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defiling the very pages that were written by the king's command. His last offence of refusing the present, was immediately deduced in some way or other from his religious obstinacy, and from that instant he was disgraced. He retired from Ghaznah, where he would dread more unequivocal tokens of the displeasure of an Asiatic despot, and wandered from court to court; but the princes, who would have been proud of the presence of such a man, had they dared to patronize him, feared that the vengeance of the mighty Sultan would seek both the poet and all who should countenance him. At length he retired to his native place, where, after spending his last days in obscurity, he died at an advanced age unnoticed by Mahmud; but while his friends were in the act of accompanying his body to the grave, they were met by a messenger, the bearer of the monarch's tardy acknowledgement of his own injustice. He had at last forwarded the stipulated reward for the composition of the Shah-námeh in golden coin, but the only daughter of the poet, to whom it was offered, inheriting the proud spirit of her father, indignantly rejected it, declaring that she would not accept what had been refused to him. The money was therefore laid out on the erection of some public buildings at Tous, which remained for many ages the monuments of Ferdusi's ill fate, and the fickleness of his patron's favour.
The Shah-námeh is the oldest poem of the best period of Persian literature, and as the principal national work, has been a frequent subject of partial notice both with philologists and travellers. In two instances, a considerable portion of Ferdusi has been presented to the English reader; first by Mr.Champion, who, many years ago, published the first part of an intended translation which was never completed; and in the year 1814, by Mr. Atkinson, who printed at Calcutta the episode of Sohrab in the original, with an English metrical version. The conductors of the press at Fort William undertook to print the whole work under the superintendence of one of the professors, from a copy that had been carefully collated with twenty-seven manuscripts. This edition would have occupied eight folio volumes of text alone, but the first volume dated 1811 is the only one that has appeared. It has the same want of typographical beauty, which is to be lamented in all East Indian books, but if completed, it would have the merit of rescuing Ferdusi from the hands of inaccurate scribes, who have been employed in disfiguring him ever since his first appearance. Those who are only acquainted with the various readings of Greek and Latin manuscripts, will be able to form but a very faint idea of the perpetual confusion arising from this source in the Persian and Arabic authors. For in these languages, a great many letters are only distinguishable by the different position and number of diacritical points, which are often entirely omitted by transcribers.
The work of Ferdusi, says Sir William Jones, remains entire, a glorious monument of Eastern genius and learning, which, if ever it should be generally understood in its original language, will contest the merit of invention with Homer himself, whatever be thought of its subject or the arrangement of its incidents. It is not to be maintained, adds the same distinguished writer in another place, that the Persian poet is the equal of the Greek, but there certainly is a very strong resemblance between the works of these extraordinary men. Both sought their images in nature herself, and did not catch them by reflection, by painting like modern poets the likeness of a likeness; and each possessed in the highest degree that fruitful invention, that creative genius, which is the soul of poetry.
The Shah-námeh opens with an address to the Deity. But to feel the full force of the noble invocations at the head of this and other oriental poems, we must forget, if possible, that they share this species of dedication with the dullest prose works, as well as with the most immoral poetry; and that such is the constant habit of making these appeals on beginning to write a book among the eastern nations, that they seem quite blind to its utter unsuitableness in the one case, and to its blasphemous mockery in the other. The poet then proceeds to the history of Persia, which he deduces from the earliest period to its subjugation by the Arabs. During this period, the Persian throne was occupied by four dynasties, the Pishdadian, Caianian, Ashcanian, and Sassanian. Of the history of the third, Ferdusi found so few materials, that he has entirely omitted any account of its kings, having, perhaps, an additional motive in the facts, that the Ashcanians were not native sovereigns, but Parthian intruders. The first dynasty ruled during the fabulous age of Persian history; and, though some attempts have been made to reconcile their wild chronicles to the events of authentic tradition, yet they have been so unsuccessful, that we are justified in considering this period as obscure as that which preceded the Trojan war. The darker ages are however very favorable to poetry. The imagination of a poet is never so vigorous as when it is allowed to indulge in its own dreams, and his most successful attempts have accordingly been those in which he has had a license to fill up, at his own pleasure, a mere outline furnished by some traditional story. The very early history of Persia would have given Ferdusi a favorable opportunity of this kind, had it not been pre-occupied by the old writers, from whom he drew his materials, and who had added to the sketches which had reached them, fables invented without judgement by themselves, and implicitly followed by the poet. For instance, Tahmuras, the third monarch of the Pishdadian family, had acquired, from his continued successes over the bar
barous nations around him, the surname of Divbend, or Tamer of Giants: upon this name was founded the tale, that the regions of Tartary were infested, in his reign, with legions of monsters, who were endued with super-human powers; and Ferdusi has unfortunately adopted the invention with all the minute additions of his tasteless annalist, as the machinery of a considerable part of his poem. Had the idea been his own, it would have been worked up in a more fanciful way, and would not have left these auxiliaries with such attributes as disgust the reader, while they so much resemble mankind, as hardly to be called a new order of beings. There is, perhaps, an historical fact contained in the account of the usurpation of Zohak the Arabian; for the Persians would not have introduced an event so disgraceful to the throne, and to their celebrated monarch, Gemshéd, had there not been strong grounds to establish its truth. This usurper is one of the blackest characters in the Persian chronicles, and had already seized the crown of Arabia, by an act of treason and parricide. He was the son of the Arabian King, Merdaz, and had been distinguished as a youth by the love of virtue and the desire of knowledge. Eblis, the oriental Satan, appeared to him in the disguise of a sage, and offered him unlimited knowledge and power, if he would solemnly bind himself by an oath to a prompt obedience in all that he should command. We will extract the relation of what followed from Champion's version of this part of the Shah-námeh, which will serve as a specimen of his translation.
"The unwary Zohak swore; deluded youth!
To whom, unconscious, do you pledge your truth?
A son like you with every talent blest,
With godlike virtues in unwarlike rest,
The prince is seduced to commit a most unpoetical murder, and thereby to attain his father's throne. The poet then proceeds:
"Zohak whose soul was in the Infernal's power,
Zohak from Eblis, wond'ring, seeks to know
From whence such knowledge, such improvements flow,
'Say, what rewards can such achievements grace?'
To whom, Oh monarch of Arabia, plain
My schemes, my labours shall not prove in vain,
My faithful head, and bow my bending face.'
The translation from which this extract is taken, claims great indulgence as the first attempt to introduce the great poet of Persia to the English reader; and as being the pro
duction of one, who, like many who have distinguished themselves in the East, left his native country without those advantages which would have prepared him to execute his plan with better success. It is greatly to be lamented, that on account of the very early age at which the public life of the Company's servants begins, they have rarely brought to the study of oriental literature, minds previously well trained in a course of classical education at home. We are most willing to allow, that they have applied themselves, with a zeal that can never be surpassed, to extend our knowledge of the extraordinary nations that people the Asiatic continent; but theirs has sometimes been a zeal without judgement, the want of which useful quality has occasionally marred their most promising efforts. It is true, that they suffer under the disadvantage of being perpetually and necessarily compared and contrasted with one of the most eminent men of any age or country. Sir William Jones had a combination of talents that has been scarcely ever equalled by any scholar since time began. Other men have raised to themselves great reputations by a critical acquaintance with a single language, while his genius led him to add to the language of Greece and Rome, of ancient and modern Europe, the neglected tongues of the eastern world. His knowledge of classical literature would, of itself, have been sufficient to stamp his character as a distinguished scholar, and this was the acquisition of his early youth. He was still young when the Muses of Asia allured him into a path, that brought him. to the eminent station which his name will ever maintain; and even then, though delighted with the brilliancy of the ori ental authors, his judgement was too well formed by his previous education, to allow him to be blind to the wanderings of their luxuriant imaginations. At the same time, with the candour of a sound critic, he made every allowance for the licence claimed for the difference of climate and manners. His judgement is no where more conspicuous than in his translations, where he seizes with promptitude the spirit of his originals without exposing their weaknesses; and frequently adapts to ordinary language, by a graceful turn of expression, a thought or figure, that, in less skilful hands, would seem quaint and unnatural. As an example of his success in this respect, we will quote from his Commentaries on Asiatic Poetry, an extract from a long passage of Ferdusi, which he has endeavoured, he says, to accommodate to the Virgilian metre. We must first notice, that the usurper Zohak was deposed by the rightful heir Feridun and, that this king was succeeded by his grandson Manuchcher, during whose reign, the wars against the Tartars were still carried on by one of the most renowned of the Persian heroes, Sám, the son of Neriman. After one of his victo