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the commencement of a most agreeable friendship and intercourse. between us; but my expectations are disappointed by the circumstances in which we are unavoidably placed ; for, my business will confine me to the country longer than I wish ; and you, as I am informed, are preparing to return immediately to Germany. I have, therefore, to lament that our intimacy is, as it were, nipped in the bud. I am not, however, without this consolation, that if I cannot personally converse with you, I can at least correspond with you, and thus enjoy the satisfaction arising from a communication of our sentiments and studies. In mentioning our friendship, I shall not, I trust, be deemed guilty of an improper freedom. Similarity of studies, fondness for polite literature, congenial pursuits, and conformity of sentiments, are the great bonds of intimacy amongst mankind. Our studies and pursuits are the same, with this difference indeed, that you are already deeply versed in Oriental learning, whilst I am incessantly labouring with all my might to obtain a proficiency in it. But I will not allow you to excel me in partiality for those studies, since nothing can exceed my delight in them. From my earliest years, I was charmed with the poetry of the Greeks; nothing, I then thought, could be more sublime than the Odes of Pindar, nothing sweeter than Anacreon, nothing more polished or elegant than the golden remains of Sappho, Archilochus, Alcaeus, and Simonides: but when I had tasted the poetry of the Arabs and Persians # * * * * * *
The remainder of this letter is lost: but from the context, and the answer of Reviczki, we may conclude that it contained an elaborate panegyric on Eastern poetry, expressed with all the rapture
which novelty inspires, and in terms degrading to the Muses of Greece and Rome,
C. REWICZKI to W. JONES, Esquire.*
London, Feb. 19, 1768. SIR,
.* I am highly gratified by your recollection of me, as well as by the repeated compliments which you pay me, in your letters to Madame de Vaucluse. I must acknowledge, that I feel not a little proud of them; but still more, that an interview of a quarter of an hour has procured me the honour of your friendship. I should be most happy to cultivate it, if my plans allowed me to remain longer in this country, or if I could at least see you at Oxford, which I purpose visiting before I leave England. I hear, with pleasure, that you have undertaken to publish a Treatise on Oriental Prosody. As I am convinced that you will perform this task most ably and successfully, I anticipate with satisfaction the mortification of all our European Poets, who must blush at the poverty of their prosaic language, when they find that the Oriental dialects (independently of rhyme, which is of their invention) have true syllabic quantities as well as the Greek, and a greater variety of feet, and consequently the true science of metre and prosody.
I take the liberty of sending you a rough sketch of one of my latest translations from Hafez, with whom I sometimes amuse myself in a leisure hour. You are too well acquainted with the genius of the Persian language, not to perceive the rashness of my attempt; I do not indeed pretend to give the beauty of the original, but merely its sense, simple and unornamented. I have added to it a very free paraphrase in verse, in which, however, the greatest deviation from the text consists in the occasional substitution of mistress for mignon, either to give a connection to the stanzas, which in this'kind of composition is never preserved, or to
* Appendix, No. 4. make * Appendix, No. 3. a single
make it more conformable to our European taste. The Persian poet indeed speaks of his mistress in the first verse.
You will find in the margin several quotations from the Greek and Latin Poets, which occurred to my recollection, whilst I was reading Hafez, expressing the same sentiments with the Persian. I hope to have the satisfaction of seeing you here before I leave England, assuring you with truth, that I consider the honour of your acquaintance among the greatest advantages attending my
* C. REVICZKI to Mr. JONES.
same day on which I wrote to you; and I read it with the greatest pleasure, though I could have wished that it had been more just to your own merit, and less flattering to me. I will not however take your expressions literally; and notwithstanding your declarations, the taste and judgment which you have displayed in the passages quoted by you, evidently prove that you have advanced far in Oriental literature. I must however beg quarter for the Greek and Latin; for, admitting, what I am not disposed to deny, the perfection, and even the superiority of the Orientals, particularly the Persians in some species of poetry, I would without hesitation renounce all knowledge of the three Eastern languages for that of the Greek alone. I rejoice that you have made so much progress in your work, and that I may hope soon to see it published; but how to assist you with my advice I know not, as I have not with me
a single treatise upon the subject of Oriental prosody. It is in truth an ocean; and such are the abundance and variety of measures used by the Orientals, that no memory can retain them.
I am very anxious to learn under what head you class the Kasidah, a species of composition highly admired by the Arabs, and very successfully cultivated by them; it has a nearer resemblance than any other kind of poetry to the Latin elegy, but its construction partakes of that of the Gazel*, with this difference, that the latter is restricted to thirteen couplets, whilst the number of those in the Kasidah is unlimited ; and secondly, that in each distich of the Gazel, the sense must be complete and finished, whilst in the Kasidah, the sentiment is continued through successive
Of this species of composition, I do not know a more perfect specimen, than the poem on the death of Mohammed, so celebrated throughout the East, that every man of letters can repeat it. It is one continued allegory, but admirable and pathetic, and begins, if I rightly remember, thus:
Does memory recall the blissful bowers
That thus, thy grief pours forth such copious showers,
With respect to your doubts on the supposed allegory of Hafez, much may be said. I am rather inclined to believe, that the mystical exposition of this great poet, by the Mohammedans, may be imputed to their veneration and respect for his memory, and that their object in it is to justify his conduct as a poet, by representing
* Amatory Poem; it is not restricted to thirteen couplets, as Reviczki writes, but to
seventeen, and generally contains about seven or eight. him
him equally irreproachable in his morals and compositions. Most of the commentators, as Shem y, Surury, and others, labour to give a mystical interpretation of his verses on wine, youths, pleasures, and a contempt for religion, so discreditable to a good mussulman; but the ablest of them all, the learned Sadi, disclaims this mode of illustration, and professes to give a literal exposition of the text of Hafez, in opposition to the opinions of other commentators, and without questioning the purity of their intentions. It may not be amiss to communicate to you an anecdote, which I have read somewhere respecting Hafez". After the death of this great man, some of the religious were disposed to deny his body the right of sepulture, alleging in objection, the licentiousness of his poetry; after a long dispute, they left the decision to a divination in use amongst them, by opening his book at random, and taking the first couplet which occurred: It happened to be this:
Turn not away from Hafez' bier,
* This aneedote is quoted by Sir William Jones, in the ninth chapter of his Commentaries on Asiatic Poetry, where he states the respective arguments in support of a literal or mystical interpretation of it. Without pronouncing a positive decision, he gives an opinion in favour of a literal interpretation as the most probable. In an essay on the mystical poetry of the Persians and Hindus, composed some years afterwards in India, (Works, vol. i. p. 445.) he thus expresses himself on the subject: “ It has been made a question, whether the poems of Hafez must be taken in a literal or “ figurative sense : but the question does not admit of a general and direct answer; for, “ even the most enthusiastic of his commentators allow, that some of them are to be “taken literally, and his editors ought to have distinguished them. Hafez never pre“ tended to more than human virtues, and it is known that he had human propensities;— “ after his juvenile passions had subsided, we may suppose, that his mind took that “ religious bent, which appears in most of his compositions; for there can be no doubt “ that the following distichs, collected from different odes, relate to the mystical theology “ of the Sufis;” &c.