Page images
PDF
EPUB

Account of the Mahabadi Religion contained in the Dabistan.”

Such of our readers as are conversant with Asiatic researches, will remember the unmeasured praises which Sir William Jones bestows upon the latter of these two works"; which, he says, "has at once dissipated the cloud, and cast a gleam of light on the primeval history of Iran and of the human race, of which I had long despaired, and which could hardly have dawned from any other quarter." The object of the Dabistan, it should seem, is to give an account of twelve different religions, or sects of the great parent religion, which bave prevailed in Asia ; the first of which bears the name of Hushang, who lived many'ages before Zoroaster, in the reign of Mababad, the earliest king not only of Iran, but of the whole earth. To this primeval monarch, or to the contemporary prophet Hushang, who flourished under him, the Creator of the world delivered a book in a heavenly lunguage, which is known by the title of Desátir, or Regula

tions, and appears to have served the double purpose of a liturgy and of a code of canons, in the hands of the officiating priests.

The high reputation of Sir William Jones gave great weight to his opinions on all subjects connected with Oriental literature. The Dabistan, accordingly, became all at once a document of unquestionable authority; and the account contained in it of the Persian sects was every where received not only as a record of the remotest antiquity, but as an authentic statement of an important historical fact. For the same reason the Desâtîr was immediately sought for with all the eagerness of literary curiosity and religious zeal. At length information reached the ears of the late Governor Duncan, of Bombay, that a copy of the precious “ Regulations” was in the possession of a certain Mulla Firuz. He made haste to secure it, requesting the Mulla to shew it to no other person whatsoever ; and having undertaken a translation of it, continued to prosecute his work at intervals, for several years, intending on his return to England, to present it to his Majesty, as the most valuable tribute that he could bring from the East.

The mysterious terms in which this work continued to be mentioned, as being composed in an ancient and now obsolete tongue, coupled with those notions which have been long cherished by European scholars, that something curious and unknown might possibly be brought to light by a deep inquiry into Persian and Sanscrit antiquities, had the effect of keeping up very high, though indistinct ideas of its value. But as Mulla Firuz has been lately enabled to undertake the publication of the work, which makes it public property, be has (says Mr. Erskine,) allowed me to peruse it, and I hasten to offer you (Sir John Malcolm) such remarks as have suggested themselves, on its authenticity and inerits."

Without entering into the details pursued by the author, we shall hold it sufficient to say that the religion of the Desâtir is clouded and distorted by the same masses of fable which attach to the whole system of the Vedas. The cosmogony of Hushang is the same tissue of puerile absurdity that disgraces the Brahminical faith ; it has the same incongruous and revolting fictions, the same infinite chronology. We are told, for example, that after the pure doctrines of Mahabad had been restored by Jyafram, a royal prophet and legislator, a period of happiness ensued that lasted exactly one aspar, 'or a thousand million of years; and we are again assured that the same good work, achieved by a subsequent reformer, was in like manner followed by a season of tranquil delight, of not less than ninety-nine selans, or nine millions nine hundred thousand of the years of Satarn. To say any thing more of such a system, would only abuse the patience of our readers. In a word, the Desâtîr is a forgery; the fabrication of a late age, and a compound of absurdities drawn from the works of Vedanti philosophers, Persian Sufis, and of Indian enthusiasts. The language, too, of the sacred book is a piece of impostare, executed with no great address, and incapable of being understood, were it not for the Persian version, with which the author thought it expedient to furnish it, when he gave it to the world.

To satisfy the reader that the religion of the Desâtîr is entirely Indian, we have only to mention, in the words of Mr. Erskine, that the Metempsychosis pervades the whole, a remarkable circumstance in which this sacred work differs from all other Persian systems of mythology, and agrees with those of the Brahmins. Nor is this circumstance to be considered as accidental, but rather as- the ground-work and characteristic of the two schemes. All reward and all punishment, all happiness and misery in this world, are only a retribution for actions done in a former state of being. Those who are miserable now were formerly wicked; those who are now happy or powerful, had lived virtuously in a former existence. The Zend Avesta does not recognize this doctrine; it could not therefore be founded upon the Desâtîr.

The Dabistân being a mere historical account of the different religions which have appeared in Asia, and laying no claim to a divine origin, is regarded as a performance of

1

some credit and authenticity. His object was to procure an account of each religion from its own sacred books, and from the persons professing it; for which purpose he travelled a great deal, and saw the chief men of many different sects. From their books, when he could procure them, and from the conversation of the priests, and other intelligent individuals, he drew up a popular report of their religious persuasions ; in which undertaking be is acknowledged to bave been extremely industrious, failing however to support his zeal by an accurate discrimination of the materials which were put into his bands. His work is accordingly said to have all the merits and defects that might be expected from the method in which it was compiled. The history of recent sects is written with much spirit and skill; but where research was necessary, the accuracy of the wandering historian, as might be expected, is sometimes found deficient.

The account given in the Dabistån, of the Mahabad, or Hushang system of religion, partakes largely of the extravagancies which pervade the Desâtîr. We know not whether we shall be excused for inserting the following quotation, illustrating the belief of the early age now alluded to, and extracted from a volume entitled the Akhteristan, of which the date is avowedly unknown. " It tells,” says Mr. Erskine,

“ That the Sipasis hold that the stars and heavens are shadows of the pure lights, or superior angels ; that therefore they have decked out the images of the seven planets, and have made for each planet a talisman of a particular metal: these talismans they have placed in the chapels of the different planets under a fortu. nate ascendant, and worship them at appropriate times. After adoring the images they burn incense or perfumes of various kinds, suited to the character of the star : and these chapels they hold in great veneration, styling them the idol-house of the luminaries, and the idol-house and place of lights. On this astrological idea of each day of the week being subject to a particular planet, there-follows a complete astrological system of religion and idol-worship, supposed to have prevailed in the first ages of Persian history. Each planet has a certain dress and colour, and certain insignia, with a large establishment of servants and attendants, a public table, a hospital for the sick, and public inns for travellers ; the King daily repairs to one of these in succession; and the nobles and armies, with the population of the kingdom, are in waiting on the occasion, and join in the worship. The description is very minute, and seems liker the childish religious Utopia of an idle astrologer, than any thing that ever actually existed in the world, even three thousand years ago. It certainly exhibits no materials by which ancient history can be reformed."

It is rather humbling to find that the penetration of the ablest men is so easily deceived, when influenced by their wishes, or obscured by the medium through which it acts. The work, of which the discovery was hailed by Sir William Jones, as that most fortunate event, which was to throw a gleam of light over the bistory of Iran and of mankind, has proved to be nothing more excellent than the paltry compilation of a migrating chronicler, superstitious, igporant, and credulous; and that precious memorial of antiquity which was to reveal the richest secrets of the olden time, to unfold the first conceptions of the human mind, the origin of nations, the source of religion, literature, and laws, and, in short, to exhibit a clear and striking picture of our race, its institutions, discoveries, improvements, successes, and reverses, from the very formation of society down to the period of European ascendancy in the East, has turned out to be an arrant fiction; the contrivance of a bungling impostor ; an abstract of obsolete superstition and childish fables; conveyed, too, in a vehicle of gibberish which bas neither meaning nor sound.

We observe that the third volume of Bombay Transactions is already before the public: and as it contains some articles of an interesting nature, as well on general as on local subjects, we shall take an early opportunity of laying an analysis of it before our readers,

ART. IX. Memoirs of the Life and Works of Sir Christo

pher Wren, with a brief View of the Progress of Architecture in England, from the beginning of the Reign of Charles the first to the End of the Seventeenth Century; and an Appendix of authentic Documents. By James Elmes. M.R.I.A. Architect, Author of Hints for the Construction of Prisons : Treatise on Dilapidations ; Lectures on Architecture, &c. 4to. pp. 716. 31. 38.

Priestley and Weale. 1823. We are very glad that a Life of Sir Christopher Wren is at length brought before the public in a tangible shape. The Parentalia, as is well known, exclusive of its great rarity, and the consequent high price which it maintains, is a crude and undigested mass of documents, heaped together without the slightest judgment by the drudging antiquarian diligence of 525 the learned Ames. Though little readable in itself, it is a mine out of which much reading may be procured. Mr. Elmes has very wisely made it his basis, and by engrafting upon it much information elicited from other sources, he has produced a work very creditable to himself, and very agreeable to all lovers of the fine arts,

As our business is principally with Sir Christopher, we shall step at once to the second part of Mr. Elmes's volume. By doing this we shall be guilty of but slight omission, for the preliminary chapter (as it might perhaps be called more appropriately than the first part) dismisses in six-and-thirty pages, the " Progress of Architecture in England from the beginning of the reign of Charles I. to the end of the XVIIth century." Christopher Wren was born at the parsonage of East Knoyle, in Wiltshire, belonging to his father, afterwards Dean of Windsor, on the 20th of October 1632. The family from which he was descended was of great respectability, and his elder paternal uncle, Matthew, Bishop of Ely, holds a distinguished place in English Ecclesiastical history, for his sufferings during the usurpation of the Commonwealth, and for the dignified loyalty with which he endured an imprisonment of nearly twenty years, which more than once Cromwell himself offered to terminate on receiving a bare acknowledgment of submission. The father of young Christopher, a man of extensive attainments both in literature and science, paid early and constant attention to the instruction of his son. Among Dr. Wren's other acquirements was a sufficient skill in architecture to induce Charles I. to approve his designs for a building projected for the Queen, at Whitehall, the estimate of which amounted to nearly 15,0001. It is not clear whether this building was ever completed, but the particulars of it may be found in Lord Clarendon's State Papers. Young Wren was an only son; his infancy was marked with very delicate health, and his education, therefore, was carried on for a while under his father's roof. Of his extraordinary precocity we think scarcely enough has been remarked. We have no opportunity of ascertaining the value of the “new astronomical instrument,” or the “pneumatic machine," which he invented in his thirteenth year; but we may boldly pronounce, that the following lines, in which he dedicated the first of these to his father, are very much beyond the customany Latinity of his standing. “ Reverendo Patri Domino Christophero Wren, S.T. D. et D. W.

Christopherus Filius hoc suum Panorganum Astronomicum D. D. XIII. calend. Novem. Anno. 1645.

« PreviousContinue »