The Priceless Pearl
THE WRITINGS OF THE GUARDIANIn an age when people play football with words, kicking them right and left indiscriminately with no respect for either their meaning or correct usage, the style of Shoghi Effendi stands out in dazzling beauty. His joy in words was one of his strongest personal characteristics, whether he wrote in English - the language he had given his heart to - or in the mixture of Persian and Arabic he used in his general letters to the East. Although he was so simple in his personal tastes he had an innate love of richness which is manifest in the way he arranged and decorated various Bahá'í Holy Places, in the style of the Shrine of the Bab, in his preferences in architecture, and in his choice and combination of words. Of him it could be said, in the words of another great writer, Macaulay, that "he wrote in language...precise and luminous." Unlike so many people Shoghi Effendi wrote what he meant and meant exactly what he wrote. It is impossible to eliminate any word from one of his sentences without sacrificing part of the meaning, so concise, so pithy in his style. A book like God Passes By is a veritable essence of essences; from this single hundred-year history, fifty books could easily be written and none of them would superficial or lacking in material, so rich is the source provided by the Guardian, so condensed his treatment of it.
The language in which Shoghi Effendi wrote, whether for the Bahá'ís of the West or of the East, has set a standard which should effectively prevent them from descending to the level of illiterate literates which often so sadly characterizes the present generation as far as the use and appreciation of words are concerned. He never compromised with the ignorance of his readers but expected them, in their thirst for knowledge, to overcome their ignorance. Shoghi Effendi chose, to the best of his great ability, the right vehicle for his thought and it made no difference to him whether the average person was going to know the word he used or [page 197] not. After all, what one does not know one can find out. Although he had such a brilliant command of language he frequently reinforced his knowledge by certainty through looking up the word he planned to use in Webster's big dictionary. Often one of my functions was to hand it to him and it was a weighty tome indeed! Not infrequently his choice would be the third or forth usage of the word, sometimes bordering on the archaic, but it was the exact word that conveyed his meaning and so he used it. I remember my mother once saying that to become a Bahá'í was like entering a university, only one never finished learning, never graduated. In his translations of the Bahá'í writings, and above all in his own compositions, Shoghi Effendi set a standard that educates and raises the cultural level of the reader at the same time that it feeds his mind and soul with thoughts and truth.
From the beginning of my life with the Guardian until the end, I was almost always present when he translated or wrote his books, long letters and cables in English. There was nothing unusual in this; he liked to have someone in the room on these occasions to listen to what he was writing. His method of composition was new and fascinating to me. He wrote out loud, speaking the words as he put them down. I think this habit in English was carried over from Persian; good Persian and Arabic composition not only can be but should be chanted. One remembers the Bab revealing the Qayyumu'l-Asma' out loud, and Bahá'u'lláh revealing His Tablets in the same way. This was the Guardian's custom in English as well as in Persian and I believe it is because of this that even his long and involved sentences sound even more flowing and intelligible when read aloud. The length of some of these sentences was at times a cause of comment on my part; Shoghi Effendi would raise his head and look at me, with those wonderful eyes whose colour and expression changed so frequently, with a hint of defiance and rebelliousness in them - but did not shorten his sentence! I can recall only one occasion when he admitted, ruefully, that it "was a long sentence; but he still did not change it. It said what he wanted it to as he wanted it to; it was too bad it was so long. On the other hand he like to use a structure sometimes of very short sentences that followed each other once after the other like the cracks of a whip. He would call my attention to this variation in style, pointing out how each method was effective, how the combination of the two enriched the whole and achieved different ends. He was very fond of the device of alliteration, much used in oriental languages but [page 198] now no longer so common in English. An excellent example of his use of this is provided by this sentence reiterating words beginning with "p" from one of his cables: "Time pressing opportunity priceless potent aid providentially promised unfailing."
Shoghi Effendi's method of composition was like that of a mosaic artist at work, who creates his picture with clearly defined and separate pieces; each word had its own place and if he struck a difficult sentence he would not change it around so as to accommodate a thought that grammatically could not fit into the sentence structure but would stick to it, sometimes literally for hours, until I at least was worn out by his verbal repetition of the phrase as he battled to subjugate it and fit it in the way he wished to, typing one piece of his mosaic after another, until he had solved his problem. I seldom remember his ever abandoning a sentence and starting over in a new form. Another characteristic in his choice of words was that because of popular misuse or abuse of a thought which a word conveyed he saw no reason to abandon or shun it, but used it in its proper and exact meaning. He was not afraid to speak of "conversion" of people to the Faith, or to call them "converts"; he lauded the "missionary zeal" of pioneers in "foreign mission fields", at the same time making it plain we have no priests, no missionaries and do not proselytize.
I remember once Shoghi Effendi giving me an article to read from a British newspaper which called attention to the bureaucratic language which is developing, particularly in the United States, in which more and more words are used to convey less and less and merely produce confusion confounded. Shoghi Effendi heartily supported the article! Words were very precise instruments to him. I also recall a particularly beautiful distinction he made in speaking to some pilgrims in the Western Pilgrim House. He said: "we are orthodox, but not fanatical."
Many times the language of the Guardian soared to great poetic heights. Witness such passages as these that shine with the brilliance of cathedral glass: "We behold, as we survey the episodes of this first act of a sublime drama, the figure of its Master hero, the Bab, arise meteor-like above the horizon of Shiraz, traverse the sombre sky of Persia from south to north, decline with tragic swiftness, and perish in a blaze of glory. We see His satellites, a galaxy of God-intoxicated heroes, mount above that same horizon, irradiate that same incandescent light, burn themselves out with that [page 199] self-same swiftness, and impart in their turn an added impetus to the steadily gathering momentum of God's nascent Faith." He called the Bab "that youthful Prince of Glory" and describes the scene of His entombment on Mt Carmel: "when all was finished, and the earthly remains of the Martyr-Prophet of Shiraz were, at long last, safely deposited for their everlasting rest in the bosom of God's holy mountain, 'Abdu'l-Bahá, Who had cast aside His turban, removed His shoes and thrown off His cloak, bent low over the still open sarcophagus, His silver hair waving about His head and His face transfigured and luminous, rested His forehead on the border of the wooden casket, and, sobbing aloud, wept with such a weeping that all those who were present wept with Him." "The second period...derives is inspiration from the august figure of Bahá'u'lláh, preeminent in holiness, awesome in the majesty of His strength and power, unapproachable in the transcendent brightness of His glory." "Amidst the shadows that are increasingly gathering about us we can discern the glimmerings of Bahá'u'lláh unearthly sovereignty appearing fitfully on the horizon of history." Or these words addressed to the Greatest Holy Leaf: "In the innermost recesses of our hearts, O Thou exalted Leaf of the Abha Paradise, we have reared for thee a shining mansion that the hand of time can never undermine, a shrine which shall frame eternally the matchless beauty of thy countenance, an altar whereon the fire of thy consuming love shall burn for ever." Or these words painting a picture of the punishment of God in this day: "On the high seas, in the air, on land, in the forefront of battle, in the palaces of kings and the cottages of peasants, in the most hallowed sanctuaries, whether secular or religious, the evidences of God's retributive act and mysterious discipline are manifest. Its heavy toll is steadily mounting - a holocaust sparing neither prince nor peasant, neither man nor woman, neither young nor old." Or these words concerning the attitude of the true servants of the Cause: "Of such men and women it may be truly said that to them 'every foreign land is a fatherland, and every fatherland a foreign land'. For their citizenship...is in the Kingdom of Bahá'u'lláh. Though willing to share to the utmost the temporal benefits and the fleeting joys which this earthly life can confer, though eager to participate in whatever activity that conduces to the richness, the happiness and peace of that life, they can at no time forget that it constitutes no more than a transient, a very brief stage of their existence, that they who live it are but pilgrims and wayfarers [page 200] whose goal is the Celestial city, and whose home the country of never-failing joy and brightness."
The descriptive power of Shoghi Effendi's pen is nowhere better seen than in the gem-like phrases he chose in English to depict the station of Bahá'u'lláh. All the following words are quoted from the Guardian's writings, chosen from different sources, but put together here to convey their extraordinary range and power: "the Everlasting Father, the Lord of Hosts, the Most Great Name, and Preserved Treasure, the Most Great Light, the Most Great Ocean, the Supreme Heaven, the Pre-existent Root, the Day Star of the Universe, the Judge, the Law-giver, the Redeemer of all mankind, the organizer of the entire planet, the Unifier of the children of men, the Inaugurator of the long-awaited millennium, the Creator of a new World Order, the Establisher of the Most Great Peace, the fountain of the Most Great Justice, the Proclaimer of the coming of age of the entire human race, the Inspirer and Founder of a world civilization." Or take the masterly translation Shoghi Effendi made of titles such as these referring to 'Abdu'l-Bahá: "the Mainspring of the Oneness of Humanity", "the Ensign of the Most Great Peace", "the Limb of the Law of God".
As 'Abdu'l-Bahá's American followers arose to carry out His Plan Shoghi Effendi said they were "compassing thereby the whole earth with a girdle of glory" and going forth to "emblazon on their shields the emblems of new victories". In the last Ridvan Message to the Bahá'í world he exhorts Bahá'u'lláh's followers in words of unique splendour: "Putting on the armour of His love, firmly buckling on the shield of His mighty Covenant, mounted on the steed of steadfastness, holding aloft the land of the Word of the Lord of Hosts, and with unquestioning reliance on His promises as the best provision for their journey, let them set their faces towards those fields that still remain unexplored and direct their steps to those goals that are as yet unattained, assured that He Who has led them to achieve such triumphs, and to store up such prizes in His Kingdom, will continue to assist them in enriching their spiritual birthright to a degree that no finite mind can imagine or human heart perceive."
There are so many aspects to Shoghi Effendi's literary life. I can name on one hand the books (other than his beloved Gibbon) he read for recreation during the twenty years I was with him, though [page 201] he had read during his youth very extensively on many subjects. This is no doubt because of the fact that by 1937, when I took up my new life in Haifa, he was already overwhelmed by the ever-increasing amount of material he had to read in connection with his work, such as news-letters, National Assembly minutes, circulars and mail. By the end of his life if he did not read at least two or three hours a day he could no longer keep up with his work at all; he read on planes, trains, in gardens, at table when we were away from Haifa and in Haifa hour after hour at his desk, until he would get so tired he would go to bed and sit up reading there. He assiduously kept abreast of the political news and trends of the world, through his Times, The Jerusalem Post and sometimes the well-known European dailies Journal de Geneve and the Paris edition of the New York Herald Tribune. Before the war he subscribed to an English magazine, The Nineteenth Century, which had many articles on current affairs, and was the only one I ever knew him to read, but found its standard had declined after the was and gave it up. The word "eliminate" was often on his lips; he would eliminate non-essentials, get rid quickly of secondary matters, push away the trivial debris of life. He used carry this process of elimination into his newspaper. He knew exactly which pages of The Times had the news he wanted to look at - the leaders, the world news, and above all, the editorials - and he would scan these quickly and then proceed to rip out with his fingers the articles he wanted to look at or read carefully and throw the rest away - he had eliminated it! It does not require much acumen to understand that this, aside from being efficient, was the reflection of a very deeply tired-out mind, trying to push away so many burdens. Even an extra piece of paper had become a burden. It was with great difficulty I ever got a chance to see an entire newspaper or read anything but the long streamers of clippings that the Guardian would had me, saying "read this, it's interesting", and I would find myself with a debate in the House of Commons or some astute article on the political situation, the economic or social trends of the times, religious issues, and so on, all in a large untidy handful which I stuffed into my purse or pocket, awaiting a distant moment when I could find time to read them.
The Guardian's method of writing was interesting: he did not like large pieces of paper and usually wrote all his books and long communications on small lined pads. He did all his composition by hand; if the first draft was too written-over he sat down patiently [page 202] and copied it all over. He typed, on a very small portable machine, by the two-finger method, all his own manuscripts, making any further changes as he went along. It is not surprising therefore that by this method he should have produced such highly polished works as we have from his pen. In Persian he would give a clean original, written by him, to his secretary to copy in fine penmanship and this Shoghi Effendi then sent to Tehran. It has always interested me to note how after he became Guardian his writing in English developed into a slight back-hand; it was always strong, well rounded and legible. His Persian hand was exquisite. There are a number of styles of calligraphy in Persian and Arabic but his is a variation of "Shikastih Nasta'liq"' it has a charm and originality, a grace and strength all its own. One should remember that calligraphy was the highest of the graphic arts in Islamic countries and beautiful writing was the distinction par excellence for the cultivated man to possess. The Bab, Bahá'u'lláh, 'Abdu'l-Bahá all had wonderful handwriting and Shoghi Effendi in this too proved himself worthy of his heritage.
Withal, however, he was not fussy; when he went over the many pages of my sometimes long letters to National Assemblies, he would put in a series of "X's" and "XX's" and even "XXX's" in the margins for me to add a word or thought left out. Then at the end of the secretary's part he would start his postscript in his own writing and usually go around and around his margins, in truly oriental style, from page to page. What I am trying to say is that if there were corrected mistakes all through the text of an important English letter it did not disturb him in the least as long as the thought was there, crystal clear.
The supreme importance of Shoghi Effendi's English translations and communications can never be sufficiently stressed because of his function as sole and authoritative interpreter of the Sacred Writings, appointed as such by 'Abdu'l-Bahá in His Will. there are many instances when, owing to the looseness of construction in Persian sentences, there could be an ambiguity in the mind of the reader regarding the meaning. Careful and correct English, not lending itself to ambiguity in the first place, became, when coupled with Shoghi Effendi's brilliant mind and his power as interpreter of the Holy Word, what we might well call the crystallizing vehicle of the teachings. Often by referring to Shoghi Effendi's translation into English the original meaning of the Bab, Bahá'u'lláh, or 'Abdu'l-Bahá becomes clear and is thus safeguarded [page 203] against misinterpretation in the future. He was meticulous in translating and made absolutely sure that the words he was using in English conveyed and did not depart from the original thought or the original words. One would have to have a mastery of Persian and Arabic to correctly understand what he did. For instance in reading the original one finds that one word in Arabic was susceptible of being translated into two or more words in English; thus Shoghi Effendi, in the construction of his English sentences, might use "power", "strength" and "might" alternatively to replace this one word, choosing the exact nuance of meaning that would fit best, do away with reiteration and lend most colour to his translation without sacrificing the true meaning, indeed, thereby enhancing the true meaning. He used to say that Arabic synonyms usually meant the same thing but that English ones always had a slight shade of difference which made it possible to be more exact in rendering the thought. He also said he believed a few of the highly mystical and poetical writings of Bahá'u'lláh could never be translated as they would become so exotic and flowery that the original beauty and meaning would be completely lost and convey a wrong impression. Once - only once, alas, in our busy, harassed life - Shoghi Effendi said to me that I now knew enough Persian to understand the original and he read a paragraph of one of Bahá'u'lláh's Tablets and said, "How can one translate that into English?" For about two hours we tried, that is he tried and I feebly followed him. When I would suggest a sentence, which did convey the meaning, Shoghi Effendi said "Ah, but that is not translation! You cannot change and leave out words in the original and just put what you think it means in English." He pointed out that a translator must be absolutely faithful to his original text and that in some cases this meant that what came out in another language was ugly and even meaningless. As Bahá'u'lláh is always sublimely beautiful in His words this could not be done. In the end he gave it up and said he did not think it could ever be properly translated into English, and this passage was far from being one of the more abstruse and mystical works of Bahá'u'lláh.
I only know of one instance in which Shoghi Effendi said he had slightly modified something that existed in the original and that was when he translated, immediately after the passing of the Master, His Will. The sentence in question reads, referring to the Universal House of Justice, "the guardian of the Cause of God is its sacred head and the distinguished member for life of that [page 204] body." Shoghi Effendi said the actual word, for which he substituted the milder "member for life", was "irremovable". Nothing could be more revealing of his profound humility than this toning down of his own relationship to the Universal House of Justice.
The Guardian was exceedingly cautious in everything that concerned the original Word and would never explain or comment on a text submitted to him in English (when it was not his own translation) until he had verified it with the original. He was very careful of the words he used in commenting on various events in the Faith, refusing, for instance, to designate a person a martyr - which is a station - just because they were slain, and sometimes designating as martyrs people who were not killed but the nature of whose death he associated with martyrdom.
Another highly important aspect of the divinely conferred position Shoghi Effendi held of interpreter of the Teachings was that he not only protected the Sacred Word from being misconstrued but that he also carefully preserved the relationship and importance of different aspects of the Teachings to each other and safeguarded the rightful station of each of the three Central Figures of the Faith. An interesting example of this is reflected in a letter of A. L. M. Nicolas, the French scholar who translated the Bayan of the Bab into French and who might correctly be described as a Babi. For many years he was under the impression that the Bahá'ís had ignored the greatness and belittled the station of the Bab. When he discovered that Shoghi Effendi in his writings exalted the Bab, perpetuated His memory through a book such as Nabil's Narrative, and repeatedly translated His words into English, his attitude completely changed. In a letter to one of the old believers in France he wrote: "Now I can die quietly...Glory to Shoghi Effendi who has calmed my torment and my anxiety, glory to him who recognizes the worth of Siyyid 'Ali Muhammad called the Bab. I am so content that I kiss your hands which traced my address on the envelope which brought me the message of Shoghi. Thank you Mademoiselle, thank you from the bottom of my heart."
Shoghi Effendi was tolerant and practical in his approach to his own work. For years he sent his translations and manuscripts to George Townshend, whose command and knowledge of English he greatly admired. In one of his letters to him Shoghi Effendi wrote: "I am deeply grateful to you for the very valuable, detailed and careful suggestions you have given me..." Horace Holley titled many of Shoghi Effendi's general letters to the West and also [page 205] inserted sub-titles throughout the text, picking up phrases in the writing of the Guardian which were most descriptive of the general subject. If this facilitated the reading of his works, and made them more intelligible to the average American believer, Shoghi Effendi saw no objection. Horace was a writer himself and the titles he gave to the Guardian's communications not only served to identify them but dramatized their message and capture the imagination.
One of the earliest acts of Shoghi Effendi's ministry was to begin circulating his translations of the holy Writings: one year and ten days after the reading of 'Abdu'l-Bahá's Will we find him writing to the American National Assembly: "It is a great pleasure for me to share with you the translation of some of the prayers and Tablets of our beloved Master..." and he goes on to add that he trusts "that in the course of time I will be enabled to send you regularly correct and reliable translations...which will unfold to your eyes a new vision of His Glorious Mission...and give you an insight into the character and meaning of His Divine Teachings." Over and over in his earliest letters to different countries he mentions the enclosed translation of something he is sending for the Bahá'ís. A month later, in another letter to America, he says: "I am also enclosing my revised translation of The Hidden Words of Bahá'u'lláh, both Arabic and Persian, and hope to send you more of His Words and Teachings in future." On 27 April of that same year Shoghi Effendi again writes to the American National Assembly: I am also enclosing my rendering of various passages of the Kitabu'l-Aqdas which you may feel at liberty to circulate among the friends." In November of that same year he wrote to that same Assembly that he was forwarding "Transliterated Oriental Terms ...confident that the friends will not feel their energy and patience taxed by scrupulous adherence to what is an authoritative, though arbitrary code for the spelling of Oriental terms." There is no doubt that transliteration is irksome and often confusing, but what the average person does not realize is that through transliteration the exact word is nailed down and those who are familiar with the system know immediately what the original words was because they can reconstruct it in Arabic or Persian. For scholars and critics of the Faith this accuracy is very important. It also serves the purpose of doing away with multiple and confusing spellings of the same word.
It is interesting to note that Shoghi Effendi himself, in the above quotation, spells Kitab-i-Aqdas more or less phonetically as he had [page 206] not yet introduced the system of transliteration he later adopted. A word should be said about this Most Holy Book, for, although it is the source of the Laws of Bahá'u'lláh, it is a small volume and mostly contains other subjects. By the time he passed away Shoghi Effendi had already given to the Bahá'ís of the West, in excellent English, most of the passages it contains as well as all the laws he felt were applicable at this time to Bahá'ís living in non-Bahá'í societies. He not only translated and circulated passages from the teachings; he also ensured that the believers, through excess of zeal and lack of foresight, should not go too far in the manner in which they edited and printed Bahá'í compilations. In replying to certain proposals one of the friends had made regarding the printing of a comprehensive book of prayers, he wrote to the man who had conveyed this suggestions to him: "I agree with him provided the classification in not carried beyond what Bahá'u'lláh prescribes, otherwise we shall plunge into a hard and fast creed."
The writing, translation and promulgation of Bahá'í books were one of the Guardian's major interests, one he never tired of and one he actively supported. The ideal situation is for local and national communities to pay for their own activities, but in this Formative Age of our Faith and Guardian fully realized this was not always possible and from the funds at his disposal he assisted substantially throughout the years in financing the translation and publication of Bahá'í literature. In periods of emergency, when the attainment of cherished goals was at stake, Shoghi Effendi would fill the breach; thus we find that in one year alone he assisted the Indian National Assembly in its translation and publication programme with contributions of over two thousand pounds. The moment the American Intercontinental Conference, which opened the Ten Year Crusade, was over, we find Shoghi Effendi cabling the American National Assembly: "Urge immediate steps publication pamphlets languages allocated America." Two days later he is cabling the European Teaching Committee the same thing, only mentioning "European languages". Similar messages went to India and Britain and he assures the latter he will send one thousand pounds to assist them. He was constantly concerned with the wide diffusion of Bahá'í literature in different languages from the first days of his ministry, and alone was responsible for the majority of translations undertaken during the thirty-six years of his Guardianship. He seized every opportunity. A letter to a Pole, who was studying the teachings in Poland, is typical: Shoghi [page 207] Effendi tells him he is sending him the words of Queen Marie of Rumania about the Faith and asks him if he will translate these into Polish and send them back to him! This was in 1926, but the same enthusiasm and perseverance characterized his labours in this field up to the end of his life.
In addition to this he devoted much attention, during the early years of his Guardianship, when Esperanto was rapidly spreading, particularly in Europe, to encouraging the publication of a Bahá'í Esperanto Gazette, explaining to its editor that his interest was due to "my great desire to promote in such parts of the Bahá'í world as present circumstances permit the study of an international language".
Literature in all languages the Guardian collected in Haifa, placing books in his own library, in the two Pilgrim House libraries, in the Mansion of Bahá'u'lláh in Bahji and in the International Archives. In this connection it is interesting to note how he placed them, for I never saw it done before: he would have, say, a lot of rather dull bindings, of some inexpensive edition, in grey and a lot more in blue of some other colour. With these he would fill his bookshelves in patterns, five red, two blue, five red and so on, using the variation in colour and number to add charm to the general effect of a bookcase that otherwise would have presented a monotonous and uninteresting appearance.
In a letter to Martha Root in 1931 he tells her "I have now in my room copies of seven printed translations" (these were Dr Esslemont's textbook) and urges her to press on with further translations, saying "I shall be only too glad to help in their eventual publication." A year later, writing to Siyyid Mustafa Roumie in Burma, the Guardian shows clearly what a satisfaction to him these new publications were. He says he is "...enclosing the sum of 9 pounds in order to assist and hasten the completion of the translation of the book into Burmese. 16 Sixteen printed translations have been already gathered together and placed in the Mansion of Bahá'u'lláh at Bahji close to His sacred shrine and the book is now being translated into sixteen 16 additional languages including the Burmese." By 1935 he is in a position to inform this same friend that "there are thirty-one printed versions of it in circulation already throughout the Bahá'í world."
There are innumerable cables in Shoghi Effendi's records such as these to Asgarzadeh in London: "Kindly wire minimum cost printing Esslemont's book in Russian"; having evidently received [page 208] a reply he cables again "Mailing forty pounds. Feel five hundred sufficient. First part of Russian manuscript mailed today. Rest mailing soon. Deeply appreciate your collaboration continued services." to Ouskouli in Shanghai he cabled: "Wire date publication Esslemont's book. Mail fifty copies. Love". Every now and then, in his busy preoccupied life, Shoghi Effendi would take stock and decide some aspect of the work needed an immediate and energetic shove. An example of this is four cables written down one after the other on the same day in 1932, to Martha Root in Europe, and to America, New Zealand and Burma: "Feel strongly necessity prompt translation Esslemont's into Czech, Hungarian, Rumanian, Greek as preliminary intensive teaching campaign Europe. Eager assist financially awaiting estimates. Love." "Feel strongly desirability undertaking promptly translation Esslemont's into Braille. Kindly cable if feasible. Love." "Inform B" ensure prompt translation Esslemont's book Maori." "Urge undertake promptly translation Esslemont's book into Burmese. Love". Getting impatient with the lack of results in various projects he had set afoot we find these cables later on that year: "Is French Esslemont published cable." "Eagerly awaiting Kurdish version Esslemont's book".
Shoghi Effendi encouraged various Bahá'ís to write about the Faith. To an English believer, Miss Pinchon, he cabled in 1927: "Your book admirable in presentation, exquisite in style. Urge speedy publication sending nineteen pounds"; to Horace Holley he cabled in 1926: "Kindly mail hundred copies your book. Affectionately". Shoghi Effendi not only paid to publish Bahá'í books, he often ordered them as well. He cabled America: "Kindly mail immediately for fifty dollars cheapest edition Esslemont's book. Mailing check."
Facts and events are more or less useless unless seen in the proper perspective, unless vision is applied to their interpretation. One of the marked aspects of Shoghi Effendi's genius was the way he plucked the significance of an occurrence, an isolated phenomenon, from the welter of irrelevancies associated with the international development of the Cause and set it in its historical frame, focusing on it the light of his appraising mind and making us understand what was taking place and what it signified now and forever. This was not a static thing, a picture of shapes and forms, but rather a description of where a leviathan was moving in an ocean - the leviathan of the co-ordinated movements inside the [page 209] Community of Bahá'u'lláh's followers moving in the ocean of His Dispensation. An Assembly was formed, someone died, a certificate was grated by some obscure governmental body - in themselves isolated facts and events - but to Shoghi Effendi's eyes they were part of a pattern and he made us see this pattern being woven before our eyes too. In the volumes of The Bahá'í World the Guardian did this not only for the believers but the public at large. He dramatized the progress of the Faith and a mass of scattered facts and unrelated photographs was made to testify to the reality of the claim of that Faith to be world-wide and all-inclusive.
It is interesting to not that the actual suggestion for a volume along the lines of The Bahá'í World came to Shoghi Effendi from Horace Holley in a letter he wrote in February 1924 - though I have no doubt that it was the breadth of vision of the young Guardian and the shape he was already giving to the work of the Cause in his messages to the West that, working on Horace's own creative mind, stimulated him to this concept. Shoghi Effendi seized on this idea and from then on Horace became Shoghi Effendi's primary instrument, as a gifted writer, and in his capacity as Secretary of the American National Spiritual Assembly, in making of The Bahá'í World the remarkable and unique book it became. Volume One, published in 1925 and called Bahá'í Year Book - which covered the period from April 1925 to April 1926 and comprised 174 pages - received its permanent title, in Volume Two, of The Bahá'í World, A Biennial International Record, suggested by that National Assembly and approved by Shoghi Effendi. At the time of the Guardian's passing twelve volumes had appeared, the largest running to over 1,000 pages. Although these were prepared under the supervision of the American National Assembly, published by its Publishing Committee, compiled by a staff of editors and dedicated to Shoghi Effendi, it would be more in conformity with the facts to call them Shoghi Effendi's Book. He himself acted as Editor-in-Chief; the tremendous amount of material comprised in each volume was sent to him by the American Assembly, with all photographs, before it appeared and his was the final decision as to what should go in and what be omitted. As six of these books were published during the period I was privileged to be with him I was able to observe how he edited them. With his infinite capacity for work Shoghi Effendi would go over the vast bundles of papers and photographs forwarded to him, eliminating the poorer and more irrelevant material; the various sections, following the Table [page 210] of Contents which he himself had arranged, would then be prepared and set aside until the entire manuscript was ready to be mailed back to America for publication. He always deplored the fact that the material was not for a higher standard. It is due solely to his determination and perseverance that the Bahá'í World volumes are as brilliant and impressive as they are. The editors (some of whom he had nominated himself), struggling against the forces of inertia that beset any body trying to achieve its ends through correspondence with sources thousands of miles away, and seeking to work through often inexperienced and inefficient administrative organs, would never have been successful in assembling the material required without the drive and authority of the Guardian behind their efforts. An interesting sidelight on this work is that Shoghi Effendi, after the book was published, had all the original manuscripts returned to Haifa and stored at the World Centre.
As soon as one volume was published he began himself to collect material for the next one. In addition to the repeated reminders he sent to the American National Assembly to do likewise, he sent innumerable letters and cables to different Assemblies and individuals. In one day, for instance, he cabled three National Assemblies: "National Assembly photograph for Bahá'í World essential"; he cabled such an isolated and out-of-the-way outpost as Shanghai for material he wanted. "Bahá'í World manuscript mailed. Advise speedy careful publication" was not an unusual type of message for the American Assembly to receive. It was Shoghi Effendi who arranged the order of the volume, had typed in Haifa the entire Table of Contents, had all the photographs titled, chose all the frontispieces, decided on the colour of the binding of the volume to appear, and above all gave exact instructions, in long detailed letters, to Horace Holley, whom he himself had chosen as the most gifted and informed person to write the International Survey of Current Bahá'í Activities, to which he attached great importance. "Detailed letter mailed for International Survey confident your masterly treatment collected data" he cabled him. An example of how comprehensive and painstaking Shoghi Effendi's letters on this subject were is provided by the following excerpts from a letter to Horace, written by Shoghi Effendi's secretary, but I have little doubt dictated by the Guardian himself: "This material Shoghi Effendi has carefully examined, altered, arranged, enriched by adding fresh material that he has collected, put them in their final form and will mail the entire manuscript to your [page 211] address before the end of this month...He has devoted considerable time to its minute examination and arrangement and has found the work very exacting and arduous...He wishes to stress the importance of adhering strictly to the order he has adopted. He hopes that, unlike the previous volume, nothing will be misplaced."
What Shoghi Effendi himself thought of The Bahá'í World he put down in writing. As early as 1927, when only one volume had been published, he wrote to a non-Bahá'í: "I would strongly advise you to procure a copy of the Bahá'í Year Book...which will give you a clear and authoritative statement of the purpose, the claim and the influence of the Faith." In a general letter addressed, in 1928, "To the beloved of the Lord and the hand-maids of the Merciful throughout the East and West", and entirely devoted to the subject of The Bahá'í World, Shoghi Effendi informs them: "I have ever since its inception taken a keen and sustained interest in its development, have personally participated in the collection of its material, the arrangement of its contents, and the close scrutiny of whatever data it contains. I confidently and emphatically recommend it to every thoughtful and eager follower of the Faith, whether in the East or in the West..." He wrote that its material is readable, attractive, comprehensive and authoritative; its treatment of the fundamentals of the Cause concise and persuasive, and its illustrations thoroughly representative; it is unexcelled and unapproached by any other Bahá'í publication of its kind. this book Shoghi Effendi always visualized as being - indeed he designed it to be - eminently suitable for the public, for scholars, to place in libraries and as a means, as he put it, of "removing the malicious misrepresentations and unfortunate misunderstandings that have so long and so grievously clouded the luminous Faith of Bahá'u'lláh."
It was a book that he himself often gave as a gift to royalty, to statesmen, to professors, universities, newspaper editors and non-Bahá'ís in general, mailing it to them with his simple personal card "Shoghi Rabbani" enclosed. The reaction of one of these - an American professor - conveys very clearly the impression the gift Shoghi Effendi had sent him produced: "Two copies of Bahá'í World have reached us...I cannot tell you how much I appreciate being able to study the book, which is exceedingly interesting and inspiring in every way...I congratulate you especially for developing the literature, and keeping alive such a wholesome spirit amongst the persons of many different groups who look to you for [page 212] leadership." But perhaps the greatest tribute to the calibre of this publication, into which Shoghi Effendi poured throughout the years so much time and care, was that a proud Queen should write for it special tributes to the Faith and consent that these and her own photograph should appear as frontispieces in its various volumes. "No words", Shoghi Effendi wrote to Martha Root in 1931, upon receiving from her one of Queen Marie's specially written tributes, "can adequately express my pleasure at the receipt of your letter enclosing the precious appreciation which will constitute a valuable and outstanding contribution to the forthcoming issue of the Bahá'í World."
It is difficult to realize, looking back upon Shoghi Effendi's achievements, that he actually wrote only one book of his own, as such, and this was God Passes By published in 1944. Even The Promised Day Is Come, written in 1941, is a 136-page-long general letter to the Bahá'ís of the West. This fact alone is a profound indication of the deeply modest character of the man. He communicated with the Bahá'ís because he was appointed to guide them, because he was the Custodian of the Faith of Bahá'u'lláh; he was impelled by forces stronger than himself over which he had no control. Aside from the stream of letters of moderate length that constantly flowed from him to the Bahá'ís of the West and their National Assemblies, there are certain general letters of a different nature, some addressed to the Bahá'ís of the United States and Canada, some to the Bahá'ís of the West, which have been gathered together in one volume under the title of The World Order of Bahá'u'lláh. The World Order of Bahá'u'lláh and The World Order of Bahá'u'lláh Further Considerations were written in 1929 and 1930 respectively; they were designed to clarify for the believers the true meaning and purpose of their Faith, its tenets, its implications, its destiny and future and to guide the unfolding and slowly maturing Community in North America and in the West to a better understanding of its duties, its privileges and its destiny. This was followed in 1931 by a letter known as The Goal of a New World Order, which with a new mastery and assurance in its tone, rises above the level of a letter to co-workers in a common field and begins to reflect the extraordinary power of exposition of thought that must characterize a great leader and a great writer. In a letter of the Guardian written in January 1932 his secretary, obviously referring to The Goal of a New World Order, states: "Shoghi Effendi wrote his last [page 213] general letter to the Western friends because he felt that the public should be made to understand the attitude the Bahá'í Faith maintains towards prevailing economic and political problems. We should let the world know what the real aim of Bahá'u'lláh was." Shoghi Effendi associated this letter with the tenth anniversary of 'Abdu'l-Bahá's passing and in it dwells at length on the condition of the world and the change which must be brought about between its component parts in the light of the teachings of Bahá'u'lláh and 'Abdu'l-Bahá.
The Golden Age of the Cause of Bahá'u'lláh followed in 1932 and was a masterly exposition of the Divinity of His Faith which, Shoghi Effendi wrote, feeds itself upon "hidden springs of celestial strength". Once again he clarified the relationship of this Dispensation to those of the past and to the solution of the present problems facing the world. In 1933 he gave the North American Bahá'ís America and the Most Great Peace, which dealt largely with the role this part of the world has been destined by God to play during this period in history, recalled the self-sacrificing journeys and services of the Master in the West and recapitulated the victories already won for the Faith by this favoured Community. The weighty treatise known as The Dispensation of Bahá'u'lláh, written in 1934, burst upon the Bahá'ís like a blinding white light. I remember when I first read it I had the most extraordinary feeling as if the whole universe had suddenly expanded around me and I was looking out into its dazzling star-filled immensity; all the frontiers of our understanding flew outwards; the glory of this Cause and the true station of its Central Figures were revealed to us and we were never the same again. One would have through that the stunning impact of this one communication from the Guardian would kill puniness of soul forever! However Shoghi Effendi felt in his inmost heart about his other writings, I know from his remarks that he considered he had said all he had to say, in many ways, in the Dispensation.
In 1936 he wrote The Unfoldment of World Civilization; once again, as he so often did, Shoghi Effendi links this to the passing of 'Abdu'l-Bahá. It was a further exposition of the state of the world, the rapid political, moral and spiritual decline evident in it, the weakening of both Christianity and Islam, the dangers humanity in its heedlessness was running, and the strong, divine, hopeful remedy the teachings of Bahá'u'lláh had to offer. Important and educative as these wonderful letters of the Guardian were [page 214] they provided, in their wealth of apposite quotations from Bahá'u'lláh's own words which the Guardian had translated and lavishly cited, spiritual sustenance for the believers, for we know that the World of the Manifestation of God is the food of the soul. They also contained innumerable beautifully translated passages from the beloved Master's Tablets. All this bounty the Guardian spread for the believers in feast after feast, nourished them and raised up a new strong generation of servants in the Faith. His words fired their imagination, challenged them to rise to new heights, drove their roots deeper in the fertile soil of the Cause.
It is really during the 1930's that one sees a change manifest in Shoghi Effendi's writings. With the rapier of his pen in hand he now stands forth revealed as a giant. Where before one could trace a certain diffidence, an echo of the affliction of soul he had passed through after the ascension of the Master and his assumption of his high office, the crying out of his heart in its longing for the departed beloved of his life, now the tone changes and a man speaks forth his assurance with great confidence and strength. The warrior now knows what war is. He has been surprised, beset, wounded by vicious and spiritually perverse enemies. Something of the tender and trusting youth has gone forever. This change is manifest not only in the nature and power of his directives to the Bahá'í world, the fashion in which he is shaping the administration East and West and welding into a whole the disparate and diversified communities of which it is composed, but in a beauty and assurance in his style that steadily gathers glory as the years go by.
Concurrent with the period when these first illuminating letters on such major subjects were streaming from the pen of Shoghi Effendi, he undertook the translation of two books. In a letter written on 4 July 1930 Shoghi Effendi says "I feel exceedingly tired after a strenuous year of work, particularly as I have managed to add to my labours the translation of the Iqan, which I have already sent to America." This was the first of his major translations, Bahá'u'lláh's great exposition on the station and role of the Manifestations of God, more particularly in the light of Islamic teachings and prophecies, known as the Kitab-i-Iqan of Book of Certitude. It was an invaluable adjunct to the western Bahá'ís in their study of the Faith they had embraced and infinitely enriched their understanding of Divine Revelation.
During that same year the Guardian began work on the second book published during this period, a work that was neither a [page 215] translation of Bahá'u'lláh's words nor one of Shoghi Effendi's general letters, but which must be considered a literary masterpiece and one of his most priceless gifts for all time. This was the translation of the first part of the narrative compiled by a contemporary follower of both the Bab and Bahá'u'lláh known as Nabil, which was published in 1932 under the title The Dawn-Breakers. If the critic and sceptic should be tempted to dismiss the literature of the Bahá'í Faith as typical of the better class of religious books designed for the initiate only, he could not for a moment so brush aside a volume of the quality of Nabil's Narrative, which deserves to be counted as a classic among epic narratives in the English tongue. Although ostensibly a translation from the original Persian Shoghi Effendi may be said to have re-created it in English, his translation being comparable to Fitzgerald's rendering of Omar Khayyam's Rubaiyat which gave to the world a poem in a foreign language that in many ways far exceeded the merits of the original. The best and most descriptive comments on this masterpiece of the Guardian are to be found in the words of prominent non-Bahá'ís. The playwright Gordon Bottemley wrote: "...living with it has been one of the salient experiences of a lifetime; but beyond that it was a moving experience both in itself and through the psychological light it throws on the New Testament narrative." The well-known scholar and humanitarian, Dr Alfred W. Martin of the Ethical Culture Society, in his letter of thanks to Shoghi Effendi for sending him Nabil's Narrative wrote: "Your magnificent and monumental work...will be a classic and a standard for all time to come. I marvel beyond measure at your ability to prepare such a work for the press over and above all the activities which your regular professional position devolves upon you." One of his old professors, Bayard Dodge of the American University of Beirut, after receiving the gift of Nabil's Narrative from the Guardian wrote to him: "...The last book - The Dawn-Breakers - is an especially valuable contribution. In congratulate you heartily for publishing it. You must have worked very hard to produce such a splendid translation, with such very interesting notes and photographs."
At a later date he commented at length upon this unique volume:
I have profited by the leisure of the summer to read Nabil's Narrative ... Everyone interested in religion and also in history owes you a very great debt of gratitude for publishing such a fine piece of work. The deeper side of the work is so impressive, that it seems hardly fitting to compliment you upon some of the practical matters [page 216] connected with the translation. However, I cannot refrain from telling you how much I appreciate your taking the time from a busy life to accomplish such a large task.Although such an understanding appreciation of what his work represented from such a source must have pleased and touched Shoghi Effendi there can be no doubt that the letter which Sir E. Denison Ross, the well-known Orientalist, wrote to him from the School of Oriental Studies of the University of London was the most highly prized tribute he received:
27th April, 1932
[page 217] Shoghi Effendi himself, in a letter to Martha Root written on 3 March 1931, described what The Dawn-Breakers is and what its production has meant to him: "I have just completed, after eight months of continuous and hard labour, the translation of the history of the early days of the Cause and have sent the manuscript to the American National Assembly. The work comprises about 600 pages and 200 pages of additional notes that I have gleaned during the summer months from different books. I have been so absorbed in this work that I have been forced to delay my correspondence... I am now so tired and exhausted that I can hardly write...The record is an authentic one and deals chiefly with the Bab. Parts of it have been read to Bahá'u'lláh and been revised by 'Abdu'l-Bahá... I am so overcome with fatigue caused by the long and sever strain of the work I have undertaken that I must stop and lie down."
In anticipation of its forthcoming appearance Shoghi Effendi cabled American in October 1931: "Urge all English speaking believers concentrate study Nabil's immortal narrative as essential preliminary to renewed intensive Teaching Campaign necessitated by completion Mashriqu'l-Adhkar. Strongly feel widespread use of its varied rich and authentic material constitutes most effective weapon to meet challenge of a critical hour. Unhesitatingly recommend it to every prospective visitor of Bahá'u'lláh's native land."
The volume Shoghi Effendi recommended to the study of the believers is 748 pages long and contains over 150 photographs; it has a detailed genealogy of the Bab prepared by the guardian in his own hand and reproduced in facsimile; in addition to the text, based on the original of Nabil, but transfigured through the brilliant handling it received as it passed through the mind and vocabulary of Shoghi Effendi, the copious footnotes he appended, in English and French, collected from innumerable sources, cast an illumination on the events it records which greatly enhances its historical interest and validity. A signed and numbered edition de luxe of 300 copies was published with the general edition. It took Shoghi Effendi almost two years of research, compilation and translation to complete this remarkable volume. In the course of 1930 he sent an Australian Bahá'í photographer to Persia to painstakingly retrace the footsteps of the Bab in His native land, the scenes of His and His followers' martyrdoms and many historic sites. Had Shoghi Effendi not done this all visual trace of many of these places in more or less their original state would have been [page 218] lost forever. In addition to selecting the photographs for Nabil's Narrative Shoghi Effendi made very careful arrangements to send to America what he described as a "priceless trust", no less than the original Tablets of the Bab to His nineteen disciples, and the infinitely precious one addressed to Bahá'u'lláh as "Him Who Will Be Made Manifest "; these were reproduced in full in faultless facsimiles. He chose as his frontispiece a coloured reproduction of the interior of the Shrine of the Bab. At last the Guardian had a worthy gift entirely his own to bestow upon the one he had loved best:
ToThe Bahá'ís of the West emerged from the experience of reading this history of the life and times of the Bab transfigured; it was as if some of the precious blood of those early martyrs had been spattered upon them. They caught a glimpse of the tradition behind them, they saw that this was a Faith for which one carried one's life in one's hand, they understood what Shoghi Effendi was talking about and what he expected from them when he called them the spiritual descendants of the Dawn-Breakers. The seeds this book planted in the hearts of the western followers of Bahá'u'lláh grew and matured in the Ten Year Crusade, and its harvest will continue to be garnered ever more abundantly as the Divine Plan of 'Abdu'l-Bahá goes on unfolding in its conquest of the entire globe.
In 1935 Shoghi Effendi again present the western Bahá'ís with a magnificent gift, published under the title Gleanings from the Writings of Bahá'u'lláh, which the Guardian himself described, in a letter to Sir Herbert Samuel, as "consisting of a selection of the most characteristic and hitherto unpublished passages from the outstanding works of the Author of the Bahá'í Revelation." Remembering the scanty pages of the New Testament, the reputed words of Buddha and mere handful of sayings of some other Divine luminaries, which nevertheless have transfigured for centuries the lives of millions of men, the Gleanings alone seems to provide a source of guidance and inspiration sufficient for the spiritual Dispensation of any Prophet. Professor Norman Bentwich, in thanking Shoghi Effendi for a copy of the Gleanings he [page 219] had sent him, said "I prize it with the other fruits of your industrious piety" - truly a beautiful description of the nature of Shoghi Effendi's work to bring to the Western World the words of the Manifestation of God in this day. But surely the most treasured tribute to this book was that of Queen Marie of Rumania who told Martha Root: "even doubters would find a powerful strength in it, if they would read it alone, and would give their souls time to expand." To Shoghi Effendi himself the Queen wrote, in January 1936, after receiving from him a copy, "May I send you my most grateful thanks for the wonderful book, every word of which is precious to me, and doubly so in this time of anxiety and unrest"; to which the Guardian replied that he felt his efforts in translating it had been fully rewarded as she said she had derived benefit from reading them.
This was followed by the translation in 1936-7 of what might almost be termed a companion volume, comparable in richness and complementary in material, namely, Prayers and Meditations by Bahá'u'lláh. Again we find the Guardian's former professor, Bayard Dodge, writing to him with a shrewd appraisal of what such a work involves: "The translation of deep and poetic thoughts, such as those in the Prayers and Meditations, requires an enormous amount of hard work...I have told you before how much I marvel when I see the quality of English that you use." "When he had received the Gleanings Professor Dodge had written to the Guardian: "You have mastered English in such a remarkable way that I am sure the sayings do not lose their meaning and charm because of translation." And when Shoghi Effendi's translation of The Hidden Words reached him he had written, again with singular insight into what such a work signifies "I realize how exceedingly difficult it is to translate beautiful Oriental thoughts into English and I congratulate you for the quality of the language which you have used."
Immediately after the publication of this diamond-mine of communion with God, unsurpassed in any religious literature of the world, Shoghi Effendi set to work on a longer general letter than he had ever before written, which appeared in 1939 under the title of The Advent of Divine Justice. It was written during the year the Guardian remained in Europe owing to terrorist activities in Palestine, and was addressed to the Bahá'ís throughout the United States and Canada. In it Shoghi Effendi set forth, as never before, the role this Community was destined to play in the unfolding [page 220] destiny of man on this planet. It defined the objectives of the recently opened Seven Year Plan, the first step in implementing the provisions of 'Abdu'l-Bahá's Divine Plan, and pointed out that upon the success of this greatest joint enterprise ever undertaken by Bahá'u'lláh's followers must depend the fate of all future activities in the promulgation of His world Order throughout the other continents of the globe. With a kind but firm hand Shoghi Effendi held up before the face of the North American Community the mirror of the civilization by which they were surrounded and warned them, in terms that riveted the eye and chilled the heart, against its evils, pointing out to them a truth few of them had ever pondered, namely, that the very evils of that civilization were the mystic reason for their homeland having been chosen by God as the Cradle of His World Order in this day. As the warnings contained in The Advent of Divine Justice are an integral part of the vision and guidance Shoghi Effendi gave tot he faithful throughout his ministry, they cannot be passed over in silence if we are to obtain any correct understanding of his own mission. In no uncertain terms he castigated the moral laxity, political corruption, racial prejudice and corrosive materialism of their society, contrasting it with the exalted standards inculcated by Bahá'u'lláh in His Teachings, and enjoined by Him upon His followers. It warned them of the war so soon to come and admonished them to stand fast, in spite of every trial that might in future afflict them and their nations, and discharge their sacred trust by prosecuting to a triumphal outcome the Plan they had so recently inaugurated throughout the Western Hemisphere.
Another general letter - this time addressed to the body of the Bahá'ís throughout the West - appeared in print in 1941. It was called The Promised Day Is Come and, together with The Advent of Divine Justice, sets forth the root-decay of the present-day world. In it, written during the second year of the war, Shoghi Effendi thunders his denunciations of the perversity and sinfulness of this generation, using as his missiles quotations from the lips of Bahá'u'lláh Himself: "The time for the destruction of the world and its people hath arrived." "The promised day is come, the day when tormenting trials will have surged above your heads, and beneath your feet, saying: 'Taste ye what your hands have wrought!'" "Soon shall the blasts of His chastisement beat upon you, and the dust of hell enshroud you." "And when the appointed hour is come, there shall suddenly appear that which shall cause the limbs of mankind to [page 221] quake." "The day is approaching when its (civilization) flame will devour the cities, when the Tongue of Grandeur will proclaim: 'The Kingdom is God's, the Almighty, the All-Praised!'" "The day will soon come, whereon they will cry out for help and receive no answer." "We have fixed a time for you, O people! If ye fail, at the appointed hour, to turn towards God, He, verily, will lay violent hold on you, and will cause grievous afflictions to assail you from every direction. How severe indeed is the chastisement with which your Lord will then chastise you!" "O ye peoples of the world! Know verily that an unforeseen calamity is following you and that grievous retribution awaiteth you. Think not the deeds ye have committee have been blotted from My sight. By My Beauty! All your doings hath My pen graven with open characters upon tablets of chrysolite."
The Guardian paints a terrible, terrifying and majestic picture of the plight to which the human race has been reduced through its steadfast rejection of Bahá'u'lláh. The "world-afflicting ordeal that has laid its grip upon mankind" is, he wrote, "primarily a judgment of God pronounced against the peoples of the earth, who, for a century, have refused to recognized the One Whose advent had been promised to all religions". Shoghi Effendi recapitulates the sufferings, the persecution, the calumny and cruelty to which the Bab, Bahá'u'lláh and 'Abdu'l-Bahá were subjected and recounts the tale of Their blamelessness, Their patience and fortitude in the face of these trials and Their final weariness with this world as they gathered Their skirts about Them and repaired to the Celestial Realms of Their Creator. Shoghi Effendi enumerates the sins of mankind against these Sinless Ones and points the finger of blame at the leaders of mankind, at its kings, its highest ecclesiastical personages and rulers to whom the twin Manifestations of God had directed the full force of Their Message and because of whose neglect of their supreme duty to pay heed to the Call of God, Bahá'u'lláh Himself stated: "From two ranks amongst men power hath been seized: kings and ecclesiastics."
So fascinating, profuse and vast in subject matter are the writings of Shoghi Effendi that when one starts to even touch upon a book like The Promised Day Is Come one finds one's self wandering away down this great trail of thought he blazed and forgetting that the purpose of these pages is not to review his books but to attempt a review of the many facets of his life and accomplishments. Nevertheless I cannot resist quoting from a letter a very humble Bahá'í wrote to him when this book was published: "The Promised [page 222] Day has Come is a peach of a book for me, I love it, now all I need is the clear understanding in my heart. Thank you, Shoghi Effendi for your kindness, you can't know how much you did for me... What is it we ever did for your? You did everything for us..."
Between these two so-called general letters - The Advent of Divine Justice and The Promised Day Is Come - Shoghi Effendi gave the western believers his fifth and last book of translations of the Writings of Bahá'u'lláh, undertaken during the winter of 1939-40, at another of the most difficult and hazardous periods of his life, and mailed to America for publication on the eve of his departure for Europe in the teeth of the European war. The Epistle to the Son of the Wolf was Bahá'u'lláh's last major work and contains a selection from His own Writings made by Himself (surely a unique occurrence in religious history!) during the last two years of His life and has therefore a special position of its own in the literature of our Faith. In a cable shortly prior to its publication Shoghi Effendi said "Devoutly hope its study may contribute further enlightenment deeper understanding verities on which effective prosecution teaching administrative undertakings ultimately depend..."
From an entry in my own diary, dated 22 January 1944, I quote: "Today the very last corrections of Prospect and Retrospect, the last instalment of Shoghi Effendi's book, were made and tomorrow it will be mailed to Horace. It has been almost two years - or maybe it is more! - since the Guardian started. It has meant almost "continuous work for him and been a terrible burden and strain, but it is certainly worth it! It is a marvelous book." With such small recordings are the great events of a life often noted by those who participate in them and arrive, exhausted, at the end, too tired to be anything but trite and circumstantial! Also, at this point too tired to remember that it had actually taken over two years to write what Shoghi Effendi and I referred to as "the book" - it received its beautiful title at the end.
God Passes By, the most brilliant and wondrous tale of a century that has ever been told, is truly a "Mother" of future histories, a book wherein every word counts, every sentence burgeons with thought, every thought leads the way to a field of its own. Packed with salient facts it has the range and precision of snowflake crystals, each design perfect in itself, each theme brilliant in outline, co-ordinated, balanced, self-contained, a matrix for those who follow on and study, evaluate and elaborate the Message and [page 223] Order of Bahá'u'lláh. It was one of the most concentrated and stupendous achievements of Shoghi Effendi's life, the only true book we have from his pen - because all his other communications were, no doubt due to his profound modesty and humility, in the nature of letters addressed to a specific community or section of the Bahá'í world.
The method of Shoghi Effendi in writing God Passes By was to sit down for a year and read every book of the Bahá'í Writings in Persian and English, and every book written about the Faith by Bahá'ís, whether in manuscript form or published, and everything written by non-Bahá'ís that contained significant references to it. I think, in all, this must have covered the equivalent of at least two hundred books. As he read he made notes and compiled and marshalled his facts. Anyone who has ever tackled a work of an historical nature knows how much research is involved, how often one has to decided, in the light of relevant material, between this date given in one place and that date given in another, how back-breaking the whole work is. How much more so then was such a work for the Guardian who had, at the same time, to prepare for the forthcoming Centenary of the Faith and make decisions regarding the design of the superstructure of the Bab's Shrine. When all the ingredients of his book had been assembled Shoghi Effendi commenced weaving them into the fabric of his picture of the significance of the first century of the Bahá'í Dispensation. It was not his purpose, he said, to write a detailed history of those hundred years, but rather to review the salient features of the birth and rise of the Faith, the establishment of its administrative institutions, and the series of crises which had propelled it forward in a mysterious manner, through the release of the Divine power within it, from victory to victory. He revealed to us the panorama of events which, he wrote, "the revolution of a hundred years...has unrolled before our eyes" and lifted the curtain on the opening acts of what he asserted was one "indivisible, stupendous and sublime drama, whose mystery no intellect can fathom, whose climax no eye can even dimly perceive, whose conclusion no mind can adequately foreshadow."
How many hundreds of hours Shoghi Effendi spent on reading his sources and compiling his notes, how many days and months in painstakingly writing out in long hand - and often rewriting - the majestic procession of his chapters, how many more wearisome days he sat at his small portable typewriter, hammering away with [page 224] a few fingers, sometimes ten hours on end, as he typed the final copy of his work! And how many more hours we spent late into the night, when the daily typing was over, seated side by side at his bog table in his bedroom, each with three copies of the typescript before us, proof-reading, making corrections, putting in by hand the thousands of accents on transliterated words which Shoghi Effendi would read aloud, until his eyes were bloodshot and blurred, his back and arms stiff with exhaustion, as we worked on to finish the entire chapter or part of a chapter he had typed that day. It had to be done. There was no possibility of working at a slower pace. he was racing against time to present the Bahá'ís of the West with this inimitable gift on the occasion of the one hundredth anniversary of the inception of their Faith. In spite of the fact that he mailed off to America the corrected manuscript in instalments, conditions in the United States delayed the publication and the book was not off the press until the middle of November 1944.
It was not enough to say "See what the man has done." One must ask how and under what circumstances he did it. 'Abdu'l-Bahá wrote the Tablets of the Divine Plan when He was old, worn out and in great danger at the end of World War I. Shoghi Effendi, already crushed and overburdened from the weight of twenty years of Guardianship, when the tides of World War II threatened to sweep over the Holy Land and engulf him and the World Centre of the Faith in one catastrophic flow, during a period when his home was convulsed by the repercussions of Covenant-breaking now affecting his family, set himself the task of appraising for all time the significance of the events of the first century of the Bahá'í Era. On rare occasions it was my misfortune during these years to see him weep as if his heart would break - so great was his agony, so overwhelming the pressures that bore down upon him!
Not content with the history he had just completed in English, Shoghi Effendi now turned his thoughts to the loving and loyal Community of Bahá'u'lláh's long-suffering and persecuted followers in His native land and began the composition of another memorial to the first hundred years of the Bahá'í Faith in Persia. This was a comparable, though shorter version of the same subject, different in nature but no less splendid in both the facts it presented the brilliancy of its language. Whereas I had sat through most of his writing of God Passes By in English there was no point in my doing so for this epistle. The difference between the style of Shoghi Effendi's letters and discourse in Persian - liberally [page 225] sprinkled with Arabic - and every-day Persian is comparable to the difference between Shakespearian English and modern journalese! My command of Persian and ignorance of Arabic were such that I could not catch more than three or four words out of ten. Nevertheless he would read to me, or rather chant to me, some of its passages and the majestic flow of his words, their perfection and power, were evident to me even though I could not fully follow their meaning. I remember how, as I approached his room, I would hear his voice chanting his composition to himself as he wrote, infinitely plaintive, infinitely beautiful. It was also fascinating: he would chant the sentence he was writing until he struck a bump, a word that would not fit smoothly, the lovely voice, unconscious of itself, would stop, then go back to the beginning of the sentence and start off again up to the same point, if he did not get over it that time this would be repeated until he did! It was like some wonderful bird trying out its melodies to itself, lost in its own world. This epistle ran to a hundred pages in fine handwriting and is another of Shoghi Effendi's masterpieces. These two reviews of a hundred years were the Guardian's priceless Centenary gifts to the Bahá'ís, wrought with great cost to his strength and health, and devised during years when the world was rocked by its greatest war.
For the next thirteen years Shoghi Effendi neither translated nor wrote any more books. It is our great loss that he no longer had the time to do so. The international community of the Faith he had been at such pains to build up since 1921 had now reached such proportions that it consumed his time and strength and left little of either for the intensely creative work he was so richly endowed by nature to produce. However, he continued to pour forth his guidance to the believers and their national bodies through letters, and particularly through long cables. By 1941 Shoghi Effendi had already begun to enumerate the victories the Bahá'ís were winning throughout the world. Out of this type of message ultimately developed the thrilling Ridvan reviews of the work accomplished each year, reviews which made the believers see their labours in every country as part of a great whole.
Since the inception of his ministry Shoghi Effendi had increasingly used the medium of telegrams and cablegrams, not only because they saved time but because, as he explained to me, of their psychological effect; a cable conveys a sense of urgency and drama and is often a better way of driving home one's point. Shoghi [page 226] Effendi developed what one might call the language of cables to such a high degree that they became a literary accomplishment. Not infrequently he sent cables the length of letters. He thought in the abbreviated form when he wrote them. It was not a question of expressing a thought in the normal style of composition and then eliminating all the worlds that could be left out and still convey the meaning; from the beginning he did not think those words into his text at all and thus the style is very graphic, powerful and dramatic. It loses in style - and often in correct meaning - when someone interpolates it with all the "if's" and "and's" and "of's" and "the's" and so on he thinks should be there to make it clear. To insert such interpolations without parentheses is an unwarranted interference in the texts of our Faith, as it means some editor has inserted into Shoghi Effendi's own sentences words that he thinks will clarify what Shoghi Effendi meant; on the other hand to insert anything at all, even in parentheses, seems to imply the reader is a fool and not able to understand for himself what the Guardian meant.
Until the end of his days Shoghi Effendi continued to inspire the Bahá'í world with his instructions and thoughts; words of great power and significance, equal in bulk to a number of volumes, flowed from his pen. But an epoch had ended with the close of the war and the increase in administrative activity all over the world. Although his driving power never left him, and the hours of work he spent on the Cause of god each day never diminished until he passed away, Shoghi Effendi was deeply tired.
The life work of Shoghi Effendi might well be divided into four major aspects: his translations of the Words of Bahá'u'lláh, the Bab, 'Abdu'l-Bahá and Nabil's narrative; his own writings such as the history of a century, published as God Passes By, as well as an uninterrupted stream of instructive communications from his pen which pointed out to the believers the significance, the time and the method of the building up of their administrative institutions; an unremitting programme to expand and consolidate the material assets of a world-wide Faith, which not only involved the completion, erection or beautification of the Bahá'í Holy Places at the World Centre but the construction of Houses of Worship and the acquisition of national and local headquarters and endowments in various countries throughout the East and West; and, above all, a masterly orientation of thought towards the concepts enshrined in the teachings of the Faith and the orderly classification [page 227] of those teachings into what might well be described as a vast panoramic view of the meaning, implications, destiny and purpose of the religion of Bahá'u'lláh, indeed of religious truth itself in its portrayal of man as the apogee of God's creation, evolving towards the consummation of his development - the establishment of the Kingdom of God on earth. [page 228]