Page images
PDF
EPUB

full of cleverness and discretion, replied to the King with the greatest politeness: “God forbid, your Majesty, that my eyes should behold the Princess, or my ears should dare to hear her voice! If she were not in all respects worthy of the King my master, the Divine will would not have inspired him with the desire of possessing her, nor enslaved his heart to her perfections. My King did not send me with such instructions." Abū Temām had no sooner spoken these words than the King of Turkistan clasped him in his arms with affection, and cried: "I regard thee as a father, for thou freest my existence from a great burthen." "O great King!" replied Abū Temām, "since my happy star made me enter the service of my sovereign, I have never experienced anything save benefits, kindness, and peculiar favours. What is the difficulty that I can solve for your Majesty? Let him command me." "I was even now," said the King, "busy with the project of thy death, and thou hast happily escaped the severity of my sharp sword. I shall tell thee the motive which urged me to put thee to death, and how thou hast been delivered from that danger. All the ambassadors who have come from different princes to ask my daughter have received the same proposal which I made to thee, to enter my harem, to judge of the beauty and perfections of the Princess; and they all went in. I regarded the prudence and wisdom of these sovereigns according to those of their ambassadors, and to punish their audacity I put them all to death. This year four hundred ambassadors. have been beheaded. I preserve their heads in the room which thou wilt see." Then the King drew from his girdle a key, with which he opened the door of that room, and showed to Abū Temām the four hundred heads of ambassadors. He afterwards added: "The prudence which thou hast shown has saved thy life. It has given me a good opinion of thy sovereign, and I will grant him my daughter."

Lescallier's texts were probably in error in stating that the four hundred ambassadors had all been put to death within a

year, The lithographed text, like that of Sir William Ouseley, gives us to understand that the envoys had been beheaded in the course of years. In Habicht's Arabian text the King is represented as saying: "Come and look into this well;' and Abū Temām beheld a well filled with the heads of the sons of Adam."

66

their own

Page 103. "The Ten Viziers finding importance and dignity reduced," &c. How true to human nature, and how applicable to the case of Abū Temām as well as to that of our young hero Bakhtyār, is the "saying of the sage," as cited in the Anvar-i Suhailī (ii, 3): Whoever is unceasingly zealous in the service of the King quickly reaches the rank of admission to his favour, and whoever has become the intimate of the Sultan, all the friends and foes of the monarch become his enemies: the friends, through envy of his post and dignity; and the foes, by reason of his advising the King sincerely in matters of state and religion."

Page 103. "Whose office was to rub the King's feet."-The Arabs (says Lane) are very fond of having their feet, and especially the soles, slowly rubbed with the hand; and this operation, which is one of the services commonly required of a wife or a female slave, is a usual mode of waking a person; as it is also of lulling a person to sleep. Thus, in the story of Maaroof (Lane's Arabian Nights, iii, 721), "the damsel then proceeded to rub and press gently the soles of his feet until sleep overcame him."

Page 105. "The King drew his scimitar, and cut off his head.”—-Surely, an instance of "haste and precipitancy "—with a vengeance! This despot did not even acquaint his victim of the crime of which the lads had accused him. It had been probably otherwise with Abū Temām had his royal master shaped his conduct in "affairs of moment" after that of another king, of whom we read, in the Anvār-i Suhailī (xiii, 3), that in order to moderate his anger, and judge cases like a king, a

recluse gave him three letters, which he was to place in the hands of a faithful and confidential officer, who was to be permitted to read one of them to the King when he beheld symptoms of anger in his countenance, and should that not suffice to soothe his mind, the officer was to read the second letter, and the third, if the second did not tame his rebellious spirit. The contents of the three letters were to this effect: (1) While thou still retainest the power, do not place the reins of choice in the grasp of thy passions, for they will plunge thee into the whirlpool of everlasting destruction. (2) In the time of wrath be merciful to those in thy power, in order that in the hour of retribution thy superiors may be merciful to thee. (3) In issuing thy commands do not overstep the bounds of the law, and under no circumstances abandon what is just.

Page 106. "Their houses levelled with the ground."-When a city was solemnly destroyed by the Romans, the plough was drawn along where the walls had stood. Thus Horace (Ode i,

Rage has been the final cause

[ocr errors]

that an insolent

16): army has driven the hostile ploughshare over their walls." Thus also we read in the sacred writings (Micah iii, 12): "Therefore shall Zion for your sake be ploughed as a field; " and likewise of salt being sown on the ground where cities stood (see Judges ix, 45), indicating the last insult of a triumphant enemy. In allusion to the usual practice of absolute Eastern monarchs wreaking their vengeance not only on an offending minister, but also on his wife and family, Sa'dī, in his Bustān, b. i, directs a king, in dealing with a criminal, to slay him, if the law pronounce its decree; "but if thou hast those who belong to his family, them forgive, and extend to them thy mercy: the iniquitous man it was who committed the crime;-what was the offence of his helpless wife and children ?"

In Cazotte's rendering of this story, under the corrupted title of Abou Talmant, for a King of Turkistān is substituted a King

of Cochin-China. The plot for destroying the prudent minister by means of the prattle of two young slaves in the King's hearing is considerably amplified: the malicious viziers having taught them to repeat some harem gossip while the King was reposing, but not asleep, which, proving to be true, prepared him to believe the false story of the Queen's love for Abū Temām. The King's discovery of his favourite's innocence is differently related;— instead of his overhearing the two pages quarrel over the division of the money, a day or two after Abū Temām had been put to death, as in the Persian version-the King immediately returns to his private chamber, and seeing the pieces of gold scattered on the floor, sends for the pages, and compels them to tell the truth regarding their possession of so much money. He then causes the two Viziers to be beheaded.

NOTES ON CHAPTER X.

Page 107. The King of Persia (Shāh ‘Ajam).—The term 'Ajam includes all who cannot speak Arabic, or who do not speak it with elegance. Among the Arabs it applies to all people not of Arab descent, and carries the same idea as Barbarians with the Greeks, Gentiles with the Hebrews. Hence Persia is called 'Ajamistan, the land of the stranger, or barbarian. And so two famous Arabian poems are distinguished respectively by the nationalities of their authors: Lāmiyyatu-'l'Arab, by the Arabian brigand-poet Shanfará, and Lāmiyyātu-'l'Ajam, by Et Tugrā‘ī, a native of Isfahān : that is, the L-Poem (from its rhyming in lam, or L) of the Arab, and the L-Poem of the Foreigner. Page 108. "Not having any child," &c. - The desire of offspring, and especially of male children, seems to have always been very strong among Asiatics of all classes, and by Jews the want of children was considered sufficient ground for divorce, as the following beautiful rabbinical story will show: A man,

it is related, brought his wife before Rabbi Simon, expressing his desire to be divorced, since he had been married over ten years without being blessed with children. The Rabbi at first endeavoured to dissuade the man from his purpose, but finding him resolute, he gravely addressed the pair thus: "My children, when you were married did ye not make a feast and entertain your friends? Well, since you are determined to be divorced, do likewise: go home, make a feast, entertain your friends, and on the following day come to me and I will comply with your wishes." They returned home, and, in accordance with the good Rabbi's advice, the husband caused a splendid feast to be prepared, to which were invited their friends and relations. In the course of the entertainment, the husband, being gladdened with wine, said to his wife: "My beloved, we have lived many happy years together; it is only the want of children that makes me wish for a separation. To convince thee, however, that I still love thee, I give thee leave to take with thee out of my house whatever thou likest best." "Be it so," answered his wife. The wine-cup was freely plied by the guests, and all became merry, until at length many had fallen asleep, and amongst these was the master of the house, which his wife perceiving, she caused him to be carried to her father's house and put to bed. Having slept off the effects of his carouse, he awoke, and, finding himself in a strange house, exclaimed: "Where am I?-how came I here?" His wife, who had placed herself behind a curtain to await the issue of her little stratagem, came up to him, and told him that he had no cause for alarm, since he was in her father's house. "In thy father's house!" echoed the astonished husband-"how should I

come hither ? " "I will soon explain, my dear husband. Didst thou not tell me last night that I might take out of thy house whatever I most valued? Now, my beloved, believe me, amongst all thy treasures there is none I value so much as I do thyself." The sequel may be readily imagined: overcome by such devotion, the husband affectionately embraced his wife, was

P*

« PreviousContinue »