The Adventures of Hajji Baba of Ispahan, by James Justinian Morier

Chapter xxviii

Concerning the manner of the Shah’s reception; of the present made him, and the conversation which ensued.

On the morning of the day upon which this great event was to happen (a day which had been duly settled as auspicious by the astrologers) the note of preparation was heard throughout the whole of Mirza Ahmak’s dwelling. The king’s tent-pitchers had taken possession of the saloon of audience in which he was to hold his court, where they spread fresh carpets and prepared the royal musnud,53 covering it with a magnificent shawl. They threw water over the court yard, set the fountains playing, and fitted on a new curtain to the front of the building. The king’s gardeners also came and decked the premises with flowers. On the surface of the pool of water, immediately facing the spot where his majesty was to be seated, they spread rose leaves in curious devices. Around the marble basin they placed rows of oranges, and a general appearance of freshness and cheerfulness was given to the whole scene.

Then the cooks, a numerous and most despotic band, arrived with such accompaniments of pots, pans, braziers, and boilers, that the doctor, out of all patience, inquired of the head of the kitchen, ‘what this meant; whether it was intended that he should feed all the city, as well as the king.’

‘Not quite all’ was his answer; ‘but perhaps you will recollect the words of Saadi:

If from the peasant’s tree, the king an apple craves,

Down with it root and branch, exclaim his ready slaves;

And should he, in dainty mood, one single egg require,

Lo! thousand spitted birds revolve before the fire.

They took possession of the kitchen, which did not contain one-quarter of the space required for their operations, and consequently it was necessary to erect temporary fire-places in the adjoining court, where the braziers were placed, and in which was boiled the rice that is distributed on such occasions to all present. Besides the cooks, a body of confectioners established themselves in one of the apartments, where the sweetmeats, the sherbets, the ices, and the fruits were prepared; and they called for so many ingredients, that the doctor had nearly expired when the list was presented to him. In addition to all these, arrived the king’s band of singers and musicians, and the Lûti Bashi (jester in chief) accompanied by twenty lûtis, each with a drum hanging over his shoulder.


A Musician playing on the Kamouncha.

(From a sketch by James Morier.)

The time appointed for the visit was after the evening’s prayer, which is made at sunset. At that hour, when the heat of the day had partly subsided, and the inhabitants of Tehran were about to enjoy the cool of the evening, the Shah left his palace, and proceeded to the doctor’s house. The streets had been swept and watered; and as the royal cortége approached, flowers were strewn on the path. Mirza Ahmak himself had proceeded to the royal presence to announce that all was ready, and walked close to the king’s stirrup during the cavalcade.

The procession was opened by the heralds, who, with the distinguishing club of office in their hands, and ornament on the head, proclaimed the king’s approach, and marshalled every one on the road. The tops of the walls were occupied by women in their white veils, and in the better houses they were seen to be peeping through the holes made in the screens which surround their terraces. Then followed a great body of tent-pitchers and carpet-spreaders, with long slender sticks in their hands, keeping the road clear from intruders. After this, walked a crowd of well-dressed officers of the stable, bearing rich embroidered saddle housings over their shoulders; then servants in the gayest attire, with gold pipes in their hands, the king’s shoe bearer, the king’s ewer and basin bearer, the carrier of his cloak, the comptroller of the opium box, and a number of other domestics. As this was only a private procession, his majesty was preceded by no led horses, which usually form so splendid a part of his grand displays. To these succeeded a train of running footmen, two and two, fantastically dressed, some with gold coins embroidered on their black velvet coats, others dressed in brocades, and others in silks: they immediately preceded the Shah in person, who was attended by the chief of the running footmen, a man of considerable consequence, known by the enamelled handled whip stuck in his girdle. The king rode a quiet ambling horse, richly caparisoned; but his own dress was plain, and only distinguished by the beauty of the shawls and other materials of which it was composed. After him, at an interval of fifty paces, followed three of the king’s sons, then the noble of nobles, the great master of the ceremonies, the master of the horse, the court poet, and many others, all attended by their servants: and at length when the whole party were collected together, who were to partake of Mirza Ahmak’s substance, five hundred would probably be called a moderate number.

The king alighted at the gate, the entrance being too narrow to ride through; and proceeded up the centre walk of the court to the seat prepared for him in the great saloon. Every one, except the princes, stood without, and the doctor himself did the duties of a menial.

After his majesty had been seated some little time, the master of ceremonies, accompanied by the master of the house, walking barefooted, appeared near the reservoir, the latter holding up breast high a silver salver, in which were spread one hundred tomauns of new coinage. The master, of ceremonies then exclaimed, in a loud voice, ‘The meanest of your majesty’s slaves makes a humble representation to the Centre of the Universe, the King of Kings, the Shadow of God upon earth, that Mirza Ahmak, the king’s chief physician, dares to approach the sacred dust of your majesty’s feet, and to bring by way of an offering one hundred gold tomauns.’

To which the king answered, ‘You are welcome, Mirza Ahmak. Praise be to God, you are a good servant. The Shah has a particular share of condescension for you; your face is whitened, your consequence has increased, Go, give praises to God, that the king has come to your house, and has accepted your present.’

Upon which the doctor knelt down and kissed the ground.

Then his majesty, turning to his noble of nobles, exclaimed, ‘By the head of the Shah, Mirza Ahmak is a good man. There is no one like him now in Persia — he is wiser by far than Locman — more learned than Galen.’

‘Yes, yes,’ answered the noble of nobles; ‘Locman indeed! whose dog was he, or Galen? This also comes from the happy star of the King of Kings. Such a king Persia before never saw, and such a doctor for such a king! Men may praise the doctors of Europe and of India, but where is science to be found, if it be not in Persia? — Who shall dare to claim a superiority, as long as the land of Persia is enlightened by the presence of its Shah without compare?’

‘That’s all true,’ said the king. ‘Persia is the country which, from the beginning of the world to the present day, has always been famous for the genius of its inhabitants, and the wisdom and splendour of its monarchs. From Kaiumars, the first king of the world, to me who am the present Shah, what list is so perfect, so glorious? India also had her sovereigns, Arabia her caliphs, Turkey her Khon Khors (lit. blood drinkers), Tartary her khans, and China her emperors; but as for the Franks, who come into my dominions from God knows where, to buy and sell, and to bring me tribute of presents — they, poor infidels! have a parcel of kings, of whose countries even the names have not reached our ears.’

Belli, belli, Yes, yes!’ said the nobleman, ‘I am your sacrifice. Except the English and the French nations, which by all accounts are something in the world, all others are but little better than nothing. As for Moscovites, they are not Europeans — they are less than the dogs of Europe.’

‘Ha! ha! ha! you say true’, answered the king, laughing. ‘They had their Khûrshîd Colah,54 their ‘Head of Glory’ as they called her, who for a woman was a wonderful person, ’tis true — and we all know that when a woman meddles with anything, pena be khoda, it is then time to put one’s trust in God; but after her, they had a Paul, who was a pure madman; who, to give you an instance of what his folly was, wanted to march an army to India; just as if the Kizzil Bashes55 would ever have allowed it. A Russian puts on a hat, a tight coat, and tight breeches, shaves his beard, and then calls himself a European. You might just as well tie the wings of a goose to your back and call yourself an angel.’

‘Wonderful, wonderful,’ exclaimed the head of the nobles; ‘the Shah-in-Shah speaks like an angel. Show us a king in Europe that would speak like him.’

‘Yes, yes,’ was chorused by all the bystanders.

‘May he live a thousand years,’ said one.

‘May his shadow never be less,’ said another.

‘But it is of their women,’ continued the king, ‘of whom we hear the most extraordinary accounts. In the first place, they have no anderûn56 in their houses; men and women all live together; then the women never wear veils — they show their faces to whoever chooses to look at them, like those of our wandering tribes. Tell me, Mirza Ahmak, you that are a doctor and a philosopher, by what extraordinary arrangement of providence does it happen, that we Mussulmans should be the only people on earth who can depend upon our wives, and who can keep them in subjection. You,’ said his majesty, smiling ironically, ‘you I hear are blessed above all men in an obedient and dutiful wife.’

‘Possessed of the kindness and protection of the King of Kings,’ answered the doctor, ‘I am blessed with everything that can make life happy. I, my wife, my family, are your humble slaves, and everything we have your property. If your slave possesses any merit, it is none of his; it all emanates from the asylum of the world: even my failings become virtues, when the king commands me. “But what lamp can shine in the face of, the sun, or what minaret can be called high at the foot of the mountain of Alwend?” With respect to what your majesty has been pleased to say concerning women, it appears to the meanest of your slaves, that there must be a great affinity between beasts and Europeans, and which accounts for the inferiority of the latter to Mussulmans. Male and female beasts herd promiscuously together; so do the Europeans. The female beasts do not hide their faces; neither do the Europeans. They wash not, nor do they pray five times a day; neither do the Europeans. They live in friendship with swine; so do the Europeans; for instead of exterminating the unclean beast, as we do, I hear that every house in Europe has an apartment fitted up for its hog. Then as for their women indeed! What dog seeing its female in the streets does not go and make himself agreeable? so doubtless does the European. Wife in those unclean countries must be a word without a meaning, since every man’s wife is every man’s property.

‘Well said, doctor,’ exclaimed the king; “tis plain, then, that all are beasts but us. Our holy Prophet (upon whom be blessing and peace!) has told us as much. The infidel will never cease roasting, whilst the true believer will be eternally seated next to his houri in the seventh heaven! But we hear, doctor, that your Paradise has begun here on earth, and that you have got your houris already. Ah! how is that?’

Upon which Mirza Ahmak made a low prostration, and said, ‘Whatever the monarch permits his slave to possess is the monarch’s. The hour will be fortunate, and Mirza Ahmak’s head will reach the skies, when the propitious step of the King of Kings shall pass the threshold of his unworthy anderûn.’

‘We shall see with our own eyes,’ rejoined the king; ‘a look from the king brings good luck. Go, give notice to your harem that the Shah will visit it; and if there be any one sick, any one whose desires are unaccomplished, any maiden who sighs for her lover, or any wife who wishes to get rid of her husband, let them come forward, let them look at the king, and good fortune will attend them.’

Upon this the poet, who had hitherto remained silent, his mind apparently absorbed in thought, exclaimed, ‘Whatever the king hath ordained is only an additional proof of his beneficence and condescension’; and then in very good verse he sung —

The firmament possesses but one sun, and the land of Irâk but one king.

Life, light, joy, and prosperity attend them both wherever they appear.

The doctor may boast of his medicine; but what medicine is equal to a glance from the king’s eye?

What is spikenard? what mumiai? what pahzer?57 compared even to the twinkle of a royal eyelash!

Oh! Mirza Ahmak, happiest of men, and most blessed of doctors!

Now, indeed, you possess within your walls an antidote to every disorder, a specific against every evil.

Shut up your Galen, burn your Hippocrates, and put Avicenna in a corner: the father of them all is here in person.

Who will take cassia when an eye is to be had, or will writhe under a blister when a look will relieve him?

Oh! Mirza Ahmak, happiest of men, and most blessed of doctors!

Every one present had kept the strictest silence when this was repeating, when the king exclaimed, ’Aferîn, this is well; you are indeed a poet, and worthy of our reign. Who was Ferdousi when compared to you? As for Mahmoud, the Ghaznevi, hâk bûd (he was dirt). Go to him,’ said he to the noble of nobles, ‘go, kiss him on the mouth, and, when that is done, fill it with sugar-candy. Every pleasure should attend such a mouth, from whence such good things proceed.’

Upon which the noble of nobles, who was endowed with a large and bushy beard, approached the poet, and inflicted a kiss upon his mouth, which also was protected by an appropriate quantity of hair; and then from a plate of sugar-candy, which was handed to him, he took as many lumps as would quite fill his jaws, and inserted them therein with his fingers with all due form.

Though evidently distressed with his felicity, the poet did his utmost to appear at the summit of all happiness, and grinned with such rare contortions, that involuntary tears flowed from his eyes as fast as the sugar-candy distilled through his lips.

The king then dismissed his courtiers and attendants, and preparations were made for serving up the royal dinner.


A Courtier.

(From a sketch by James Morier.)

53 [ The musnud, in Eastern acceptation, is, in fact, the throne; but on occasions such as the one here described the mode of making a musnud is to double up a thick carpet, by which means there is only room for one person to be seated upon it.]

54 [ Catherine II. is so styled by the Persians.]

55 [ Kizzil Bash, or Red Head, is a sort of nickname given from old times to the Persians.]

56 [ The inner, or women’s apartment.]

57 [ Mumiai and pahzer are antidotes in which the Persians have great faith. Our bezoar is evidently a corruption of pahzer.]

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Last updated Friday, March 7, 2014 at 23:09