Page:Frederic Shoberl - Persia.djvu/126

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CHAPTER III.

EDUCATION OF THE PERSIANS.

Education is far from being neglected by any class of the people. Persons of high rank have their children instructed by mollahs and other preceptors, who attend their pupils at the houses of their parents. The lower orders, and often considerable Persians who are under the condition of nobles, send their sons to the public schools established in every town. They are commonly held in the mosques, and sometimes in the houses of the teachers, who are mostly mollahs. The expense of each child's education annually amounts to scarcely a toomaun, not much more than half a guinea—a price greatly in favour of the advancement of learning. The scholars sit round their master on the matted floor, all conning their lessons aloud as they learn them, and not stopping their noise even when the teacher is officially hearing one of the other pupils read. This little seminary presents a curious sight to a European; for, besides the rapid motion of their lips, they keep their bodies in one continued seesaw, without which movement a Persian conceives it would be impossible to learn anything. When idleness or any other misdemeanour requires chastisement, the young culprit undergoes the same punishment as that which royalty at times inflicts on any offending nobleman—namely, the bastinado on the soles of the feet. The children are taught reading and writing; and as soon as they can commit to memory, they learn passages from the favourite poets of the country, many of which are fraught with the noblest sentiments and the most amiable feelings of human nature. At the same time they are taught prayers from the Koran in Arabic, a language which they do not in general understand; but the meaning of the prayer is explained to them, and they are directed on what occasions to repeat it. Youth of the higher classes often add a knowledge of the Arabic, and also the Turkish language, to their deeper studies. The usual list are—arithmetic, geometry, moral philosophy, astronomy, and not unfrequently astrology, all of which are cultivated with considerable assiduity and success by most of the Persian gentlemen, who never fail to add the manly exercises to these liberal acquirements. This being the case, it is difficult to comprehend the ruin and neglect into which the colleges of nearly all the great cities have fallen: the once noble establishments of Ardebil, Casvin, Ispahan, Shiraz, &c. being mere shadows of what they formerly were.

A youth quits his preceptor at the age of eighteen. He then