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A JOURNAL OF CHOICE READING.
SATURDAY, JANUARY 6, 1872.
BY MATTHEW ARNOLD.
A PERSIAN PASSION PLAY.
propose to appeal in what I am going to relate. For the Passion Play at Ammergau, with its immense audiences, the seriousness of its actors, the passionate emotion of its
spectators, brought to my mind something of which I had "VERYBODY has this last autumn been either seeing read an account lately; something produced, not in Bavaria
nor in Christendom at all, but far away in that wonderful to find any one who has seen it and not been deeply in- East, from which, whatever airs of superiority Europe may terested and moved by it, is very rare. The peasants of justly give itself, all our religion has come, and where religion, the neighboring country, the great and fashionable world, of some sort or other, has still an empire over men's feelings the ordinary tourist, were all at Ammergau, and were all such as it has nowhere else. This product of the remote East delighted; but what is said to have been especially re
I wish to exhibit while the remembrance of what has been markable was the afluence there of ministers of religion of seen at Ammergau is still fresh; and we will see whether all kinds. That Catholic peasants, whose religion
has that bringing together of strangers and enemies who once customed them to show and spectacle, should be attracted seemed to be as far as the poles asunder, which Ammergau by an admirable scenic representation of the great moments in such a remarkable way effected, does not hold good and in the history of their religion, was natural; that tourists find a .parallel even in Persia. and the fashionable world should be attracted by what was Count Gobineau, formerly Minister of France at Teheran at once the fashion and a new sensation of a powerful sort, and at Athens, published a few years ago an interesting book was natural; that many of the ecclesiastics there present on the present state of religion and philosophy in central should be attracted there, was natural too. Roman Catho- Asia. He is favorably known also by his studies in ethnollic priests mustered strong, of course. The Protestantism ogy. His accomplishments and intelligence deserve all of a great number of the Anglican clergy is supposed to be respect, and in his book on religion and philosophy in cenbut languid, and Anglican ministers at Ammergau were tral Asia he has the great advantage of writing about things sympathizers to be expected. But Protestant ministers of which he has followed with his own observation and inquiry the most unimpeachable sort, Protestant dissenting minis- in the countries where they happened. The chief purpose ters, were there, too, and showing favor and sympathy; of his book is to give a history of the career of Mirza Ali and this, to any one who remembers the almost universal Mahommed, a Persian religious reformer, the original Bâb, feeling of Protestant dissenters in this country, not many and the founder of Babism, of which most people in England years a ago, towards Rome and her religion, the sheer ab- have at least heard the name. Bâb means gate, the door or horrence of papists and all their practices, — could not but gate of life; and in the ferment which now works in the be striking. It agrees with what is seen also in literature, Mahometan East, Mirza Ali Mahommed — who seems to in the writings of dissenters of the younger and more progres- have been made acquainted by Protestant missionaries with sive sort, who show a disposition for regarding the Church our Scriptures and by the Jews of Shiraz with Jewish tradiof Rome historically rather than polemically, a wish to do tions, to have studied, besides, the religion of the Ghebers, justice to the undoubted grandeur of certain institutions the old national religion of Persia, and to have made a sort and men prodnced by that Church, quite novel, and quite of amalgam of the whole with Mahometanism — presented alien to the simple belief of earlier times, that between himself, about five-and-twenty years ago, as the door, the Protestants and Rome there was a measureless gulf fixed. gate of life; found disciples, sent forth writings, and finally Something of this may, no doubt, be due to that keen eye became the cause of disturbances which led to his being for nonconformis business in which our great bodies of executed, on the 19th of July, 1849, in the citadel of Tabriz. Protestant dissenters, to do them justice, are never want- The Båb and his doctrines are a theme on which much ing; to a perception that the case against the Church of might be said ; but I pass them by, except for one incident England may be yet further improved by contrasting her in the Bab's life, which I will notice. Like all religious with the genuine article in her own ecclesiastical line, by Mahometans, he made the pilgrimage to Mecca ; and his pointing out that she is neither one thing nor the other to meditations at that centre of his religion first suggested his much purpose, by dilating on the magnitude, reach, and mission to him. But soon after his return to Bagdad he impressiveness, on the great place in history, of her rival made another pilgrimage; and it was in this pilgrimage as compared with any thing she can herself pretend to, that his mission became clear to him, and that his life was something of this there is, no doubt, in some of the modern fixed. “He desired "— I will give an abridgement of Count Frotestant sympathy for things Catholic; but in gen- Gobineau's own words — “to complete his impressions by eral that sympathy springs, in churchmen and dissenters going to Kufa, that he might visit the ruined mosque where alike, from another and a better cause, - from the spread of Ali was assassinated, and where the place of his murder is larger conceptions of religion, of man and of history, than still shown. He passed several days there in meditation. were current formerly. We have seen lately in the news- The place appears to have made a great impression on him; papers, that a clergyman, who in a popular lecture gave he was entering on a course which might and must lead to an account of the Passion Play at Ammergau, and enlarged some such catastrophe as had happened on the very spot where on its impressiveness, was admonished by certain remon- he stood, and where his mind's eye showed him the Imam strants, who told him it was his business, instead of occupy- Ali lying at his feet, with his body pierced and bleeding: ing himself with these sensuous shows, to learn to walk by His followers say that he then passed through a sort of faith, not by sight, and to teach his fellow-men to do the moral agony which put an end to all the hesitations of the same. But this severity seems to have excited wonder natural man within him. It is certain that when he arrived rather than praise; so far had those wider notions about at Shiraz, on his return, he was a changed man. No doubts religion and about the range of our interest in religion, of troubled him any more; he was penetrated and persuaded; which I have just spoken, conducted us. To this interest I his part was taken."
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engaging the heart and life of the people who have given their arms and cheeks with the needles, first gently, then birth to it; while the Latin, English, French, and German with more vehemence; till suddenly the music ceases, and drama is, he says, in comparison, a mere pastime or amuse- all stops. So we are carried back, on this old Asiatic soil, ment, more or less intellectual and elegant. To me it seems where beliefs and usages are heaped layer upon layer that the Persian tazyas — for so these pieces are called and ruin upon ruin, far past the martyred Imams, past find a better parallel in the Ammergau Passion Play than Mahometanism, past Christianity, to the priests Baal, in the Greek drama. They turn entirely on one subject gashing themselves with knives, and to the worship of the sufferings of the Family of the Tent, as the Imam Hus- Adonis. sein and the company of persons gathered around him at The tekyas, or theatres for the drama which calls forth Kerbela are called. The subject is sometimes introduced these celebrations, are constantly multiplying. The king, by a prologue, which may perhaps one day, as the need of the great functionaries, the towns, wealthy citizens like the variety is more felt, become a piece by itself; but at pres- king's gol.smith, or any private person who has the means ent the prologue leads invariably to the martyrs. For and the desire, provide them. “Every one sends contriinstance, the Emperor Tamerlane, in his conquering prog- butions; it is a religious act to furnish a box or to give ress through the world, arrives at Damascus; the keys of the decorations for a tekya; and as religious offerings, all gifts city are brought to him by the governor; but the governor down to the very smallest are accepted. There are tekyas is a descendant of one of the murderers of the Imam Hussein; for not more than three or four hundred spectators, and Tamerlane is informed of it, loads him with reproaches, and there are tekyas for three or four thousand. At Ispahan drives him from his presence. The emperor presently sees there are representations which bring together more than the governor's daughter, splendidly dressed, thinks of the twenty thousand people. At Teheran, the Persian capital, sufferings of the holy women of the Family of the Tent, each quarter of the town has its tekyas; every square and and upbraids and drives her away as he did her father. open place is turned to account for establishing them, and But after this he is haunted by the great tragedy which has spaces have been expressly cleared, besides, for fresh tekyas. been thus brought to his mind, and he cannot sleep and Count Gobineau describes particularly one of these thecannot be comforted; he calls his vizier, and his vizier tells atres - a tekya of the best class, to hold an audience of him that the only way to soothe his troubled spirit is to see about four thousand at Teheran. The arrangements are a tazya. And so the tazya commences. Or, again (and very simple; the tekya is a walled parallelogram, with a this will show how strangely, in the religious world which brick platform, sakou, in the centre of it; this sakou is suris now occupying us, what is most familiar to us is blended rounded with black poles at some distance from each other, with that of which we know nothing): Joseph and his the poles are joined at the top by horizontal rods of the brethren appear on the stage, and the old Bible story is same color, and from these rods hang colored lamps, which transacted. Joseph is thrown into the pit and sold to the are lighted for the praying and preaching at night when merchants, and his blood-stained coat is carried by his the representation is over. The sakou, or central platform, brothers to Jacob; Jacob is then left alone, weeping and makes the stage; in connection with it, at one of the bewailing himself; the angel Gabriel enters, and reproves opposite extremities of the parallelogram lengthwise, is a him for his want of faith and constancy, telling him that reserved box, tâgnumâ, higher than the sakou; this box is what he suffers is not a hundredth part of what Ali, Hus- splendidly decorated, and is used for peculiarly interesting sein, and the children of Hussein will one day suffer. and magnificent tableaux, — the court of the Caliph, for Jacob seems to doubt it; Gabriel, to convince him, orders example, – which occur in the course of the piece. A the angels to perform a tazya of what will one day happen passage of a few feet wide is left free between the stage and at Kerbela. And so the tazya commences.
this box ; all the rest of the space is for the spectators, of These pieces are given in the first ten days of the month whom the foremost rows are sitting on their heels close up of Moharrem, the anniversary of the martyrdom at Kerbela. to this passage, so that they help the actors to mount and They are so popular that they now invade other seasons of descend the high steps of the iâgnumâ when they have to the year also; but this is the season when the world is pass between that and the sakou. On each side of the given up to them. King and people, every one is in mourn- tâgnumâ are boxes, and along one wall of the enclosure are ing; and at night, and while the tuzyas are not going on, other boxes with fronts of elaborate woodwork, which are processions keep passing, the air resounds with the beating left to stand as a permanent part of the construction; facing of breasts and with litanies of " O Hassan! Hussein ! ” while these, with the tloor and stage between, rise tiers of seats, the Seyids, - a kind of popular friars, claiming to be descen- as in an amphitheatre. All places are free; the great dants of Mahomet, and in whose incessant popularizing and people have generally provided and furnished the boxes, amplifying of the legend of Kerbela in their homilies during and take care to fill them; but if a box is not occupied pilgrimages and at the tombs of the martyrs, the tazyas, no when the performance begins, any ragged street-urchin or doubt, had their origin, - keep up by their sermons and beggar may walk in and seat himself there. A row of hymns the enthusiasm which the drama of the day has gigantic masts runs across the middle of the space, one or excited. It seems as if no one went to bed; and certainly two of them being fixed in the sakou itself; and from these no one who went to bed could sleep. Confraternities go in masts is stretched an immense awning which protects the procession with a black flag and torches, every man with his whole audience. Up to a certain height these masts are shirt torn open, and beating himself with the right hand on the hung with tiger and panther skins, to indicate the violent left shoulder in a kind of measured cadence to accompany a character of the scenes to be represented. Shields of steel canticle in honor of the martyrs. These processions come and and of hippopotamus skin, and Hags and naked swords, are take post in the theatres where the Seyids are preaching. Still also attached to these masts. A sea of color and splendor more noisy are the companies of dancers, striking a kind of meets the eye all round. Woodwork and brickwork disapwooden castanets together, at one time in front of their pear under cushions, rich carpets, silk hangings, India breasts, at another time behind their heads, and marking muslin embroidered with silver and gold, shawls from Kertime with music and dance to a dirge set up by the by- man and Cashmere; there are lamps, lustres of colored standers, in which the nimes of the Imams perpetually crystal, mirrors, Bohemian and Venetian glass, porcelain recur as a burden. Noisiest of all are the Berbers, men of vases of all degrees of magnitude from China and from a darker skin and another race, their feet and the upper Europe, paintings and engravings, displayed in profusion part of their body naked, who carry, some of them, tambou- everywhere; the taste may not always be soberly correct, rines and cymbals, others iron cliains and long needles. One but the whole spectacle has just the effect of prodigality, of their race is said to have formerly derided the Imams in color, and sumptuousness which we are accustomed to their affliction, and the Berbers now appear in expiation of associate with the splendors of the Arabian Nights. that crime. At first their music and their march proceed In marked contrast with this display is the poverty of slowly together, but presently the music quickens, the chain scenic contrivance and stage illusions. The subject is far and neelle-bearing Berbers move violently round, and too interesting and too solemn to nocd them; the actors · begin to beat themselves with their chains, and to prick are visible on all sides, and the exits, entrances, and
This Ali also, at whose tomb the Bab went through the and to support him against the Syrian troops of Yezid. spiritual crisis here recorded, is a familiar name to most of Hussein seems to have thought himself bound to accept the
In general, our knowledge of the East goes but a very proposal. He left Medina, and, with his family and relalittle way; yet almost every one has at least heard of the tions, to the number of about eighty persons, set out on Lis name of Ali, the Lion of God, Mahomet's young cousin, and way to Kufa. Then ensued the tragedy so familiar to every the first who, after his wife, believed in him, and who was Mahometan, and to us so little known, the tragedy of Kerdeclared by Mahomet in his gratitude, his brother, delegate, bela. “O death,” cries the ban lit-minstrel of Persia, Kurand vicar. Ali was one of Mabomet's best and most suc- roglou, in his last song before his execution, “O death, cessful captains; he married Fatima, the daughter of the whom didst thou spare? Were even Hassan and Hussein, Prophet; his sons, Hassan and Hussein, were, as children, those footstools of the throne of God on the seventh heaver, favorites with Mahomet, who had no son of his own to spared by thee? No! thou madest them martyrs at Kerbela." succeed him, and was expected to name Ali as his succes- We cannot do better than again have recourse to Gib
He named no successor. At his death Ali was passed bon's history for an account of this famous tragedy. “Husover, and the first caliph, or vicar and lieutenant of Maho- sein traversed the desert of Arabia with a timorous retinue met in the government of the State was Abu-Bekr: only the of women and children; but, as he approached the confines spiritual inheritance of Mahomet, the dignity of Imam, or of Irak, he was alarmed by the solitary or hostile face of the Primale, devolved by right on Ali and his children. Ali, country, and suspected either the defection or the ruin of Lion of God as in war he was, held aloof from politics and his party. His fears were just ; Obeidallah, the governor of political intrigue, loved retirement and prayer, was the Kufa, had extinguished the first sparks of an insurrection; most pious and disinterested of men. At Abu-Bekr's death and Hussein, in the plain of Kerbela, was encompassed by a he was again passed over in favor of Omar. Omar was body of five thousand horse, who intercepted his communisucceeded by Othman; and still Ali remained tranquil. cation with the city and the river. In à conference with Othman was assassinated, and then Ali, chiefly to prevent the chief of the enemy he proposed the option of three condisturbance and bloodshed, accepted the caliphate. Mean- ditions : - that he should be allowed to return to Medina, or while, the Mahometan armies had conquered Persia, Syria, be stationed in a frontier garrison against the Turks, or and Egypt; the governor of Syria, Moawiyah, an able and safely conducted to the presence of Yezid. But the comambitious man, set himself up as caliph, his title was recog- mands of the caliph or his lieutenant were stern and absonized by Amrou, the governor of Egypt, and a bloody and lute, and Hussein was informed that he must either submit indecisive battle was fought in Mesopotamia between Ali's as a captive and a criminal to the Commander of the Faitharmy and Moawiyah's. Gibbon shall tell the rest:—“ In the ful, or expect the consequences of his rebellion. 'Do you temple of Mecca three Charegites or enthusiasts discoursed think,' replied he, to terrify me with death ?' And during of the disorders of the Church and State; they soon agreed the short respite of a night he prepared, with calm and solthat the deaths of Ali, Moawiyah, and of his friend Amrou, emn resignation, to encounter his fate. He checked the the Viceroy of Egypt, would restore the peace and unity of lamentations of his sister Fatima, who deplored the impendreligion. Each of the assassins chose his victim, poisoned ing ruin of his house. Our trust,' said Hussein, is in God his dagger, devoted his life, and secretly repaired to the alone. All things, both in heaven and earth, must perish scene of action. Their resolution was equally desperate; and return to their Creator. My brother, my father, my but the first mistook the person of Amrou, and stabbed the mother, were better than I, and every Mussulman has an deputy who occupied his seat; the prince of Damascus was example in the Prophet.' He pressed his friends to consult dangerously hurt by the second ; Ali, the lawful caliph, in their safety by a timely flight; they unanimously refused to the mosque of Kufa, received a mortal wound from the hand desert or survive their beloved master, and their courace of the third.”
was fortified by a fervent prayer and the assurance of paraThe events through which we have thus rapidly run dise. On the morning of the fatal day he mounted on horseought to be kept in mind, for they are the elements of Ma- back, with his sword in one hand and the Koran in the hometan history: any right understanding of the state of other; the flanks and rear of his party were secured by the the Mahometan world is impossible without them. For tent-ropes and by a deep trench, which they had filled with that world is divided into the two great rects of Shiahs and lighted fagots, according to the practice of the Arabs. The Sunis ; the Shiahs are those who reject the first three caliphs enemy advanced with reluctance; and one of their chiefs as usurpers, and begin with Ali as the first lawful successor deserted, with thirty followers, to claim the partnership of of Mahomet; the Sunis recognize Abu-Bekr, Omar, and inevitable death. În every close onset or single combat the Othman, as well as Ali, and regard the Shiahs as impious despair of the Fatimites was invincible ; but the surroundheretics. The Persians are Shiahs, and the Arabs and ing multitudes galled them from a distance with a cloud of Turks are Sunis. Hussein, one of Ali's two sons, married arrows, and the horses and men were successively slain. A a Persian princess, the daughter of Yezdejerd the last of the truce was allowed on both sides for the hour of prayer; and Sassanian kings, the king whom the Mahometan conquest the battle at length expired by the death of the last of the of Persia expelled; and Persia, through this marriage, be- companions of Hussein.” came specially connected with the house of Ali. “In the The details of Hussein's own death will come better pres fourth age of the Hegira,” says Gibbon, “a tomb, a temple, ently; suffice it at this moment to say he was slain, and that a city, arose near the ruins of Kufa. Many thousands of the women and children of his family were taken in chains the Shiahs repose in holy ground at the feet of the vicar of to the caliph Yezid at Damascus. Gibbon concludes the God; and the desert is vivified by the numerous and annual story thus: “In a distant age and climate, the tragic scene visits of the Persians, who esteem their devotion not less of the death of Hussein will awaken the sympathy of the meritorious than the pilgrimage of Mecca."
coldest reader. On the annual festival of his martyrdom, But, to comprehend what I am going to relate from Count in the devout pilgrimage to his sepulchre, his Persian votaGobineau, we must push our researches into Mahometan ries abandon their souls to the religious phrenzy of sorrow history a little futher than the assassination of Ali. Moa- and indignation." wiyah died in the year 680 of our era, nearly fifty years
Thus the tombs of Ali and of his son, the Meshed Ali and after the death of Mahomet. His son Yezid succeeded him the Meshed Hussein, standing some thirty miles apart from on the throne of the caliphs at Damascus. During the reign one another in the plain of the Euphrates, had, when Gibof Moawiyah, Ali's two sons, the Imams Hassan and Hussein bon wrote, their yearly pilgrims and their tribute of enthulived with their families in religious retirement at Medina, siastic mourning. But Count Gobineau relates, in his book where their grandfather Mahomet was buried. In them of which I have spoken, a development of these solemnities the character of abstention and renouncement, which we which was unknown to Gibbon. Within the present cenhave noticed in Ali himself, was marked yet more strongly; tury there has arisen, on the basis of this story of the marbut, when Moawiyah died, the people of Kufa, the city on tyrs of Kerbela, a drama, a Persian national drama, which the lower Euphrates where Ali had been assassinated, sent Count Gobineau, who has seen and heard it, is bold enough offers to make Hussein caliph if he would come among them, to rank with the Greek drama as a great and serious affair,