Page images
PDF
EPUB

'Fatteh Ali expected at least some gem of value, or some curiosity, precious from the manner in which it was preserved. His impatience. was excited to the utmost, when wrapper succeeded wrapper, and still nothing appeared that in the least came up to his expectation. It might be a choice Koran, which on his departure his uncle might be anxious to give him, knowing how careful he was to let the world understand that he was a zealous promoter of his religion, and one of the holy prophet's most devoted sons. But no-the inside package had no appearance of anything so substantial; or it might possibly be the Jika, the ornamented jewel to wear on the head, the ensign of royalty, which now that he was about more closely to represent majesty in his new government, his uncle might be inclined to give him with his own hands,-this too did not appear to be the object of so much care. The Shah paused as he came to the last wrapper. At length at one effort, he pulled it off; but what was the youth's horror and surprise, instead of a splendid gift, to see an old handkerchief clotted with blood displayed before his eyes.

"Do you see this?" said the King, as he deliberately unfolded the abominable rag, his face at the same time taking an expression which would have appalled even a demon. Fatteh Ali, with fixed muscles and blanched cheeks, stared wildly at the horrid exposure. "Boy," said the King, with increased earnestness, "does not this blood speak?" Fatteh Ali could only answer with looks of astonishment. "Speak, boy," said the tyrant, "do you know this?" "God forgive me," he answered, the words almost choking his utterance, "I know nothing of blood." "Ill-fated that thou art," exclaimed the Shah, "this blood is the blood of thy father." At this a deadly hue overspread the cheeks of the sensitive youth, and a tremor convulsed his frame. " My father!" he exclaimed. "Aye, thy father," said the despot," and my brother! He was amiable, like thyself, therefore I loved him; he was thoughtless and heedless like you-I suspected him; he became ambitious and rebellious; therefore I slew him. There, go! Thou knowest the worst-thou knowest me-remember this night's lesson. Go; you are dismissed-ere to-morrow's dawn be on your road to Shiraz."

'As he described the love he bore his brother, tears, actual tears, sprung from sources which had seldom known such weakness, and gave an indescribable expression of inconsistency, of blended softness and harshness, to a countenance which long habit had imprinted with nothing but the most uncompromising sternness. But he soon recovered himself this transient gleam of the truth of nature's feelings was quickly overclouded, and the youth in looking up at his uncle's face could discover nothing but its own usual impenetrable gloom. A long silence ensued.'-vol. i., p. 47-52.

Aga Mohamed murdered one, if not more, of his brothers, and tore the eyes from several of them; and, according to Mr. Morier's preface, he did preserve the blood of one of these fraternal victims in a handkerchief, as described in the above extract-but the

novelist

novelist has in one important particular departed from the truth of the story. The father of Fatteh Ali was never supposed to have been either murdered or blinded by Aga Mohamed, but was his favourite brother, and fell gallantly fighting by his side in battle, leaving his orphan son to the Shah's care, who certainly, to give the devil his due, appears to have acquitted himself of that charge with fidelity. He from that hour considered his nephew as his heir, and used often, in reference to his bloody severities, to say—' All this I do, that yonder boy may have a secure throne.' So writes Sir Johu Malcolm.

We have praised the construction of Mr. Morier's fable. It is extremely simple; but though, as soon as the hero and heroine. have been brought on the stage, the experienced novel-reader can be at no loss to foresee their ultimate happy union, and even to anticipate a good deal of the resources that are to be relied on for bringing about that consummation, the difficulties in the way of it are skilfully varied and progressively heightened, so as to keep the interest alive; and the precise dénouement is scarcely guessed at until the last moment.

To engraft anything like what readers of the western world expect to find in the high-born hero of a tale of true love, on a fiction framed of Persian materials, must of necessity involve a considerable draught on the fancy. Persons surrounded, from opening adolescence, with the means and habits of boundless voluptuousness, can very rarely, we presume, surrender themselves to the empire of a genuine passion.

"Tis dalliance dulls the soul:

True heart-work speaketh in a virgin pulse.'

In order to get over this grand obstacle, our author selects for his hero the son and heir of the chief of one of those simpler mountain tribes of Persia, of whose interior life it is comparatively easy for us to imagine that it may approach the European elements of domestic virtue and happiness. Zohrab (the wellknown name of the heroic son of Rustum, in Ferdoosi's epic*) is borrowed

*The poet commences this episode with a beautiful line, which truly characterizes the story he relates. It is, he says, "Ekee dastan pur abe cheshum,"—" A tale full of the waters of the eye."-The young Sohrab was the fruit of one of Roostum's early amours. He had left his mother, and sought fame under the banners of Afrasiab, whose armies he commanded, and soon obtained a renown beyond all contemporary heroes but his father. He had carried death and dismay into the ranks of the Persians, and had terrified their boldest warriors, before Roostum encountered him, which at last that hero resolved to do, under a feigned name. They met three times. The first time they parted by mutual consent, though Sohrab had the advantage. The second the youth obtained a victory, but granted life to his unknown father. The third was fatal to Sohrab; writhing in the pangs of death, he warned his conqueror to shun the vengeance that is inspired by parental woes, and bade him dread the rage of the mighty Roostum, who must soon learn that he had slain his son Sohrab. These words

were

borrowed for this imaginary person; and we think it obvious that in many points of his character, as well as in some of the most picturesque vicissitudes of his career, our author has had his eye upon the gallant Looft Ali, the last prince of the Zend dynasty, whose escape from the massacre of Kerman has been quoted above from Malcolm's History, and whose ultimate fate was precisely such as the young reader anticipates for Zohrab, the moment before the romancer's wand is pleased to dispel all the clouds of his own creation.

Zaul Khan, the father of Zohrab, is introduced as having been an early brother in arms of Aga Mohamed, who, outraged and insulted by the Shah, after the struggle for the throne had been determined, has thrown aside his allegiance, and is maintaining his independence at the head of a league of the Turcoman tribes, at Asterabad, the capital of his hereditary province of Mazanderan. In the resistance he has been opposing to the king of Persia, the main principle of success depends, by universal admission, on the high qualities of the youthful Zohrab. He is the darling of his own race-the terror and admiration of all the land of Iran besides. The novelist lavishes, on his preliminary portraiture, all the resources of his art. It needs neither title-page nor conjurer to make us recognize the hero.

The hunting expedition of the royal eunuch brings him within no great distance of the borders of disaffected Mazanderan. His beautiful niece, the Princess Amima, has, as usual, preceded his march, and is first introduced to us as embracing, contra bonos mores, the opportunity of walking about for a little, without attendance, except that of one favourite maid, in the neighbourhood of a remote encampment, the description of which is among Mr. Morier's happiest passages of that class.

were as death to the aged hero; when he recovered from a trance, he called in despair for proofs of what Sohrab had said. The dying youth tore open his mail, and showed his father a seal which his mother had placed on his arm, when she discovered to him the secret of his birth, and bade him seek his father. The sight of his own signet rendered Roostum frantic: he cursed himself, attempted to put an end to his existence, and was only prevented by the efforts of his expiring son. To reconcile us to the improbability of this tale, we are informed that Roostum could have no idea that his son was in existence. The mother of Sohrab had written to him that her child was a daughter, fearing to lose her infant if she revealed the truth; and Roostum, as before stated, fought under a feigned name, an usage not uncommon in the chivalrous combats of those days. In the account of this combat, Ferdoosi has excelled himself. Nothing can be more beautiful than the picture of the distraction of the mother of Sohrab, who set fire to her palace, meaning to perish in the flames, but was prevented by her attendants. They could not, however, console her. She became quite frantic: her wild joy was to clothe herself in the bloody garment in which he had been slain; to kiss the forehead of his favourite horse; to draw his bow; wield his lance, his sword, and his mace; and, at last, to use the words of the poet, "she died, and her soul fled to that of her heroic son.”—Malcolm's History of Persia, vol. i. pp. 27, 28.

The

The affection-the deep and reverent affection with which Aga Mohamed is represented as regarding his lovely niece-the one person in the world for whom he does feel purely and profoundly

is a redeeming trait for which the reader is wholly indebted to the novelist's imagination. With this, however, he has no right to quarrel-no human being was ever entirely bad; and Mr. Morier might have, on this ground alone, defended himself, alleging that he brought the bloody Shah within our sympathy by an imaginary feature of relief, only to make up for something real that would have produced the same effect, had his information been more complete. Sudden revulsions of humanity, however, do appear in various parts of Sir John Malcolm's History of Aga Mohamed. It was, then, allowable to the artist to give consecutiveness and expansion of influence to an element of character, the existence of which had thus been not only inferred from general observation of mankind, but ascertained by specific facts in the case before him. The effect is everything to his story.

We return to the encampment of the harem near Firouzabad, a village supposed to occupy the site of an ancient city of importance, as some gigantic ruins close to it still bear the name of İskender, (Alexander,) but more celebrated as being the frontier town to the forest-girt province of Mazanderan, and for its neighbourhood to certain remarkable passes through ridges and belts of rocky mountains," which have been famous, both in ancient and modern times, under the names of Gates, or Pyla.* The truth of the following picture of localities speaks for itself—every sentence recalls to our own recollection some feature of the magnificent drawings of Persian scenery, brought to this country, some years ago, by Sir Robert Kerr Porter,-a collection which has hitherto escaped, we know not how, the zeal of what may be called the age of landscape engraving:

The plain on which the village is situated extends itself, with some slight undulations, to the foot of a perpendicular wall, or curtain of rock, that runs in a straight line almost quite across it, and seems to bar any further progress to the traveller in that direction. Its elevation is so abrupt that one might suppose its almighty architect intended to exclude man from going farther, and to reserve it entirely for the habitation of the antelope and the mountain goat, with which the tract is overrun, were it not for one narrow pass or lane, formed by a perpendicular rent from top to base in the live rock, sufficiently wide for two horsemen to go a-breast, and which, after winding about in an

The same scenery is described, less minutely, but still with beautiful effect, in Mr. Morier's "Second Journey through Persia, &c." 4to. 1818. p. 363. The reader will do well to turn to that part of the traveller's narrative-as an insurrection which oc curred in Asterabad and the neighbouring districts in 1815, and of which he gives a lively account, no doubt influenced the novelist in the choice of his localities.

uncertain

uncertain manner some two hundred yards, leads into a basin of narrow dimensions, surrounded on all sides by the same sort of rock. This is again perforated by a similar channel, which is a little broader than the other, but more beautiful; for its sides appear to have been polished and prepared with great skill, although the hand of man has evidently not been employed upon them; whilst a stream of the purest water winds its way through a clean bed, partly rock and partly gravel, creating a fringe of the most refreshing verdure on its banks, and giving to the whole scene an appearance of the most careful ornamental cultivation. This avenue, which even in the hottest weather is deliciously cool, again leads into a basin similar to the first, excepting in its dimensions, which are considerably larger, the former being, as it were, the anteroom to the latter, which, in its relative proportion, might be called the saloon. From this opening there appears to be no outlet. The rocks rise perpendicularly around, whilst the surface or the flooring, if we may so call it, is composed of a short tufted grass, which bends in crisp elasticity under the tread. No spot was ever better calculated for the purpose to which it was appropriated by the kings of Persia, namely, as a safe retreat for their harems; where their women, their wives, daughters, and female slaves, might roam about and take the air, without apprehension from the gaze of man, or indeed of any living thing, save the antelopes, and wild goats, which constantly, on the very crests of the rocks, peeped their heads over to survey the depths below.'-vol. i., p. 63-65.

It was on this delicious spot that Aga Mohamed had ordered the pavilion of his beautiful niece to be erected:

'Its outer walls of crimson stuff, richly embroidered, were spread to a vast extent, enclosing a garden and a basin of water, laid out with great skill and labour. The pavilion itself was erected on three poles, the fly or roof of which covered a large space, so that constant shade was thrown over the apartment which it contained; and this was lined with the most beautiful Cashmerian shawls, which had been worked on purpose in the looms of that country; the sides and walls had been perforated in devices like lace or trellis work, allowing the smallest breeze free access within. The floor of this apartment, which had been raised some two feet from the level of the ground, was overlaid with carpets of the most beautiful colours and patterns, also manufactured at Cashmere, and presented nothing to the tread of an unshod foot but the softest and thickest wool, whilst thick nummuds, or felts, were profusely spread all round for seats. In the corner was a magnificent black velvet pillow, embroidered with small pearls at the two extremities, and terminated by tassels of larger pearls. Immediately before it a small fountain was made to throw up constant streams, which refreshed the air, the borders of which were ornamented by fresh flowers, and by a succession of fruits piled in bowls.

The day had scarcely dawned, and the east was just lightly tinged with the beautiful crimsons peculiar to Persian skies, when a female form was seen making the last prostration of the Mahomedan prayer in

one

« PreviousContinue »