Remains of Hajji
Bara by Unknown
It appears that Hajji Baba, the Persian adventurer,
known in this country as the author of certain memoirs, is no more. In
what particular manner he quitted this world, we have not been
able to ascertain; but, through the kindness of a friend recently
returned from the East, we have been put in possession of the
fragment of a Journal written by him, by which we learn that
he once again visited England (although incog.) some time after
the passing of the Reform bill. The view which he, his Shah,
and his nation, took of that event, is so characteristic of the
ignorance in which Eastern people live in matters relative to Europe,
and to England in particular, that we deem ourselves fortunate
in being able to lay so curious a document before our
readers, and shall take the liberty, from time to time, to insert
portions of it, until it be entirely exhausted.
Since my return from Frangistan, the current of my
existence flowed more like the waters of a canal than those of a river. I
have been allowed to smoke the pipe of tranquillity, rested upon
the carpet of content; and as my duties, which principally consisted
in standing before the king at stated times, and saying
"Belli—Yes," and "Mashallah—Praise be to God!" at
proper intervals, I could not complain of the weight of responsibility
imposed upon me.
I lived in the smallest of houses, consisting of one
room, a shoe closet, and a small court; also of a kitchen. My principal
amusement was to sit in my room and look into my court-yard,
and, as one must think, my thoughts frequently would run upon
my travels, upon the strange things which I had seen, and upon
the individuals with whom I had become acquainted. My heart
would soften as it dwelt upon the charms of the moon-faced
Bessy, and would rouse into anger when I reflected that she was
possessed by the infidel Figsby, at a time that she might have
been the head of the harem of a true believer. I frequently recalled
to myself all the peculiarities of the strange nation with
which I had lived, and compared it with my own. I brought
to mind all its contrivances to be happy, its House of Commons
and its House of Lords, its eternal quarrels, its cryings
after "justice and no justice," and its dark climate. I read
over my journals, and thus lived my life over again; but in
proportion as years passed away, so I thought it right, in relating
my adventures to my countrymen, to diminish the most
wonderful parts of my narrative, for I found that, had I not done
so, I should have been set down as the greatest liar in Persia.
Truth cannot be told at all times,—that is a common saying;
but now I found, in what regarded the Francs, that truth ought
never to be told. When, on my return to Persia, I informed my
countrymen that their men and women lived together promiscuously,—that
everybody drank wine and ate pork,—that they
never prayed,—that their kings danced, and that they had no
harems, I was believed, because I had many to confirm what I
said; but now that I stood alone, I found it would not do to
venture such assertions, for whenever I did I was always told
that such events might have taken place when I was in Frangistan,
but that now Allah was great, and that the holy Prophet
could not allow such abominations to exist.
The news of the death of the King of England, to
whom I had been presented, had reached the ears of our Shah; and we
were informed that he was succeeded by his brother, a lord of
the sea. Years passed away, with all their various events, without
much intercourse taking place between Persia and England.
England required no longer the friendship of the Shah,
and she therefore turned us over to the Governor of India,
for which she duly received our maledictions; and every one
who knew upon what a footing of intimacy the two nations had
stood, said, as he spat upon the ground, "Pooh! may their
house be ruined!" She left our country to be conquered, our
finest provinces to be taken from us, and never once put her
hand out to help us.
However, Allah buzurg est!—God is great! we
soon found that the good fortune of the king of kings had not forsaken
him. Rumours began to be spread abroad that affairs in England
were in a bad way. Many foreigners had enlisted themselves
in the Shah's troops, and from them we learned that, no
doubt, ere long that country must be entirely ruined, for great
dangers threatened their present king. He was said to have got
into the possession of a certain rebellious tribe, whose ultimate
aim was to set up a new sovereign, called 'People Shah,' and
to depose him and his dynasty. We heard that great poverty
reigned in that land, which I had known so rich and prosperous;
and that every department in the state had been so reduced,
that the king had not a house to live in, but that the
nation was quarrelling about the expense of building him one.
We still had an English elchi at our court, but
he enjoyed little or no consideration; and the news of the poverty of
his country was confirmed to us by what we learnt from his
secretaries. Orders, it seems, had just arrived from his court
that every economy should be observed in his expenses; and
one may suppose to what extent, when we are assured that,
by way of saving official ink, it had been strictly prohibited to
put dots to the I's, or strokes to the T's. Presents of
all sorts were done away with:—the ambassador would not even receive
the common present of a water-melon, lest he should be obliged
to send one in return; and his whole conduct seemed more
directed by the calculations of debtor and creditor, like a merchant,
than by the intercourse of courtesy which ought to take
place between crowned heads. Some wicked infidels of French
would whisper abroad, that kings in Europe, like Saadi at Tabriz,
were now become less than dogs, and that therefore their
representatives had no dignities to represent; the English elchi,
however, would not allow this, but gave us other reasons for the
economy practised in his country, stating that, although every
one allowed that such policy was full of mischief, yet that it was
necessary to humour the whim of this People Shah, who aspired
to the crown, and whose despotism was greater than even that of
our famous Nadir Shah.
When I appeared at the King's Gate, and took my seat among
the minor officers who awaited the presence of the vizier previously
to his going before the Shah, the enemies of England,
of whom there were many, would taunt me with the news
spread to her disadvantage, for I was looked upon as a Frangi myself.
"After all," said one, "own, O Hajji! that these Ingliz
are an unclean generation; that it is quite time they should eat their
handful of abomination."—"We are tired of always hearing
them lauded," said another. "Praised be the Prophet! that
little by little we may also defile their fathers' graves, and point
our fingers at their mothers."
"Why address me, O little man?" said I. "Am I their
father, mother, brother, or uncle, that you address me?—It was
my destiny to go amongst them; it was my destiny to come
back. A fox does not become a swine because he goes through
the ordure of the sty in search of his own affairs. Let their
houses be bankrupt, let their fathers grill in Jehanum—what is
that to me?"
"What words are these?" said a third. "Your beard
has changed its colour. What are become of your guns that would
reach from Tehran to Kom placed side by side, or to Ispahan
placed lengthwise? Where now are your ships that spout more
fire than Demawand, and your women like houris that can read
and write like men of the law? Formerly there was nothing in
the world like Francs; now you look upon them as dirt."
Had I persisted in upholding my Ingliz friends, now
that the tide had turned against them, I should have done them no good,
and myself harm; therefore I applied the cotton of deafness to
the ear of unwillingness. Most true, however, it was that they
daily lost in public estimation; and rumours of the approaching
downfal of English power and prosperity came to us from so
many quarters, that we could not do otherwise than believe them.
Whenever an Englishman now appeared in the streets, he was
called pig with impunity; and, instead of the bastinado which
the man who so insulted him formerly was wont to get, he now
was left to repeat the insult at his leisure.
The fact principally urged was, that a disorder had
broken out amongst them, which affected the brain more than any other
organ; that it had taken possession of high and low, rich and
poor, master and servant; and raged with such violence, that it
was almost dangerous to go amongst them, although strangers
were said not to catch it. It was neither cholera, plague, nor
heart-ache, and could not be assimilated to any known disorder
in the East. We have no name for it in Persia; in England it
is called Reform: and, as it had suddenly attacked the country
when in a state of great health and prosperity, it was supposed
that some one great evil eye had struck it, and that therefore no
one could foresee what might be its mischievous results.
Whilst seated one morning in my room, inspecting
my face in my looking-glass and combing my beard, preparatory to
going to the daily selam before the king, and thanking Allah
from the bottom of my heart for being secure in my mediocrity
from all the storms and dangers of public life, a loud knocking
at my gate announced a visiter of no small importance.
My servant, for I kept one, quickly opened it, and I soon was
greeted by the selam al aikum of one of the royal ferashes,
who exclaimed "The Shah wants you."
So unusual a summons first startled, then alarmed
me. A thousand apprehensions rushed through my mind as quick as
lightning, for on such occasions in Persia one always apprehends—one
never hopes. However, I immediately gave the
usual "Becheshm!—Upon my eyes be it!" and prepared to
obey his command. "Can I have said 'Belli' in the wrong
place," thought I, "at the last selam? or did I perchance exclaim
'Inshallah—Please God,' instead of saying 'Mashallah—Praise
be to God'? Allah only knows," thought I, shrugging
up my shoulders, "for I am sure I do not. Whatever has happened, Khoda is merciful!"
I followed the ferash, but could gain no intelligence from
him which could in the least clear up my doubts. One thing I discovered,
which was that no felek, or sticks, had been displayed in
the Shah's presence as preparatory to a bastinado; and so far I felt safe.
The Shah was seated in the gulistan, or rose-garden;
the grand vizier stood before him, as well as Mirza Firooz, my old
master. When I appeared, all my apprehensions vanished, for
with a goodnatured voice the king ordered me to approach. I made my most
profound bow, and stood on the brink of the marble basin without my shoes.
The king said, "Mashallah! the Hajji
is still a khoobjuan—a fine youth; he is a good servant."
Upon hearing these ominous words,
I immediately felt that some very objectionable service was about
to be required of me. I answered,
"May the shadow of the centre of the universe never be less!
Whatever your slave can do, he will by his head and by his eyes."
After consulting with the grand vizier, who was standing
in the apartment in which the king was seated, his majesty exclaimed,
"Hajji, we require zeal, activity, and intelligence
at your hands. Matters of high import to the state of Persia demand
that one, the master of wit, the lord of experience, and the ready
in eloquence, should immediately depart from our presence, in
order to seek that of our brother the King of England. You
are the man we have selected; you must be on horseback as soon
as a fortunate hour occurs, and make your way chappari—as a
courier, to the gate of power in London."
With my thanks for so high an honour sticking in my
throat, I knelt down, and kissed the ground; but if any one present
had been skilful in detecting the manning of looks, surely he
would have read dismay and disappointment in mine.
"It is plain," said the Shah, turning towards the
vizier and Mirza Firooz occasionally as he spoke, "from all that has
been reported to us, that England, as it is now, is not that England
of whose riches, power, and prosperity so much has been said.
It has had its day. It is falling fast into decay. Its men are
rebellious. Its ancient dynasty ere this may have been supplanted
by another, and its king a houseless wanderer."
"Belli! belli!" said the vizier and Mirza Firooz.
"In the first place," continued the Shah, "you must
acquaint the king, my brother, if such he still be, that the gate of the
palace of the king of kings is open to all the world; it is an
asylum to kings as well as to beggars; the needy find a roof,
and the hungry food. Should the vicissitudes of life, as we hear
they are likely to do, throw him on the world, tell him he will
find a corner to sit in near our threshold; no one shall molest
him. He shall enjoy his own customs, saving, always, eating
the unclean beast; wine shall he have, and he will be allowed
to import his own wives. He may sit on chairs, shave whatever
parts of his body he likes, wear a shawl coat, diamond-beaded
daggers, and gold-headed furniture to his horse. Upon all
these different heads make his mind perfectly easy."
"Upon my eyes be it!" I exclaimed, with the profoundest respect.
"In the next place," said the king, "we have long heard
that England possesses a famous general, a long-tried and faithful
servant to his king. If he be a good servant, he will stick by
his master in his distress. You must see him, Hajji, and tell
him from the lips of the king of kings that he will be welcome
in Persia; that he will find protection at our stirrup, and,
Inshallah! he will be able to make his face white before us.
Whatever else is necessary to our service will be explained to
you by our grand vizier," said the Shah; and then, after making
me a few more complimentary speeches, I was dismissed.
When I left the presence, I could not help thinking
that the Shah must be mad to send me upon so long a journey upon so
strange an expedition; and I inferred that there must be something
more in it than met the eye. I was not mistaken. No
sooner had the grand vizier been dismissed than he called me
into his khelvet, or secret chamber, and there unfolded to me
the true object of my mission.
"It is plain," said he, with the most unmoved gravity,
"that the graves of these infidels have been defiled, and that ere long
there will be an end of them and their prosperity. We must
take advantage of their distress. Much may be done by wisdom.
In the first place, Hajji, we shall get penknives and
broad-cloth for nothing, that is quite clear; then, spying-glasses
and chandeliers, for which they are also famous, may be
had for the asking; and—who knows?—we may obtain the workmen
who manufactured them, and thus rise on the ruins of the
infidels. All this will mainly depend upon your sagacity. Then
the Shah, who has long desired to possess some English slaves
in his harem, has thought that this will be an excellent moment
to procure some, and you will be commissioned to buy as many
as you can procure at reasonable prices. Upon the breaking up
of communities at the death of kings and governors, we have always
found, both in Iran and Turkey, that slaves and virgins
were to be bought for almost nothing; and, no doubt, that
must be the case among Francs."
I was bewildered at all I heard; and thus at once to be
transformed from a mere sitter in a corner to an active agent in a
foreign country, made my liver drop, and turned my face upside down.
"But, in the name of Allah," said I, "is it quite certain
that this ruin is going on in England? I have not read that wise
people rightly, if so suddenly they can allow themselves to be
involved in misery."
"What words are these?" said the vizier. "Everybody
speaks of it as the only thing certain in the world. Their own
elchi here allows it, and informs everybody that a great change
is going to take place in his government. And is it not plain,
that, if under their last government they have reached the
height of prosperity, a change must lead them to adversity?"
"We shall see," said I; "at all events, I am the
Shah's servant; whatever he orders I am bound to obey."
"It is evident the good fortune of that country,"
exclaimed Mirza Firooz, who was present also, "has turned ever since
it abandoned Persia to follow its own selfish views. Did I not
say so a thousand times to the ministers of the king of England;
but they would not heed me?"
"Whatever has produced their misfortunes, Allah only
knows," said the grand vizier; "it is as much their duty to submit,
as it is ours to take advantage of them. We must do everything
to secure ourselves against the power of our enemies.
You must say to the King of England that the asylum of the
universe is ready to do everything to assist him; and, as he
is a man of the sea, you will just throw out the possibility of
his obtaining a command of the Shah's grab (ship of war) in the
Caspian Sea. As for the famous general of whom the Shah spoke,
(may the holy Prophet take him in his holy keeping!) when once
we have obtained possession of him, Inshallah! not one Russian
will we leave on this side the Caucasus; and it will be well for
them if we do not carry our arms to the very walls of Petersburg."
To all these instructions all I had to say
was, "Yes, upon my eyes be it!" and when I had fully understood the object
of my mission, I took my departure, in order to make preparations
for my journey.