Page images
PDF

lessly, but not, like them, to the mark ;-"and who," said he, raising his voice to excite a proper degree of wakefulness in his hearers, “contrive to appear heavy and constrained in the midst of all the latitude they allow themselves, like one of those young pagans that dance before the Princess, who is ingenious enough to move as if her limbs were fettered, in a pair of the lightest and loosest drawers of Masulipatam !".

It was but little suitable, he continued, to the grave march of criticism to follow this fantastical Peri, of whom they had just heard, through all her flights and adventures between earth and heaven ; but he could not help adverting to the puerile conceitedness of the Three Gifts which she is supposed to carry to the skies,-a drop of blood, forsooth, a sigh, and a tear! How the first of these articles was delivered into the Angel's “radiant hand” he professed himself at a loss to discover; and as to the safe carriage of the sigh and the tear, such Peris and such poets were beings by far too incomprehensible for him even to guess how they managed such matters. “But, in short," said he, “it is a waste of time and patience to dwell longer upon a thing so incurably frivolous,-puny, even among its own puny race, and such as only the Banyan Hospital * for Sick Insects should undertake."

In vain did Lalla Rookh try to soften this inexorable critic ; in vain did she resort to her most eloquent common-places, -reminding him that poets were a timid and sensitive race, whose sweetness was not to be drawn forth, like that of the fragrant grass near the Ganges, by crushing and trampling upon them, -that severity often extinguished every chance of the perfection which it demanded ; and that, after all, perfection was like the Mountain of the Talisman,--no one had ever yet reached its summit.+ Neither these gentle axioms, nor the still gentler looks with which they were inculcated, could lower for one instant the elevation of Fadladeen's eyebrows, or charm him into anything like encouragement, or even toleration, of her poet. Toleration, indeed, was not among the weaknesses of Fadladeen :-he carried the same spirit into matters of poetry and of religion, and, though little versed in the beauties or sublimities of either, was a perfect master of the art of persecution in both. His zeal was the same, too, in either pursuit ; whether the game before him was pagans or poetasters,—worshippers of cows, or writers of epics.

They had now arrived at the splendid city of Lahore, whose mausoleums and shrines, magnificent and numberless, where Death

iew many horses, cowSith clean straw for ther, broad dishes for waters

*"This account excited a desire of visiting the Banyan Hospital, as I had heard much of their benevolence to all kinds of animals that were eit lame, or infirm, through age or accident. On my arrival, there were presented to my view many horses, cows, and oxen, in one apartment; in another, dogs, sheep, goats, and monkeys, with clean straw for them to repose on. Above stairs were depositories for seeds of many sorts, and flat, broad dishes for water, for the use of birds and insects.Parson's Travels. It is said that all animals know the Banyans, that the most timid approach them, and that birds will fly nearer to them than to other people. -See Grand pré.

+ “Near this is a curious hill, called Koh Talism, the Mountain of the Talisman, because, according to the traditions of the country, no person ever suc. ceeded in gaining its summit."-Kinneir,

appeared to share equal honours with Heaven, would have powerfully affected the heart and imagination of Lalla Rookh, if feelings more of this earth had not taken entire possession of her already. She was here met by messengers, despatched from Cashmere, who informed her that the King had arrived in the Valley, and was himself superintending the sumptuous preparations that were then making in the Saloons of the Shalimar for her reception. The chill she felt on receiving this intelligence,—which to a bride whose heart was free and light would have brought only images of affection and pleasure, -convinced her that her peace was gone for ever, and that she was in love, irretrievably in love, with young Feramorz. The veil had fallen off in which this passion at first disguises itself, and to know that she loved was now as painful as to love without knowing it had been delicious. Ferainorz, too, what misery would be his, if the sweet hours of intercourse so imprudently allowed them should have stolen into his heart the same fatal fascination as into hers;—if, notwithstanding her rank, and the modest homage he always paid to it, even he should have yielded to the influence of those long and happy interviews, where music, poetry, the delightful scenes of nature, -all had tended to bring their hearts close together, and to waken by every means that too ready passion, which often like the young of the desert-bird, is warmed into life by the eyes alone!* She saw but one way to preserve herself from being culpable as well as unhappy, and this, however painful, she was resolved to adopt. Feramorz must no more be admitted to her presence. To have strayed so far into the dangerous labyrinth was wrong, but to linger in it, while the clue was yet in her hand, would be criminal. Though the heart she had to offer to the King of Bucharia might be cold and broken, it should at least be pure; and she must only endeavour to forget the short dream of happiness she had enjoyed,- like that Arabian shepherd who, in wandering into the wilderness, caught a glimpse of the Gardens of Irim, and then lost them again for ever!

The arrival of the young Bride at Lahore was celebrated in the most enthusiastic manner. The Rajas and Omras in her train, who had kept at a certain distance during the journey, and never encamped nearer to the Princess than was strictly necessary for her safeguard, here rode in splendid cavalcade through the city, and distributed the most costly presents to the crowd. Engines were erected in all the squares, which cast forth showers of confectionery among the people; while the artisans, in chariots adorned with tinsel and flying streamers, exhibited the badges of their respective trades through the streets. Such brilliant displays of life and pageantry among the palaces, and domes, and gilded minarets of Lahore, made the city altogether like a place of enchantment;particularly on the day when Lalla Rookh set out again upon her journey, when she was accompanied to the gate by all the fairest and richest of the nobility, and rode along between ranks of beautiful boys and girls, who kept waving over their heads plates of gold

*"The Arabians believe that the ostriches hatch their young by only looking at them.”-P. Vanslebe, Relat. d'Egypte.

and silver flowers,* and then threw them around to be gathered by the populace.

For many days after their departure from Lahore, a considerable degree of gloom hung over the whole party. Lalla Rookh, who had intended to make illness her excuse for not admitting the young minstrel, as usual, to the pavilion, soon found that to feign indisposition was unnecessary ;-Fadladeen felt the loss of the good road they had hitherto travelled, and was very near cursing JehanGuire (of blessed memory !) for not having continued his delectable alley of trees, at least as far as the mountains of Cashmere ;-while the Ladies, who had nothing now to do all day but to be fanned by peacocks' feathers and listen to Fadladeen, seemed heartily weary of the life they led, and, in spite of all the Great Chamberlain's criticisms, were so tasteless as to wish for the poet again. One evening, as they were proceeding to their place of rest for the night, the Princess, who, for the freer enjoyment of the air, had mounted her favourite Arabian palfrey, in passing by a small grove heard the notes of a lute from within its leaves, and a voice, which she but too well knew, singing the following words :

Tell me not of joys above,

If that world can give no bliss
Truer, happier than the Love

Which enslaves our souls in this.
Tell me not of Houris' eyes ;-

Far from me their dangerous glow,
If those looks that light the skies

Wound like some that burn below.
Who that feels what Love is here,

All its falsehood—all its pain-
Would, for even Elysium's sphere,

Risk the fatal dream again?
Who that midst a desert's heat

Sees the waters fade away
Would not rather die than meet

Streams again as false as they? The tone of melancholy defiance in which these words were uttered, went to Lalla Rookh's heart :- and, as she reluctantly rode on, she could not help feeling it to be a sad but still sweet certainty that Feramorz was to the full as enamoured and miserable as herself.

The place where they encamped that evening was the first delightsul spot they had come to since they left Lahore. On one side of them was a grove full of small Hindoo temples, and planted with the most graceful trees of the East; where the tamarind, the cassia, and the silken plantains of Ceylon, were mingled in rich contrast with the high fan-like foliage of the Palmyra,—that favourite tree of the luxurious bird that lights up the chambers of its nest with fire-flies. * In the middle of the lawn where the pavilion stood there was a tank surrounded by small mangoe-trees, on the clear cold waters of which floated multitudes of the beautiful red lotus; while at a distance stood the ruins of a strange and awful-looking tower, which seemed old enough to have been the temple of some religion no longer known, and which spoke the voice of desolation in the midst of all that bloom and loveliness. This singular ruin excited the wonder and conjectures of all. Lalla Rookh guessed in vain, and the all-pretending Fadladeen, who had never till this journey been beyond the precincts of Delhi, was proceeding most learnedly to show that he knew nothing whatever about the matter, when one of the Ladies suggested that perhaps Feramorz could satisfy their curiosity. They were now approaching his native mountains, and this tower might perhaps be a relic of some of those dark superstitions which had prevailed in that country before the light of Islam dawned upon it. The Chamberlain, who usually preferred his own ignorance to the best knowledge that any one else could give him, was by no means pleased with this officious reference ; and the Princess, too, was about to interpose a faint word of objection; but, before either of them could speak, a slave was despatched for Feramorz, who, in a very few minutes, made his appearance before them-looking so pale and unhappy in Lalla Rookh's eyes that she repented already of her cruelty in having so long excluded him.

* Ferishta. “Or rather,” says Scott, upon the passage of Ferishta, from which this is taken, “small coins stamped with the figure of a flower. They are still used in India to distribute in charity, and, on occasion, thrown by the purse-bearers of the great among the populace.”

That venerable tower, he told them, was the remains of an ancient Fire-Temple, built by those Ghebers or Persians of the old religion who, many hundred years since, had fled hither from their Arab conquerors, preferring liberty and their altars in a foreign land to the alternative of apostasy or persecution in their own. It was impossible, he added, not to feel interested in the many glorious but unsuccessful struggles which had been made by these original natives of Persia to cast off the yoke of their bigoted conquerors. Like their own Fire in the Burning Field at Bakou, when suppressed in one place, they had but broken out with fresh flame in another; and, as a native of Cashmere, of that fair and Holy Valley, which had in the same manner become the prey of strangers, and seen her ancient shrines and natire princes swept away before the march of her intolerant invaders, he felt a sympathy, he owned, with the sufferings of the persecuted Ghebers, which every monument like this before them but tended more powerfully to awaken.

It was the first time that Feramorz had ever ventured upon so much prose before Fadladeen, and it may easily be conceived what effect such prose as this must have produced upon that most orthodox and most pagan-hating personage. He sat for some minutes aghast, ejaculating only at intervals, “Bigoted conquerors !-sympathy with Fire-worshippers !” +-while Feramorz, happy to take

* The Baya, or Indian Gross-beak.--Sir W. Fones.

Voltaire tells us that in his Tragedy, “Les Guèbres,” he was generally supposed to have alluded to the Jansenists. I should not be surprised if this story of the Fire-worshippers were found capable of a similar doubleness of application.

advantage of this almost speechless horror of the Chamberlain, proceeded to say that he knew a melancholy story, connected with the events of one of those struggles of the brave Fire-worshippers against their Arab masters, which, if the evening was not too far advanced, he should have much pleasure in being allowed to relate to the Princess. It was impossible for Lalla Rookh to refuse ;-he had never before looked half so animated ; and when he spoke of the Holy Valley his eyes had sparkled, she thought, like the talismanic characters on the scimitar of Solomon. Her consent was therefore most readily granted ; and while Fadladeen sat in unspeakable dismay, expecting treason and abomination in every line, the poet thus began his story of the Fire-worshippers :

THE FIRE-WORSHIPPERS.
'Tis moonlight over Oman's sea ;*

Her banks of pearl and palmy isles
Bask in the night-beam beauteously,

And her blue waters sleep in smiles.
'Tis moonlight in Harmozia'st walls ;
And through her Emir's porphyry halls,
Where, some hours since, was heard the swell
Of trumpet and the clash of zel, I
Bidding the bright-eyed sun farewell ;-
The peaceful sun, whom better suits

The music of the bulbul's nest,
Or the light touch of lovers' lutes,

To sing him to his golden rest.
All hushed—there's not a breeze in motion;
The shore is silent as the ocean.
If zephyrs come, so light they come

No leaf is stirred nor wave is driven ;-
The wind-tower on the Emir's dome &

Can hardly win a breath from heaven.
Even he, that tyrant Arab, sleeps
Calm, while a nation round him weeps ;
While curses load the air he breathes,
And falchions from unnumbered sheaths
Are starting to avenge the shame
His race hath brought on Iran's || name.
Hard, heartless Chief, unmoved alike
'Mid eyes that weep, and swords that strike;-
One of that saintly, murderous brood,

To carnage and the Koran given,

Who think through unbelievers' blood * The Persian Gulf, sometimes so called, which separates the shores of Persia and Arabia.

The present Gombaroon, a town on the Persian side of the Gulf. IA Moorish instrument of music.

Š "At Gombaroon and other places in Persia, they have towers for the purpose of catching the wind, and cooling the houses." -Le Bruyn.

Il “Iran is the true general name for the empire of Persia."--Asiat. Res., Disc. 5.

« PreviousContinue »