Page images



Though the system of eastern government vests, too often, the almost unlimited use and abuse of power in the hands of men, whose frantic caprice is a dreadful satire upon human nature; we, neveitheless, frequently discover, among the princes of Asia, not only an uncommon deference to the complaints of their subjects, but many instances where the most ferocious tyrants have borne, without resentment, the severest truths and the keenest sarcasms, when delivered with a bold spirit and a ready wit.

The great desert of Naubendigau had long been infested by handitti, who robbed the caravans, and murdered the merchants. About the beginning of the eleventh century, soon after Persia had been conquered by Mahmoud, Sultan of Ghezna, a caravan was plundered; and, amongst those wTho fell, was the son of a widow. The poor woman immediately set out for Ghezna, and demanded justice of the sultan for the life of her son. Mahmoud heard her complaint with attention; and then told her, that, Irac being far removed from his seat of government, it was impossible to remedy every disorder which might happen at such a distance. ' Why then,' says the widow, ' dost thou conquer more than thou canst govern? Will not an account of this be required of thee at the day of judgment?'

Struck with the justice of the widow's reply, Mahmoud was not offended. He made her, on the contrary, rich presents, and promised her speedy justice. He hastened immediately to Isphahan, and issued a proclamation, promising security, in person and property, to all travellers through the desert. Many merchants nocked, in consequence, to lsphahan: but, when the caravan was ready to depart, they were surprised to find only a hundred soldiers appointed for their guard. They represented to the king, that the robbers were so numerous and so bold, that a thousand would not be sufficient. He knew, however, the measures he had taken, and desired them to depart, with assurance of perfect safety. The sultan had, in the mean time, privately ordered a number of hampers of most choice fruits to be poisoned, and gave orders to the commander of the guard to halt in a certain place, where the handitti generally made their attack; and there to unload the fruits, under pretence of drying them in the sun. This was done; and, the robbers soon appearing, the guards, as they were ordered, fled. As nothing, in those scorching deserts, could he more tempting than such cool and delicious fruits, the thieves, knowing that the caravan might be soon overtaken, allowed them to move on, and devoured the fruits with so little moderation that, before they could discover the poison, it began to operate, and all of them perished on the spot.

The Khalif Haron Arrashid was accosted one day by a poor woman, who complained that his soldiers had pillaged her house, and laid waste her grounds. The khalif desired her to recollect the words of the Alcoran, ' That when princes go forth to hattle, the people through whose fields they pass must suffer.' ' Yes,' says the woman; 'but it is also written in the same book, that the habitations of those princes, who authorize injustice, shall be made desolate.' This bold and just reply had a powerful effect upon the khalif; who ordered immediate reparation to be made!

Tamerlane, whose common saying it was, that a sovereign could never be safe upon his throne unless it was surrounded with blood; who could, with indifference, make pyramids of heads; and hake thousands alive in a mud pye, or pound them in a mortar; this Tamerlane could yet listen, without resentment, to the raillery of poets, the censure of the learned, and the personal insults of real or pretended fools. Indeed the superstitious respect which eastern people have entertained for idiots is wonderful. Their sayings have been considered as bordering upon inspiration; and, in this idea, they have been indulged with an uncommon freedom of satirical licence. This singular degree of veneration, which has been shown for natural idiots, might often, we may easily believe, induce artful men to counterfeit folly; either to advance their fortunes, or to give them the power of speaking freely their sentiments with impunity. And to this cause, I think, it is not unnatural to trace the origin of royal jesters.

At what period the king's fool was introduced into European' courts, it is not material to inquire; but we find him in the east in the eighth century; and he was prohably much older. At the court of the Khalif Arrashid there was a man named Bahalul; some of whose sayings have been preserved. He appears to have possessed vivacity, wit, and observation; and he was permitted to take every kind of licence with the khalif and his courtiers: • I wish,' says Arrashid to him one day,' you could procure me a list of all the fools in Bagdat.'

'That would be difficult, commander of the faithful; but, if you desire to know the wise men, the catalogue may be soon completed.'

A courtier telling him that the khalif had given him the charge of all the hears, wolves, foxes, and monkeys in his dominions: 'The commander of the faithful has given me then a very extensive charge; for it comprehends his whole empire; and you are one of my subjects.'

Entering one day into the presence-chamber, ami finding the throne empty, he seated himself on it; when the officers in waiting, perceiving him, pulled him down, and hastinadoed him out of the hall. Bahalul fell a crying, and the khalif, soon after appearing, inquired into the matter. The officers told him that it was on account of a lew blows he had received for his insolence.

'No,' says the fool, ' my complainings arise not from the blows; they are caused bv my compassion for the commander of the faithful; for, if I have received so many hastinadoes for sitting upon that throne but for one minute in my life, bow many should he endure, who mounts it every day?'

A ieal or affected fool, during the reign of this prince, had the presumption to call himself God Almighty. The khalif, thinking him an impostor, ordered him to be brought before him; and, that he might discover the truth, he said to him, 'A fellow the other day, who assumed the manners of an idiot, pretended to be a prophet of God. I had him immediately tried, when his imposture appearing evident, I commanded his head to be struck off.'

'You did right,' replied the fool, ' and like a faithful servant of mine; for I never gave that fellow a commission to be my prophet.' The ready coolness of the answer left the khalif at a loss how to decide; he inclined therefore to the merciful side, and the fool was dismissed.

When Mahmoud, Sultan of Ghezna, conquered India, he had distressed the people greatly by plundering, as well as by the contributions and taxes which he imposed. Whilst he was one day sitting in his divan, in conversation with his nobles, a fool wandered into the hall; and, staring wildly around, spoke much to himself, but took no particular notice of any person. The prince, observing him, desired his officers to ask him what he wanted. He said that he was hungry, and wished, of all things, to eat a roasted sheep's tail. The sultan, in a frolic, ordered them to cause a particular kind of radish to be roasted, much resembling ia shape those tails, which in several eastern countries are very fat, and of an extraordinary size. It was accordingly presented to the fool, who devoured it voraciously. The sultan then asked him how he liked it; to which he answered, ' That it was exceedingly well dressed; but he could easily perceive, that, under bis government, the sheep's tails had no longer the fatness, nor the excellent flavour, for which they were famous in former times.'

Mahmoud felt the poignancy of the answer; and gave immediate orders to relieve the people of many burdens under which they groaned. Eccentric sayings, indeed, from eccentric men, we shall often find will more powerfully influence a haughty prince, than the most serious remonstrances of his ministers, or the loudest murmurings of his people.

From such slight observances as these we shall often judge more truly of the genius of a people than from more solid objects; for, as Selden justly remarks, ' if we throw a straw into the air, we may easily see how the wind sits; which we shall not do by casting up a stone.'


The appointed hour is nigh; the avenging arm
Of the Omnipotent outstretched, and even pow,
City of crime! the mandate hath gone forth
To sweep thee from the earth. In vain, in vain,
The intercessor's prayer; for now the cup
Of thy iniquity is flowing o'er;
And justice cometh, on her steed of flame,
To scatter thee in ashes.

'They heed it not;

The warning voice, the threatening tone in vain
Are raised, madly they hurry on, nor see
Approaching ruin; careless of the past,
Blind to the future, the eternal pangs
Of never-dying agony shall seize /

Upon their spirits, even in their hour;

Of abomination and idolatry.

From every part of that great city,
There comes a sound of revelry;
For they've said it shall be a night of joy,
A festal night to their Deity;
A thousand lamps o'er the city shine,
And the hour is come for the rites divine
And the flames on the altar of Belus rise
As they lick up the fat of the sacrifice,
Higher, and higher, and flash their light
In fitful gleams, through the veil of night.
The high priest knelt at the altar-stone,
And a thousand knees were bent as one.

« PreviousContinue »