Glimpses of Life and Manners in Persia:
|chapter 6||start page||single page||chapter 8|
Mode of travelling – Village houses – Economical fires – Mephitic springs – Savalandagh – Shrine of a prophet – Toorkomanchall – Snow drift – Journeys of the couriers – Struggles through the snow – The "Leopard's Pass" – Tribe of Shaheesevens migrating – Sagacious donkeys and hideous old women – Sultaneeya and its dome – Iljaëtoo Khan – Mode of irrigation in Persia – Kasveen – Our host – The Old Man of the Mountain – Alamoot – Hunting seat of Fetteh Ali Shah – Innumerable family of that monarch – Hall of Audience – Agha Mahommed Khan Kajjar – Plucking out of 70,000 pairs of eyes – Waiting for good luck – My entry into Tehran – Entry of Colonel Sheil.
On the 5th of November we resumed our journey, travelling by easy stages, which, with a diminution of fatigue, were a great increase of ennui. The barren hills and nearly equally barren plains of Persia produce a most somniferous effect on the plodding wayfarer, particularly if he travels, as I did, in a carriage at a walking pace. The road was described to be excellent, still it reduced our vehicle to the slowest pace. Even this was preferable to the ordinary mode of travelling among ladies, shut up in a large box, called a takhterewān, suspended between two mules, in which one creeps along with ambassadorial dignity, in a way that put one's patience to a severe trial. In a mountainous country this same box exposes the inmate to some danger and a great deal of terror. On a narrow road, with a deep precipice on one side without a parapet, and mules that neither prayers, blows, nor abuse will remove from the very edge, one sees the box hanging over the yawning gulf, and the occupant dares not move lest the
balance be disturbed, and she wilfully seek her own salvation before due time. The two English maids were mounted one on each side of a mule in the two small boxes of a kajāva, where, compressed into the minutest dimensions, they balanced each other and sought consolation in mutual commiseration of their forlorn fate in this barbarian land.
I doubt if our hardships will excite the sympathy they deserve. We rose at six, shivering 5000 feet above the sea, in an Azerbijan village room, quite comfortless, at that hour at all events, and crawled along until ten, when we found ready for us, pitched near a stream in some quiet nook, a very small tent, called an aftabgerdān, or sun-turner, in which denomination correctness has been sacrificed to conciseness, as it is the tent which turns round to catch or exclude the sun's rays, according to the season. Here, seated on the ground, we had breakfast, and were warmed into life and consciousness by that genuine friend of mankind, whether the thermometer be at 20° or 120°, hot tea. When the horses of our numerous party were rested, we continued our journey until evening, and passed the night at a village house, to which our bedding had previously been carried, and then spread on the ground. From the time I entered Persia until I quitted it, the ground, whether in house or in tent, was my bedstead. This is the universal practice of the country, and, excepting that it affords no protection from scorpions, centipedes, and tarantulas, it is to be recommended. Nervous people take various precautions against these unwelcome visitors. I knew a foreign young lady, who had a Cossack, sword in hand, keeping watch all night in her room, ready
to slay the invaders. The bed tied up into a bundle, with a gaudy silk cover during the day, makes an excellent sofa in the corner of a tent. These houses are often good, but sometimes exceedingly disagreeable from the miscellaneous nature of the occupants. A thriving Persian village can, however, generally supply a tenement by no means to be contemned. The principal room where the family resides is carpeted with felts; a high pile of bedding, tied into bundles, occupies one corner, while another corner contains chests or immense jars, such as the "forty thieves" found a shelter in, filled with grain, peas, or beans. Strings of apricots, grapes, and onions hang in festoons from the ceiling; shelves are cut into the earthen walls, on which are placed stores of quinces, apples, pears, and melons, besides sundry cups and saucers, with, if possible, a few decanters and tumblers of coarse Russian glass, which form the pride of the family; one end of the room is occupied by a fireplace, over which are hung inscriptions containing quotations from the Koran, or from some of the Persian poets. Altogether there is a considerable air of substantial comfort in these houses, which I often envied for our countrymen. Sometimes these fireplaces were constructed on principles so anti-Rumfordian, that we were forced to have recourse to the Persian economical substitute for a fire in a grate, called a koorsee, and a very comfortable resource it is. A small quantity of charcoal, well burnt to remove its deleterious effects, is placed on a flat copper dish; this is covered with a large wooden frame, open at the sides, two feet high, over which a large wadded quilt is spread, to exclude the cold air and prevent the escape of the warmth inside. The family sits round the
koorsee with the legs and arms under the quilt, where the heat is considerable. I have often wished our soldiers at Sebastopol, during the memorable winter, could have procured this simple manner of protecting themselves from cold. Once when travelling alone during winter, my husband was seized with acute illness, which forced him to take refuge in a village, where a barber gave him a lodging. He passed the cold and painful night reclining under a koorsee, the opposite side of which was occupied by the loudly snoring, friendly barber. The whole family, in a Persian household, passes the winter nights in this manner; but sometimes an unlucky wight gets his head under the quilt, and wakes no more.
The second day from Tabreez we crossed the pass of Shiblee, near which are some caverns containing springs, still more mephitic than those of canine reputation at Lago Lugano, near Naples. Descending the pass we entered the extensive plain of Oojan, the Champs de Mars of Persia, where formerly the Persians used to receive instruction in military manœuvers. On the left lay a very rugged range of mountains, called Booz Koosh, or Goatkiller, separating us from the valley of Serab, remarkable for its mineral hot-springs, efficacious, if we are to confide in local belief, in curing all the ailments of humanity. Overhanging this valley is a famous mountain, called Savalandāgh, reputed to be one of the highest mountains in Persia. In the earlier part of his career in this country my husband was quartered in this valley (Note C.), and from him I learned the following particulars concerning the above mountain. Its slopes on the northern side are frequented in spring and summer by the large wandering Toork tribe
of Shaheesevens (Shah's friends). In winter they pitch their tents in the flat, sultry, but luxuriant plains of Moghan, now belonging to Russia. This district is reputed to have been traversed by Pompey, whose army was so infested by snakes as to be forced to move their camp from these prairies. It is reported by the Persians that at the present day these plains are filled during summer with snakes, scorpions, and other reptiles, which, added to the noxious climate at that season, render them uninhabitable.
Savalan Dagh, or mountain, is remarkable for containing at its summit the remains of a Mussulman pyghamber, or prophet, which lie in a small grotto exposed to the view of pilgrims. As the top of Savalān is above the line of perpetual congelation, his saintship has been miraculously preserved whole and entire, face, features, and beard, to the admiring gaze of his devotees. On my husband's asking a moolla how and when the pyghamber had reached his elevated sepulchre, he replied that tradition had preserved no record on the former point, but that it was known he was a prophet subsequent to the "Lord Mahommed." It was retorted that the moolla was talking koofr, infidelity – it being a precept of the Mussulmans that Mahommed was the completion of all the prophets, and that none could succeed him. "That is true," said the moolla, in some confusion that his divinity should undergo correction from a Feringhee.
On the fourth day we reached Toorkomanchaee, a village showing every sign of prosperity, owing to its good fortune in having constantly become the property of each successive holder of the grand-vezeership, and being thereby saved from the encroachments of troops marching
to and from the capital, to which the other villages on the high road are subject, and also exempt from the exactions of travellers with orders of seeoorsāt, meaning an allowance of provisions and fodder. This is one of the most harassing, and probably one of the most ancient abuses to which Persians are subject. A man of rank travelling, or a governor proceeding to his post, receives an order entitling his numerous retinue to be supplied with provisions of all kinds, for which not a fraction is paid. Double the quantity required is demanded, as well as a variety of articles which the unfortunate villagers never heard of, and which, to use their own phrase, "their grandfathers never saw in a dream" – such as saffron, tea, cloves, cinnamon, &c. A compromise in money is generally made, and his excellency departs satisfied. It used to be the practice to grant seeoorsāt to all foreign missions proceeding to the Court; but the hardship it entailed on the villagers, and the odium and bitter feelings it excited, were so obvious, that the practice has ceased as far as the English mission is concerned.
At Toorkomanchaee we lived in a house outside the village, which brought to mind associations of a mournful character. Here it was that Persia was crushed by Russia. In this house, built expressly for the accommodation of the Russian representative, was signed the treaty which, twenty-eight years ago, concluded the last war between Russia and Persia. (Note D.)
The house consisted of two small rooms opposite to each other, in one of which I was told resided the Russian plenipotentiary, and in the other his Persian colleague. The latter was occupied by our two women servants, and
was constructed with such attention to comfort that the sky was visible up the chimney.
We had made preparation for a long march, as it was called, next day; but during the night so violent a storm of snow arose, accompanied by a boorān, that movement was impracticable. A boorān in the north of Persia is a terrible thing. It is a heavy fall of snow, with a violent wind, causing a drift which blinds the traveller, and effectually conceals the road. Many lives are lost each winter in this way. I have heard of several instances where the benumbed and wayworn traveller was saved only by the barking of a dog, the bleating of a sheep or the tinkling of a mule bell, when he was on the point of yielding to his fate, not knowing he was within reach of aid.
It must be a fearful thing to be caught in a desolate plain or mountain side by one of these awful storms, no place of refuge near, the thermometer at 10° or 20° below zero, and the howling blast piercing to the vitals. I have often thought with pity and surprise of the Persian couriers of the mission, and their wonderful journeys to Erzeroom. One of them presents himself in the month of January, muffled in sheepskin coat and cap, receives his bags, and goes forth alone on his terrible journey of nearly 800 miles; and after a rest of perhaps two days at Erzeroom, returns again, worn out by fatigue and want of sleep, nearly blind, and "burnt by the snow," as the expressive phrase is in Persian. Woe betide him if he cannot show good reasons for having been more than ten days in performing the trip each way. As the post-horses are miserable, this can only be done by being almost constantly on horseback, and by sleeping in this position,
which I am told that even English travellers by chaperee, as it is called, soon acquire the habit of doing. Some of these mission couriers make extraordinary journeys. One of them, named Malik Mahommed Beg, used frequently to perform the 800 miles in seven days. It is only by being exceedingly weather-wise, and knowing the symptoms of an approaching boorān, that these men are able to escape the dangers of a winter journey. With all this risk their pay is small, not exceeding 40l. a-year. There are, however, a few illicit gains, which a Persian loves so dearly, in the shape of traffic in small portable objects between Persia and Turkey. In Persia very hard riding is universal. Sir John M'Neill, I have heard, once rode from Tehran to Ispahan, 260 miles, in three days, on the same horse, a pony which cost 10l. On another occasion he rode 400 miles, from Tehran to Tabreez, in four days, on post-horses. But an English sergeant surpassed her Majesty's Minister; having performed the same distance in less than three days.
To return to my itinerary. The succeeding morning brought us a genuine Persian winter day, cold, cloudless, bright, but the quantity of snow seemed to preclude all hope of moving the carriage. The mehmandar, however, swore all the oaths ever on the lips of a Persian, that move we should, and move we did. A Persian is perpetually swearing, either by the Almighty or the Prophet, or Ali or Hoossein, or his beard, or his or your life or death. The women are as profane and emphatic in their discourse as the other sex. A favourite and amusing mode of asseveration among the syeds, especially in testifying to an untruth, is "Beh ser e jeddam" (by the head
of my grandfather), meaning Mahommed; indeed it is a common adage that the greatest swearers are the greatest liars. On the present occasion, luckily for us, our mehmandar reversed this popular saying; and it was amusing to see the struggles of himself and his attendants to get us through the deep snow. He sprang off his horse, and insisted on yoking him to the carriage, and the good steed, so docile are the Persian horses, immediately began to pull with the utmost goodwill, though in the course of his existence he had never before seen such a machine. The cold was intense; the long beards and moustaches of the Persians were frozen, and looked as white as the snow. Long after dark we reached the village of Khoosh Boolak, where we were glad to warm and rest ourselves after an anxious, toilsome day. Two days later we reached Meeana, famous, or infamous, for its bugs – a bite from one of which kills with the slow lingering death, such as husbands and wives in England love mutually to impart. We spent half the night in precautions against a danger, which many attribute to fever, indigenous to this unwholesome place. That morning we crossed the high pass of Kaplan Kooh, the Leopard's Mountain, from the summit of which we had a far-reaching view of the provinces of Azerbijan and Irak, of which the Leopard is the boundary. The narrowness of the road over the pass raised some doubt if the carriage could be got across without being taken off the wheels, so I took refuge in my takhterewan. Near the top, on looking down the precipice over which I hung, I saw the remains of dead horses who had slipped into the abyss; this was so discouraging, that I kept my eyes shut until we reached a kind of shelter at the summit.
Two days more brought us to the town of Zenjān, of which I remember nothing remarkable, excepting the prodigious size of its onions, far exceeding anything produced in Spain or Portugal. But all Persian towns are alike; all built of unburnt, unpainted brick, all windowless, and all in a state of decay. The only difference among them is, that one has a fine old mosque, which another has not.
Nov. 12th. – Our road to-day was enlivened by a large party of Shaheesevens, with their families, their flocks and their herds, and all their worldly goods, migrating from I know not where, to the plains of Moghan, north of Ardebil, before alluded to; where a temperate climate and luxuriant pastures invited these dwellers in tents to pass the winter. There were camels, horses, asses, sheep, cattle, cats, dogs, men, women, and children. The camels numbered at least one hundred, and carried the heavy baggage, consisting of the tents and cooking utensils. The greater part of the men were mounted either on horseback or on camels; but many of the women were on foot, attended by their large shaggy dogs, the faithful guardians of the camp at night. According to the general custom of the eelyat women, their faces were uncovered, and they looked with a careless indifference, equal to that of Europeans, at our cavalcade. The only individuals who seemed to think that our party formed an unusual sight, were the donkeys, who invariably stopped and turned round to gaze after the strangers and their novel equipage, showing how much calumniated are their intellect and sagacity. Few, very few among the women, even the most youthful, had any claim to beauty; exposure and
severe labour having wholly effaced the delicacy of features which nature intended to be comely. The middle-aged women were exceedingly ugly, and those of advanced years hideous. The Shaheesevens are wealthy, and they exhibited eelyat life under a favourable aspect; but among less fortunate tribes it is far otherwise.
In England our associations with wanderers in tents are full of romance and ideality; we dream of pastoral life, flocks and herds, and amiable shepherds – Abraham and Isaac waiting for angels' visits – Esau, Rebecca, and Ruth. The reality is very different. In the mountains near Tehran I often passed close to small eelyat encampments, and I saw enough to cure me of any fancies and dreams I may have formerly cherished. Squalor and dirt were the general characteristics of the inmates of these oolooses, or camps. The women were in rags, haggard and careworn; the children emaciated from want of nourishment. Among the wealthy tribes, and among the Koords and Toorkomans, no doubt it is often otherwise. The tent life, with its freedom and independence, must have its charms: but in Persia the wealthy tribes are the exception. The Toork wandering tribes are often rich; but those of real Persian descent, the Loors, Bekhtiarees, Mafees, and Nana Kellees, are extremely poor.
After leaving Zenjān, we entered the high and extensive plain of Sultaneeya, famous for its pastures, and consequently most attractive to the eelyats (tribes) with which it is crowded in spring. The cold here in winter is described to be intense. The village of Sultaneeya, at which we passed the night, was once a great capital, founded, or at all events embellished, by Iljaëtoo Khan,
a descendant of Chengeez, who ruled Persia about A.D. 1300. A splendid mosque, said to be that monarch's mausoleum, with a wonderful dome supposed to be nearly 150 feet in height, and 50 or 60 feet in diameter, is the only edifice left to attest the greatness of Sultaneeya. This city is reported to have been ruined by the sudden disappearance of water, caused doubtless by an earthquake, which forced the inhabitants to migrate. In evidence of the grandeur of Sultaneeya, I forget how many hundred or thousand Kajāvas, the Persians declare, left the city in one day.
We were now sensibly descending from the high elevation of Azerbijan. The air was becoming mild and warm as we approached the city of Kasveen, on the 16th of November. This town presents the remains of ancient, worn-out greatness; and one sees there, as elsewhere in Persia, considerable tracts with scanty population; extensive bazars without goods or traffickers; fine mosques and palaces in ruin or decay. This at one time was one of the many capitals of Persia. Each dynasty, as it succeeded to the kingdom, seems to have selected a special town as its residence. After seeing Tehran, which has not a single point to recommend it, I frequently regretted that Kasveen had not been approved of by the Kajārs as their capital. It is situated at the foot of the mountains leading to Geelan and the Caspian, and at the extremity of a fine plain that wants only water and population to make it a garden of fertility. It is the land of grapes, which in profusion, variety, and flavour, are unsurpassed.
Persia may be said to have neither rivers nor streams; rain also being scanty, it was necessary to invent some means of irrigation. This has been done with great ingenuity.
The vast plain of Kasveen has been intersected in all directions with kanāts, extending miles upon miles. A kanāt may be called a subterranean aqueduct, and is a succession of wells, beginning in the mountains, and conducted the required distance into the plains, sometimes for thirty or forty miles. To say the truth, I have never been able thoroughly to understand the system, but I will write down all I have heard about it. A shaft or well is sunk on the skirt of a mountain until a spring is reached. A subterranean channel, often from thirty to forty feet beneath the surface, is dug in the direction of the plain, into which the water of the spring, with that of as many other springs as possible, is collected. At fifteen or twenty yards distance another shaft is sunk, and thus the channel and shafts are continued to the desired point by a system of levelling which, if not conducted on scientific principles, is said to be practically correct. The use of the shafts is to clear out the channel from time to time. The expense of this method of cultivation, and the value of water in the Shah's dominions, may be conceived. Yet all Persia is covered with the remains of kanāts, which war and bad government have brought to decay.
Happily for the dry climate of Persia, the construction of kanāts has been made one of the passports to paradise for pious Mussulmans. Nothing is more meritorious than to conduct a stream of water into a town, where, in summer, the poorer part of the population suffers great distress from drought. A Persian who has spent his life in peculation, or in amassing wealth by interest at 100 per cent., or even 200 at times, when his days are closing, resolves to win heaven and a good reputation by relieving
the thirst of his fellow-citizens in the above way. To make as sure as he can of his kanāt, and save it from embezzlement, be calls the church to his aid, and puts it under the protection of some holy moolla, by declaring it waqf; that is, it becomes an offering to God, and cannot be sold or "eaten" – at least it ought not to be eaten; but all his precautions are often useless in saving his kanāt from this gastronomic process. Do what he will, he cannot prevent his patent for paradise from becoming the cause of various broken heads. The droughty denizens fight bitterly for its possession.
At Kasveen we lodged in the house of a wealthy merchant. In any other country this man would have been spurned as a swindler; here he holds a high position in the mercantile world and at court. A Georgian youth, captured at the sack of Tiflis sixty years ago, had risen to the highest appointments in Persia, and had amassed great wealth, which, as a slave belonging to the king, should, at his death, have been inherited by the Shah. He, wishing to bequeath it to his relations, secretly deposited with this merchant a large sum of money. At his death, this person presented himself to the Prime Minister, and, with protestations of loyalty and devotion, announced that 30,000 tomans (about 15,000l.) were in his hands, which he would immediately pay to the Shah. It was not doubted that this was a plan to retain for himself another 30,000 tomans.
Continuing our journey to the East through the plain of Kasveen, which at other seasons is covered with the tents of eelyats, on our left hand lay the range of Elboorz. These mountains concealed from. our view a
remarkable place, no less than Alamoot, the castle of Hassan Sahib, the redoubted chief of the Assassins, popularly called the Old Man of the Mountain, from his Arabic designation of Sheikh el Jebbal, who, about the year 1060, founded a religion which appears to have borne some resemblance to modern Bābeeism. To the novices, a creed not very different from Mahommedanism, of which the forms were strictly preserved, was inculcated; while to the initiated was made known the real doctrine, that all is nought, illusion, emptiness.
Hassan lived to the age of ninety, and died peaceably in his bed, which he had allowed very few of his enemies to do. After capturing Alamoot, for thirty-five years he never left that fortress, and twice only did he move from the chamber whence issued his mandates of death. He executed two of his sons – one for the insignificant offence of drinking wine. One of his first victims, when he began his career of murder, was Nassr-ood-deen, the famous vezeer of Alp Arselan and Malek Shah, the two great monarchs of the Seljookee race. Hassan Sabāh was born at Rei, near Tehran, and studied at Nishaboor, where one of his college companions was Nassr-ood-deen. They made a compact that the first to attain greatness should befriend the other. After a long course of years, Nassr-ood-deen became Grand Vezeer. Hassan proceeded to court, and upbraided him with his breach of promise. The other acknowledged his friend's claim, and in a short time his great talents raised him to high favour with Malek Shah; when, according to the usage of Persians, he tried every art to subvert his patron. The king having demanded an account of the revenue of his empire,
Nassr-ood-deen required more than a year to prepare it. Hassan Sebāh immediately offered to furnish the account in forty days. He kept his promise; but at the critical moment of examination several sheets were found wanting, and he was dismissed in disgrace. He then wandered to Egypt, where he first imbibed his doctrines. Nassr-ood-deen is supposed to have abstracted the missing sheets, in order to bring disgrace on his ungrateful rival. For nearly two centuries Hassan and his descendants maintained their independence and rule in their mountain fortress, seizing other castles of the same description in the hill ranges of Persia and Palestine, and spreading their doctrine and their supremacy by the daggers of his Fedwees, or disciples, which they wielded without remorse. Von Hammer describes these sectaries, and they are familiar to most readers in 'The Crusaders.' Sultan Sanjar, one of the Seljookee monarchs, led an army towards Alamoot to exterminate this band of Assassins. Awaking one morning, he found a dagger plunged to the hilt in the earth by his bedside, with a scroll on it telling him to beware, else next time the dagger would be sheathed in his breast. Sultan Sanjar then retired. Hoolakoo Khan was made of sterner stuff. About A.D.
1250 he captured Alamoot, and slew thousands of the Assassins, or Ismaëlees, as they are otherwise called. Their former appellation is supposed to be derived either from the name of their founder Hassan, or from the word hashish, said to be a preparation from hemp, of highly intoxicating power, which was drunk by the Fedwees previously to the execution of the orders of their chief, to slay. The "Lords of Wrath," or Meerghazabs of the
Shah, as the executioners about the Shah's person are called, are said to use chers, or bang, a preparation of the same description, in the performance of their vocation of extracting eyes, strangling, and cutting throats.
Several years ago my husband paid a visit to Alamoot, which proved to be a high solitary rock, in the midst of a valley surrounded by lofty mountains. With great difficulty and some danger he and his companions ascended to the top, where they found only a few insignificant buildings, and some cisterns for containing water. One side of the rock down to the valley beneath, was smooth and abrupt. It was hence doubtless the Fedwees used to precipitate themselves to evince their obedience to the mandates of the Sheikh of the Mountain. The stay of the party at the top was short, so nervously eager were they to face and get over the danger of the return descent. Passing one very bad spot several yards in length, the heart of one of the party somewhat failed him, so he bestrided the shoulders of a mountaineer; but, when half way, he found himself overhanging a precipice of several hundred feet, with a path of a few inches wide, and the hill man tottering beneath him.
Proceeding through the level and cheerful plain of Kasveen, we arrived in a few days at Suleimāneeya, which afforded us a prospect of the speedy termination of our long journey. Latterly it had been constantly enlivened by arrivals from Tehran of friends and acquaintances, expectants of countenance; and numbers of strangers, whose affairs at court under the new reign were in a languishing condition, and who sought to prop them up by propitiating the newcomer. Lambs, fruits, and sugarcandy,
the usual offerings on such occasions, flowed in to superfluity, to the great delight of the array of Persian servants by whom we were surrounded, though certainly not served. Suleimāneeya is an extensive palace or hunting-seat, built by the present king's great-grandfather, Fetteh Ali Shah. It contains courts and apartments innumerable for lodging the ample haram of that monarch, who seems to have made Solomon his prototype. The number of the inmates of the anderoon belonging to this sovereign is estimated at several hundred. His Majesty's sons were reckoned at upwards of eighty, but his daughters were too numerous to admit of calculation; though why the ladies should exceed in such proportion the gentlemen of the family was never explained. It is an idea among Persians that women are considerably more numerous than men; and this delusion they all allege as a proof that Providence intended wives should be in excess to husbands. His Majesty's sons followed his example, with the result of many among them having forty or fifty children; and the total of his descendants is estimated at some thousand persons. Some among them are consequently in a deplorable state of poverty. I have heard of one prince, a son or grandson of Fetteh Ali Shah, who used to go himself to the bazaar to buy bread for his family; and I know of more than one who begged a member of the mission to give them two or three sovereigns to relieve them from actual want. The princesses are many of them greatly to be commiserated. They have been forced by destitution to marry persons of very inferior condition; and one lady in particular had taken for her husband a
man who had been a cobbler, but who had raised himself above that station.
In this palace there was one room of considerable size, which served as the hall of audience of Fetteh Ali Shah. It was decorated in the usual style of Persian taste – abundance of gilding, varnish of all colours. Looking glasses covered the walls and ceiling; fresco paintings of damsels of Europe and Persia were interspersed, all scantily attired, but particularly the former, who were invariably represented as if in the fullest, or rather the scantiest, dress, as for a ball. In Persia, the painting of a lady intended to be European is easily distinguishable by her companion, a little dog, under her arm. At one end of the apartment was a large fresco painting, full size, of Fetteh Ali Shah, in regal array, with a numerous party of his sons standing around him. The Kajjars are an eminently handsome race – at least the royal family are so – and not the less from the style of features being Israelitish. They are almost to be recognised in the streets by their large open black eyes, aquiline noses, and well-chiselled mouth. At the other extremity of the room was another painting of still greater attraction. It represented Agha Mahommed Khan, the founder of the Kajjar dynasty, surrounded by the chiefs of his tribe who helped him to the sovereignty of Persia. Excepting Agha Mahommed himself, they are all clad in mail, and all seated on chairs, which seems to be an error in dramatic propriety of the painter; for though the ancient Persians are supposed to have made use of chairs, the ground is preferred by the modern race. "Oh, I am
so tired; do, pray, let me sit on the ground to rest myself," – a Persian visitor often says to his English friend, after sitting on a chair for an hour. The likenesses of the chiefs are said to be excellent, and that of Agha Mahommed Khan himself inimitable. The former are fine, sturdy, determined-looking warriors. Agha Mahommed looks like a fiend. The atrocious, cold, calculating ferocity which marked the man is stamped on his countenance. He waded through blood to the throne, and at length his cruelty cost him his life. One evening, for some trifling fault, he threatened two of his menial servants with death in the morning. As he ever kept his word in a matter of this kind, these domestics murdered him during the night at Sheesha, in Karabagh, in 1797, and his nephew Fetteh Ali Shah ascended the throne.
It is related that once having ordered many hundred eyes to be levied from a town which had fallen under his vengeance, they were brought to him in a platter. The savage monarch drew his dagger, and counted the eyes with the point. Having finished his diabolical arithmetic, he turned to his minister, and said, "Wallāhee! if one had been wanting I would have made up the number with your own eyes."
Agha Mahommed Khan was a man of inflexible resolution. On one occasion he was surprised at night by his competitor for the throne Lootf Ali Khan Zend, a youth of incomparable courage, whom Agha Mahommed afterwards cruelly put to death. The entire camp fled, and left their chief to his fate, with only a few guards. He, however, with wonderful resolution, remained in his tent, which the enemy, in order that it might be preserved
from pillage, did not enter. In the morning, at the first streak of dawn, the Kajjar chief's muezzin proclaimed, in his loudest tone, "Allāh ho Akbar! Allāh ho Akbar!" Lootf Ali Khan and his troops were seized with astonishment, and at once believed that Agha Mahommed Khan, who they thought had fled, was returned with all his forces. They took to flight forthwith, and a new dynasty was established.
Though cruel and bloodthirsty,5 it was chiefly by the higher classes that his fierce temper was felt. To the people at large he was just and kind, and his dominions were so secure from robbers and marauders that, in Persian phrase, the wolf and the lamb might drink at the same fountain. A horseman once stopped a peasant driving an ass loaded with melons, and helped himself to one. "You rascal! you dog! is there no justice in Iran? Is Agha Mahommed Khan dead?" screamed the peasant, making a blow at the thief. The pleased horseman retired, smiling: it was Agha Mahommed Khan himself. I have perhaps tarried too long with Agha Mahommed Khan; but as all this happened only sixty-five years ago and may happen again, his history and his picture made a deep impression upon me.
The next day brought us to a village within four miles of Tehran. Here the urgent request of the Prime Minister induced a stay of three days, much to my discomfort.
His Excellency had been consulting the astrologers, who, on referring to the stars, had ascertained that for two days there would not be a "saëte neek," a good hour, for a solemn entry to the capital. As the Ameer e Nirzam, or Prime Minister, was anxious on the subject, and as Colonel Sheil knew that if hereafter anything went wrong it would be attributed to the bad hour, he agreed to gratify the Grand Vezeer. Many Persians pretend to laugh at astrologers, yet there is scarcely one among them who undertakes a business of importance without ascertaining if the "hour is good," or taking a fāl to help his judgment. Like the captain of a man of war, many among them "make "the hour good by repeating their experiments until fate is forced to be propitious. What astrologers mean by a good and bad hour is, I think, the fact of a malignant star – like Mars in a love matter, for instance-being in the ascendant or otherwise. Taking a fāl means opening at random the Koran; Hafiz; Saadee, the Sheikh, as he is familiarly called, counting a certain number of lines down the page, – and then futurity is revealed.
Early in the morning of the appointed day, I was, in company with Crab (who was considered as much out of place as myself), deposited in my large box, the takhterewan, the curtains of which were carefully closed, and despatched forthwith to Tehran before the turmoil; having, in my capacity of woman, no concern with the solemnities about to follow. On entering the capital of the Great King, the King of Kings, the Shahinshah, I was startled to see a repetition of Tabreez, and something worse, particularly in passing through the quarter
of the hostage Toorkomans. The women showed themselves in crowds, and with complete disregard of Persian ideas. I was greatly amused at the manœuvers of my escort extraordinary. They were constantly vociferating to the male passengers to depart, lest I should be profaned by being seen. When a stray passenger happened to neglect their hints and advance boldly towards the takht, he was immediately seized, and placed with his face close to the wall until I had passed. On reaching the mission I was charmed at the contrast presented with the streets. I passed through a pretty English garden, and then entered an excellent and even stately-looking English, or rather Italian, dwelling of considerable size. I was still more surprised when an extremely well-dressed Persian entered the room, and said to me, in an accent savouring most intensely of the "Cowgate," "Wi' ye tak ony breakfast?" This was Ali Mahommed Beg, the mission housekeeper, who had acquired a fair knowledge of English from a Scotch woman-servant. Some hours after, my husband arrived, hot and dusty. The official entry surpassed in brilliancy even the istikbāl of Tabreez: the same crowd, rush and crush; the same coffee, tea, and kalleeons; the meerzas, the merchants, the beggars, the lootees. One of the latter particularly distinguished himself: he put an ass on his shoulders, and strutted along in front of the Elchee. The Persians adopted a whimsical method of carrying out the rules of istikbal, "according to treaty." The village we were residing in was three miles distant from Tehran, and etiquette requires the ceremony to commence four miles from the
city. The point was knotty, but a Persian is a man of resource. A tent was pitched at the requisite distance; and my husband was accordingly obliged to return a mile towards Tabreez, to receive the congratulations of the Shah's representative. Then followed the long, dusty, hot ride to town; for though it was now the 27th of November, the weather formed a strong contrast with the temperature of Azerbijan. We were in lat. 36°, and elevated above the sea not much more than three thousand feet.
We had now concluded our long journey of more than three months and a half. I was rejoiced at its termination; for though mixed with many pleasurable associations, many new ideas acquired, many wrong notions dissipated; I was tired of the constraint and the unceasing hurry from object to object. I was glad to rest, and to be able to see the dawn and daylight appear with indifference. I felt inclined to do as an Indian officer I heard once did. After he left the army, he paid a man to blow a bugle every morning at daybreak, that he might have the satisfaction of feeling he need not get up.
5 He sacked Tiflis with unbounded cruelty, and carried off thousands of women and children. At Kerman, which had given refuge to his rival Lootf Ali Khan, he is said to have extracted 70,000 pairs of eyes, and killed an equal number of human beings; but this is incredible.
|chapter 6||start page||single page||chapter 8|