The Persian Revolution of 1905-1909
Author: E. G. Browne
Originally published by: Cambridge University Press, 1910.
Republished by: Mage Publishers, Washington, DC, 1995
Reviews by: names not given
- CIRA Bulletin
- International Journal of Middle Eastern Studies
- Journal of Islamic Studies
(Vol 11, #3, Spring 1996)
I first came E. G. Browne through his Literary History of Persia, and
my imagination was captured by his enthusiasm for Persia, his wealth of
knowledge, and the empathy he brought to both language and culture. He thus
embodied all the advantages of that tradition of scholarship which seeks
to immerse itself in every aspect of the country under study, and which
is correspondingly imbued in its judgements with an unusual kind of awareness.
In the History, in the course of a commentary on Hafez, Browne quoted
the poet's observation that "There is no musician who can make drunk
and sober dance to the same tune." He himself wholeheartedly adopted
the national cause and maintained his faith in the future of liberal democracy
embodied in the constitution for Persia. He was an unabashedly devoted adherent
of the Whig view of progress in historical development. He emerges as an
impassioned activist whose work is a polemic in the cause of the Nationalists,
and of progress in Iran, in Amanat's view seeing the Revolution as a battle
with profound moral undertones. However, he was aware of his own limitations
as an historian of the Revolution, owing to the difficulty of fully examining
or impartially criticising the contemporary events. In the work Browne quoted
liberally the views of those struggling to reform the country, but, true
to his expressed intention, restrained himself on sweeping judgements. He
understood, for example, that courage has no political affiliations, and
unlike some who have attempted to emulate him, did not seek to eradicate
the vision of those who chose to dance to a different tune.
Browne was ahead of his time in challenging notions of national stereotypes
and attacked the false and superficial judgements embodied in such concepts
as "backwardness." He was also alert to the perceptions of Western
intrusion and interference, and their struggle, in particular embodied by
al-Afghani, for a revolution in the existing feeble and oppressive system
as part of a movement for independence, self-determination, and dignity.
Above all, however, Browne was captivated by the Revolution' s wealth of
ideas as expressed in his subsequent The Press and Poetry of Modern Persia.
Freedom of expression produced an intensely lively debate in which Persians
could at last openly address the thought of Locke and Rousseau and discuss
their possible adoption in their own country . Browne' s interest in literature
led him to bring out the variety of new expression, drawing attention to
poems, stories, satire, and cartoons, as well as articles of debate.
In his introduction to this edition Amanat observes that Browne saw the
struggle as one by "an oppressed and impoverished nation to establish
a constitutional order despite domestic tyranny, foreign intervention and
ideological division." He feels impelled, however, to defend Browne
against the prevail pale galileans by contrasting Browne's liberalism with
the shortcomings of academic orientalism and the biases of the popular view,
though he considers Browne part of the spirit of his time in perceiving
a largely imaginary world called the orient. Amanat also asks the significant
question of how The Persian Revolution is pertinent to our understanding
of the present situation in Iran. In particular he ponders how a popular
revolution with liberal objectives and a largely secularizing program can
seventy years later result in a second revolution of a very different character.
It may be observed that the question and its various responses could provide
a comment on the Whig theory of history. Amanat' s perceptive point that
the work is organized like a drama again underscores Browne' s way of interpreting
the world through literature. The story passes from background to engagement
to the triumph of the revolutionaries and its climatic end, thus emphasizing
its heroic spirit. As Amanat says, Browne saw the Persian national awakening
as not only a political movement but a renewal of the culture and vitality
of the Persian people.
The Persian Revolution must also be assessed as a contribution to the
discipline of history. It provides a very full contemporary account of the
event, and thus functions as a significant collection of primary material.
Interestingly Amanat points out that this book and the most important of
all contemporary sources, Nazim al-Islam Kermani's History of the Awakening
of the Persians, contributed at different stages to each other' s account
and historical perspective, this being particularly true of the mise en
scene of the early chapters. Inevitably, perhaps, Browne's work does not
attempt to provide depth of analysis, particularly in terms of the background
of some of the participants, and of their true interests and objectives.
It says little, for example, of the network of relationships behind the
revolutionary movement and overlooks the very significant role played by
the bazaar. It needed Kasravi to bring out the part played by more ordinary
people, and it is a pity that the editor does not take the opportunity to
comment on Browne's view in relation to Kasravi's. He also does not address
the problem of why Browne does not demonstrate awareness of Taqizada's socialism.
Browne further does not address the question of how far the Revolution really
did bring about structural change. He was, however, quick to seize upon
the significance of the Russian defeat by Japan and the subsequent revolution
in Russia, both of which indeed had reverberations far beyond Persia.
One of the most welcome feature of this new edition is a hitherto unpublished
selected correspondence of E. G. Browne together with some examples of contemporary
reviews of The Revolution compiled with admirable initiative and fair-mindedness
by Mansour Bonakdarian to produce a varied picture of the man and his work.
Here Browne's single-minded devotion to his cause, conscientiously suppressed
to some extent in his book, comes across far more strongly. The letters
reveal Churchill and Smart cautioning Browne against unqualified support
for the Nationalists, and that they perceived, as he did not, the problems
of lack of political experience. Of contemporary reviews, The Manchester
Guardian identified the value of the quotations from original sources .
The fiercest criticism came from The Times: "Rarely has there been
a more violent example of the professor in politics." The most prescient
was that of the reviewer of The New York Times, who wrote, "Mr. Browne
believes that national diversity is a higher law and a more desirable state
than uniformity. But such a conclusion is open to grave doubts in days when
rapid communications, commercial enterprise and national ambitions appear
to be welding the people of the world in a more homogeneous whole."
International Journal of Middle Eastern Studies
(Vol 29, #2, 1997)
In the last two decades, a growing literature on postcolonialism has
focused on the Orientalist scholars of the West who, implicitly or explicitly,
placed their knowledge and expertise at the service of their respective
imperialist governments. Not all Orientalist scholars, however, fall into
this category. Edward G. Browne, the quintessential British Orientalist,
was one such exception. The new edition of Browne's classic, The Persian
Revolution, which includes all the original supplementary documents Browne
translated, together with a fresh introduction by Abbas Amanat and a helpful
essay by Mansour Bonakdarian, makes it possible to study this different
Orientalist academic in courses that deal with Postcolonial Studies and
Middle East history.
Edward Granville Browne (1862-1926) was a supporter of anti-imperialist
movements in Asia, Africa, and Ireland. Today we would call him a multiculturalist,
because he was a vocal critic of rapid modernization in the East and its
destruction of cultural diversities. Browne was so devoted to the Persian
people and their aspirations for a more democratic order that in the midst
of the revolution he interrupted the work of his monumental four-volume
Literary History of Persia (1902-26) to support the constitutional cause
in Iran and to demonstrate to the English-speaking world the remarkable
achievements of this revolution.
Especially valuable are The Persian Revolution's supplements-translations
of documents, such as the constitution of 1906 and the Supplementary Constitutional
Laws of 1907. Also, with the help of the Iranian scholar Mirza Muhammad
Qazvini in Cambridge, Browne wrote short biographies, appended to the book,
of a number of participants in both the Tobacco Protest and the Constitutional
In his sympathetic introduction, Abbas Amanat points out that the book,
written in a simple, accessible language, clearly labels the protagonists
(the nationalists) and the antagonists (the shah, the reactionary courtiers).
This means that Browne presents the movement more or less as a unified nationalist
movement fighting predominantly against the autocratic monarchy and, to
a lesser degree, against the imperialist policies of Russia and Britain.
Information that could have been used by hostile Western observers or conservative
Iranian opponents of the revolution was avoided or glossed over. Browne
speaks glowingly of the Pan-lslamist movement and men such as Sayyid Jamal
al-Din Asadabadi (al-Afghani). In his view, Pan-lslamism, based on a common
faith, was more rational than the Pan-Germanic and Pan-Slavic movements
which were based on a supposed common race. In addition, he purposely does
not state the religious affiliation of the many Babi sympathizers who were
at the forefront of the movement.
The Persian Revolution emphasizes the working relationship between the
clerical and secular elements and glosses over the fact that anti-clerical
sentiments were shared by a large number of constitutional activists. Thus,
the hostile actions of the archconservative Shaykh Fazlullah Nuri were presented
as deeds of an individual who collaborated with the shah, rather than as
part of the overall hostility of several leading clerics to the Constitutional
Revolution. I would add to Amanat's observations that Browne particularly
de-emphasizes the more radical social and class dimensions of the movement,
such as calls for removal of the shah (and sometimes demands for a republican
form of a government); the extensive role of the Baku-based Firqah-yi Ijtima'iyun
'Amiyun (Organization of Social Democrats) and its branches inside Iran;
the Anjumans of the Mujahidin; and the many articles in the popular newspaper
Sur-i Israfil that called for land distribution, more equitable gender roles,
and a radical participatory democracy. In fact, it seems that Browne was
more concerned with the internal social agenda of the revolution, which
he felt would be harshly judged by the British government and public, than
he was with the nationalist and anti-imperialist rhetoric of the revolution
and its impact on the West.
Browne relied on a number of junior and even senior British diplomats
in Tehran who supplied him with confidential and eyewitness accounts. These
letters, which Browne quotes at length, remain some of the most exciting
parts of the book, yet Browne, who was not in Iran at the time of the revolution,
does not identify the authors for fear of reprisal against them. Mansour
Bonakdarian sheds new light on this subject and identifies six of these
proconstitutionalist British officials who were used by Browne. They were
Walter A. Smart (consular assistant at the Tehran Legation); Major C. B.
Stokes (military attache); Patrick Cowan (consular assistant); George Churchill
(Orientalist secretary); H. L. Rabino (British vice consul in Rasht); and
Sir Cecil Spring-Rice (minister at Tehran in 1906-8). Smart was the author
of some of the most moving passages describing the earlier years of the
revolution, but he gradually became more cynical. Major Stokes, whose appointment
in 1911 to the post of treasury-gendarmeri in Iran by the liberal American
financial assistant Morgan Shuster created so much hostility among the Russian
and British diplomats, was the most sympathetic. While Bonakdarian provides
much intriguing information about these men, one wishes that an appendix
had been added to the book in which the authorship of some of the long-unattributed
quotes in The Persian Revolution was also divulged.
Bonakdarian also shows that the book received considerable attention
soon after its publication, not only by the British and American journals
such as the Manchester Guardian, the Times of London, and the New York Times,
but also by the Iranian press, most notably the social democratic Iran-i
Naw, which published an abridged translation of it in 1910. None of these
newspapers disputed Browne's authority on Iran, although his liberal politics
were attacked by the Times, which found the contemporary but hostile account
of the journalist David Fraser more palatable.
For today's readers, a few other omissions by Browne could also have
been pointed out in the introduction. It is generally believed in the new
scholarship that the fatwa attributed to Mirza Hasan Shirazi during the
Tobacco Protest of 1891 was not written by him (p. 52). M. Panoff was in
fact a social democrat (p. 215). The ulama of Najaf, while supportive of
many aspects of the constitutional order, ultimately approved Article 2
of the supplementary Constitutional Laws proposed by Shaykh Fazlullah Nuri,
which gave veto power over the majlis to a council of clerics (p. 262).
The bomb that exploded in front of the shah's automobile in February 1908
was placed there by the well-known social democrat Haidar Khan 'Amu Ughlu
and his colleagues (pp. 198-99). The actual leader of the revolutionary
army from Gilan was the Dashnak Armenian Yephrem Khan; Sipahadar was the
nominal leader (p. 299). Taqizadeh was the political leader in the Tabriz
Anjuman who opposed the overthrow of the shah and the takeover of the capital
by the revolutionary army in the early summer of 1909 (p. 301). The artillery
officer who initiated the bombardment of the majlis in June 1908 was Ajudanbashi
(p. 330). The author of the letter that criticizes Sattar Khan and asks
Browne to be "moderate in your praise of him in your Constitutional
History" is Walter Smart, as Bonakdarian has pointed out elsewhere,
and not Muhammad 'Ali Tarbiyat, as Kasravi believed (p. 442).
Mage Publishers should be commended for bringing this classic study back
into print. Students can now see that a divergent relationship can exist
and has existed between Western scholars and Eastern activists involved
in democratic movements. They will also recognize that when an Orientalist
scholar of the caliber of Browne placed his academic and political skills
at the service of the people he studied, the results were remarkable, indeed
Journal of Islamic Studies
Edward Granville Browne (1862-1926), the eminent British orientalist
and holder of the chair of Arabic at Cambridge for some thirty years, was
also celebrated for his scholarship on Persian literature and history. His
four volume A Literary History of Persia, as well as his works on The Press
and Poetry of Modern Persia, and The Persian Revolution of 1905-1909 constitute
major contributions to the field of Persian studies. However, what distinguished
Browne from his fellow orientalists was that he did not always remain the
detached scholar, but at times became passionate and even 'a participant
in political debates concerning British policy in Iran'.
In fact, Browne's interest in the East was aroused by the Turkish-Russian
war in 1877-8. The appeal of the East, at least at its inception, was not
merely a romanticized view that he had of a far-away land, but it was rather
a result of his disposition towards being on the side of the oppressed and
the downtrodden. As he noted in his introduction to A Year amongst the Persians,
'At first my proclivities were by no means for the Turks, but the losing
side, more especially when it continues to struggle gallantly against defeat
... always has a claim on our sympathy.' Evidence of such a temperament
was still there when he took on the cause of the Iranian constitutionalists
as manifested in his chronicling of The Persian Revolution of 1905-1909.
The correspondence that he enjoyed with a range of personalities, both Iranian
and non-Iranian, much of which was used as a source of information for his
book and is now bequeathed to the Cambridge University Library, further
corroborates this quality of character.
It would not be too imprudent to say that Browne's aim in writing The
Persian Revolution was not merely academic, but, as he says in his preface,
it was also 'to arouse in the hearts of my countrymen some sympathy for
a people who have, in my opinion, hitherto received less than they deserve'
(xx). In fact, throughout his book, he reiterates time and time again his
endeavour in dispelling the false impressions that had been propagated by
the British press of the time, in particular by the correspondent of The
Times newspaper, David Fraser. This in itself is a contributing factor to
the reason why The Persian Revolution of 1905-1909 has become a 'classic'.
For while it is one of the most comprehensive accounts of the constitutional
movement, it also contains much more than a mere account; it is an appeal
for the right to the self-determination of a nation, an endorsement of the
constitutional movement as it unfolds by an informed contemporary observer
in defiance of the general British policy of the time.
In view of the significance of The Persian Revolution of 1905-1909, the
decision by Mage Publishers to have it republished as the first of a reprint
series with the title 'Persia Observed' is to be welcomed. This series,
according to the editor's preface, has the aim of making available some
of the 'most useful but out-of-print western accounts about Iran from the
early modern times to the twentieth century'. In addition to the text, which
is a facsimile reprint of the 1910 edition, the book also contains a general
introduction by Abbas Amanat, the editor of the series and an authority
on nineteenth-century Iran, as well as a brief section on selected correspondence
of E. G. Browne by Mansour Bonakdarian, the author of several articles on
Browne. In this second part, excerpts from Browne's correspondence with
a variety of personalities are given. They range from British officials,
both in the British Legation in Iran and the Foreign Office in London, to
Persian constitutionalists like Sayyid Hasan Taqizadah, as well as members
of the Persia Committee. There is also a section on the sort of reviews
that the book received at the time of its publication in 1910.
Both articles are lucid and intelligently written. Each in its own way
provides the necessary background for the reader to appreciate the significance
of the book. The brief section on the kind of reviews that the book received
is particularly informative as it highlights its controversial aspect at
a time when imperialism was what defined British foreign policy. If there
is one point, however, that may give the reader the wrong impression, it
is the choice made by Bonakdarian of the correspondence with Iranians. The
collection of Browne papers held at Cambridge University Library is evidence
of the diverse nature of correspondence that Browne enjoyed. It is not only
the 'important' players in the constitutional movement that Browne corresponded
with; one also finds a number of letters written by a range of Iranian characters,
not necessarily known to Browne or of the eminence of Taqizadah, but who
nevertheless relay their own experiences of the injustices suffered during
the upheavals of the constitutional movement, because they had heard of
Browne as one interested in their cause. Surely such material needs to be
mentioned, if not underlined, as it illustrates the extent of Browne's reputation
in Iran of the time as an unequivocal friend of the country and its people.
Nevertheless, the 'long-term project' of the publishers can only be commended.
Whether specialist or non-specialist, those interested in the history of
Iran can only applaud an endeavour which will make important works on Iran
more widely available to all.