Persia and the Persian Question, volume I
INSTITUTIONS AND REFORMS
And the nations far away
Are watching with eager eyes;
They talk together and say
To-morrow, perhaps to-day,
Enceladus will arise.
DEPRESSING as is the picture which I have been compelled in the interests of truth to draw of Persian administration, and sore as is the need for a fundamental change in the principles upon which it is conducted, the present reign has yet witnessed the introduction of a series of reforms into the country which honourably differentiate it from any immediately preceding epoch. An examination of these reforms, and of their history, is a task of alternate congratulation and dismay. On the one hand we see the imperious and irresistible influence of the West, and of what we term civilisation, successfully beating down the barriers of ancient Oriental prejudice. On the other hand, and side by side with this welcome spectacle, we observe superstition resurgent, reformatory zeal baffled, and the vis inertiae supreme. We know not whether to give the rein to our hopes or to our despair. Is Persia about to enter nay, has she already entered, the comity of civilised nations, or does she still sit a contented outcast without the gate? From the evidence which will be forthcoming in this chapter, added to that which has already been adduced, the reader must shape his own judgment. For my own part, I would solicit, in the interests of my subject, a friendly and even a lenient consideration; knowing well, as I do, that the ways of the East and West are wide asunder as the poles; that what we call civilisation and sometimes rashly confuse with progress, is viewed by Oriental peoples in a wholly different perspective; and that different nations have their own peculiar way of finding salvation. Moreover, what may seem but a foot-pace to ourselves, may resemble the rush of a locomotive
engine to others, to whom speed has hitherto been unknown. Nor must the sower expect an immediate harvest from all his seed.
Among the reforms successfully introduced by the present Shah, I have already noticed in other contexts, the institution of a city police in Teheran, and the reconstruction and embellishment of the capital itself. Among those unsuccessfully attempted, I have drawn attention to administrative reorganisation, the institution of judicial tribunals, and the codification of the law. To the latter class also belongs an amiable but ephemeral device that was one of the results of the first European journey of the Shah. Aware that much injustice existed which never reached his ears, and acting in unconscious imitation of the old Venetian practice, when petitions to the Council of Ten were placed in the mouth of a stone lion, he ordered petition-boxes to be exposed once a month in the public place of the larger towns. The keys were kept in his custody, and the boxes were to be opened in his presence. But the Persian provincial governor was not to be got the better of by so transparent a machinery. He promptly ordered a watch to be kept on the boxes; and the bastinado was freely administered to any indiscreet person dropping in a petition. Wherefore the petition-boxes remained permanently empty, and the Shah felicitated himself upon the singular contentment of his subjects.
The reforms to which I now turn belong to a class that is not associated in the Western imagination with any very advanced degree of national progress, but that marks a considerable forward move in a country such as the Persia of Malcolm, of Morier, and of Ouseley. They will include the institution of a letter-post, of the electric telegraph, of newspapers, of a government mint and a new currency, of European banks, of commercial and other concessions, of manufactured roads, and of higher education. The opportunity will also present itself of saying something about the state of religious feeling in the country. Railroads will be reserved for a separate chapter. Down to the year 1874 the postal stem of Persia was in the hands of the chaparchi-bashis, or masters of the post-houses who
farmed the chapar service from the Minister of Ways and Communications. The conveyance of letters was an agreeable source of profit to these individuals. There was supposed to be some fixed scale of charge, which, however, no one knew. As a matter of fact, they extracted a commission at both ends of the line; for on the one hand the sender of the letter had to pay beforehand for its conveyance; and on the other the recipient could not secure its delivery until he too had crossed the postmaster's palm. I have seen it stated that in this primitive epoch a postal service after the European model was started, but that it was abandoned because the contractor for the stamps was discovered to have privately printed 100,000 for his own benefit; an incident so profoundly Persian as to render the tale more than credible. In 1875, an official of the Austrian Post Office, by name G. Riederer, was entrusted with the organisation of the Persian Post upon European lines. Beginning experimentally with a postal delivery in the capital, and gradually extending his material and training a staff, within little more than a year of his appointment he had instituted the first regular riding post in Persia once a week between Teheran, Tabriz, and Julfa, with a branch from Kazvin to Resht. In the succeeding year (1876) he was appointed Postmaster-General. In 1877 Persia was admitted to the International Postal Union. Herr Riederer having quitted the Persian service in the same year, he was succeeded by a Russian named Stahl, who appointed Dr. Andreas, the joint author of the publication from which I have more than once quoted, General Inspector of Persian Posts. Within a couple of months Andreas was dismissed for reclaiming an embezzled letter from the Governor of Shiraz, and a year later M. Stahl fell also. For some time the service remained in a precarious and insecure condition, valuable packets being opened and plundered; and Europeans found it safer to trust to the couriers of the British Legation, or to the officials of the Indo European Telegraph. Latterly much greater safety has been assured, and the arrangements now include a bi-weekly service to Europe viâ Tabriz and Tiflis, and viâ Resht and Baku; a weekly service to India viâ Bushire; and weekly services between the capital and Meshed, Yezd, Kerman, Shiraz, and Kermanshah. In 1886 there were reported to be seventy-three post-offices in the kingdom; and in the year 1884-5 — the latest for which official statistics are procurable — there were conveyed 1,368,835 letters,
2,050 post-cards, 7,455 samples, and 173,995 parcels, having a value of 304,720l. The receipts for the same year were returned as 13,764l., and the expenses as 13,298l. From England letters go to Persia viâ Berlin, and under favourable conditions are delivered in Teheran in a few days over a fortnight.
By a curious inversion of the customary chronology (most characteristic of the East, Oriental potentates having a common passion for novelty, and electric light having preceded gas alike in Korea and Kabul) the electric telegraph was already in full working order throughout Persia long before a decent letter-post had been organised. The first experiment was made by the Government in 1859, with a line from Teheran to Sultanieh; but this was so badly constructed as to be soon abandoned. In 1860 followed a complete line from Teheran to Tabriz, extended in 1863 to Julfa. At this period ensued the negotiations between the British and Persian Governments that resulted in the passage of the main line of Indo-European Telegraph through Persia in transit from London to Bombay. The history and the result of these negotiations, which have profoundly affected the internal condition of Persia, will more appropriately be discussed in a chapter dealing with Anglo-Persian relations in the past and present; to which accordingly I refer the inquisitive reader. Here it will be sufficient to say that the issue of these proceedings has been the construction of a triple wire from Julfa to Teheran, worked by the Indo-European Telegraph Company; and from Teheran to Bushire, worked by a staff of the Indian Government. In addition to these lines Persia possesses some 3,000 miles of single wire lines in a more or less dubious state of repair, which belong to the Government and are worked by a Persian staff. The capital is now connected with every city or centre of importance in the kingdom; and the prodigious effect that this has had in the consolidation of the sovereign power will afterwards come under notice. The chief Persian lines, excluding local lines around the capital, are those connecting Teheran and Meshed; Meshed and Sarakhs; Meshed, Kelat-i-Nadiri, and Deregez; Meshed and Kuchan; Shahrud, Astrabad, and Meshed-i-Ser; Semnan and Firuzkuh; Kazvin, Resht, and Enzeli; Resht and Khorremabad (Mazanderan frontier); Tabriz, Ardebil, and Namin; Tabriz and Suj Bulak; Marand, Khoi, and Urumiah; Teheran, Hamadan, and Khanikin; Hamadan, Sinna, and Gerrus; Hamadan, Burujird, and
Sultanabad; Burujird and Nihavend; Burujird, Khorremabad, and Shushter (in course of extension to Ahwaz and Mohammerah); Isfahan, Yezd, and Kerman. Statistics of the revenue and expenditure, and of the work accomplished, are not issued.
The history and the present condition of Journalism in Persia afford as eloquent an illustration of the anomalous position occupied by that nation — suspended, like Mohammed's coffin, between the two worlds of culture and barbarism — as can be conceived. For on the one hand the outward symptoms of civilisation present themselves in the shape of a number of journals, published in the capital and elsewhere, under Royal and ministerial patronage; but on the other, the Press as an institution has positively no existence and freedom of printed speech or even liberty of criticism, are unknown. Hence it is an illusory, if not a deceitful, claim that is sometimes advanced by the professional spokesmen of the Regeneration of Persia, when they point to her possession of three or four newspapers as a proof of respectable advance in the domain of liberty and culture.
It was in 1850 in the administration of the famous Amir-i-Nizam, Mirza Taki Khan, whom I have so often mentioned, that the first Persian newspaper was established. He placed it under an English editor, whose duty was to republish and present judicious or interesting extracts from the European journals; and he frequently contributed political articles to it himself. At the same time he started the system, which has been virtually continued with every succeeding publication — and without which a press so straitly laced and hampered could not subsist — of requiring the entire Civil Service above a certain rank to become regular subscribers. This paper appears to have subsequently expired (probably upon the degradation and murder of its founder). In 1866 Mr. Mounsey speaks of another publication, entitled the 'Teheran Gazette,' which was started by command of the Shah in that year, and whose columns were at first filled with descriptions of European countries, inventions, and trades, until, the interest of editor and readers alike in these novelties being exhausted, the bill of fare was restricted to a Court Circular, and to disquisitions on Oriental Science, Alchemy, &c. At the present time the newspapers in existence in Teheran are as follows: —
(1) The 'Iran,' a purely official organ, to which all functionaries
are expected to subscribe, and which is supposed to come out once a fortnight, although its appearances are irregular. This paper is edited by the Minister of the Press, who enjoys an absolute monopoly of all newspaper and other printing, and pays 500 tomans a year for the privilege. The 'copy' is always submitted to and countersigned by the Shah. It is produced, as are the other journals that I shall mention, by the lithographic process. The Shah occasionally contributes to the 'Iran,' and prides himself on the exceptional purity of his style, in which few Arabic words occur, in spite of the large part they fill in the national vocabulary. In the same journal (May 10 and 19, 1888) was printed a communication, also from the Royal pen, to which I shall afterwards refer, upon the new lake that was formed a few years ago on the road from Teheran to Kum. Foreign politics are excluded from the purview of the 'Iran,' for fear of offending the ambassadors; domestic politics are eschewed for fear of offending the Shah and governing hierarchy; and accordingly its scope is narrowed to the uninteresting dimensions of a Court Journal and Official Gazette, in which are recorded ministerial appointments, the movements of the Court, and the wonderful shots made or heads of game bagged by the king. A feuilleton, however, always appears, consisting as a rule of some historical or geographical work of ancient or modern times. It may well be imagined that without a subscription list artificially recruited such an organ could not boast of a very lucrative existence.
(2) The 'Ittelah,' a semi-official organ, also edited by the Minister of the Press, and also appearing irregularly, though nominally once a fortnight. The scientific bent of its editor, the Itimad-es-Sultaneh, then known as the Sani-ed-Dowleh, was responsible for the technical character of some of its earlier contents, but it has now embarked upon a less restricted field. It often contains a political article, snipped as a rule from some French newspaper by the scissors of the Minister; and it has been known to publish telegrams of European incidents within a month of their occurrence.
(3) The 'Sheref,' an illustrated monthly, lithographed at Teheran, under the same official supervision and editorship. Its illustrations are usually confined to portraits of some Persian minister or grandee, sometimes varied by the physiognomy of a European potentate.
The price of each of the above-mentioned journals is one kran (7d.), a figure which is quite prohibitory as regards general circulation. Where the official impulse to subscribe does not exist, self-interest has the same consequence; for the leading personages, unless they are counted among the patrons of the organ, find themselves roundly abused. A bribe is often found a wise preliminary to a flattering notice.
(4) The 'Farhang.' At Isfahan is published the 'Farhang,' under the editorship of the Zil-es-Sultan, or of an official employed by him. It shares the characteristics already described.
Formerly, a paper called the 'Akhter' (Star) was much read. It was brought out by Persian refugees at Constantinople, but was subsequently interdicted in Persia, when found to contain somewhat too candid reflections upon the government of the King of Kings. A similar organ named the 'Kanun,' has lately been started.
After the first European journey of the Shah, Mirza Husein Khan, then Minister of Foreign Affairs, fired by what he had seen in Europe, proposed the foundation of a Franco-Persian paper. The requisite plant was procured; a European was engaged as director; the promising title of 'La Patrie' was selected; but on February 5, 1876, when the first, and solitary, number appeared, the editorial with which it opened was found to contain the following astounding statement: —
With regard to internal affairs, we shall speak of them with absolute independence. We take, and we mean to take, no side; we are bound by no pledge; we are under no official obligation. We desire to serve our country by enlightening it upon its true needs. We shall support progress, and encourage every manifestation of it. But we will never be vile flatterers; we shall offer no incense to power; we shall defend every just cause and blame every reprehensible act. We shall support the power that represents the law to us; but if its acts are contrary to the law, we shall censure them all the more severely. War upon abuses and those who are guilty of them, Progress, Justice, Equity — this is our device, there is our programme. We shall devote our entire care to meriting popular favour by constituting ourselves the universal champions of the rights of the country and the people.
Such an announcement, which to Persian ears sounded like Sir Peter Wentworth declaiming in the Parliament of Elizabeth, or Caius Gracchus thundering in the Forum at Rome, was an insult to
all that Iran held most dear. It was at once expiated by the dismissal of the guilty editor, and by the suppression of the offending organ. The number from which I have quoted remains a unique curiosity in the annals of journalism. The same minister established a military magazine at Teheran; but its existence was limited to seventeen or eighteen numbers.
In 1885 a more orderly and semi-official paper was started in the French language, entitled the 'Echo de la Perse.' It has since ceased to exist. A journal was also published for a short time at Tabriz, but soon expired. The Royal College further undertook for a while the publication of a scientific journal; but this, too, is defunct. There have been other journalistic attempts, whose epitaph required to be even sooner written.
Such is a brief record of the history and present condition of the press in Persia. How far it entitles either its promulgators or its patrons to the praise of enlightenment, every reader can judge for himself. Anyhow, no alarm need as yet be felt, even by the most tender susceptibilities, about the creation of a fourth estate in the dominions of the Shah.
It may be imagined that in a country possessing the habits and instincts that I have described, the currency has at all times presented a fine field of operation for the devices of sovereigns, coinage governors, and ministers, and that any approach either to science of management or stability of value has been conspicuous by its absence. The fluctuations in the value of the monetary unit have been enormous, and at the time of my visit had touched almost as low a point as has ever been reached. In Tavernier's time, in the middle of the seventeenth century, a toman was equal to fifteen French crowns or forty-six livres (a livre was about 1s. 6d.). Chardin, a little later, under Shah Suleiman, gave the value of the toman as from forty-five to fifty livres, or 3l. 10s. in English money. Early in the following century Krusinski returned its value as sixty livres or twenty crowns. Then came the overthrow of the Sefavi dynasty, the invasion of the Afghans, the reign of Nadir Shah, and the general anarchy and dislocation consequent upon his death. At the beginning of this century, when security had been re-established under the Kajar dynasty, Malcolm gave the value of the toman as 1l. Between 1820 and 1830 Fraser valued it at 11s. Since then the value has fluctuated, but with a general inclination to fall. In 1874 the toman was worth ten francs
or 8s. In 1889-90, when I was in Persia, it had sunk at one moment to 5½s. The rise in the price of silver has since raised it to over 6s.
Formerly there was a Government Mint at nearly every big town in Persia — at Hamadan, Tabriz, Kashan, Isfahan, Kerman, Meshed, Kermanshah, Resht, Astrabad, Kum, and in Mazanderan and Seistan — and the antiquated products of these local mints are still sometimes encountered. This haphazard system was a great encouragement to forgery, and there was quite a brisk manufacture of spurious coins, the Government being finally compelled to call in the whole of the old hammer-struck currency. It was in 1865 that the reigning Shah, having been persuaded by some interested individual to recoin the currency on the European system, instructed his minister at Paris to purchase the necessary machinery and to engage French engineers. The men duly arrived at Teheran, but the machinery, the packing cases of which had already been consumed as fuel for the steamer that brought it, was deposited upon the sand at Enzeli, where it lay and rotted, no beasts of burden being strong enough to carry the big boilers and wheels, and the Shah's elephant being even found unequal to the task. These misfortunes delayed for some time the execution of the projected scheme; and it was not till 1877 that the new coinage appeared, a large building on the northern outskirts of Teheran, which had been unsuccessfully tried as a cotton factory, having been converted into the Royal Mint. This establishment, which possesses a German overseer and French dies, and is under the control of the Amin-es-Sultan, is now the sole mint in Persia.
In my volume of appendices will be found a table of the coins issued by the Government Mint. The silver kran is the monetary unit. Originally it weighed eighty-three grains, then it was reduced to seventy-seven grains, now it weighs seventy-one grains. The proportion of fine silver was originally ninety-five per cent.; that is, the kran contained only five per cent. of alloy. The gold toman also contained the same original proportion of pure metal — viz., ninety-five per cent. Later on this was reduced in the silver kran to ninety-two per cent., and subsequently again to ninety per cent., at which figure the ratio now nominally
stands. The Master of the Mint, however, who pays 5,000 tomans a year for the concession, and is allowed to take five per cent. seigneurage on whatever he coins, is not to be cheated of his sly personal mudakhil in addition; and the actual proportion in the case of the silver coinage was, in 1889, 891⅔ in every 1,000, in the gold 3 coinage 885½, the remainder being copper alloy. Originally this individual paid a much larger sum for the concession, and realised a handsome profit out of the copper currency. But, in consequence of the scandalous depreciation, this prerogative was taken from him.
Owing principally to the great excess of imports over exports which existed till within recent years, but which is now being slowly redressed, gold may be said to have disappeared from circulation. Silver at one time became exceedingly scarce. The Persian Government, becoming much alarmed, conceived the delicious idea of prohibiting the export of the precious metals; but this design was, fortunately, not proceeded with. The gold pieces nominally in circulation are coins of a quarter, half, one, two, five, and ten tomans. To such a point had the appreciation risen, that I found that one of the last-named coins, nominally equivalent to 100 krans, could not be purchased for less than 145 krans in Teheran, a premium of nearly fifty per cent.
The abuses and drawbacks of the Persian monetary system, and, indeed, of all mercantile transactions in that country, have long rendered the introduction of banks managed upon the European plan a sine qua non of any material improvement on a large scale. Of the fluctuations in exchange and scarcity of money I have already spoken. Another drawback was the unequal distribution at any given moment of the precious metals, and the enormous cost of the transport of specie, which could only be carried at much expense on the backs of beasts of burden. Merchants experienced the greatest difficulty and risk in making remittances to Europe. Small cliques of native money-jobbers controlled the market in the provincial towns. Native capital was frightened away from any enterprise of public advantage by the distrust attending all investment. Still worse was the practice of hoarding pursued by every man of wealth, from the Shah downwards. Nothing could demonstrate the retrograde
condition of Persian finance more effectively than the exorbitant rate of interest cheerfully, paid to native usurers. Legal interest is limited by the Koran to twelve per cent.; but, in the middle of the century, Lady Sheil recorded that 'it seldom amounts to less than twenty-five, and often reaches fifty, sixty, or one hundred per cent.' For loans of ready money, native bankers could, till a year or two ago, easily procure two per cent. per month, settled monthly, i.e. twenty-nine per cent. per annum. Private money-lenders exacted a good deal more.
Such, in outline, was the state of Persian finance when, in 1888, the New Oriental Bank Corporation decided to include Persia within the sphere of its Asiatic operations, and opened branches or established agencies in Teheran, Meshed, Tabriz, Resht, Isfahan, Shiraz, and Bushire. As a trading company, dealing in a branch of commerce open to all, it required no special concession from the Persian Government. Renting a palatial building occupying one entire side of the Meidan-i-Tupkhaneh in the capital, after only a year's existence it already, at the time of my visit, did a considerable business both there and in the provinces. The Persians were beginning to understand the meaning of a deposit account and the value of a fixed and certain interest upon their savings. The bank paid two and a half per cent. on current accounts, four per cent. on those running for six months, and six per cent. on yearly deposits. It had already lowered the rate of interest on loans to twelve per cent., and was reported to have lent money to the Shah at from six to eight per cent. The Oriental Bank had also introduced and familiarised the natives with a form of paper money, in the shape of cashier's orders, for sums from five krans upward, payable to the bearer, which enjoyed a considerable circulation in the capital. After an existence of two years, the Persian branch of the Corporation was bought out for a substantial sum by the new Imperial Bank of Persia, which, entering upon the scene under the most favourable auspices, and with a wider ambition, rendered competition even less desirable to others than to itself. The Imperial Bank now reigns supreme.
It was on January 30, 1889, that the Shah signed the preliminary concession in favour of Baron de Reuter for the Imperial Bank of Persia. That this concession was in some sort an amende honorable to that gentleman for the scurvy treatment he had received in respect of the famous Reuter Concession of 1872, was
evident both by the new agreement being made out in his favour, and also by a clause in one of its articles, which provided for the repayment to Baron de Reuter of the sum of 40,000l. deposited by him as caution money for the first undertaking, and illegally confiscated by the Persian Government in 1873. Appendices and additional articles were added to the new concession up till the end of July 1889. In August the British Government granted a Royal Charter of Incorporation for thirty years to the Bank thus formed. In October the prospectus appeared in London, and subscriptions were invited; and so great was the confidence in the undertaking that, within a few hours of the date of issue, the capital, amounting to 1,000,000l., was subscribed fifteen times over.
I shall print in my supplemental volume a copy of the original concession to the Imperial Bank, and will, therefore, content myself here with noticing only its more important provisions. The concession was for a period of sixty years, dating from January1889. The key-note of a future policy which, if interpreted with enterprise and liberality, may result in the inauguration of commercial undertakings on a large scale, independent of banking proper, was struck in the very first article, which contained these significant words: 'In order to develop the commerce and increase the riches of Persia, the Imperial Bank, outside any operations which appertain to a financial institution, may undertake on its own account, or on account of third parties, all matters financial, industrial, or commercial, which it may think advantageous to this end, on the condition, however, that none of these enterprises be contrary to treaties, laws, usages, or the religion of the country, and that previous notice thereof be given to the Persian Government.' Article 2 fixed the capital of the bank at four millions sterling, of which the first series, in shares to bearer, was to amount to one million, in 100,000 shares of 10l. each. Article 3 related to bank-notes, to which I must devote a separate paragraph. In Article 7 appeared the quid pro quo (apart from the price paid for the concession itself) exacted by the Persian Government, viz. 6 per cent. of the net profits of the bank in each year, such sum never to be less than 4,000l. Articles 11, 12, and 13 were among the most important of the whole series, inasmuch as they conceded to the bank, with certain stipulated exceptions, the right to work the mineral resources of Persia, currently believed to be very con-
siderable, although hitherto most inadequately explored. Article 11 ran as follows: 'The Imperial Bank being ready to incur forthwith the sacrifices necessary for developing the resources of the country by the exploitation of its natural riches, the Persian Government grants to the said bank, for the term of the present concession, the exclusive right of working throughout the Empire the iron, copper, lead, mercury, coal, petroleum, manganese, borax, and asbestos mines which belong to the State, and which have not already been ceded to others. The Persian Government shall, as an appendix to this concession, deliver to the Baron de Reuter, on the day of the signature of these presents, an official list of mines already ceded. The gold and silver mines and mines of precious stones belong exclusively to the State, and should the engineers of the bank discover any such they must immediately notify the same to the Government of his Imperial Majesty the Shah. Excepting the necessary engineers and foremen, all the workmen engaged on the mines must be subjects of his Imperial Majesty the Shah. The Persian Government shall assist the bank by all the means in its power to obtain workmen at the current wage of the country. All mines which the bank has not commenced working within ten years of its formation shall be deemed to have been abandoned by it, and the State may dispose of the same without consulting the bank.' Article 12 promised that the lands necessary for working the mines should, if on State domain, be given free, whilst, if they belonged to private individuals, the Government should co-operate in getting them for the bank on the most favourable terms. No import duty was to be charged on the necessary materials, and the lands and buildings should be exempt from all taxes. Article 13 fixed the share of the Government in the profits of the mines at 16 per cent., and also that 'on the expiry of the term of the present concession, the mines, with their lands, buildings, accessory constructions, and plants, should revert to the Persian Government according to the most favourable rules and regulations generally adopted by other Powers who have stipulated in this behalf.'
How this extensive and important mining concession, amounting to the command of the mineral resources of Persia, was disposed of by the Imperial Bank, how a Corporation was specially formed in London for its purchase and for the execution of its terms, what steps have since been taken by the company so constituted for the exploration or exploitation of Persian mines, and what success
has so far attended, or may be expected to attend, their labours — all these are questions which will more appropriately find an answer in a later chapter dealing with the natural resources of Persia. I here turn to the history of the bank since its formation, and proceed to show how, up till the present time (winter of 1891-2), it has sustained the expectations of its founders or justified the confidence of its shareholders.
At the time of my visit to Teheran, the Imperial Bank had just commenced business, having acquired premises in the street wherein stands the British Legation. A competent manager had been secured in the person of Mr. Rabino, a gentleman long and honourably connected with the Crédit Lyonnais in Cairo; and the relations of the bank with the Persian Government were in the capable hands of General Houtum Schindler, whom my readers will long ago have learnt to regard as a sort of deus ex machina required to assist in the solution of most Persian problems. Early in 1890 the directorate of the bank came to terms with the New Oriental Bank Corporation, of which I have already spoken, and for the sum of 20,000l. purchased the lease of their premises in Teheran, as well as the Corporation's goodwill, furniture, appointments, &c.
I have previously mentioned among the rights conceded by the Shah to the Imperial Bank, the monopoly of issuing bank notes. Article 3 stipulated that the amount so issued should not exceed 800,000l. without the knowledge and assent of the Persian Government; and that for two years the bank should keep a cover in specie of fifty per cent., and afterwards of thirty-three per cent.
This is not the first time in history that bank notes have been introduced into Persia. Just 600 years ago the scheme was attempted by one of the Mongol sovereigns of the house Jenghiz Khan, who succeeded that conqueror upon the throne of Iran. This was Kei Khatu (1291-94 A.D.), the brother of Arghun Khan, or Argawan Shah, and grandson of Hulaku Khan. It was he who was ruler in Persia when Marco Polo came from the distant court of Kublai Khan with the Tartar bride intended for his brother. Kei Khatu had heard
of the attempt made by Thai-tsu of the Sung Dynasty to introduce paper money into China three centuries before, and of its revival in that country within the last fifty years; a proceeding with which we have been rendered familiar by the writings of the learned Venetian, and of Ibn Batutah, the Moor of Tangier. The Persian Mongol, finding himself over two millions sterling in debt, conceived the bright idea that, by issuing a paper currency, which would be bought by his faithful subjects, all the gold and silver in the kingdom would flow into the royal exchequer; while the paper would become the universal medium of exchange. For this purpose a royal edict was issued, forbidding the circulation of the precious metals as currency. Banks, called, after the Chinese name, Chow-khaneh, were erected at Tabriz and other places, and notes, or Chow, were issued for sums varying from ¾d. to 4s. 7d., bearing a Mohammedan inscription and the value written in a circle upon them, and the imperial mandate to accept this novel currency. The subjects of Kei Khatu were, however, less docile or more wide-awake than he had anticipated. A howl of universal execration greeted the promulgation of the scheme; the minister who had suggested it was torn to pieces by an infuriated mob; and within three days the decree was repealed, and the first Persian experiment of paper money ignominiously expired.
Warned by this example, or timorous of empirical finance, no subsequent Persian sovereign repeated the experiment of the Mongol. Indeed, in the present century, the introduction of the Russian paper rouble into Persia was regarded with the gravest suspicion by the ruling powers as an insidious attempt to drain the country of its silver and gold. So strong did this feeling become that, in 1883, the Shah actually issued a royal edict which declared that 'the people are very foolish who take dirty pieces of paper for gold and silver, and in future all Russian rouble notes will be confiscated.' Like many royal decrees, this was fortunately allowed to become a dead letter almost as soon as promulgated.
It is, therefore, in the face of inauspicious historical omens, and among a people and court whose ideas of finance are rudimentary, that the Imperial Bank has started upon this part of its programme. Some time was spent in selecting a suitable and handsome design; and in 1890 the new bank notes, having a Persian inscription with the badge of the Lion and the Sun on one side, and an English inscription with the
Shah's portrait on the other, and representing values of from one to 1,000 tomans, were issued. One of the first discoveries made by the bank was that these notes were bought up by wealthy men and hidden away, a purpose for which they were better adapted, in bulk and weight, than coined money. This was an unexpected development of the Persian passion for hoarding. It is as yet too early to say how the experiment of paper money will eventuate. I understand that the bank notes of the provincial towns are only payable on the spot, and are not interchangeable elsewhere, the reason being that the bank gets a commission on the transfer. This may, perhaps, stand in the way of an immediately wide circulation.
At the end of the first year of its existence (September 1890), the directors of the bank were enabled to present a satisfactory report to their shareholders. The net profits realised, after paying charges and deducting interest paid and due, were nearly 68,000l., and justified the board in declaring a dividend equal to eight per cent. on the capital paid up from the date of payment. Branches or agencies of the bank have been opened, in addition to London and Teheran, at Tabriz, Resht, Meshed, Isfahan, Shiraz, Bushire, Kermanshah, Baghdad, Busrah, and Bombay; and the bank has already taken its place as a great national institution, affecting and absorbing the financial interests of Persia. It is employed by the Persian Government as a vehicle for the receipts of revenue and payment of expenditure, and for general financial purposes; and by most foreign governments having relations with Persia, for the discharge of their necessary business. By the natives it is already much used as a channel for mercantile transactions, and has appreciably benefited commerce by the issue of advances against merchandise, bills of lading, etc. The deposits made with the bank doubled in the first six months what the New Oriental Bank Corporation had received in the whole year of its existence, and have since risen to five and sixfold the amount. Similarly, the business done in loans to natives upon security was doubled in the first eight months; and the normal rate of interest has sunk to less than half of its previous figure. Nor has the effect been less noticeable upon the fluctuations of the money market arising from the shifting rates of exchange. In a country possessing a silver currency there will always be a certain movement arising from the rise or fall in price of the precious metal but the more violent oscillations due to the speculations of private
exchange agents, and to other causes, have been remedied, and a far greater steadiness may be predicated of the Persian money market as a whole. The report at the end of the second year (September 1891 ) did not, perhaps, fully answer the expectations that had been formed; but substantial progress was recorded, and a dividend equal to five per cent. was declared. It is to be hoped that the bank will, before long, acquire control of the mint, in order to secure an efficient currency and to put an end to the reactionary abuses of the present system.
I have had occasion to mention the original and famous Reuter Concession of 1872, which produced such a sensation in Europe; and both in order that a contrast may be drawn between its provisions and those of the Imperial Bank's concession, and as the most conspicuous historical sample of the fortuitous fashion in which Persia seeks redemption, I may here be permitted to recapitulate what were its leading features. As a railway scheme I shall not now notice it, though the construction of a Grand Trunk Railway through Persia, and the monopoly of all future railroads in the country, were among its most important features, reserving any remarks upon that head for a future chapter. The Reuter scheme was the culminating product of a phase of sincere and zealous Anglophilism. at Teheran. Designed as the crowning act of the policy of Mirza Husein Khan, the powerful Sadr Azem, or Grand Vizier, who then guided the councils of the Shah, it summed up a programme which, in the words of Sir H. Rawlinson, 'was aimed at the regeneration of Persia through the identification of her interests with those of Great Britain.' The concession was dated July 25, 1872. When published to the world, it was found to contain the most complete and extraordinary surrender of the entire industrial resources of a kingdom into foreign hands that has probably ever been dreamed of, much less accomplished, in history. Exclusive of the clauses referring to railroads and tramways, which conferred an absolute monopoly of both those undertakings upon Baron de Reuter for the space of seventy years, the concession also handed over to him the exclusive working for the same period of all Persian mines, except those of gold, silver, and precious stones; the monopoly of the government forests, all uncultivated land being embraced under that designation; the
exclusive construction of canals, kanats, and irrigation works of every description; the first refusal of a national bank, and of all future enterprises connected with the introduction of roads, telegraphs, mills, factories, workshops, and public works of every description; and a farm of the entire customs of the empire for a period of twenty-five years from March 1, 1874, upon payment to the Shah of a stipulated sum for the first five years, and of an additional sixty per cent. of the net revenue for the remaining twenty. With respect to the other profits, twenty per cent. of those accruing from railways, and fifteen per cent. of those derived from all other sources, were reserved for the Persian Government. Such was the amazing document that fell like a bombshell upon Europe just before the Shah started upon his first foreign journey in 1873.
The subsequent history of this colossal but impossible undertaking is well known and may be briefly summarised. In the Shah's absence in Europe, time, and opportunity were given for the marshalling in hostile array of all the reactionary, or fanatical, or, as a Persian might say, patriotic forces in the country. In England the Shah found that but a lukewarm reception had been given to the scheme, the possible political complications arising from which more than counterbalanced, in the eyes of the British Government, and of public opinion in general, the advantages which it conferred. But the coup de grâce to the project was in reality dealt at St. Petersburg. Naturally indignant at a concession which handed over to her rival the entire resources of which she had long contemplated, or at least coveted, the future reversion, and firmly convinced (the conviction was utterly devoid of foundation) that the British Government was at the back of Baron de Reuter and had insidiously inspired the whole scheme, Russia adopted an attitude of resentment mingled with menace, that, in the absence of any reassuring counterblast from Downing Street, effectually frightened the Shah, and settled the fate of the too precocious bantling of Baron de Reuter. It did not much matter, in a country and with a government like Persia, what excuse was forthcoming to justify the revocation that was decided upon; and when the Baron's caution money was, after the Shah's return to Persia, rudely confiscated, on the technical ground that the works had not been commenced
within the fifteen months stipulated by Article 8 of the Concession, it was felt that the Persian Government had adopted a convenient, even if an illegal, way of escape from an impossible situation. The Baron, who had every right to complain of ill-usage, continued to make appeals and claims for compensation; but until the reparatory clause inserted in the Imperial Bank Concession sixteen years later, these met with no response.
It must be obvious to all impartial critics, both that the Reuter Concession was doomed to failure from its birth and also that its demise was not, on the whole, to be regretted in the interests of Persia. The scheme was overweighted ab initio. No individual, nor even any company, would have been capable of carrying even a moiety of it into execution. As Sir H. Rawlinson observes: —
It was only under the possible agreement of the European Powers to the neutralisation of Persia, the Shah's dominions forming a sort of Asiatic Belgium, that the working of the Concession — by means, perhaps, of a great international company or commission — would have been at all practicable; and although this idea was mooted, and is understood to have received some consideration at Berlin and Vienna, it may be well understood that where the interests of England and Russia were strong, immediate, and conflicting, the prospect of any joint action or acceptance of mutual responsibility was altogether visionary.
As a matter of fact, the commercial world was completely staggered by the proposal; and Baron de Reuter found that, without a Government guarantee, he could neither raise the loan of 6,000,000l. stipulated by Article 16 of the agreement in the London market, nor constitute a company for working the Concession. The political objections to the scheme were great and formidable. Its execution would have involved Great Britain and Russia in a perpetual and unseemly strife in Persia, and might have produced serious international embarrassment. But stronger, in my judgment, than any other objection, was the fact that it involved the complete abroga-
tion of a nation's birthright in favour of foreign speculators. We have seen in other and contemporaneous cases enough of the evil effects of a country or a people sustained and exploited by foreign capitalists, and falling a prey to successive gangs of selfish adventurers — according as subconcessions are granted in a descending scale by the parent government or company — to know that it is not by such methods that national stability is built up. Persia may be, and is, deplorably infirm; but she will never be able to stand if she voluntarily surrenders the use of all her limbs. Her regeneration must doubtless be worked out by foreign aid, and to some extent by foreign capital — as is now being attempted — but native enterprise, native industry, and native resources must play some part in the undertaking, or an artificial redemption will only have been achieved at the cost of national atrophy. England would seemingly have been placed in a position of overwhelming political preponderance by the realisation of the Reuter Concession. But it would have been at the expense of the best interests of Persia, and since it is one of the objects of this book to show that Persian interests are British interests, or, in other words, that a strong Persia should be the object of British diplomacy, we may congratulate ourselves that a scheme which postulated the reduction of that country to impotence broke down.
It was said at the time of the Reuter Concession that one of the reasons for confiding powers so enormous to a single individual or to a single company, was the desire of the Persian Government to escape from the conflicting offers of a horde of foreign speculators, who, ever since the opening of the Indo-European Telegraph in 1865, had settled down upon Persia, and were clamouring for a share in the division of the spoils. For a time the collapse of the Reuter scheme frightened away these harpies; but as confidence was re-established, and more especially when, under the friendly pressure of the British Government, concessions such as those for the navigation of the Karun river and the Imperial Bank were granted, they began to reassemble; and on the return of the Shah from his last European journey a crowd of these interested applicants descended like a flight of locusts upon Teheran. The air was full of rumours of concessions for the exclusive introduction, or manufacture, or growth of wine, sugar, glass, telephones, electric light, and in one instance for a monopoly of all agricultural produce! To a temperament and to tastes such as those of
the Shah, these proposals are peculiarly seductive; for, in any case, they mean the payment of a lump sum down to his own account; if successful, they augment the annual revenue; and if the reverse, they only implicate foreigners in failure.
Whilst applauding the policy of assisting Persia by foreign capital where she cannot assist herself, and in enterprises of unquestioned stability, I am of opinion that she is more likely to lose than to gain from the indiscriminate gift of commercial concessions, and that her best advisers should check any premature zeal in this direction. The first concessionary usually thinks of little but selling his monopoly, and realising a good profit for himself. He is not uncommonly an adventurer, and sometimes a rogue. By the failure of such bogus undertakings, good capital is frightened away from the country, and the natives themselves form an unfavourable impression of European conduct and honesty. The internal development of Persia will fare much better if it follows the broad lines of road and railroad extension, rather than imperil its chances by grotesque monopolies and fanciful concessions to vagrant chevaliers d'industrie.
An unfortunate, but significant, illustration of the truth of the above remarks, which appeared originally in the 'Times,' was afforded by a case that occurred almost simultaneously with my visit to Persia. One among the numerous concessions of the class that I have described had been granted by the Shah — who had received his douceur — for the introduction, inter alia, of State lotteries into Persia; but this concession had subsequently been cancelled in consequence of the inclusion of other and less desirable items in its terms. In apparent ignorance of these facts, the concession was disposed of to a syndicate, and again passed on to a company (the Persian Investment Corporation), whose final collapse agitated the London market in 1890; the result of the entire series of transactions, the moral blame of which I do not pretend to distribute, being that a great shock was given to Persian credit and that capital was scared away from Persian investment. Hence it arose that, when in the autumn of the same year a large scheme was brought out for the formation of the 'Imperial Tobacco Corporation of Persia,' to acquire and work a concession for a monopoly of the purchase, sale, and manufacture of the entire tobacco crop of the Persian Empire, this project, though warmly commended by high authorities and possessing many
features of probable advantage, did not at once secure the anticipated support. I am myself aware of many other inchoate or abortive schemes for the exploitation of various of the natural resources of Persia, in each of which cases the concession has been granted and paid for, but the further progress of which has been arrested by the sense of insecurity developed by past proceedings, I cannot, as a friend of Persia, too strongly reiterate my conviction that this headlong signing away of the country's assets, in return for a cash payment, to all the knights-errant of speculation whose quest may lead them to Teheran, is a policy fraught neither with principle, patriotism, nor ulterior profit.
Among the evidences of civilisation that have been, or are capable of being, introduced into Persia, a prominent place must be assigned to roads. Truth, unfortunately, compels the discussion of this question to be couched as yet in the future and potential, rather than in the past or present tenses; but this phenomenon holds good of so many Persian institutions, as to require neither explanation nor apology. I have more than once pointed, as one of the most conspicuous characteristics of the East, to the total absence of anything corresponding to what we call roads; and yet, such is either the poverty or the tyranny of the English vocabulary, I find myself frequently using, and I observe that others frequently use, that term to describe what is no more than a foot-track beaten by the hoofs of horses, donkeys, and mules. Occasionally a great Eastern sovereign of the past has immortalised his name by constructing a paved causeway between important cities of his dominions (such was Shah Abbas' Causeway through Gilan and Mazanderan, and the Atabegs' road, probably the survival of an earlier Sassanian construction, from Arabistan to Fars); but, as a rule, roads may be classified as an institution unknown from early times to the East, until introduced by a European conqueror. The Romans were the road-makers of the ancient world. The British are their heirs in the modern. The French have constructed some admirable roads in their foreign and colonial possessions. The Russians, though painfully in arrears, are slowly, and at an immense distance, following suit. But in no
Eastern country, within my knowledge, where these influences have not been felt, do the recognised and most populous highways of communication, though, perhaps, as in the case of pilgrim routes, trodden by hundreds of thousands, correspond to what we should term a road, that is, a track artificially prepared, levelled, and metalled; and in Persia, least perhaps of any among the important and frequented countries of Asia, is there plausible excuse for the employment of the term.
The need of roads for Persia has been long seen. No one who has laboriously travelled over that country, by postal service or by caravan, or who has witnessed the tedious and expensive transport of merchandise on the backs of camels or mules, but sighs for the intelligence or the enterprise that will set on foot this most elementary and indispensable of innovations. The quick eye of Sir John Malcolm at the beginning of the century detected the need; and his bluff candour as soon communicated the discovery to the Persian Ministers. But let him speak for himself: —
The wisdom which prompted this advice was lauded to the skies. Roads were admitted to be a great and obvious improvement, at once ornamental and profitable to Persia. Plans for making and keeping them in repair were required and furnished. The royal mandate, the Elchi was told, should be issued immediately; and he was much pleased at the thought of having given rise to a measure so good, and which he considered as preparing the way for the permanent improvement of the country.... 'But you know Persia,' was the concluding observation of the Amin-ed-Dowleh, Minister of Finance, on the Scheme.
Yes, the Amin-ed-Dowleh was right; and a far inferior knowledge of Persia to that which he possessed might have taught the sanguine plenipotentiary that roads would not come in his time. It is eighty years since Malcolm was in Persia; and a chorus of later travellers has swollen alike the advice and the lament. Here, therefore, we may reasonably pause and note both what has been done, and what is still projected, for the supply of this classic and venerable need.
In 1889 Persia possessed only two carriageable roads of any extent. These were the roads from Kazvin to Teheran, and from Teheran to Kum, each between ninety and a hundred miles in length. Upon the former alone is organised a service of telegas and tarantasses, after the Russian fashion,
and a series of post-houses, superior in equipment to any of the chapar stations, at intervals of from fifteen to twenty miles. This road, of which I have previously spoken in Chapter II., cost a sum officially returned at 87,000 tomans, or about 25,000l., but alleged in reality to have mounted to more than double that total. It is unmetalled, and would not provoke the encomiums of a European engineer. The Teheran-Kum road, which was constructed in 1883, is said, after the experience gained upon its predecessor, to have cost much less, viz. road and six caravanserais upon it, 35,000 tomans; but, having ridden over part of it, I can aver that the road-making must have been of the most meagre description; for nothing appeared to have been done beyond the marking out of a straight track, with a ditch on either side, and the removal of the loose stones encumbering the space thus enclosed. To these two roads must be added that from Baj Girha, on the Russian frontier near Ashkabad, viâ Kuchan to Meshed, which I have elsewhere described at length, and which, having now attained completion, raises to the dignified total of three the carriageable highways of Persia.
To these must be added a limited number of roads in the suburbs of Teheran, mostly conducting to favourite country residences of the Shah, and accordingly levelled so as to admit of the equipages that transport the royal harem. Of these there are three, affording the solitary possible drives to the residents in the capital. The straight and ugly road, lined with an avenue of trees, that leads to Doshan Tepe, was made after the Shah's first visit to Europe, in 1874, and was opened with great ceremonial and with public rejoicing, the Minister of Foreign Affairs, Mirza Husein Khan, receiving the proud title of Sipah Salar, or Commander-in-Chief, in honour of the occasion. In the succeeding year, with a similar flourish of trumpets, was opened the scarcely longer road that conducts from the Southern Gate to the shrine and village of Shah Abdul Azim. The third suburban road is that leading to Gulahek, which is monotonously familiar to the members of the British Legation.
Among minor routes, to construct or repair which some effort has at one time or another been made, must be mentioned the roads from Resht to Pir-i-Bazaar, and from Tabriz to Julfa.
These are accessible to vehicles, but are unworthy of any more lavish praise.
I have in my previous volume so fully described the features of the postal or chapar service that I need not here recapitulate its characteristics. The chapar roads are in no sense of the term made roads; they are superior caravan tracks; and although on the flat, gravelly plains they are often as level as Pall Mall, yet they are commonly strewn with stones and boulders, and in the mountain passes are little more than furrows or ruts. The chapar routes in Persia are as follows:
The remaining highways of Persia may be divided into two classes: caravan or mule tracks, upon which some, however slight, labour has at one time or other been spent, and those to which no labour has ever been devoted at all. Samples of the former are the mountain road leading from Teheran through Mazanderan to Meshed-i-Ser on the Caspian, and the execrable ladder-road from Bushire to Shiraz. To the second class belongs every other track in Persia that has been more or less worn by the feet of beasts of burden passing from town to town or village to village. The distinguishing features of all these pack-roads are a superabundance of loose, jagged stones, the most impossible gradients in steep places, an utter disregard of improvements so elementary that they might be effected for a few pounds, and the universal decay of bridges, caravanserais, and public works.
So much for the existing routes. Under the auspices of the Imperial Bank of Persia, an attempt is now being made to supply Persia, not merely with a carriageable road and transport service by carts, but with a new highway of entry into the country, penetrating as far as the capital, from the Southern sea. This is the long-projected and now finally
commenced road between Teheran and Shushter, or Ahwaz, on the Karun, viâ Kum, Sultanabad, Burujird, and Khorremabad. A concession for this road for sixty years was granted by the Shah in 1889 to the Mushir-ed-Dowleh, and was acquired from him by the Imperial Bank, whose engineers have since prospected the line, and whose workmen are now engaged upon its construction. It is not improbable that a syndicate may be formed for the complete execution of this scheme. Its advantages have long been realised, and consist in the great reduction of distance effected between the Persian Gulf and the principal cities of Western Persia; in the corn-growing districts of immense but neglected capacity opened up; in the increased facilities that will be provided for the importation of British or Anglo-Indian merchandise into the interior; and in the use that is likely to be made of the road by the human stream of pilgrims who, by the hundred thousand, annually trudge along the Persian highways in movement towards the sacred goals of Kum, or Meshed in the east, and of Kerbela, Nejef, Kazimein, Samara, and, ultimately, Mecca in the southwest. The distances upon this road may roughly be calculated as follows: —
Upon this line, or at least upon the more level sections of it, a wagon service will be organised; the rivers, where necessary, will be bridged; caravanserais and guardhouses will be built; and from Burujird a branch road is to be constructed to Isfahan, a distance of 210 miles, thus bringing the southern capital into new connection both with the western centres of trade and population and with a fresh outlet on the Persian Gulf. This road, as will have been seen, is linked on the south to the waterway of the Karun river; and I must postpone to my chapter upon that subject any further discussion of its features, which I have here regarded only in their bearing upon the system of Persian communications in general. It is calculated that Teheran
will thereby be brought within twelve days by caravan of the Persian Gulf, instead of the forty to fifty days that are the minimum now occupied by beasts of burden following the familiar mule-track viâ Shiraz from Bushire.
Lastly comes the heading of projected, discussed, or contemplated roads, a class which, whatever the ingredient commodity, is always well-stocked in Persia. In my chapter upon Azerbaijan, I have mentioned the long-talked-of, but as yet uncommenced, roads from Tabriz viâ Ardebil to Astara on the Caspian, and from the Turkish frontier at Bayazid viâ, Khoi to Tabriz. The Shah is also willing to grant, or has already granted, concessions for wagon-roads from Teheran to Tabriz, from Tabriz to Julfa, and from Zinjan viâ Hamadan to Burujird. It goes without saying that all these roads, if constructed, would be of great advantage to the undeveloped resources of the country; although, in the present backward condition both of agriculture and population, some of them might not produce an immediate return, and others would be remunerative in different ratios. Political considerations will render some of these roads more favourable to British, others to Russian, ambition. Broadly speaking, roads from the north and north-west will benefit Russian commerce, and, if it ever arise, Russian aggression; roads from the south and south-west will benefit British influence. I prefer, however, not to regard this question from the outside-nation point of view, conceiving that the true interests to be regarded are those of Persia, and that to whatever schemes can be devised for the amelioration of that country, both Russia and England should lend a helping hand, opposing no obstacles of a purely selfish character, but extracting in friendly competition whatever of commercial advantage they can from that which is primarily beneficial to Iran.
It is, indeed, to the extension of roads, and at a future date of railroads (for the latter vide Chapter XVIII.), that the energies of all friends of Persia should be directed. They will be inclined to favour the one or the other method, according as their conception of the due rate of progress is slow or rapid, The more cautious spirit, whose motto is Festina lente, the eternal Yavash of the Persian vocabulary, declares that he will be content for the time being with the repair or construction of good cart roads between the various trading centres and from the sea
ports, with the removal of arbitrary restrictions upon commerce, and with the assurance of security to life and property upon the caravan routes. Later on he hopes for the gradual introduction of railways, commencing experimentally in the regions most likely to give a mercantile return, and extending by slow degrees throughout the country. The more impetuous nature would like to carry Persia by storm, to throw down her walls by trumpet-blast, and to open her doorways to the world by a network of railways, connecting with those of India, Turkey, and Russia, and transporting her at a bound into the van of civilised nations. A mean may very practically be discovered between the two ideas. The Persian Government may reasonably be pressed, or, if it be found unwilling, foreign capital may be enlisted, to undertake the proper opening up of the natural channels of communication. Did the Shah's Government show the least genuine earnestness in the matter, there is quite sufficient money in the country, without appealing to Europe for a sixpence, to initiate and to carry through these by no means costly undertakings. Persians possessed of means would be willing enough to invest in their own country, did they not feel that it was like throwing money down a kanat. The absence, however, of any State guarantee, and the general insecurity of property, prevent, and will probably continue to prevent, any such employment of native capital on a large scale. Until a better régime is inaugurated in the country, the necessity of foreign assistance will continue to be felt.
It is noteworthy that Messrs. Andreas and Stolze, after their seven years' official or semi-official experience of Persia, concluded their résumé of the industrial condition of that country by the strongest possible recommendation of such road works as I have indicated or described. They said: —
The caravan tracks are designed only for beasts of burden, and are only passable by them with difficulty. Yet there is no doubt that it would be possible to discover roads upon which, with comparatively little improvement, large two-wheeled carts might pass from the coast to the mountain terraces and to the plateau proper. It would be of great advantage to have the goods remaining in the cart until they reach their destination, in place of the reckless daily unlading of the mules. In the second place, bales of over 75 kilos. have now to be transported on litters, and accordingly pay double carriage, while packages of more than 250 kilos. have to be hauled along by
manual labour, with the aid of rollers. On carts, weights up to at least 700 kilos. would be transportable. Such an undertaking under European control would be sure of the grandest success, enlarging, as it would, the market range of all the cheaper products at least threefold. The roads would doubtless require improvement, calling for outlay of capital. But be it remembered how cheap labour is in Persia, and how the material for road repair is everywhere to be had for nothing.
I have been surprised, in my studies of works on Persia, to note how small is the attention that has been bestowed by their writers upon the subject of the national education. With the conscious superiority of a civilised standard, it is simple enough to expose and to denounce the abuses of an Oriental system. But while complaining of the stupidity of the Persians for not at once recognising the beneficent contents of the cornucopia which is offered to them by Europe, ought not such critics to go a little further, and to examine the foundations of the system upon which is built up the fabric of national prejudice which it is so easy to condemn? Persian character may be obstinate, or retrograde or perfidious, but, like every other character, it is the product of a system; and if we are to turn our batteries upon its walls, had we not better ascertain of what material they are made? I have even seen it stated — a rash generalisation from the universal existence of education of a sort, without regard to what sort — that the lower classes in Persia are the best educated in the East. A more grotesque paradox could not, I believe, be uttered. A mere ability to read and write the native language, however widespread it may be, acquaintance in the higher classes with the Koran or the Persian classics, carry with them no adaptation to a different life or to liberal propensities. Amid the heroic schemes which a hundred miracle-mongers propose for the revivification of the country no one seems to think of the schools, or to suggest that better teachers, a wider curriculum, different class books, are needed to make the next generation other than the present. A familiarity with the ways and standards of civilisation will breed an anxiety for a share in its advantages which no amount of diplomatic manipulation can implant. If I had any voice in the so-called regeneration of Persia, I would not bring out a company in London, but I would organise a coup d'état in the village schools.
Let me, however, describe Persian education such as it is. In every town, city, and village in Persia there is some sort of school. In the small villages it is often little more than a class held by a mullah in the parish mosque. Here the children are taught the Persian equivalent to the three R's; i.e., they are taught the Persian alphabet, the rudiments of arithmetic, and a parrot-knowledge of the Koran. By this phrase I mean that they learn to read, I should rather say to pronounce, the Arabic of the Scriptures, without the slightest inkling as to its meaning. Though all arrive at the power of reading the Persian alphabet, only a few attain to that of writing it. Hence the pride with which anyone who can both read and write passably prefixes the title mirza to his name. Among this class primary education is carried a step farther, inasmuch as it will embrace a slight knowledge of the national poetry, and an acquaintance with the art of rounded phrase and swelling trope, in which the Persian imagination loves to expand its infantile wings. But, as Dr. Wills says, in the majority of cases 'the repeating from memory of a few prayers and passages from the Koran, with some verses of poetry, is all that remains to a villager generally of his education.' Elementary education is, however, very cheap in Persia, the fees for attendance amounting only to from one to three krans (7d. to 1s. 9d.) per month for each child.
There are no higher schools or grammar schools in Persia in the English sense of the term. The only form of secondary education open to the masses, and that only to a limited section of them, is provided in the madressehs, or religious colleges, which are frequented by candidates for the three learned professions of the Church, law, and medicine. Here the curriculum is one of a peculiarly straitened character, for, as every Oriental believes that all human knowledge is summed up in the obsolete patchwork of Mohammedan science, but little outer light is permitted to dawn upon the inquirer's mind. The study of the text and commentaries of the Koran, deeper excursions into Persian literature, an absorption of the sterile nonsense that passes for philosophy in the East, and a respectful attention to the discourses of learned men — these are the duties and the results of madresseh education. In every town of any size are one or more of these establishments, many of them owning large incomes from endowments, and containing accommodation for tenfold the number of
students that they sustain. The Minister of Public Instruction has no authority over these colleges, and the management of their revenues is frequently abused by the priesthood.
In the field of education, however, as in other departments, the reign of Nasr-ed-Din has not passed without an effort, although, as in other cases, a curiously one-sided and restricted effort, to open to the youth of Persia the benefits of a European education. In the year of his accession, the Shah started at Teheran an institution known as the Madresseh-i-Shah, or Royal College, with a European curriculum and foreign teachers. The premises are in the precincts of the Ark, and consist of a series of low one-storeyed buildings round a court planted as a garden. They contain a tolerable library and a concert-hall or theatre, where for a time amateur theatricals were given, until stopped by the hostility of the mullahs. The preparatory courses are in Persian and Arabic, taught by native masters. The higher branches comprise the learning of some foreign language, either English, French, Russian, or German; and tuition in mathematics, medicine, chemistry, drawing and painting, mineralogy, geography, instrumental music, and military science. The latter department, which is under two Prussian officers, will more appropriately be mentioned in a chapter dealing with the Army. At the time of my visit there were eight European teachers in the College, one English, three French, three German, and one Pole, Russian being taught by an Armenian of Julfa. There were seventy-five pupils in the military department, one hundred and forty in the science and art departments, and forty new comers. The division in the foreign classes was as follows: French, forty-five students; French plus drawing, eighty; Russian, twenty; English, thirty-seven. I visited most of the class-rooms on a working day, and was much interested by what I saw. In the French class, the pupils were invited to compose, a short story in French, upon the nucleus of a few given ideas (voyage, cheval, mal-à-la-tête); to write French from dictation, Fénelon's 'Télémaque' being the text-book; and to translate from French into Persian. All these tasks they performed very creditably. In the geography class, where the maps in use have been drawn by Persians from English models, a pupil traced from memory a very respectable map of Europe upon a blackboard. In the drawing-class the models were European studies from the nude, classical heads and busts, drawings of Christ, pictures of
subjects as various as His Majesty the Shah, Andromeda, and Landseer's 'Challenge.' In the English classes, I also witnessed dictation, composition, and translation, elementary illustrated school manuals being employed, and the text-books in use being 'Robinson Crusoe' and 'Baron Munchausen,' the latter of which I thought a somewhat dubious selection. I was informed that the majority of the pupils show an extraordinary aptitude for mathematics; and that in the other departments they are quick and receptive, but lazy. The chemistry branch has included the teaching of photography, and several of the best illustrations in these two volumes are from photographs taken by pupils of the Royal College.
I made inquiries about the management and discipline of the college, and received the following replies. The institution is state supported, and costs 30,000 tomans (8,500l.) per annum, being under the direction of the Mukhber-ed-Dowleh, Minister of Public Instruction. It is open to all. Parents are not required to procure any nomination, but only leave from the head of the school. The pupils are entered at all ages, usually at ten or eleven, and remain for a period of six or seven years. The royal endowment, or foundation, consists in the free gift of two uniforms, or suits of clothes, annually, summer and winter, daily breakfast, a small premium as the reward of passing certain examinations, a medal on leaving, and sometimes nomination to a post in the Civil Service. The hours of work are from 8 A.M. to 3 P.M. but there are frequent holidays for saints' days, and a vacation of some months in the summer, the working period not amounting to more than six months of the year. I was informed that the boys are more often idle than insubordinate. Punishments are assigned by the class teacher, but require to be confirmed by the head master. They are administered by a band of ferashes kept in attendance, and differ considerably from the European pattern. The lowest or simplest punishment is that of standing sentry with a shouldered gun, which is regarded as derogatory to self-respect. Next in order comes the cat-o-nine-tails upon the back. Finally are 'the sticks,' or bastinado, a specified number of which are broken upon the soles of the feet. This, I heard, was the only punishment that is really feared.
There is also a college, nominally on a similar plan, at Tabriz; but, in the absence of direct Royal supervision, it is ill-attended, and not much work is done. At Isfahan a college was opened by the Zil-es-Sultan under the direction of a Persian officer who had passed the examination of an artillery lieutenant at Fontainebleau.
Such is the modest scope of liberal education that is open to the subjects of the Shah. The Royal College at Teheran is an excellent institution in its way, but, standing practically alone, it is on far too small a scale to have any appreciable effect in leavening the lump. It is disappointing to think that, in the forty years of the Shah's reign, more progress has not been made, and that, while the crumbs of European knowledge are dispensed to the few, the old, stale loaves of Mussulman lore are still thought food enough and to spare for the many.
Of the religion of Persia, of the precepts of the creed of Islam, and of the differences, ceremonial, practical, and dogmatic, between the Shiah and the Sunni persuasions, I purposely say nothing in this book. There are few writers on Persia who have not entertained their readers with disquisitions on the subject, and those who are desirous of the rudiments of information thereupon may confidently be referred to the pages of a score of writers infinitely better qualified to handle the matter than I. There are, however, three questions, closely connected with the state of religious feeling in Persia and possessing a peculiar interest for foreigners, upon which the majority of authors have either been silent or, at least, inadequate, and which, in a work dealing with contemporary thought and action, require to be mentioned. These are the present condition of the Babi movement, the attitude of Persia towards Christian missionary enterprise, and the state of religious toleration towards other non-Moslem persuasions. In each of these cases some clue may be found to the interpretation of modern Persian life, some straw to show which way the wind is setting in Iran.
Both about the history and the dogma of the Babi movement great confusion and much error have prevailed among European, and especially English, writers, of whom Binning and Markham, for instance, have gone conspicuously astray. The early history of a schism, particularly if visited with prompt persecution, is apt to become involved in mystery and to suffer
serious perversion, in proportion as the current verdict is derived from the prejudices of the arraigned, but dominant, creed. Upon both aspects of the question, however, much light has been thrown by the researches and writings of Mr. E. G. Browne, a study of whose admirable essays, together with the writings of the Comte de Gobineau and others, I will enable any reader to form a coherent impression of the development and character of this remarkable heresy in the Mohammedan church. I shall consign to a footnote a summary of the early history of the schism. and shall then
proceed to give the latest information as to its present foothold and probable future. The Babi movement may be divided into three epochs — the period of formation and persecution, the temporary recoil, and the subsequent internal schism, with its consequences. After the first savage outbreak — which has been most unfairly mistaken for a revolutionary and anarchical conspiracy — had been drowned in blood, the Babis shifted their headquarters to Baghdad, where Mirza Yahia, known as Hazret-i-Ezel — i.e. His Highness the Eternal — was recognised as the Khalifa, or successor of the Bab, his chief subordinate being his half-brother, Mirza Husein Ali of Mazanderan, known as Beha, who during this period wrote the Ikan or argumentative demonstration of the truth of the Babi doctrine. After a ten years' sojourn (1853-63) at Baghdad, the Babis were removed by the Turkish Government, first to Constantinople, and afterwards to Adrianople. It was while at the latter place that, in 1866, Beha renounced his allegiance to his stepbrother, and claimed himself to be 'He whom God shall manifest' — i.e. the Mahdi, or veritable incarnation, whom the Bab had foretold, and who superseded all other manifestations. A bloody dissension at once arose between the followers of the two prophets, which was only superficially healed by the despatch of Beha to Acre and of the Hazret-i-Ezel to Cyprus, where the two have ever since remained, each claiming the sole headship of the Babi Church. Beha,
however, has a great superiority; for whereas his rival has never pretended to be more than the successor and vicegerent of the Bab, Beha claims to have altogether superseded the Bab, who is now no more than a martyr John the Baptist to a subsequent Messiah, and whose scriptures are of inferior holiness to the revelations that come from Acre. Of these the principal is the Lawh-i-Akdas, or most holy Tablet, which is an enunciation of the precepts of Babism as revised and remodelled by Beha. Under these circumstances it is not surprising that the Behais have rapidly outnumbered the Ezelis, and are now believed to comprise nineteen twentieths of the Babi persuasion. The rival prophets still survive, he of Acre being an old man of seventy-six years of age, while his younger brother of Cyprus is only sixty-three and is in receipt of a pension from the British Government. Though the movement is still popularly known as the Babi movement, the followers of neither leader now acknowledge the name. They are the Mahr-el-Beha, or the Mahr-el-Beyan, according as they subscribe to Beha or to the scriptures of the original Bab. Even the latter is no longer known by that title, but is designated Hazret-i-Ala, His Highness the Supreme.
It will thus be seen that, in its external organisation, Babism has undergone great and radical changes since it first appeared as a proselytising force half a century ago. These changes, however, have in no wise impaired, but appear, on the contrary, to have stimulated its propaganda, which has advanced with a rapidity inexplicable to those who can only see therein a crude form of political or even of metaphysical fermentation. The lowest estimate places the present number of Babis in Persia at half a million. I am disposed to think, from conversations with persons well qualified to judge, that the total is nearer one million. They are to be found in every walk of life, from the ministers and nobles of the Court to the scavenger or the groom, not the least arena of their activity being the Mussulman priesthood itself. It will have been noticed that the movement was initiated by seyids, hajis, and mullahs — i.e. persons who, either by descent, from pious inclination, or by profession, were intimately concerned with the Mohammedan creed; and it is among even the professed votaries of the faith that they continue to make their converts. Many Babis are well known to be such, but, as long as they walk circumspectly, are free from intrusion or persecution. In the poorer walks of life the fact is, as a rule, concealed for fear
of giving an excuse for the superstitious rancour of superiors. Quite recently the Babis have had great success in the camp of another enemy, having secured many proselytes among the Jewish populations of the Persian towns. I hear that during the past year they are reported to have made 150 Jewish converts in Teheran, 100 in Hamadan, 50 in Kashan, and 75 per cent. of the Jews at Gulpaigan.
For a long time after the terrible events of 1850-52, Babism dared not lift its head in Persia, and the zeal of even a triumphant priesthood found no victims. Latterly, as the widespread influence of the heresy has become more manifest, there have been spasmodic outbreaks of fury on the part of the sacerdotal hierarchy employing the civil governors as their tools, and occasional acts of barbarity that recall an earlier time. In 1878 occurred the brutal and unprovoked murder of two eminent merchants of Isfahan, at the instance of the Ulema, or priestly Council of that city. The two victims, whose names were Haji Mirza Hasan and Haji Mirza Husein, have been renamed by the Babis, Sultan-es-Shahada, or King of Martyrs, and Mahbub-es-Shahada, or Beloved of Martyrs; and their naked graves in the cemetery have become places of pilgrimage where many a tear is shed over the fate of the 'Martyrs of Isfahan.' In 1888 a respectable elderly man, named Mirza Agha Ashraf of Abadeh, was put to death in Isfahan by the Zil-es-Sultan, and his body mutilated and burnt, because, being suspected of Babism, he declined publicly to curse the Bab. Just before my visit to Persia in 1889, a Babi persecution had broken out at Nejefabad and Sehdeh, two towns or groups of villages in the neighbourhood of Isfahan, where the Babis have always been very strong. Large numbers of the unhappy sectaries were expelled from their homes by the mujtaheds, and came wandering to Isfahan, seeking redress, and taking sanctuary in the stable of the Zil. Some fled to Teheran, but were sent back by the Shah. As for the Zil, in his weakened position, he was so powerless in the hands of the mullahs, that small mercy could be expected from him. At
length, as some of the miserable fugitives reapproached their homes, they were met by a crowd headed by the Imam Jama, or Chief Priest of Sehdeh. 'Kill these renegades,' shouted he. 'Who is the Shah? We know no Shah! Erase them from the earth!' The poor Babis were at once attacked, several were killed or wounded, and one captive was smeared with petroleum and burnt alive. It is these little incidents, protruding from time to time their ugly features, that prove Persia to be not as yet quite redeemed, and that somewhat stagger the tall-talkers about Iranian civilisation.
If one conclusion more than another has been forded upon our notice by the retrospect in which I have indulged, it is that a sublime and unmurmuring devotion has been inculcated by this new faith, whatever it be. There is, I believe, but one instance of a Babi having recanted under pressure or menace of suffering, and he reverted to the faith and was executed within two years. Tales of magnificent heroism illumine the bloodstained pages of Babi history. Ignorant and unlettered as many of its votaries are, and have been, they are yet prepared to die for their religion, and the fires of Smithfield did not kindle a nobler courage than has met and defied the more refined torture-mongers of Teheran. Of no small account, then, must be the tenets of a creed that can awaken in its followers so rare and beautiful a spirit of self-sacrifice.
From the facts that Babism in its earliest years found itself in conflict with the civil powers, and that an attempt was made by Babis upon the life of the Shah, it has been wrongly inferred that the movement was political in origin and Nihilist in character. It does not appear from a study of the writings either of the Bab or his successors, that there is any foundation for such a suspicion. The persecution of the government very early drove the adherents of the new creed into an attitude of rebellion; and in the exasperation produced by the struggle, and by the ferocious brutality with which the rights of conquest were exercised by the victors, it was not surprising if fanatical hands were found ready to strike the sovereign down. At the present time the Babis are equally loyal with any other subjects of the Crown. Nor does there appear to be any greater justice in the charges of socialism, communism, and immorality, that have so freely been levelled at the youthful persuasion. Certainly no such
idea as communism in the European sense, i.e., a forcible redistribrition of property, or as socialism in the nineteenth century sense, i.e., the defeat of capital by labour, ever entered the brain of the Bab or his disciples. The only communism known to and recommended by him was that of the New Testament and the early Christian Church, viz., the sharing of goods in common by members of the faith, and the exercise of alms-giving, and an ample charity. The charge of immorality seems to have arisen partly from the malignant inventions of opponents, partly from the much greater freedom claimed for women by the Bab, which in the Oriental mind is scarcely dissociable from profligacy of conduct.
Babism is, in reality, a religious movement whose primary object is a revolt against the tyranny and fanaticism of the Koran, and against the growing laxity of Mussulman practice. As such, it represents what, in our terminology, would be described as an effort after freedom of thought and purity of observance. Foremost among the objects that it inculcates is the emancipation of women, an idea which it seems to have derived, in common with many others, from the Christian doctrine. The Bab and Beha in their writings have enjoined the disuse of the veil, the abolition of divorce, polygamy, and concubinage, in other words, of the harem, and greater liberty of action for the female sex. They recommend a system of poor-law relief, but declare war against mendicancy. As regards the corrupt practices of the modern Mussulman, the Bab forbade smoking, and condemned the kalian. Wine-drinking is permitted in moderation by Beha, but is interdicted to the Ezelis. Again the profligate imposture of the ordinary mullah's life, both inveigh with acrimony. Broadly regarded, Babism may be defined as a creed of charity, and almost of common humanity. Brotherly love, kindness to children, courtesy combined with dignity, sociability, hospitality, freedom from bigotry, friendliness even to Christians, are included in its tenets. That every Babi recognises or observes these precepts would be a foolish assertion; but let a prophet, if his gospel be in question, be judged by his own preaching.
Only secondarily does Babism present a constructive body of doctrine, which, it may safely be averred, not one tenth of its votaries either understand or could explain. The somewhat mystic and speculative character of the Persian is easily attracted by a pantheistic conception of the Deity, by which all creation is regarded as
an emanation from that source, into which it will ultimately again be resolved. According to the Babi view, God is not a person, as in the Bible or in the Koran, but a spiritual essence, perpetually communicating and reproducing itself. Man is compounded of this essence, subject to the defilements of the flesh, but by reason of his origin is essentially divine. To whatever extent the average Babi has imbibed or holds these doctrines, he appears to have absolutely cut himself adrift from Mohammed and the Koran. He believes in the divinity of Beha, and, it may be added, of Christ, as several incarnations of the Deity; and his scriptures may be described as a curious amalgam of the Bible, Sufiism, and the Koran. Mr. Browne thinks it an error to credit the Babis with a belief in the transmigration of souls.
Among other properties claimed or observances pursued by the Babis, may be mentioned the gift of clairvoyance, or foresight, of which instances are related that appertain to the miraculous. They have also a peculiar sort of handwriting, very little in vogue, a seal with a peculiar device, a particular form of salutation, and an elaborate burial service.
If Babism continues to grow at its present rate of progression, a time may conceivably come when it will oust Mohammedanism from the field in Persia. This, I think, it would be unlikely to do, did it appear upon the ground under the flag of a hostile faith. But since its recruits are won from the best soldiers of the garrison whom it is attacking, there is greater reason to believe that it may ultimately prevail. To those who know anything of the Persian character, so extraordinarily susceptible of religious influences as it is, it will be obvious to how many classes in that country the new creed makes successful appeal. The Sufis, or mystics, have long held that there must always be a Pir, or Prophet, visible in the flesh, and are very easily absorbed into the Babi fold. Even the orthodox Mussulman, whose mind's eye has ever been turned in eager anticipation upon the vanished Imam, is amenable to the cogent reasoning, by which it is sought to prove that either the Bab, or Beha, is the Mahdi, according to all the predictions of the Koran and the traditions. The pure and suffering life of the Bab, his ignominious death, the heroism and martyrdom of his followers, will appeal to many others who can find no similar phenomena in the contemporaneous records of Islam. Finally, all those who secretly rebel against the tyranny
of old-fashioned superstition, are inspired by a teaching which, alone among Oriental heresies, seems to be imbued with ideas of amelioration and progress. How far the gentler and more amiable aspects of Babism would prevail if that faith ever found itself in the ascendant, it is more hazardous to predict. I incline to think that the 'old man' would still be found unregenerate; and that, even if such an issue could be described as a victory for civilisation, it would not, as some have fondly imagined, be synonymous with an overture to Christianity.
There are some who hold different opinions, and who see in the increasing popularity of the Babi movement, in the wide-spread though secret revolt against the authority of the Koran, and in the prevalent tendency in Persia towards speculative inquiry and extreme latitude of religious opinion, a favourable opening for the proselytising zeal of the Protestant Church. Persia has even been described as the most hopeful among the fields of missionary labour in the East. While conscious of the valuable work that has been and is being done by the representatives of English, French, and American Mission societies in that country, by the spread of education, by the display of charity, by the free gift of medical assistance, by the force of example, and while in no way suggesting that these pious labours should be slackened, I am unable, from such knowledge as I possess, to participate in so sanguine a forecast of the future. Before I give my reasons for this opinion, let me cast an eye in brief retrospect over the history of Christian effort in Iran.
If Mr. Thomas's suggested translation of the Hajiabad Inscription be correct, it may even be that a Christian king sat upon the throne of Persia, in the person of the renowned Shapur I., as early as 241-272 A.D. But it would be unwise to speak with any confidence of this hypothesis. The second Chosroes or Parviz (A.D. 591-628), the last great sovereign of the same dynasty, seems for a time to have professed a dubious sort of Christianity, which he picked up while in exile with the Romans. He worshipped the Virgin, prayed to saints and martyrs, and adopted St. Sergius as his own patron saint. He
also married a Christian, the far-famed Sira or Shirin. Similar suspicions have been entertained of the enlightened Mongol prince, Abaka Khan, the son of Hulaku Khan, and great-grandson of Jenghiz Khan, who married the daughter of the Greek Emperor Michael Palaeologos, and is believed to have embraced the Christian faith. It is certain in any case that the Gospels were first translated into the Persian tongue a few years after his death, in 1282 A.D.; and a Persian MS. version of the Four Evangelists is in existence, dated 1314. A later version was published in London in 1652-7 (edited by Pierson), from a collation of three MSS. supposed to have been made from the Greek. Shah Abbas liked to delude the missionaries at Isfahan into thinking that he was a Christian, and is said once actually to have gone through the ceremony of baptism; whereupon tracts were issued by the delighted Friars, ascribing his victories over the Turks to this conversion. In the succeeding century Nadir Shah, in a freak of anti-religious intolerance, ordered the four Gospels to be translated into Persian, after which, before an audience of priests, rabbis, and mullahs, he made fun of the doctrines presented in what was a ludicrously inaccurate version. The first Protestant missionary to Persia was the famous Henry Martyn, who, in the year 1811, went out to Shiraz. This remarkable man, who impressed everyone by his simplicity and godliness of character, created an effect in the short space of a year, (for he died at Tokat in Asiatic Turkey in October 1812), that was as much to be attributed to the charm of his personality as to the character of his mission. Known as 'the enlightened infidel,' he spent his time in translating the New Testament into Persian, in preaching Christ, and in publicly confuting the doctrines of Islam, a written refutation of which from his pen was sent to Kerbela, to be answered by the learned Mohammedan divines of that sacred city. An anonymous writer in the 'Asiatic Journal' of March 1830 quoted the words of a Persian mullah named Mohammed Rahim, alleged to have been converted to Christianity by Martyn: —
In the year of the Hejira 1223, there came to this city (Shiraz) an Englishman, who taught the religion of Christ with a boldness hitherto
unparalleled in Persia, in the midst of much scorn and ill-treatment from the mullahs as well as the rabble. He was a beardless youth and evidently enfeebled by disease. He dwelt amongst us for more than a year. His extreme forbearance towards the violence of his opponents, the calm yet convincing manner in which he expounded the fallacies and sophistries by which he was assailed (for he spoke Persian excellently) gradually inclined me to listen to his arguments, to inquire dispassionately into the subject of them, and finally to read a tract which he had written in reply to a 'Defence of Islám' by our chief mullahs. The result of my examination was a conviction that the young disputant was right.
Binning, in 1850, made inquiries as to the alleged convert at Shiraz, but finding no trace of him, said, 'it is probable that the account is a fiction;' a conclusion which, considering the lapse of time — forty years — between the incident and the inquiry, and in spite of my own views upon converts from Islam, it seems to me far from fair to adopt. Martyn having died, the next comer, in 1829, was Mr. Groves, who, however, soon gravitated from Persia to Baghdad. Some Germans, named Dietrich, Zaremba, and Haas, opened Christian schools at about the same time in Shisheh and Tabriz. In 1838 the Rev. W. Glen arrived in Persia, and eventually completed a revised edition of the New Testament translation of Martyn, having already spent three years in translating the Old Testament at Astrakhan. In the same period the Frenchman, Eugène Boré, created much excitement and uproar by his preaching in Isfahan. I shall, in my chapter upon the North-West Provinces, narrate the foundation of the American, the French, and the English Missions to the Nestorians of Urumiah and the border districts of Azerbaijan, and the extension of branches of the first-named mission to Teheran (1872), Tabriz (1873), Hamadan (1881), Resht (1883). In a later chapter I shall mention the flourishing Church of England Mission, established by the Rev. Dr. Bruce under the auspices of the Church Missionary Society in Julfa, the suburb of Isfahan. I am here concerned rather to discuss the attitude of the Persian Government towards Christian missions in general, and the success or the reverse that attends the missionary propaganda among the Persian Mohammedans.
The Persian Government must be credited on the whole with a liberal and conciliatory policy towards the Christian elements among its population. As I have said, the Nestorians have few
real grievances of which to complain, and the same may be said of the Armenians, though both may have to submit to the stigma of social inferiority in the middle and lower grades of life. No objection is raised by the Government to the settlement of missionaries, or building of schools, chapels, and dispensaries in the country; to the free circulation of the Christian scriptures, or to the distribution of Christian books. The latter are even printed and published by Mohammedan printers at Teheran. In these respects the Persian Government sustains the honourable traditions of the Sefavi monarchy, under whose rule there were houses belonging to the four orders of Catholic Friars at Isfahan. But the attitude of the Government is not always the same thing as the attitude of individual governors; and the security and freedom enjoyed by the Christian missionaries depend very much on the character of the latter. The Zil-es-Sultan, for instance, does not regard with a very friendly eye Dr. Bruce's establishment at Julfa. The protection, however, that is extended to missionaries by the ministers of their nationalities at Teheran is an effective guarantee against positive injustice, and, on the whole, the Christian missions have very little to complain of in Persia.
They must, of course, reckon upon the active hostility of the mullahs; and there was, at the time of my visit, a prominent Seyid in Isfahan who distinguished himself by the bitterness of his fanatical antagonism, and did all in his power to provoke anti-Christian violence. These Seyids, or descendants of the Prophet, are an intolerable nuisance to the country, deducing from their alleged descent and from the prerogative of the green turban, the right to an independence and insolence of bearing from which their countrymen, no less than foreigners, are made to suffer. In Persia, however, not the least of the obstacles with which Christian communities are confronted arise from their own sectarian differences; and the Mussulmans are perfectly entitled to scoff at those who invite them to enter a flock the different members of which love each other so bitterly. Protestants squabble with Roman Catholics, Presbyterians with Episcopalians, the Protestant Nestorians look with no very friendly eye upon the
Nestorians proper, and these, again, are not on the most harmonious terms with the Chaldaeans, or Catholic Nestorians. The Armenians gaze askance upon the United (or Catholic) Armenians, and both unite in retarding the work of the Protestant missions. Finally, the hostility of the Jew's may, as a rule, be reckoned upon. In the various countries of the East in which I have travelled, from Syria to Japan, I have been struck by the strange, and, to my mind, sorrowful phenomenon, of missionary bands waging the noblest of warfares under the banner of the King of Peace with fratricidal weapons in their hands.
And now, with regard to the practical results of all this excellent, if not always harmonious, enterprise. In my remarks upon the Nestorian Christians I shall show that the missionaries have there performed, and continue to perform, a highly meritorious work. The same may be said of Dr. Bruce's labour among the Armenians at Julfa. But, after all, the temper of mission work is propagandist, and the zealous missionary is ill-satisfied unless he is adding to the fold as well as confirming its existing members. If, then, the criterion of missionary enterprise in Persia be the number of converts it has made from Islam, I do not hesitate to say that the prodigious expenditure of money, of honest effort, and of sacrificing toil that has been showered upon that country has met with a wholly inadequate return. Young Mohammedans have sometimes been baptised by Christian missionaries. But this must not too readily be confounded with conversion, since the bulk of the newcomers relapse into the faith of their fathers; and I question if, since the day when Henry Martyn set foot in Shiraz up till the present moment, half a dozen Persian Mohammedans have genuinely embraced the Christian creed. I have myself often inquired for, but have never seen, a converted Mussulman (I exclude, of course, those derelicts or orphans of Mussulman parents who are brought up from childhood in Christian schools). Nor am I surprised at even the most complete demonstration of failure. Putting aside the
dogmatic assumptions of Christianity (e.g. the doctrine of the Trinity and the Divinity of Christ), which are so repugnant to the Mohammedan conception of the unity of God, we cannot regard the reluctance of a Mussulman to desert his faith with much astonishment when we remember that the penalty for such an act is death. The chances of conversion are remote indeed so long as the body as well as the soul of the convert is thrown into the scales.
But personal apprehensions, though an important, are not the deciding factor in the situation. It is against the impregnable rock-wall of Islam, as a system embracing every sphere, and duty, and act of life, that the waves of missionary effort beat and buffet in vain. Marvellously adapted alike to the climate, character, and occupations of those countries upon which it has laid its adamantine grip, Islam holds its votary in complete thrall from the cradle to the grave. To him, it is not only religion, it is government, philosophy, and science as well. The Mohammedan conception is not so much that of a state church as, if the phrase may be permitted, of a church state. The under-girders with which society itself is warped round are not of civil, but of ecclesiastical fabrication; and, wrapped in this superb, if paralysing, creed, the Mussulman lives in contented surrender of all volition, deems it his highest duty to worship God and to compel, or, where impossible, to depise those who do not worship Him in the spirit, and then dies in sure and certain hope of Paradise. So long as this all-compelling, all-absorbing code of life holds an Eastern people in its embrace, determining every duty and regulating every act of existence, and finally meting out an assured salvation, missionary treasure and missionary self-denial will largely be spent in vain. Indeed, an active propaganda is, in my judgment, the worst of policies that a Christian mission in a bigoted Mussulman country can adopt, and the very tolerance with which I have credited the Persian government is in large measure due to the prudent abstention of the Christian missionaries from avowed proselytism. Their work and their ultimate reward lie rather in the secular and physical than in the spiritual aspect of missionary enterprise. By schools, by charity, and still more by the free gift of medical aid, they slowly, but surely, make some impression upon the hearts of the unregenerate mass, and some day, when they have been long dead and forgotten, their justification may come.
Finally, let me speak of the attitude of the Persian Government towards the Jews. Five years ago the number of Jews in Persia was conjecturally returned as 19.000; but I incline to the opinion that this total is below the mark. I have, indeed, been supplied with a table in which their total census is fixed at 65,000, but this appears to be a gross exaggeration. The chief centres of Jewish residence are Teheran (4,000), Hamadan (2,000), Isfahan (3,700), Shiraz (3,000), Urumiah, Meshed, Kashan, Saveh, Kermanshah, and Bushire.
As a community, the Persian Jews are sunk in great poverty and ignorance. They have no schools of their own, except in the synagogues, where they are only taught to repeat their prayers, which the majority do not understand. Except in Teheran, Hamadan, Kashan, Khonsar, and Gulpaigan only Hebrew is taught, and not Persian. Such as can read or write the language of the country have studied it privately. In Hamadan, about a hundred young men receive tuition in the school of the American Mission; in Teheran, about fifteen study foreign languages under similar auspices. In Isfahan, a converted Jew of Teheran, Mirza Nurullah by name, who has been educated in England, has recently started a school, where he instructs about twenty young men in Hebrew, Persian, and English.
Throughout the Mussulman countries of the East these unhappy people have been subjected to the persecution which custom has taught themselves, as well as the world, to regard as their normal lot. Usually compelled to live apart in a Ghetto, or separate quarter of the towns, they have from time immemorial suffered from disabilities of occupation, dress, and habits, which have marked them out as social pariahs from their fellow creatures. The majority of Jews in Persia are engaged in trade, in jewellery, in wine and opium manufacture, as musicians, dancers, scavengers, pedlars, and in other professions to which is attached no great respect. They rarely attain to a leading mercantile position. In Isfahan, where there are said to be 3,700, and where they occupy a relatively better status than elsewhere in Persia, they are not permitted to wear the kolah or Persian head-dress, to have shops in the bazaar, to build the walls of their houses as high as a Moslem neighbour's, or to ride in the streets. In Teheran and Kashan they are also to be found in large numbers and enjoying a fair position. In Shiraz they are very badly off. At Bushire
they are prosperous and free from persecution. As soon, however, as any outburst of bigotry takes place in Persia or elsewhere, the Jews are apt to be the first victims. Every man's hand is then against them; and woe betide the luckless Hebrew who is the first to encounter a Persian street mob. I have already related the circumstances of the forced conversion fifty years ago of the Jews in Meshed. During the absence of the Shah in Europe in 1889, a fanatical disturbance took place in Shiraz and Isfahan, largely instigated by the clerical firebrand, Sheikh Agha Nejefi, whom I have mentioned, in the course of which a Jew was killed in the streets, and his murderer was at first suffered to go scot-free, and finally only sentenced to the bastinado. The Sheikh, by way of improving or embittering the situation, took upon himself to promulgate a series of archaic disabling laws against the Jews of Isfahan, in which odious restrictions were imposed upon their food, dress, habits, life, fortune, inheritance, and trade. The Zil-es-Sultan was afraid to move for fear of endangering his position. It was largely in consequence of this outbreak that an influential deputation from the Anglo-Jewish Association waited upon the Shah while in London, and presented to him a memorial on the subject of their co-religionists in Persia. The Shah gave assurances of protection, which were much needed, and which, it is to be hoped, will be carried out.
This slight sketch of the condition of religious liberty in Persia will have shown that, universal as is the spirit of scepticism among the intelligent classes, conciliatory as is the attitude of the Government towards Christian sects who keep to themselves and do not interfere with others, and decadent though the power of the mullahs has become in contrast with their former pride, the hold of Islam, as a system over Persia, is not seriously weakened, fanaticism can still be played upon by adroit fingers, and the day is yet far distant, when, if ever, the Crescent will be supplanted in Iran by the Cross.
NOTE ON THE PERSIAN CURRENCY
(from 'Banking in Persia,' by J. Rabino, in the 'Journal of the Institute of Bankers, December 1891).
The story of Persian currency, like that of all eastern countries, is a story of depreciation, and in great measure of debasement. Etymology gives us in Persia a lesson in economic history. I have spoken frequently of a toman, which is
actually a piece of money of ten silver krans, worth about 5s. 9d. Now toman is a word introduced into Persian by the Mongols, under Jenghiz Khan, in the thirteenth century. It signifies 'ten thousand,' and, amongst other applications, was used to mean ten thousand dinars. The dinar was a gold coin of 52 grains, equivalent, therefore, to a fraction more than half a sovereign; consequently a toman was worth about 5,000l.
With the Sefavi dynasty, during the sixteenth century, the toman ceased to be equivalent to 10,000 gold dinars, and under Abbas the Great a toman of money was equivalent to 50 abbassis — a silver coin weighing about 130 grains — and the value of the toman was about 3l. 7s. The abbassi was divided into four shahis, weighing each 18 grains of silver, and worth about 4d. The toman, as it does to-day, still figured in accounts as 10,000 dinars, but the dinars became a mere money of account, without any coin to represent it.
The weights of the silver coinage were soon reduced, and in 1678 one toman (or 50 abbassis) was worth 2l. 6s. 8d. At the beginning of the eighteenth century, under Shah Sultan Husein, the abbassi weighed only 84 grains, and the toman was worth about 2l. 4s., and under Nadir Shah, some years later, the abbassi was reduced to 72 grains, and the toman was worth 1l. 18s.
In Sir John Malcolm's History of Persia, published in 1815, the toman is put down at 1l. Under Fath Ali Shah, who died in 1835, krans, each weighing 142 grains, were first coined, and a kran was equal to 5 abbassis or 20 shahis, and was the tenth part of a toman, which was worth 15s.
The shahis ceased to be silver coins, and with a further reduction in the weight of the kran, silver abbassis were also abolished. The kran experienced several reductions in weight; already in 1839, ten of them, or one toman, were worth only 10s. 9½d.; and now, in 1891, the toman is worth about 5s. 9d.
The abbassi, or one-fifth of a kran, is worth less than 1½d., and the shahi is a copper coin weighing 77 grains, and worth a quarter of that amount.
It is tolerably certain that the people had to bear the weighty burden of these tamperings with the standard, and, as in other countries, the decrease in weight or fineness of coin was no more than an indirect and very severe tax. Of the copper coinage, we are told, for instance, that it was considerable, that each town had its own coinage, and that it was re-minted every year at a reduction, and that the old coin was forcibly bought up at par with the new coin of lesser weight.
In the seventeenth century one pound of copper was coined into 46 kasbeks, worth 1s. 4d., giving a profit of 15 per cent. The Shah in 1672 received a royalty of 2 per cent. on the mintage. Three inferences may, I think, be drawn from the fragmentary notices we have of currency matters, viz.: that the riches of the country have greatly decreased; that the circulating medium has for ages been below the wants of the country; and that one of the causes of this lack of coin is the hoardings of the Government and, doubtless, also of the people.
Any one who has examined a handful of old Persian coin — i.e. coin minted before 1877 — will understand the difficulty there is in counting (for weighing is out of the question) and examining any considerable sum. A thorough and well thought-out reform is, therefore, of great urgency, as a first step to the economic regeneration of the country. Unfortunately, to bring about such a reform, the Persian Government must give up all its old ideas of administration, and its profits obtained by farming out the mint; in fact, it must submit to be absolutely guided by European theory and practice.
Attempts have been made of late years to attain this object, but they have failed, on account of the public weal having frequently given way to temporary profit. In 1863 Monsieur Davoust was invited to Teheran to take charge of the
mint, but the resistance, active and passive, he encountered was so great that seven years later he left the country without having been able to accomplish anything. In 1875 Herr Pechan, an Austrian mint official, was entrusted with a reform of the currency, and initiated one which would have been efficient had he been allowed full powers and the requisite means for carrying out his ideas. He no sooner had begun his work, however, than he was ordered to coin large quantities of copper, and to leave silver minting for a future occasion. When he attempted to coin a standard silver kran, and asked for the funds necessary for raising the quality of the piece, he was met by a refusal, and by a suggestion as to alloy which it was impossible for him, as an Austrian official, to accept. Herr Pechan furnished the following table, showing the result of his assays of coin in circulation in 1877. It must be stated that at that time the governors of provinces had each a local mint, for working which they paid a yearly royalty.
These figures give some idea of the irregularity of the Persian currency. Between krans of Hamadan and those of Teheran there is a difference in value of no less than 17 per cent.; between those of other towns and of the capital the difference is very considerable from a monetary point of view, although less than in the extreme cases quoted. Since 1877 the currency has certainly not improved, for the old heavy krans have been re-minted, and the debased ones remain in circulation in obedience to Gresham's law.
It is evident that a reform of the currency can only be carried out in one of two ways: — Firstly: The Government should abandon the policy of farming out the mint for a yearly sum, and should take over the direct management of the currency. A new coinage should be struck, and the old coinage called in and re-minted at its legal standard and weight, at the expense of the State. This would be the best and soundest solution of the difficulty, but to carry it out the ideas of the Government must undergo a complete revolution. Secondly: The mint might be handed over to European control for a definite period, to be worked for the benefit of the State. As the Government would probably refuse to make any sacrifices for the reform, there remains only the creation of a new system, based upon a kran, corresponding to the value of the coin actually in circulation, less the cost of recoinage. This would enable the old coinage to be called in, and, with the dearth of the circulating medium, it is probable that the modification would affect the exchange very slightly, if at all. On the other hand, a uniform type of kran, well executed and circulating in sufficient quantities, would undoubtedly be a great boon to trade and to the country generally.