Page:Frederic Shoberl - Persia.djvu/119

From Wikisource
Jump to navigation Jump to search
This page has been validated.

In conversation, the Persians affect elegant language, and are fond of introducing quotations from the works of their best poets, such as Saadi, Hafiz, and Djami. This love of quotations is common alike to persons of distinction, and to the dregs of the people; because those who have received no education, and cannot even read and write, take advantage of the readiness and retentiveness of their memory, to learn by heart a great number of striking passages, which they omit no opportunity of bringing forward. They are also very clever at irony and punning.

Endowed with a supple and intriguing disposition, they have agreeable manners and extreme politeness: but this politeness is little better than a jargon of high-flown compliments, and hyperbolic expressions, equally destitute of sense and feeling: hence it is, no doubt, that they have been denominated the French of Asia.

Mr. Morier gives several examples of this propensity of the Persians to flattery, hyperbole, and exaggeration. When the British embassy reached Shiraz, the visir of the prince-governor, attended by most of the principal men of the city, came out to meet the ambassador. When the usual routine of first compliments had been gone through, and repeated over and over again, the minister placed himself on one side of the ambassador, while the mehmandar, an officer appointed to attend distinguished strangers, and who acts as commissary, guard, and guide, was on the other. The mehmandar said to the minister: "How well the elshee (ambassador) talks Persian!"—"Well!" cried the minister: "he talks it admirably. He is superior to any mollah. We have never yet seen such an elshee, none so accomplished, none so clever, none so learned." To all this there was a chorus around of belli, belli, belli. The minister then turned to a person on the other side of him, and said, loud enough and expressly for the ambassador to hear: "Did you ever see any one so charming as the elshee, so much better than all other elshees?" The ambassador, in praising the climate of Shiraz, observed: "It is so fine, that I should have thought mankind never died here, had I not seen those tomb-stones,"—pointing to some which he was just passing. "Wonderful! wonderful!" exclaimed the mehmandar. "Did you hear that?" he roared out to the minister. "What a wit is the elshee!" He then repeated the joke to the minister, who likewise cried out: "Wonderful! wonderful!" as did all the others.

However impertinent this sort of barefaced flattery may appear to Europeans, in the eyes of the Persians the omission of it would be a neglect of the common forms of politeness. Mr. Metier was once present when the prime minister gave instructions to a man who was sent to greet a Russian officer on his