britain, according to this view, will be decided, not in Europe, not even upon the seas and oceans which are swept by her flag, or in the Greater Britain that has been called into existence by her offspring, but in the continent whence our emigrant stock first came, and to which as conquerors their descendants have returned. Without India the British Empire could not exist. The possession of India is the inalienable badge of sovereignty in the eastern hemisphere. Since India was known its masters have been lords of half the world. The impulse that drew an Alexander, a Timur, and a Baber eastwards to the Indus was the same that in the sixteenth century gave the Portuguese that brief lease of sovereignty whose outworn shibboleths they have ever since continued to mumble; that early in the last century made a Shah of Persia for ten years the arbiter of the East; that all but gave to France the empire which stouter hearts and a more propitious star have conferred upon our own people; that to this day stirs the ambition and quickens the pulses of the Colossus of the North. In the increasing importance with which domestic politics are invested in our own public life and in the prevailing tendency to turn westwards, and to seek both for the examples and the arena of statesmanship amid younger peoples and a white-skinned race, room may yet be found for one whose fancy is haunted by 'the ancient of days;' who reminds his countrymen that, while no longer the arbiters of the West, they remain the trustees for the East, and are the rulers of the second largest dark-skinned population in the world; and who argues that no safeguard should be omitted by which may be secured in perpetuity that which is the noblest achievement of the science of civil rule that mankind has yet bequeathed to man.

Whilst, however, the connection of Persia with the larger problems of Asiatic politics is the first object which I have had in view, a second, scarcely less important, has ever been before me, and has gradually swollen in scope and dimensions, until of itself I would fain believe that it might justify these volumes. This is a desire to depict Persia as she now is, apart from her foreign relations; to give a succinct account of her provinces and peoples, her institutions and features, her sights and cities, her palaces, temples, and ruins; to trace her entry, in the present century, and particularly during the last half-century (a period nearly coterminous with the reign of the


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present king), into the diplomatic comity of nations, and her efforts to accommodate herself to the ill-fitting clothes of a civilisation that sits but clumsily upon her: so that any man, anxious to ascertain in any respect what is the Persia of Nasr-ed-Din Shah, how to reach it, whither to go when he gets there, what to ask for and to see, what has been done or explored or said by others before him, what there remains for him to do, may discover that which he seeks in these pages, finding therein, not merely an account of the status quo — the fleeting record of a moment — but, pieced together, fragment by fragment, the processes and means by which that state has been produced, and by a knowledge of which alone will he be able either to comprehend the resultant issue or to frame a forecast as to the future. In a word, I shall endeavour to do here for Persia what far abler writers have done for most other countries of equal importance, but what for two hundred years no single English writer has essayed to do for Iran, viz. to present a full-length and life-size portrait of that kingdom.

Finally, I shall add whatever of variety or incident may be possible to a text that might otherwise prove somewhat solid of substance, by describing the wayfarer's life in the East and the ever-fresh, if seldom momentous, incidents of travel.

It ought not to be difficult to interest Englishmen in the Persian people.[2] They have the same lineage as ourselves. Three thousand years ago their forefathers left the uplands of that mysterious Aryan home from which our ancestral stock had already gone forth, and the locality of which is still


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a frequent, if also the most futile, battlefield of science.[3] They were the first of the Indo-European family to embrace a purely monotheistic faith. Amongst them appeared Zarathustra, or Zoroaster, the second in date of the great religious teachers of the East, if, indeed, he ever appeared at all.[4] Thence sprang the ennobling creed of Ormuzd and Ahriman. Then the Avesta took shape, and there was kindled the fire that, all but extinguished on its parent altars, still lights a subdued but steadfast flame in the rich and comfortable exile of Bombay.

As we descend the stately flight of Persian history we encounter many a name familiar to us from childhood. Dismissing the legendary as appertaining to a region of myth more nebulous in the case of Iran than of almost any country, we are confronted, with the illustrious figures of Cyrus, Darius, and Xerxes, whose handwriting still echoes their fame from the halls where they ruled and feasted. A succession of meteoric phenomena, the wonder or the scourge of humanity, an Alexander, a Jenghiz Khan, a Timur, a Nadir Shah, pass, at different epochs, in a trail of fire and blood across the scene. The direst day of the later Roman Commonwealth was when the legions of Crassus were strewn on the plain of Carrhae. Twice did a Roman Caesar surrender to a Persian or semi-Persian conqueror; when the Emperor Valerian bowed his neck beneath the heel of Shapur I.; and when the Emperor Romanus Diogenes fell a prisoner to the Seljuk Alp Arslan, the Great Lion. The death in battle of a third, the renowned Julian, was a triumph more precious than a battlefield to the second Shapur. Twice also, in the days of the famous Chosroes, or Nushirwan, and again under his grandson, the second Chosroes or Parviz, the borders of Iran were extended to the Mediterranean, and the terror of her


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arms to the walls of Byzantium. Then fell the sword of Omar and the devouring flame of the Koran. In the ensuing ages great names — Avicenna (Abu-ibn-Sena), Firdusi, Omar-el-Khayam, Sadi, and Hafiz — adorned her literary annals, and have left her a legacy of imperishable renown. Finally a native dynasty and a naturalised religion appeared; and the name of Shah Abbas the Great is to this hour associated with anything that is durable or grandiose during the last three centuries of Persian history. A record of inferior names, of internecine conflict and international struggle, in the course of which Russia and England enter upon the scene, brings us down to the present time, when a dominion, greatly contracted, but withal much consolidated, acknowledges a Turkish dynasty, and parades before the world the now familiar figure of Nasr-ed-Din Shah. If Persia had no other claim to respect, at least a continuous national history for 2,500 years is a distinction which few countries can exhibit.

There is, further, in the special connection of Persia with this nation at different epochs, and more especially during the present century, a claim upon Englishmen's attention which no student of his country's history should be willing to ignore. As long ago as the reign of Edward I. an accredited plenipotentiary was deputed from Great Britain to the court of the Mongol sovereign Arghun, in whose dominions Persia was included. Nearly three centuries later an envoy bore letters from Queen Elizabeth to the second Sefavi monarch. An ambassador from Charles I. reached Persia only to die. In the sixteenth and again in the seventeenth centuries gallant attempts were made by British agents to establish a trade with Persia by the north of Europe and the Caspian. Between the two periods the growing maritime ascendency of Great Britain had opened to her first a share, and presently the control, of the commerce of the Persian Gulf. Finally, with the dawn of the present century, emerged a policy of close Anglo-Persian relationship, which, though twice suspended by diplomatic rupture, and once by war, has remained in existence ever since; which has given birth to a few deservedly great reputations; and which, though it has been signalised by many follies and by some shame, by spasms of prodigal concern succeeded by intervals of unreasoning apathy, has yet bound the two nations in a closer bond of political interest than unites this country with any other independent sovereignty in Asia.


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The memorials of many of these ages, the handiwork of some of these men, will come under notice in the narrative to which I shall presently turn. My journey was divided into four portions, each of which will be found to possess a historical interest or a political importance, as well as physical idiosyncrasies, of its own. They will deal respectively with the north-east, the central, and the south-west provinces of Persia, and with the maritime highway on the south, the thread upon which will be strung whatever of information I have been able to collect, either with regard to the regions actually traversed or to those bordering thereupon, being supplied by the description of my own travels, which consisted of (1) a ride of 850 miles through the frontier province of Khorasan and thence to the capital, Teheran; (2) the more familiar journey of 800 miles, also on horseback, from Teheran to Bushire; (3) the ascent of the Shat-el-Arab and the Karun River; and (4) the navigation of the Persian Gulf.

In the first case I shall conduct my readers to the last remaining possession of the once mighty principality of Khorasan — a dominion that embraced Merv, extended to Khiva, and included Herat and Kandahar, and was laved by the Oxus. Though shorn of its high estate, this province, fortified by savage mountains and inaccessible ravines, interspersed with plains that sustain the relics of famous capitals, and possessing one city at least of world-wide renown, will be found to present many problems of undiminished and imperial interest. For hundreds of years it has been the battle-ground of races and the prey of a rapine less merciful than sustained war. More persons have probably died a violent death in Khorasan than in any other territory of equal size in Asia. There, moreover, at this moment, on the north and east, the eagles are again gathered together, and in the barracks of Transcaspia and the council-tents of Turkestan is being debated the destiny of Meshed.

While treating of this portion of my journey it will be both natural and necessary to the scope of these volumes that I should give the latest information about the adjacent provinces or districts; information the bulk of which was derived from inquiries made by myself while in the neighbourhood, and the whole of which has been supervised by the most competent authorities. This will apply to the Perso-Afghan border and Seistan question on the east, where a political crisis is


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always possible and sometimes acute, and where the Indian Frontier question, emerges as a formidable factor in the situation; to the maritime provinces of Persia on the Caspian, where such an amazing difference of natural conditions exists that they might be mistaken for the antipodes, instead of a physical continuation of Persian soil; and to the north-western and western provinces, containing great cities, an alien and divided population, and indestructible remains of antiquity. Similarly, when I come to the southern parts of the country, information will be forthcoming about those more distant and little known provinces in the southeast and south-west, which have held out the longest against the centralising tendencies of the age, and which still, in some sort, exhibit an image of the nomad turbulence that was once a uniform characteristic of Iranian society.

Resuming my journey at Teheran the opportunity will await us of seeing something of a court whose splendour is said to have formerly rivalled that of the Great Mogul, of a Government which is still, with the exception of China, the most Oriental in the East, and of a city which unites the unswerving characteristics of an Asiatic capital with the borrowed trappings of Europe. Thence the high road — only ninety miles of which is a road in any known sense of the word — will lead us across the successive partitions of the great plateau, possessing a mean elevation of 4,000 to 5,000 feet above the sea, that occupies the heart of Persia; and whose manifold mountain ridges intervene, like the teeth of a saw, between the northern and southern seas. In the plains of greater or less extent lying at their base we shall find, in the shape of large but ruined cities, the visible records of faded magnificence, of unabashed misrule, and of internal decay. Kum, from behind its curtain of fanaticism and mystery, will reveal the glitter of the golden domes that overhang the resting-place of saints and the sepulchre of kings. Isfahan, with its wreck of fallen palaces, its acres of wasted pleasaunce, its storeyed bridges that once rang beneath the tread of a population numbered at 650,000, will tell a tale of deeper pathos, although in its shrill and jostling marts we may still observe evidence of mercantile activity and a prospering international trade. Shiraz, which once re-echoed the blithe anacreontics of Hafiz, and the more demure philosophy of Sadi, preserves and cherishes the poets' graves; but its merry gardens, its dancing fountains, and its butterfly


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existence have gone the way of the singers who sang their praises, and are now only a shadow and a lament. In this neighbourhood, and in eloquent juxtaposition to these piles of modern ruin, occur at intervals the relics of a grander imagination and a more ancient past. Here on the plain still stands the white marble mausoleum that, in all probability, once held the gold coffin and the corpse of Cyrus. At no great distance the rifled sepulchre of Darius gapes from its chiselled hollow in the scarp of a vertical cliff. Opposite the princely platform of Persepolis lifts its dwindling columns, and amid piles of débris displays the sculptured handiwork that graced the palace of Xerxes and the halls of Artaxerxes.

I shall not be reproached if I linger awhile amid these renowned, and often commemorated, relics of the past. They show us that, just as mediaeval Persia was far removed from modern Persia in its pageantry and wealth, so ancient Persia — the Persia of Herodotus and Xenophon — was immeasurably superior to mediaeval Persia in its attributes, and is even now more respectable in its ruin. Though in dealing with these ancient and historic monuments I shall not recapitulate architectural or topographical details, which can be found better displayed in other and more technical works, I shall yet avail myself of the latest scientific knowledge and research, having no sympathy with those who rush through a country that has elicited the services of profound and famous writers, and who think the ignorant jottings of a tourist's notebook good enough to supersede the labours of a long line of scholars and men of science. A historian of travel who possesses any self-respect will thankfully profit by their researches, in the spirit of the seventeenth century editor of Tavernier, who wrote that 'he was sufficiently imbued in his intellectuals with all due knowledge, of sciences, languages, and geography, and precedent travellers' maps and books, without all which common travellers cannot conceive so soon and so orderly, nor reap so much benefit for themselves or others.' At the same time he will endeavour, by the exercise of personal observation and of honest criticism, to give an independent account of what has passed before his own eyes.

In the extreme south-west I shall invite attention to a part of the country where nature has been lavish of gifts that man has alternately blessed and despised; where navigable rivers flow through plains once enriched with a superb vegetation, though


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now relapsed into stony wastes; and where great engineering works, enduring memorials of a hydraulic ingenuity, and a public-spirited zeal, to which later centuries afford no parallel, now raise their shattered piers amid a waste of untended waters and uncultivated lands. There great cities once adorned the river banks; great palaces reared their colonnades and halls upon the summit of elevated mounds; great kings, a Cyrus, a Darius, an Alexander, a Shapur, either swept past on the stormy tide of conquest, or paused to taste the splendid luxury of repose. Here I shall halt to notice the newly revived sparks of industry and trade, which the present generation should not pass without fanning into a livelier flame. This romantic region abuts upon one still more famous in the annals of the past. Its borders are washed by the broad estuary down which the Euphrates and Tigris roll their commingled waters to the Gulf. Here we are in a land of equal honour in sacred legend and profane history. We may sail past the traditional Garden of Eden to the mysterious site where, amid colossal mounds of pottery and brick, the alphabet of Nebuchadnezzar speaks loudly from the ruins of sculptured palaces, of terraced temples, and Babylonian towers, where Daniel prophesied, where Israel wept, where Alexander perished. We are on the river threshold of Busrah, the Balsorah of Sinbad the Sailor, that Arab Columbus of an earlier age. We may fringe the soaring arch of Ctesiphon and descry on the horizon the minarets and palm trees of Baghdad.

Finally, skirting in a vessel the southern and maritime borders of Persia, I shall ask attention to a country and a sea little known at home, to warring Arab tribes and piratical professions, to seaports, now dead and deserted, whose fame once sounded through Europe; to waters that have been ploughed by the rival argosies of Portugal, Holland, and Great Britain. If I am there tempted to unravel some few of the threads that have been woven into a web of history, intensely personal to our own country and race, I shall also be able to show that Great Britain sustains, in a less acquisitive and martial age, the prestige which she gained at the dawn of her career of Asiatic conquest, and that the British name is still on these distant waters a synonym for order and freedom.

These will provide what I may call the pictorial aspects of my narrative; mingled with the normal and yet uncommon episodes


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of travel in the East, they may win a hearing even from the desultory reader. Nor shall I despair of arousing his concern when I turn from a past, however eventful, to a present, however degenerate and sad. A country that possesses no railways is ipso facto the possessor of a great charm. Here may still in many parts be found a people retaining the indigenous customs and modes of Asiatic life, and as yet unawakened to the summons that is beating at their doors. Fifty years hence the outlying towns of Persia may have taken on some of the varnish of the capital, and have lost their peculiar individuality of combined dignity and decay. But for the present Persia is of the East, most Eastern; and though the Persian nobleman may ride in a Russian brougham, the Persian merchant carry a French watch, and the Persian peasant wear a Manchester blouse, yet the heart of the nation is unregenerate, and is fanatically (and not always unfortunately) attached to the ancient order of things. We may still re-echo the words of the philosophic Chardin: —

That it is not in Asia as in our Europe, where there are frequent changes more or less in the forms of things, as the habits, buildings, gardenings and the like. In the East they are constant in all things. The habits are at this day in the same manner as in the precedent ages; so that one may reasonably believe that in that part of the world the exterior forms of things (as their manners and customs) are the same now as they were 2,000 years since, except in such changes as may have been introduced by religion, which are nevertheless very inconsiderable.

And here let me. endeavour in some sort to explain to others what I am sometimes conscious of having only imperfectly explained to myself, viz. the wonderful and incalculable fascination of the East. Mr. Stanley in one of his letters spoke of the mysterious Soudan fever which drew Gordon and many another brave spirit to perish in the dim recesses of Africa, and which will require how many more human hecatombs before its appetite be appeased? Just such another, though a less perilous contagion is that which tempts the traveller into Asia, makes him regardless of the petty restraints of distance and time, animated only by a burning desire to go on. Perhaps it is that in the wide landscape, in the plains stretching without break to mountains, and the mountains succeeded by plains, in the routes that are without roads, in the roads that are without banks or ditches, in


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the unhampered choice both of means of progression and of pace, there is a joyous revulsion from the sterile conventionality of life and locomotion at home. Something, too, must be set down to the gratified spirit of self-dependence, which legions of domestics have not availed to subdue, and to the love of adventure, which not even the nineteenth century can extinguish. Or is it that in the East, and amid scenes where life and its environment have not varied for thousands of years, where nomad Abrahams still wander with their flocks and herds, where Rebecca still dips her water skin at the well, where savage forays perpetuate the homeless miseries of Job, western man casts off the slough of an artificial civilisation, and feels that he is mixing again with his ancestral stock, and breathing the atmosphere that nurtured his kind?

Upon the vivid and never failing contrast between the picture and the furniture of existence in the East and West, as an element of attraction, it is needless to enlarge. The most casual visitor to the true East is no stranger to its strange intensity. Countries which have no ports or quays, no railways or stations, no high-roads or streets (in our sense of the term), no inns or hotels, no bedsteads or tables or chairs, but where traveller is sufficiently equipped so long as he is provided with saddle and some soap, are severed by a sufficiently wide gap from our own to appeal to the most glutted thirst for novelty. Do we ever escape from the fascination of a turban, or the mystery of the shrouded apparitions that pass for women in the dusty alleys? How new to us is a landscape where there are no hedgerows or timber, no meadows or fields; where in the brilliant atmosphere minute objects can be distinguished for many miles,[5] where the cities are not swathed in smoke, and the level roofs are not broken by shafts or chimneys. How mute and overpowering the silence that prevails over the lone expanse, so different from the innumerable rural sounds that strike upon the ear at home. And how grateful a climate where fogs and vapours never strangle, but where the sun strikes with straight lance from the zenith.

In no Oriental country that I have seen is the chasm of exterior divergence between Oriental and European scenery more abrupt than in Persia. It is difficult to bring home to English


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readers, whose ideas of nature are drawn exclusively from the West, the extremity of the contrast that meets the eye. Mountains in Europe are for the most part blue or purple in colour; in Persia they are flame-red, or umber, or funereal drab. Fields in Europe, when not decked with the green of grass or crops, are crimson with upturned mould. In Persia they are only distinguishable from the brown desert by the dry beds of the irrigation ditches. A typical English village consists of detached and often picturesque cottages, half hidden amid venerable trees. A typical Persian village is a cluster of filthy mud huts, whose outline is a crude combination of the perpendicular and the horizontal, huddled within the protection of a decayed mud wall. Outside the Caspian provinces and a few mountain valleys there is not a forest, and barely a wood in Persia that is worthy of the name. One may travel for days without seeing a blade of grass. Rivers do not roll between trim banks, nor do brooks babble over stones. Either you are stopped by a foaming torrent, or you barely moisten your horse's fetlocks in fording a pitiful thread.

For my own part — so normal and blunted after a while do these sensations become — I find a more abiding charm in the contrast existing, not between the lives of the East and West, but in the elements and conditions of Oriental life itself. It is a contrast equally visible in the inanimate and in the human world. Extensive plains are suddenly terminated, almost without slope or undulation, by gaunt and forbidding peaks. A drear and colourless desolation in winter is succeeded by riotous, though ephemeral, verdure and a thousand tints of flowers in the spring. Even in the green and cultivated spots, the moment we leave the charmed circle of water distribution the stark desert recommences, and the transition is as awful as from life to death. An entrancing warmth by day is expiated in the autumn and winter months by biting cold at night and in the hours immediately preceding sunrise. Nature seems to revel in striking the extreme chords upon her miraculous and inexhaustible gamut of sound.

And how faithfully do the cities and people respond to the suggestion that is always eloquent around them. Majestic ruins that tell of a populous and mighty past rear their heads amid deserted wastes and vagabond tents. Tiny and ill-


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nurtured children grow up into robust men. Conversely, female beauty in early youth is followed by a premature decay and ugliness beyond words. Just as from a distance a town surrounded by its orchards looks a gem of beauty, but shrinks upon nearer approach into a collection of clay hovels; and just as in the exterior of these houses, consisting of blank and unsightly walls of mud, there is no hint of the flower-beds and tanks, of the taste and comeliness that sometimes prevail within, so does the human exterior tell a contradictory tale of its inmate. Splendide mendux might be taken as the motto of Persian character. The finest domestic virtues co-exist with barbarity and supreme indifference to suffering. Elegance of deportment is compatible with a coarseness amounting to bestiality. The same individual is at different moments haughty and cringing. A creditable acquaintance with the standards of civilisation does not prevent gross fanaticism and superstition. Accomplished manners and a more than Parisian polish cover a truly superb faculty for lying and almost scientific imposture. The most scandalous corruption is combined with a scrupulous regard for specified precepts of the moral law. Religion is alternately stringent and lax, inspiring at one moment the bigot's rage, at the next the agnostic's indifference. Government is both patriarchal and Machiavellian — patriarchal in its simplicity of structure, Machiavellian in its finished ingenuity of wrong doing. Life is both magnificent and squalid; the people at once dèspicable and noble; the panorama at the same time an enchantment and a fraud.

I desire before concluding to say a few words about the literature to which the study of Persia has given birth, more especially the literature of discovery and travel. Few countries so sparsely visited have been responsible for so ample a bibliography. The reason is obvious. To each new-comer the comparative rarity of his experience has been conceded as the excuse for a volume. In the category of these productions are to be found works as painstaking and meritorious as ever passed through the press. Nor is their value in any degree diminished, it is, on the contrary, enhanced by the fact that the list of which I speak includes some of the most worthless rubbish that ever blundered into print. I shall hope shortly to publish in a supplementary volume as complete a bibliography of Persian history and travel as my own studies and existing sources of information have enabled me to


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compile; but I append here a table which I have drawn up, as the result of personal reading, of the names of all such travellers, within my knowledge, as have, since the beginning of the tenth century, added to our geographical or historical acquaintance with Persia by themselves visiting, and writing about the country, and whose compositions are, with few exceptions, accessible to the public. To the name of each traveller I affix the date, not of the publication of his work — since that appears to me to be but an illusory guide — but of his own visit to Persia or residence in that country. And when I add that the collection of these figures has involved reference in every instance, with barely an exception, to the original work of the author, sometimes far from easy to procure, and that the cases are few in which I have not myself perused the work in question, it will, I think, be conceded that such a catalogue, the first of the kind that has ever been compiled with reference to Persia, is the result of no mean labour. In the following tables I include no writer whose work was not, originally written, or has not subsequently been translated, in a European tongue: —

900-100 A.D.

1000-1100 A.D.

1100-1200 A.D.

1200-1300 A.D.

Ali Abul Hasan Masudi, 913-5

Abu Ishak el Istakhri

Nasiri Khosru, 1035-50

Edrisi, circ. 1150

Rabbi Benjamin of Tudela, 1160-73

Yakut, circ. 1180-1229

Friar William de Rubruquis, 1253

 

 

1300-1500 A.D.

1500-1600 A.D.

1600-1700 A.D.

Marino Sanuto, 1300-6

Friar Odoricus di Pordenone, circ. 1325

Ibn Batutah, circ. 1330

Friar B. Pegolotti, circ. 1340

Friar Jovanni di Marignoli, circ. 1350

Don Ruy Gonzalez di Clavijo, 1404-5

Abdur Rezak, 1441-58

Nicolo Conti, 1418-44

Athanasius Nikitin, 1470

Josafa Barbaro, 1474

Ambrosio Contarini, 1474-5

Hieronimo di Santo Stefano, 1494-9

Ludovico di Varthema (Ludovicus Wertomannus), 1504

Anonymous Merchant, 1507-20

Giovanni Angiolello, 1510

Antonio Tenreiro, 1529

Gabriel de Luetz, 1546-50

Sidi Ali, 1556

Factors and captains of (British) Muscovy Trading Company, viz.: Anthony Jenkinson, Richard Chenie, Arthur Edwards, Laurence Chapman, Lionel Plumtree, Christopher Burrough, 1562-80

Cesare Frederico, 1563

V. de Blanc, circ. 1570

Vincentio d'Alessandri, 1571

John Newberry, 1581-5

Ralph Fitch, 1583-5

J. H. van Liuschoten, 1583-9

C. Lambert, 1598

Antonio di Govea, 1598

Sir Anthony and Sir Robert Sherley, 1599-1627

G. Mainwaring, 1599-1600

John Cartwright, Preacher, 1600

'Don Juan de Persia,' circ. 1600

Sir John Mildenhall, 1600-6

S. K. Zalonkémeny, 1602

Pedro Teixeira. 1604

Père Paul Simon, 1607

Joseph Salbancke, 1609

Fray Gaspar de San Bernardino, 1611

John Crowther and Richard Steele, 1615-6

Thomas Coryate, 1616

Pietro della Valle, 1616-23

Don Garcias de Silva y Figueroa, 1618

Gilles Hobbs, 1619-20

Nicholas Hemm, 1623

Sir Thomas Herbert, 1627-8

Père Pacifique de Provins, 1628


[page 17]

1600-1700 A.D.

1700-1800 A.D.

Père Gabriel de Chinon, 1628-50

J. B. Tavernier, 1629-75

Adam Olearius, 1637-8

J. A. de Mandelslo, 1638-40

Heer Basting, 1645

Père Rigourdi, 1650

Don Pedro Sebastiano Cubero, circ. 1650

Père Alexandre de Rhodes, 1656-60

Père Manuel Godinho, 1663

Père Angelo de la Brosse, 1664-78

J. de Thévenot, 1664-7

Sir J. Chardin, 1665-77

A. Daulier-Deslandes, 1665

H. de Jager, circ. 1665

John Struys, 1671-2

F. Petis de la Croix, 1674-6

John Fryer, 1676-7

Père S. N. Sanson, 1683

Eng. Von Kaempfer, 1684-8

Père Villot, 1689-90

Giov. Franc. Gemelli-Careri, 1694

Père de la Maze, 1698

F. C. Schillinger, 1699

Capt. A. Hamilton, circ. 1700-20

J. P. de Tournefort, 1701

Cornelius Le Brun, 1703-4

Père Krusinski, 1705-25

John Bell, of Antermory, 1716-7

Basil Batatzes, 1716-30

Dourry Effendi, 1720

Père Bachoud, 1722

Capt. P. H. Bruce, 1722-3

Père Leandro di S. Cecilia, 1735-6

J. Otter, 1737-9

'Two English Gentlemen,' 1739

Abdul Kerim, 1741

Père Bazin, 1741-7

Jonas Hanway, 1743-8

Père Desvignes, 1744

Dr. J. Cook, 1747

Bartholomew Plaisted, 1750

Lieut. E. B. Ives, 1758

Carsten Niebuhr, 1761-5

S. G. Gmélin, 1771-2

R. Hablizt, 1773-4

Abr. Parsons, 1775

G. Forster, 1783-4

Comte de Ferrières-Sauveboeuf, 1784-5

P. S. Pallas, 1785

W. Franklin, 1786-7

Sir H. Jones (Brydges), 1786, 1808-11

Abbé de Beauchamps, 1787

John Taylor, 1790

G. A. Olivier, 1796

John Jackson, 1797

 

1800-1891 A.D.

Sir J. Malcolm, 1800-10

J. Scott Waring, 1802

P. Amédée Jaubert, 1805-6

Col. A. de Bontems, 1807-9

P. A. de Gardanne, 1807

Capt. Truilhier, 1807-9

A. Depré, 1807-9

P. Tancoigne, 1807-9

Col. Trézel, 1807-9

J. P. Morier, 1808-9, 1811-5

Capt. W. P. Grant, 1809

Sir H. Pottinger and Capt. Christie, 1810

Gen W. Monteith, 1810-31

Sir J. Macdonald Kinneir, 1810-30

Sir W. Ouseley, 1811-2

W. Price, 1811-2

Rev. H. Martyn, 1811-2

J. B. Rousseau, 1812

Col. G. Drouville, 1812-3

M. Freygan, 1812

J. S. Buckingham, 1816

Lieut. W. Heude, 1817

M. von Kotzebue, 1817

Col. J. Johnson, 1817

Sir R. Ker Porter, 1818-20

Lieut. T. Lumsden, 1819-20

P. Gordon, 1820

C. J. Rich, 1820-1

J. B. Fraser, 1821-34

Hon. G. Keppel, 1824

M. A'Court, 1826

(Sir) J. E. Alexander, 1826

Capt. R. Mignan, 1826-30

T. B. Armstrong, 1838-9

Th. Alcock, 1828-9

C. Bélanger, 1829

E. Smith and H. G. Dwight, 1829

A. N. Groves, 1829

E. Ménétries, 1830

Capt. A. Conolly, 1830

Sergeant Gibbons, 1831

Dr. J. Wolff, 1831-44

G. Fowler, 1831-6

J. S. Stocqueler, 1831-2

(Sir) A. Burnes, 1832

Lal Mohan, 1832

Lieut. T. S. Powell, 1833-4

Major Heidenstamm, 1834

Baron Th. Korff, 1834-5

Rev. J. Perkins, 1834-42

(Sir) H. Rawlinson, 1834-60

Col. W. Stuart, 1835-6

Aucher Eloy, 1835-7

Alex. Chodzko, 1835-40

Gen. F. R. Chesney, 1835-7

W. H. Ainsworth, 1835-40

V. Fontanier, 1835-8

Major D'Arcy Todd, 1836-7

Sir J. McNeill, 1836-8

(Sir) Justin and Lady Sheil, 1836-53

Capt. R. Wilbraham, 1837

Eugène Boré, 1838-40

Haji Abdun Nabi, 1838

Capt. Lemm, 1838-9

Prince A. Soltykoff, 1838-9

Capt. E. Conolly, 1839

Ch. Texier, 1839-40

E. Flandin and P. Coste, 1839-41

Dr. A. Grant, 1840

Baron C. De Bode, 1840-1

(Sir) A. H. Layard, 1840-2

E. L. Mitford, 1840

Comte de Sercey, 1840

Dr. F. Forbes, 1841

G. Osculati, 1841-2

Lieut. W. B. Selby, 1841-2

Dr. G. P. Badger, 1842

W. R. Holmes, 1843-4

N. L. Westergaard, 1843

M. Wagner, 1843

Lieut. R. Leech, 1843

Com. J. F. Jones, 1844-7

J. P. Ferrier, 1845

H. de Hell, 1846-8

Miss Ida Pfeiffer, 1848

Dr. F. A. Buhsé, 1848-9

E. Keith Abbott, 1849-59

Hon. R. Curzon, 1849-52

W. K. Loftus, 1849-52

M. Tchirikoff, 1849-52

R. B. Binning, 1851

J. Berezin, 1851

Czarnotta, 1852-3

H. Garnier, 1852

Conte J. A. de Gobineau, 1855-8

Sir J. Outram, 1857

W. A. Shepherd, 1857

Capt. C. H. Hunt, 1857

Capt. C. Clerk, 1857-73

N. de Khanikoff, 1858

Dr. O. Blau, 1858

E. Duhousset, 1860

R. G. Watson, circ. 1860

J. Osmaston, 1860

M. de Blocquerville, 1860

E. B. Eastwick, 1860-2

Dr. H. Brugsch, 1860-1

J. Ussher, 1861

(Sir) F. Goldsmid, 1861-72

F. de Filippi, 1862

(Sir) Lewis Pelly, 1862-72

Arm. Vambéry, 1862-3

(Sir) O. St. John, 1864-72

Comte J. de Rochechouart, 1864-6

D. W. Marsh, 1864

F. Méchin, 1865

Viscount Pollington, 1865

Dr. C. Haussknecht, 1865-9

Dr. J. E. Polak, 1865-82

Major B. Lovett, 1866-81

C. J. Wills, 1866-81

A. H. Mounsey, 1866-7

Col. E. C. Ross, 1867-90

D. W. Freshfield, 1867

G. Melgunof, 1868

Rev. E. L. Cutts, 1870

Col. Euan Smith, 1870-2

J. Bassett, 1871-85

W. Brittlebank, 1872

Baron Max von Thielmann, 1872

Capt. H. C. Marsh, 1872

Dr. H. W. Bellew, 1872

Dr. G. Rozario, 1872

W. T. Blanford, 1872

Col. Val. Baker and Capt. W. Gill, 1873

P. Ogorodnikof, 1874

Capt. Hon. G. Napier, 1874

F. Stolze and F. C. Andreas, 1874-81

A. Rivadeneyra, 1874-5

(Sir) C. MacGregor, 1876

H. Ballantine, 1875

T. S. Anderson, 1875-6

A. Arnold, 1875

Dr. E. Tietze, 1875

E. A. Floyer, 1876-7

Sir R. Murdoch Smith, 1876


[page 18]

1800-1891 A.D.

Capt. Puschin, 1877

Mme. C. Serena, 1877-78

K. D. Kiach, 1878

Dr. G. Radde. 1879-80

Gen. Grodekoff, 1880

Gen. Petrusevitch, 1880

Gen. A. H. Schindler, 1877-91

G. Riederer. 1879-81

A. Laessoe, 1880

Col. C. E. Stewart, 1880-91

E. O'Donovan, 1880

A. Condie-Stephen, 1881-5

M. and J. Dieulafoy, 1881-6

E. Stack, 1881

Gen. Gasteiger Khan, 1881

(Col) H. L. Wells, 1881-91

E. Orsolle, 1882

H. Moser, 1883

S. G. W. Benjamin, 1883-5

A. Riley, 1884

Col. M. S. Bell, 1884

Capt. R. H. Jennings, 1884-5

Fr. Houssay, 1885

A. Nikolsky, 1885

J. R. Preece, 1885

Hedin Sven, 1885

J. D. Rees, 1885

Dr. A. Rodler, 1885

Capt. A. C. Yate, 1885

G. Bouvalot, 1886

T. Stevens, 1886

H. Binder, 1886

Col. A. Le Messurier, 1887

Lieut. R. E. Galindo, 1887

Lieut. H. B. Vaughan, 1888-91

J. T. Bent, 1888

H. de Windt, 1888

M. von Proskowetz, 1888

Comte de Sabran, 1888

E. G. Browne, 1888

Capt. F. R. Maunsell, 1888

H. F. B. Lynch, 1889

Dr. P. F. Traubenberg, 1889

Author, 1889-90

Major H. O. Sawyer, 1890

Mrs. Bishop (Miss Isabella Bird), 1890

A few remarks about some of the names occurring in the above tables may not be out of place, whether as explaining their sequence in order of time, or as facilitating a classification in order of merit. In the early centuries immediately succeeding the Mussulman conquest, we have but few records of Persian travel, though we may be grateful that the piety of some pilgrims belonging to various persuasions, such as Rabbi Benjamin, the Spanish Jew; Ibn Batutah, the Moor of Tangier; and the Catholic Friars William de Rubruquis and Odoricus di Pordenone, impelled them to perambulate much of the East. Almost simultaneously with these the great figure of Marco Polo passes, none too slowly, across the stage. At the latter end of the fifteenth century, the commercial pre-eminence of Venice is attested by the appearance upon the scene of a number of Venetian merchants or grandees; just as a century later the expanding mercantile ambitions of England are represented by a similar batch of British pioneers, opening up trade routes respectively in the North and South. An example already set in the fifteenth century by the Spanish envoy Don Ruy di Clavijo — who kept an invaluable record of the mission upon which he was sent by Henry III. of Castile to the Court of Timur at Samarkand — is followed in the seventeenth century by the ambassadors who flocked to the capital of the illustrious Shah Abbas of Isfahan from the crowned heads of Europe. The brothers Sherley, and Sir Thomas Herbert, who accompanied Sir Dodmore Cotton, Ambassador from Charles I., and wrote by far the most amusing work that has ever been published on Persia, represent the British point of view. Don Garcias de Silva, deputed by Philip III., is the official mouthpiece of Spain; Adam Olearius keeps the record of the Embassy from the Duke of


[page 19]

Holstein; to the Capuchin Père Pacifique de Provins we must refer for the standpoint of France; Kaempfer, the Westphalian, went out of Persia as Secretary to the Embassy sent by Charles XI. of Sweden. The same, or seventeenth century, is the great era at once of Persian grandeur and of foreign additions to the literature of travel. A succession of instructed voyagers, drawn to the country either by commercial interests or by a taste for exploration, succeed each other with great rapidity upon the scene, and have bequeathed to us, as a record alike of their own industry, and of the opportunities that were placed at their disposal by a Court consistently favourable to foreign intercourse, a number of works, almost monumental in character, dealing with every aspect of the national life, and enriched with elaborate, if not always accurate, copper-plate engravings. In their pages we find not merely a contemporary record of the habits and customs of the Persian people, and of the pomp and pageantry of the Sefavi kings, but the first attempt to give a minute and illustrated description of the great ruins at Persepolis and other places, which already attracted the concern, while suggesting ludicrous reins to the fancy, of the literati of Europe. Pietro della Valle, a Roman of good family, and the husband of a Nestorian lady whom he wedded at Baghdad, but lost by death while in Persia, though pilloried by Gibbon as intolerably prolix and vain, is the first in date of this voluminous school of authors, prolixity and vanity being pardonable vices in a writer who lifts for our gaze the dim curtains of the past. He is succeeded by Jean Baptiste Tavernier, the well-known French jeweller, who included the Court of the Grand Sophy (as the Persian monarch was then called in Europe from a misadaptation of the name of the dynasty), as well as that of the Great Mogul, within the range of his businesslike peregrinations; by Chardin, clarum et venerabile nomen, a French Protestant, and also a jeweller, who, after writing his magnum opus on Persia, retired in later life to England, upon the revocation of the Edict of Nantes, and died a Knight and Alderman of the City of London; by Thévenot and Daulier-Deslandes, also Frenchmen; by Sanson, a French Missionary; by Dr. Fryer, surgeon to the East India Company, who is only less quaint and comical than Herbert; and by Cornelius Le Brun, the Dutchman, who was always ready with his measuring rod and pencil, and while freely denouncing the


[page 20]

errors of his predecessors, bequeathed a scarcely inferior stock for the critical delectation of his successors.

The next or eighteenth century was one of political storm in Persia; a condition of affairs unfavourable to travel or research, and represented by a proportionate shrinkage in the number and contributions of foreign writers. Nevertheless in the works of John Bell of Antermory, who acted as surgeon to a Russian embassy from Peter the Great to Shah Sultan Husein, the last of the Sefavi monarchs; of Krusinski, who in the same reign was Procurator of the Jesuits at Isfahan, and of other Roman Catholic priests; of Otter, who travelled through Persia while Nadir Shah was absent on his famous march against India; and most of all, of Jonas Hanway, the intelligent and philanthropic London merchant, who attempted a revival of the impossible project of a British Caspian trade — we have presented to us pictures, no less lurid in detail than vivid in outline, of the horrors attending an epoch of anarchy and bloodshed. Towards the latter part of the same century, G. Forster, the first overland traveller by Afghanistan and Persia from Hindustan to England, adds greatly to geographical knowledge by his adventurous journey in the North; while in the South the liberal-minded and popular régime of Kerim Khan Zend, who ruled as Vekil or Regent at Shiraz, is pourtrayed to us by Ensign Franklin of the Anglo-Indian army, and by Carsten Niebuhr, fresh from his great journeys in the Arabian peninsula. In the same period Gmélin and Olivier sustain the credit respectively of Russia and France.

Turning the corner of the nineteenth century, we cross the threshold of an epoch when the avenues of entry to Persia having been reopened by European diplomacy, a stream of travellers has followed in the wake of plenipotentiaries, ministers, and envoys, both classes devoting themselves with equal assiduity to the literary record of their experiences. The two missions of Sir John Malcolm in 1800 and 1810, resulted in two works from his own pen: the 'History of Persia,' which, though written before the scientific spirit had pervaded the historical school, has yet remained the standard English work on the subject, and his 'Sketches of Persia' (published anonymously), one of the most delightful compositions ever penned; in the Geographical Memoir of Captain Macdonald, afterwards Sir J. Macdonald Kinneir, and British Minister in Persia, which for


[page 21]

some time enshrined the corpus of available geographical knowledge about the country; and in the journeys and explorations of several English or Indian officers, notably Grant, Pottinger, Christie, and Monteith. Almost simultaneously, the French Mission of General Gardanne, the emissary of Napoleon, carried with it a train of emulous writers, amongst whom we may notice the names of Truilhier, Trézel, Tancoigne, and Dupré, the latter being responsible for the best book. Sir Harford Jones, in 1809, penned the record of his own energy and misfortunes, and was accompanied by Morier, who on this occasion, and again two years later, when returning in a similar capacity with Sir Gore Ouseley, utilised his opportunity to publish two works of considerable authority and careful research. No mission ever had more plentiful historians than that of Ouseley, for, in addition to Morier's second work, its record was written by Sir W. Ouseley, brother to the ambassador, and a great Oriental scholar, and by W. Price. In 1817, Kotzebue penned the narrative of the Russian Embassy of Count Yermoloff. In 1835, Colonel Stuart came out as secretary to Sir Henry Ellis, and left an interesting picture of the administration of Mohammed Shah. Later, Sir Justin Sheil, British Minister, assisted his wife in the compilation of a serviceable and informing work. The Comte de Gobineau utilised a diplomatic residence at Teheran in the interests of France to issue more than one learned volume; while the junior branches of the various legations have been creditably represented by the Baron de Bode, secretary to the Russian Legation, who described an interesting journey to Bakhtiari Land in 1840-1; by Eastwick, who filled an analogous position in the British Legation twenty years later; and by M. Barbier de Meynard, whose translations and annotations of Oriental writers have placed him in the front rank of French scholars.

Attracted by the increasing noise that Persia was making in the Western world, a number of English travellers of independent means selected that country, from the first decade of the century onwards, as the arena of geographical or archaeological research, and of subsequent literary enterprise. Scott Waring, Buckingham, Sir R. Ker Porter, and J. Baillie Fraser, belong to this class in the first half of the century, the last-named having found in Persia a literary mine which was not exhausted until he had given several admirable books of travel, as well as a number of romances, to the world. Another class of writers has been


[page 22]

furnished by the Indian civil and military services, officers belonging to both of which have taken Persia on their way to or from England; the most conspicuous among their names being, in the military department, those of Colonel Johnson, Captain Arthur Conolly (afterwards murdered at Bokhara), and Sir Alexander Burnes, the subsequent victim of the tragedy of Kabul; and in the civil department, R. B. Binning, who, in 1851, assisted by an uncommon familiarity with the Persian language, wrote the last, really good book that has been written on Persia, and E. Stack, who, in 1881, threw the graces of independent thought and a fascinating style over the novel area of his explorations. In the middle part of the century, and at intervals since, distinct additions to our store of knowledge have been provided by the English and American missionaries, who have selected Persia as the scene of their labours, whether with the Nestorian Christians on the northeast frontier, or with the Armenians in several of the larger cities. In the same period a few other names stand forth from the ranks with conspicuous pre-eminence. The first of these is Major (now Sir Henry) Rawlinson, who to the merit of his own topographical researches, when employed as an officer in the service of Mohammed Shah, superadded, a political knowledge and grasp that subsequently made him British Minister at Teheran, and in later times the political historian of Anglo-Persian relations, and an archaeological acumen that revealed to him the dark riddles of the Cuneiform alphabet, and have elevated him to the front rank of Oriental scholars. Sir H. Layard, a not inferior name, also most fortunately devoted to a portion of the Persian dominions those gifts of insight and of style that have rendered him famous; whilst among the officers of other nationalities who have been employed in Persia, the Frenchman Ferrier is conspicuous for his valuable and scholarly work. France has also had the credit of sending to Persia the expeditions of Texier, of Flandin and Coste, and, in later years, of Dieulafoy, whose researches or discoveries, supported by ample funds, have resulted in the production of splendid volumes, illustrated on the most sumptuous scale. In 1859 the Geographical Society of St. Petersburg deputed M. de Khanikoff, who applied to the study of Persian topography the spirit of scientific scholarship somewhat marred by political prepossessions. And if, during the same epoch, Great Britain has neither commissioned nor endowed similar inquiry — a department in which she appears to


[page 23]

be unpardonably slack — at least the political undertakings with which the British Government has charged itself, have resulted in the labours and writings of Sir F. Goldsmid, and of his able band of collaborators in the services of the Telegraph and Boundary Commissions. A useful history of Persia within the compass of a single volume, has been published by Mr. Clements Markham, while the history of the first half of the present century has been carefully compiled by Mr. R. G. Watson. The field of Persian history, however, as a whole, is one that still calls for the enterprise of some English student, combining the rare gifts of familiarity with Oriental tongues, historical knowledge, and classical erudition. In Germany, Spiegel, Justi, Nöldeke and Gutschmid have worthily divided the role. I should add that by far the best and most accurate account of Persia, within the limit of 100 pages, that I have ever seen, occurs in the monumental work of the Frenchman Elisée Reclus.[6] During the last thirty years the north-east portion of Persia has been brought more closely under our view by the labours of a succession of competent explorers; Khanikoff, the Russian, already mentioned; Colonel Valentine Baker and Captain Gill, the former of whom displayed a rare intuition of Central Asian politics; Sir C. MacGregor, whose impetuous patriotism was reflected in his unpolished but masculine style; and E. O'Donovan, the 'Daily News' correspondent, who penetrated to Merv and afterwards perished in the Soudan, and whose literary accomplishments equal those of any other writer on Persia. All of these have since died.

In the same period Messrs. Stolze and Andreas have thrown much light upon Persian commerce, industry, administration, and resources; and General Houtum Schindler, whom I shall so frequently have occasion to quote, upon almost every branch of topography, archaeology, and general knowledge. Dr. Wills, who was for many years Doctor to the Indo-European Telegraph Establishment, has given us a series of vivid and entertaining representations of life and customs in modern Iran. Mr. Benjamin, the first American minister to Persia, is the author of the last work in English on the country; but his observations on manners and arts, which are interesting, are handicapped by a general inaccuracy that renders his book of little value.[7] Madame Dieulafoy's portly


[page 24]

volume is superbly illustrated; and there is entertainment, as well as instruction, in her pages. Another lady, Mrs. Bishop, has just published a volume on her travels among the Bakhtiaris and Kurds, containing much novel and interesting information.

In the above long list of eminent writers and authorities, it would be invidious and perhaps impertinent to attempt too minute a discrimination on the ground of merit. I have already named the majority of those who either by faithful reproduction of what they saw with their own eyes in interesting or troublous times, or by patient research, have added to the sum total of our knowledge of Persia. A few of these, by virtue of deeper insight or a wider range of observation, deserve promotion to the highest rank.

These are, in my judgment, Chardin, Tavernier,[8] Hanway, Malcolm, Morier, Ouseley, Baillie Fraser, and Rawlinson. Of the trio whose works have for so long formed the basis of English ideas about Persia, viz., Morier, Ouseley, and Fraser, the first named, by his story of Haji Baba, even more than by his travels, has gained the firmest hold of the public ear. An equal rank is, in my opinion, deserved by Fraser, for his broad acquaintance with and faithful portraiture of every aspect of modern Persian life, and by Ouseley, for the amazing erudition which renders his ponderous tomes at once the delight and the despair of scholars, and which did not admit of their publication till the lapse of a full decade after the events which they describe. Of the older travellers the palm will be conceded, nemine contradicente, to the French Huguenot and English Knight, Chardin. He is apt to exaggerate,


[page 25]

and he cannot invariably be relied upon; but he is always painstaking, frequently ingenious, and not seldom profound. The second class I have already filled with a goodly array of names. There are others who might well have been, and should perhaps still be, included under the same heading, were it not that the romantic atmosphere of the East has proved too much for their critical equilibrium and has swept them away on gusts of sentiment, now lifting them to giddy heights of rhetoric, now plunging them into woeful depths of bathos. Of the early travellers John Struys, a Dutchman, made the widest excursions into these fairy fields. In the present century he has been ably seconded by Sir R. Ker Porter, who, though a most diligent enquirer, has diminished the appreciation arising from careful plans and excellent drawings by a turgid pomposity of style that is alternately exasperating and ludicrous. It is when they contemplate the majesty of Nature, or the pathos of rain, that these rhapsodists are impelled to their greatest efforts; and on such occasions a Howling Dervish might learn something from their transports. Of the class of writers, daily receiving fresh and enthusiastic recruits, who rush through a country, either not having read what has been written by better men before, or reading it only in order to plagiarise and reproduce it as their own, and who misunderstand, misspell, and misinterpret everywhere as they go, I will say nothing. They too have fastened upon Persia. But the aids to such compilation as theirs are here less readily forthcoming than elsewhere; some considerable exertion must be endured; there are no railroads to ease the body, while great folios must be read to supply the place of mind; and altogether the kingdom of the Shah does not promise the best of spoils. Neither would I waste one drop of ink in rescuing any such from a salutary oblivion.


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