MR. BROWNE IN PERSIA.* IT is difficult to penetrate far
into the inner life of any foreign nation, even European, but the inner life of the East is wrapped in a veil of impenetrable mystery, which it is doubtful if any European has yet succeeded in lifting, for the Oriental is a double-dealer by nature, and the life which he lives while brought into contact with Europeans by business or festivity, bears but little resemblance to that which he leads when alone with his countrymen ; nor is it certain that even clever disguises, as that of Burton in the Mecca Pilgrimage, have resisted the clever scrutiny of the astute Oriental with all the success that has been claimed for them.
The Persian, with his dreamy mysticism, is not the least impenetrable of these inscrutable nations, and Mr. Browne must not hope that in the twelve months he was able to devote to the study of his religions beliefs in Persia he has done more than lift the fringe of the heavy veil which still hides their real meaning from Western understandings. It would be unkind to take such an enthusiastic author too literally ; but his extemporaneous Persian Sorbonne would have somewhat scandalised its French prototype,—almost every evening, he says, he and his Zoroastrian friends used to sit in a garden, and " brass drinking-cups were drained again and again to the memories of the dead and the healths of the living. It was on these occasions that conversation flowed most freely, and I learned most about the Zoroastrian religion and its votaries." At the same time, there is no doubt that the long arguments he describes as taking place at these " Kueipen," are ex- ceedingly dry, and it is quite conceivable that he found the brass drinking-cups necessary to enable him to sit out the weary debates, but he should bear in mind that, as Swift says, "argument, as usually managed, is the worst sort of conversation ; as it is generally in books the worst sort of reading "—without brass drinking-cups- and it is not surprising that these theological discussions sometimes wound up with an appeal to more forcible argu- ments than are to be found in the mere repetition of crude and long-winded dissertations upon the Law and the Prophets. Mr. Browne, by the way, must have a wonderful memory if he did not take shorthand notes of the proceedings, which is unlikely; for he sometimes makes a disputant in one city deliver a long argument in almost the identical words in which a former disputant delivered it in another. Mr. Browne expresses astonishment that the Persians, though generally speaking devout Mahommedans, should be so given to psychical research. The point—like many that he makes—is worth noting ; but the explanation probably is, that the national character has not kept pace with the national religion, which phenomenon is quite to be expected when the national religion has been suddenly imposed upon the people by the sword, instead of having been allowed to find its way gradually into their hearts by the precept and example of the conquerors. No two religions could be farther apart than the mystic fire-worship of Zoroaster and the simple monotheism of Mahomet ; nor could two nations be much more unlike than the Aryan Persian and the Semitic Arab.
Mr. Browne is an enthusiastic admirer of everything Persian. On the road from Tabriz to Teheran, the Shah has erected "Dak bungalows," or Mihmani Khanes ; Mr. Browne did not like these, they were not Persian, he preferred putting up with the natives, and meditated "somewhat sadly on the un- happy effect produced in Eastern lands by the adoption of Western customs,"—and yet European travellers who are not partial to sleeping and eating with natives have been known to appreciate a Dak bungalow, and even Mr. Browne must have remembered this " Western custom " with some regret when next day, having passed two Dak bungalows and made a long march to reach a village, instead he could only obtain "a little cell," littered with melon-peel, and after some trouble " some bread from a kindly Persian who had become cognisant of our need, and with this, and the last remains of the pre- served meats bought at Trebizonde, we managed to appease our hunger." Disliking such innovations as these, we are not surprised to find that he objects still more to railways, and as becomes a philosopher, is much scandalised at the doings of railway promoters, though he can find—as also becomes a philosopher—much to excuse in the conduct of a mob—so it be Persian—which destroys the railway when made. A line from Teheran to Shah Abdul Azim
• A Year amongst tha Pergola. By E. G. Browne, Ma., M.B. London: A. and C. Black. 1893. was opened, and running eight or ten trains daily, in 1888; but a man jumped from a carriage while in motion, and was killed, so the people destroyed the railway. Mr. Browne does consider this an " unreasonable " performance, but he hastens to excuse it by saying that "the jealousy with which the Persian people are prone to regard these railways, tram- ways, monopolies, concessions, and companies, of which so much has been heard lately, is both natural and reasonable. These things, so far as they are sources of wealth at all, are so not to the Persian people, but to the Shah and his Ministers on the one hand, and to the European promoters of the schemes on the other." This is followed by a few remarks about the Shah, which hardly seem to be called for from a young and very inexperienced man, whose opportunities for personal observation of that Monarch's character have, on his own showing, been of the most limited description. An extra- ordinary infatuation for the Babis, a sect of Islam who sorely tried the Shah's patience by endeavouring to assassinate him, appears to be the cause of the invective. To the agricultu- ralist and to the owners of the rich mines of Persia, and to the numerous body of merchants, a railway is clearly a source of wealth, while to the people generally, in a country of such vast extent, and subject, like India, to such serious local famines, the means of supplying the wants of one district from the superfluity of another, is at least a means of security for life, if not a source of wealth ; and the fact that its promoters have received a substantial reward for their energy in procuring such advantages for the nation does not seem very outrageous. That the officials of the country should also share in these blessings is a matter for them to settle with their employers; but at the same time the European censor must be careful not to judge the Oriental public servant by the high Western standard. When Mr. Browne descends from the general to the particular, his judgment is perhaps still more at fault. He gives the following as an instance "of the gross ignor- ance " of the Mullas :—" A certain man in Kirman, wishing to expose this ignorance, asked a Mulls, the following question : I agreed with a labourer to dig in my garden a hole one yard square for eight krans. He has dug a hole half-a-yard square. How much should I pay him ? " Half the sum agreed upon, of course,' said the Mulla. 'Upon reflection, however, the Mulla corrected himself to two krans. The inquirer demonstrated to him that the labour required to excavate a hole measuring half-a-yard in each direction was only an eighth part of that needed for the excavation of one measuring a yard in each direction." What shape a hole "measuring a yard in each direction" would assume it is difficult to say, but if Mr. Browne's astute friend meant a yard cube, why did he say a yard square P Or does that very old- fashioned country content itself with twe dimensions ? If contracts for excavation in Persia are defined only by their length and breadth, it is no wonder that there are dis- putes between the authorities and the workmen. Another phenomenon was observed by Mr. Browne just before reaching the Persian frontier. " Hundreds of draught camels were feeding. The bales of merchandise unladen from their backs, were piled up in hollow squares ;" and as an instance, we suppose, of the extraordinary strength of the hair of the ladies of Zanjan he narrates::—" Even the women (of Zanjan) took part in the defence, and I subsequently heard it stated on good authority that, like the Carthaginian women of old, they cut off their long hair, and bound it round the crazy guns to afford them the necessary support." What authority does Mr. Browne consider good, which attributes the use of guns to the Carthaginians of old P It may be remarked in passing, that even a Professor of Persian is expected to spell Revelation without an s, and the same remark applies to the word bazaar,—it is not called bazaars. Mr. Browne's taste may be judged from the following to a lady which he quotes :— " I weighed thy beauty against that of the moon in the balance of my judgment. The scale containing the moon flew tip to heaven, and thou wert left on earth.' Could a neater compliment, or one more exaggerated, be imagined ?" As we do not know the lady it is not possible to say whether the compliment was exaggerated or not, but we think it would be possible to imagine a neater one. Perhaps it suffers in the translation. Some of Mr. Browne's translations are not very happy, many of them are in prose, but some are unfortunately in verse, as this, for instance :- " No one hath yet unravelled a knot from the skein of the universe. And each who came, and essayed the same, but made the tangleDkna Tempest.
Here is another :— " Sir Opium of ours for every ill is a remedy swift and sure. But he, if you bear for a time his yoke, is an ill which knows no cure."
He relates several anecdotes, but as he sometimes forgets the point, they are not all as interesting as they might otherwise be. Here is one. Two Mussulmans insulted a beautiful Zoroastrian woman, and threw her into the water ; they were brought before the Prince Governor, and great hopes were entertained by the oppressed commu- nity of fire-worshippers that they would be properly punished ; but the Governor was bribed, and the principal witness grew so alarmed that the only evidence he would give was that he heard the girl cry out for help, and saw her in the water; and so, having wound the reader up to the highest pitch of virtuous indignation against the two wicked Mussnlmans, and inspired him with the deepest sympathy with the beautful Zoroastrian, Mr. Browne quietly ends the story by saying that is all he knows about it, and leaves the reader in a state of painful uncertainty as to the fate of all three.
We cannot do better than close this notice of this much too bulky volume with a quotation from the "Exor- dium " with which it begins, " Dedicated to the Persian reader only in the name of God, the Merciful, the For. giving." "But afterwards thus saith the humblest and unworthiest of his servants, who least deserveth his Bounty, and most needeth his clemency (may God forgive his failing and heal his ailing!). When from Kirman and the confines of Bam I bad returned again to the city on the Cain, and ceased for a while to wander, and began to muse and ponder on the lands where I had been, and the marvels I had therein seen, and how in pursuit of knowledge, I had forgotten
the calm seclusion of college "—bat enougb,—we strongly advise Mr. Browne to put this extraordinary com- position at the end of his book (which might with advantage be two hundred pages nearer the beginning than it is), lest the impatient reader, seeing it as he opens the volume, should proceed no further,—which, we may add, would be a loss to the impatient reader, for in spite of much that is foolish, the book contains a great deal that is worth reading; and we trust Mr. Browne will give us some more of his experiences, should he again be tempted to leave "the calm seclusion of college."