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Lastly, who would have imagined that the Excise would have taken footing here? A word, I remember, in the last parliament save one, so odious, that when Sir D. Carleton, then Secretary of State, did but name it in the House of Commons, he was like to be sent to the Tower; although he named it to no ill sense, but to shew what advantage of happiness the people of England had over other nations, having neither the Gabels of Italy, the Tailles of France, or the Excise of Holland laid upon them; yet upon this he was suddenly interrupted and called to the bar. Such a strange metamorphosis poor England is now come to; and, I am afraid, our miseries are not come to their height, but the longest shadows stay till the evening."
There is a mixture of levity in the conclusion of his account of the king's execution, which accords ill with the serious tone of the commencement, and which it is difficult to reconcile with the feelings of grief and horror, with which one must suppose every friend of the unfortunate monarch to have been overwhelmed.
"That black tragedy which was lately acted here, as it has filled most hearts among us with consternation and horror, so, I believe, it hath been no less resented abroad. For my own particular, the more I ruminate upon it, the more it astonisheth my imagination, and shaketh all the cells of my brain; so that, sometimes, I struggle with my faith, and have much ado to believe it yet. I shall give over wondering hereafter, nothing shall seem strange to me; only I will attend with patience how England will thrive, now that she is let blood in the Basilical vein, and cured, as they say, of the King's-Evil."
He seems to have borne his imprisonment with patience and even cheerfulness, and there is throughout a tone of pious resignation, which impresses the reader with the most favorable opinion of his disposition and character.
"You know better than I, that all events, good or bad, come from the all-disposing high Deity of Heaven: if good, he produceth them; if bad, he permits them. He is the pilot that sits at the stern, and steers the great vessel of the world, and we must not presume to direct him in his course, for he understands the use of the compass better than we. He commands also the winds and the weather, and after a storm he never fails to send us a calm, and to recompense il times with better, if we can live to see them, which I pray you may do, whatever becomes of
Your still most faithful
But it is time to conclude. We have given a sufficient sample of this entertaining book to shew the quality of its con
VOL. IV. PART II.
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 Sháh-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 par
ticipation 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 beautifully 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..
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 similarity, 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 employed 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 Sháh-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 Mahmud 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 Àlexandrian 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 Mahmud, 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; Mahmud 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 Mahmud, the encourager of learning. Anxious at his approaching competition with all the poets that thronged the royal presence, but encouraged by his