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tents, which will well repay the trouble of a more comprehensive perusal. It is refreshing to turn from the cobweb compositions of the present day, in which there is no strength of matter, to the sterling sense and lively wit of these Familiar Letters, which, as the author himself says, are “ the keys of the mind, opening all the boxes of the breast, all the cells of the brain, and truly setting forth the inward man; nor can the pencil so lively represent the face, as the pen can do the fancy."
Nor is it entertainment alone, as we have endeavoured to shew, that we shall derive from the pages of Howell. There are few books better entitled to take utile dulci for their motto, for, as a companion and commentary upon the regular history of the time, the volume is invaluable. We will close our remarks by quoting the concluding sentence of the author's Epistle Dedicatory to Charles the First, the position contained in which is abundantly illustrated in his own work.
“Nor would these Letters be so Familiar as to presume upon so high a patronage, were not many of them records of your own royal actions. And 'tis well known, that letters can treasure up and transmit matters of state to posterity with as much faith, and be as authentic registers and safe repositaries of truth, as any story whatsoever.”
Art. II.-The Shah-Námeh of Ferdusi, a Heroic Poem on the
History of Persia, from the earliest times, to the conquest of that Kingdom by the Arabs.' PERSIAN MS.
We have promised our readers to present them from time to time with notices of works, which from different causes have never been printed, but are lying in public or private collections unseen and unheard of by the world. From these we of course mean to select such only, as are interesting from their matter, as well as their rarity; for we could not hope, nor shall we try, to draw general attention to compositions, the neglect of which is both the effect and evidence of their worthlessness. But there are in many libraries, manuscripts of great value, which reasons not at all discreditable to the authors have prevented from passing through the press, and it is our design to make some of them more known than they have hitherto been. Since our countrymen in India have so vigorously pushed their inquiries into the literature of Asia, the mines of poetry which they have laid open, have been nearly monopolized by the discoverers, while European scholars have held back from the participation of the treasures which have been offered to their view. The expectations that were fondly indulged by the early orientalists, that the Persian poets would share the palm with those of Greece and Rome, have not yet been realized, and there seems no probability that the reputation of the latter should ever be equalled by their eastern rivals. The extravagant irregularity of their genius shocks the more refined taste which we have imbibed from the Greeks and Romans, and may be considered as one great cause of their unpopularity.
In their pages the greatest blemishes may be found in close conjunction with the greatest beauties, and in the same sentence will often be seen the purest philosophy dashed with the most childish puerilities, and the soundest morality, tainted by the neighbourhood of the grossest licentiousness. To Europeans, also, the scenes and manners they describe are so far removed from observation, as to diminish the interest we might otherwise feel, and above all, the scarcity of the manuscripts in which they are locked up, presents an obstacle which is no longer felt in the case of the classical writers of antiquity. There have been, it is true, some attempts to remedy the last mentioned difficulty. The press established at the college of Fort William, has during the last few years produced, under the auspices of the East India company, printed editions of many of the most popular of the Persian authors, but the paper and type are so bad, and the copies so rare in Europe, that there is no danger at present of their superseding the manuscripts written in the beau-, tifully flowing hand of Persia. The names of some of their poets must be tolerably familiar to the English reader, from the continual notice that is taken of them in books of travels in the east, and his curiosity will be roused to learn something of the men, whose names are revered through the whole of Asia, and whose writings are composed in a language that is the adopted tongue of so many Englishmen. i
The first of Persian poets, both in age and rank, is Ferdusi. He flourished at a time when the purity of his language had only begun to be contaminated by the conquerors of Arabia, and made it his pride and boast to exclude from his great work every possible trace of the subjection of his country. His style is simple, and its antiquity testified by the absence of that profusion of ornament, which the fancy and learning of the Persians have since heaped unsparingly on their national literature. All these peculiarities he has in common with the great poet of the western world, to whom he is generally and with great justice compared. Each wrote on the heroic age of his country, and each knew how, by the alternate pictures of battle and banquet, by mixing dramatic dialogue with narration, and by
the occasional introduction of episode, to diversify the monotony of scenes of war. But with this simi. arity, there is all the variety that the difference of country and climate could create, and while we find Homer distinguished for the exquisite correctness of his judgement, we must in Ferdusi continually regret. that imperfect taste, which, though fine and chaste when contrasted with that of his poetical successors, renders him incapable of rising to the rank which he might have otherwise attained. It may, however, be truly said of these two great men, that they are the only original writers of heroic poetry that the world has produced. The epic poems of Europe have all been formed on the model of Homer, and by the rules that have been drawn from his example. In Persia none had gone before Ferdusi, and with all his faults, he must be allowed to have em ployed with great discretion the marvels which the fabulous history of his country supplied. The wonder is not, that he should have fallen short of perfection, but that Homer, under disadvantages so similar, should at once have taken a station among the poets of the whole world, which no succeeding writer has been able to dispute.
Abu'l Cassem Ferdusi Al Tousi was a native of Tous, in the province of Khorassan. At the period of his birth, his father saw the child in a dream, standing with his face towards the west, and elevating his voice, the echo of which reverberated from every quarter of the surrounding scenes. When he awoke, he applied to a famous interpreter for the solution of his vision, and from him learnt the following explanation --that the fame of his son and his poetical talents would be the theme of the universe. Such is the tale of his biographers, either recalled to memory when the poet had reached the height of distinction, or, what is as probable, invented from a sense of poetical justice, which required that so eminent a character should be ushered into the world with some presage of his future greatness. As a boy, his desire of knowledge and his application to study were ardent, and his turn of mind even at that time inclined him to give particular attention to the ancient history of Persia, a taste that directly led him to the accomplishment of his great work. The productions of his early years, when he subsisted by his poetical talents, are all lost-a surprising fact when we consider that his fame spread far and wide during his life-time. The public attention seems to have been so wholly absorbed with the Shah-námeh, that even his own minor poems were entirely neglected. It is a remarkable circumstance in the history of this noble poem, that it was the immediate production of royal patronage, and the composition of a poet laureate.
. The court of Sultan Mahmúd of Ghaznah was the seat of the muses. He was one of the most accomplished sovereigns that ever sat on an Asiatic throne, and his own taste prompted him to grant an extensive patronage to men of literature. Poetry and history were his favorite pursuits, and it was, perhaps, a design of combining both in one immortal work, that first made him plan the task which Ferdusi executed. His library was furnished with the most authentic annals of the Persian empire, and among them was a complete history compiled in the reign and by the order of Yezdejerd, the last of the Sassanian dynasty, by the most judicious historians in Persia. This precious manuscript narrowly escaped destruction, when it was, after the conquest of the kingdom, presented as a valuable part of the plunder to the Khalif Omar, the well-known destroyer of the Alexandrian library. He ordered a translation to be made into the Arabic language, and when his commands were obeyed, severely criticized the book for treating of those worldly affairs that were forbidden by the prophet. Happily he did not proceed to wreak his vengeance on the idle tale, but left it to its chance amongst the spoil, when it fell into the hands of a private soldier. Its history for some centuries is obscure, but it at length came into the possession of Mahmúd, who treated the refugee, who presented it to him, with great magnificence. It seems that the Sultan, in the midst of his literary treasures, and the poet at his private studies, had, unknown to each other, planned the execution of a mighty work on the history of Persia under its ancient kings; but each wanted that which was possessed by the other; Mahmúd had in abundance the materials, but no hand able to rear the structure, while the poet, conscious of his ability to perform the task which he had schemed, was deterred by the scantiness of his stores. In the ardour of genius, he had, however, determined to hazard the attempt with the aid of a friend's library; and his essay on the wars between the usurper Zohak and Feridun, the rightful heir of the throne, introduced him first to the notice of the governor of the province, and through his influence to that of the Sultan himself. As the fame of the young man so exactly accorded with the idea formed of the qualifications necessary to complete the proposed history of the Persian kings, he ordered his attendance at court.
We are told that in a dream, the imagination of Ferdusi had pictured to him a young monarch seated on a throne, illuminating the universe, and particularly smiling on himself; and that a friend to whom the dream was communicated, interpreted it to mean, that he had thus seen- Mahmúd, the encourager of learning. Anxious at his approaching competition with all the poets that thronged the royal presence, but encouraged by his
land even won oval poets, who. Lety. His dis
friends, and especially by his dream, which in that age and country it would have been madness to neglect, the poet at length obeyed the repeated summons. He was well received, and even won over (a rare instance of the candour of courtiers) three of the royal poets, who, jealous of a rival, had resolved to exclude him from their society. His dream was verified. The triumph of Ferdusi was complete. When he presented a part of his poem to the king, accompanying the present with the recital of some complimentary verses, Mahmud, in the face of his whole court, turned to the poet, and said, “ It is you that have shed a lustre on the court of Ghaznah.” The royal bards themselves acknowledged that he was the only man capable of writing the projected Shah-námeh, and this favorite scheme he was accordingly commanded to fulfil. He was promised a golden dinar from the treasury for every line, which would amount to a sum sufficient almost to satisfy the poets of our days. To gratify his thirst for reputation, which was much more ardent than his desire for wealth, he was honored with the united praise of all who hoped for favour in the eyes of their sovereign, and by eulogies and invitations from all the surrounding courts. The intrigues, however, of his secret enemies, for none dared openly avow himself as such, were directed to an attempt to make Ferdusi be considered as the participator in the intended insult, which they said was offered to Mahmúd, by the expressed wish of the neighbouring princes, to draw the poet from his patronage. But while the great work was in progress, which none but himself could complete, the cabals of the envious had no effect on the royal mind. At length the important day arrived, and so rightly did his countrymen judge that the composition of the Shah-námeh would form an era in their literary history, that they have perpetuated the memory of the very day of its completion. On the 25th day of the month Isfendarmuz, which answers to our February, and in the three hundred and seventyfourth year of the Hegirah,(A.D.985,) when the author had reached the age of seventy years, the great work was finished. The poet brought it to the monarch, who, delighted at the accomplishment of his wishes, ordered the immediate payment of a golden dinar for each of its one hundred and twenty thousand lines; and there are a set of panegyrical verses, which, it is said, the poet, in answer, poured forth at the moment in a tide of grateful song.
The sunshine of royal favour is always sooner or later overclouded, and Ferdusi was destined to experience the lot of all who put their trust in princes. The machinations of his enemies, which Mahmúd had so long rendered vain, were at length successful. The visier Hussein Meimendi, who was charged to