Re: The Dawnbreakers

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Posted by Jonah on May 14, 2101 at 00:13:10:

In Reply to: The Dawnbreakers posted by Nick Stone on May 13, 2101 at 19:59:39:

Historians on the listservers Talisman1 (in 1996 or so) and H-Baha'i (in 1999 or so) discussed this, and the general consensus was that the Dawnbreakers, or at least portions of it, were read aloud to Baha'u'llah. However, there is no record of any responses he offered to the reading, nor of any corrections he made to the book. Again, I'm reporting second-hand statements and have no personal knowledge.

One also must remember that the book we have called "Dawnbreakers" is not Nabil's narrative as such. First, it is a translation of only the first portion of the narrative, covering just the Babi period. Second, by Ruhiyyih Rabbani's testimony, Shoghi Effendi reworked and extensively edited Dawnbreakers, to the point that it became a new "creation"; see full quotation below.

Regarding its factual errors, both the Guardian and the House were clear about the fact that the Guardian's historical writings are not infallible (see, by extension, I think it safe to say that Nabil is not considered factually infallible.


excerpt from Ruhiyyih Rabbani (Ruhiyyih Khanum), The Priceless Pearl, pages 214-218:

      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 Baha'i 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, Baha'u'llah'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 Baha'is 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 translation of Baha'u'llah'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 Baha'u'llah 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 Baha'i 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-Baha'is. The playwright Gordon Bottemley wrote: " 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 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.

      The quality of the English and the delightful ease of reading the translation are extraordinary, as usually a translation if difficult to read. You have been splendid in making the book so neutral and in adding the footnotes, which make the work more a matter of scientific history than anything like propaganda. The force of the book is very great, because the translation is so scientific and the original authorship so spontaneous, that the whole work must seem genuine, even to the most cynical critic.

      From the point of history, the work is of the greatest possible value. It is also tremendously useful, as it explains the psychology which lies back of our great movements of religious revelation. Of course the chief value is the light that is thrown upon the early history of the Bahai Movement. The lives of the first converts are tremendously inspiring.

      I am loaning my copy to Prof. Crawford and Prof. Seelye and hope that many of our professors and students will find time to read such an instructive and stimulating book.

      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:

My dear Shoghi Effendi,                   27th April, 1932

      It was most kind of you to remember me and send me copies of your two latest works, which I am very proud to possess, especially as coming from such a quarter. The Dawn Breakers is really one of the most beautiful books I have seen for many years; the paper, printing, and illustrations are all exquisite, and as for your English style, it really could not be bettered, and never does it read like a translation. Allow me to convey my warmest congratulations on your most successful achievement of what you set out to do when you came to Oxford, namely, to attain a perfect command of our language.

      Apart from all this, Nabil's narrative will be of the utmost service to me in the lectures I deliver here every Session on the Bab and the Baha.

      Trusting you are in good health,
            I remain,
            Yours very sincerely,
            E. Denison Ross

      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 Baha'u'llah and been revised by 'Abdu'l-Baha... 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 Baha'u'llah'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 Baha'i 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 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 Baha'u'llah 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:

            To The Greatest Holy Leaf
      The last Survivor of a Glorious and Heroic Age
            I Dedicate This Work
      In Token of a Great Debt of Gratitude and Love

      The Baha'is 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 Baha'u'llah 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-Baha goes on unfolding in its conquest of the entire globe.

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