Persia/Chapter 30

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CHAPTER VIII.

OF CERTAIN HABITS OF THE PERSIANS.

Of all the habits of a Persian, the most common is that of smoking. Whether he is with his women, or in the divan-kaneh, in the company of his friends; whether he is going abroad or to court, he is never without his pipe, which fills the intervals of silence, relieves him from the fatigue of talking, and frequently causes him to be deemed more intelligent than he really is.

The Persian pipe, called kallioun or narquilly, is totally different from ours. It is shaped like a bottle terminated by the neck, at the top of which is a bowl for receiving he tobacco. The tube is attached to the bottom of this bowl, and frequently makes several windings in the bottle. The latter, which is of blown glass, has a curious appearance to a stranger: it is ornamented in the inside with representations of trees, flowers, and sometimes with small medallions. When the glass is just blown, these ornaments are fixed in the bottle with small pincers; and so neatly are the pieces joined together, as entirely to escape observation. A handsome kallioun costs, we are told, nearly fifty guineas.

To use this pipe, the bottle is filled with water, and the tobacco lighted. The smoke, after thus passing through the bottle, arrives at the mouth cool and disengaged from the coarser vapours.

The Peshkedmats are a class of servants who take charge of the smoking apparatus; and an excellent figure the man, his horse, and all the appendages of his office, make in one of their motley cavalcades. A couple of cylindrical leather cases are fastened on each side of his saddle, at the places usually destined for the holsters; one contains the kallioun with its tubes, &c. and the other the tobacco. On the left flank of the beast, and suspended by a chain long enough to clear the belly, hangs an
Persian Smoking.jpg

Persian Smoking.

Grandee Smoking on Horseback.jpg

Grandee Smoking on Horseback.

iron pot with live charcoal, and as an opposite pendant we see a large leather bottle, holding water-fire and water being essentials to the enjoyment of the kallioun. The attendant must be ready to serve the kallioun instantly at the call of the master. Some use the common wooden tubes; but others, more luxurious, have one that is pliable, winding like a snake several feet in length. It is attached to the conducting tube, which being held by the servant, enables him to attend in his duty and yet keep a respectful distance in his master's rear. The opposite plate represents a grandee smoking on horseback, and attended by a servant on foot.

It cannot be denied, that the incessant use of tobacco renders the people of the East thin and emaciated: this they themselves admit; but the power of habit is stronger than regard for their health. Abbas the Great was desirous of correcting this pernicious custom. One gala-day, he provided pipes ready filled, and ordered them to be handed to the courtiers. From time to time the king inquired how they liked this new sort of tobacco, which, he said, had been sent to him by one of his ministers. They all declared that it was excellent. At length he put the same question to the chief officer of his guards, a man bred in camps, and who was unaccustomed to the polite but frequently false language of courts. "Sire," replied the officer, "I swear by your head that it smells like dung."—" Cursed be the drug," cried Abbas, turning to his courtiers, "which cannot be distinguished from horse-dung" It was in fact that substance, dried and broken small, with which he had caused the pipes to be filled. The use of wine, it is well known, is forbidden by the Mahometan religion. In spite of the prohibition, many of the Persian monarchs of the Sofy dynasty, as Abbas II. and Sefy III. did not scruple to drink wine in public, even to intoxication, in which state they committed the most atrocious excesses. Chardin speaks of a visit to the former of these sovereigns, who, every night on returning home from the palace, looked at himself in the glass with surprise, and felt his head with his hands to make sure that it was still on his shoulders. One evening, his forebodings were realized, for it was no longer in its place. The reigning family of the Cadjars, however, are strict observers of this point of the law of Mahomet, which they enforce both by precept and example. Kotzebue relates an adventure of a khan at Teheran, who was so lax in his observance of it, that his conduct reached the ears of the king. His majesty at first reproved him in strong terms for his immorality, but as this had no effect, he commanded the khan to continue drinking. This order the latter so faithfully obeyed, that he remained in a state of intoxication forty days, by which time he became so disgusted with the practice, that he begged to revoke his command

Notwithstanding, the example set by the court, drinking to intoxication seems to be no uncommon vice among the Persians. Mr. Mofier informs us, that when they wish to have a debauch, instead of sitting down to it in the evening, as is customary in Europe, they rise early and esteem the morning the best time for beginning to drink wine; by which means they have the whole day before them, and carry on their excess until night. He once saw a party seated not far from the road, in the open air, and apparently much intoxicated, by seven o'clock in the morning.

It is worthy of remark, that the nations, not excepting the most savage, to which the use of wine is unknown, have liquors or preparations which serve as substitutes for that beverage.

Thus the pious Musulmans, though they abstain from wine, intoxicate themselves with the popy. From this plant they make various preparations, the most common of which, called hashembegui, is the juice of the poppy made up into pills. They begin with taking a pill of the size of a hemp-seed, and gradually increase it till it is as large as a pea. At this quantity they are obliged to stop, or the dose would be fatal. To this preparation the Persians attribute virtues which make them extremely fond of it. According to them, it places agreeable visions before the mind, and produces a sort of enchantment. It is remarked, that those who make use of it manifest, after a certain time, an uncommon flow of spirits; on the cessation of which, the body becomes cold, and the mind sullen and stupid; sleep commonly ensues, and puts an end to this species of intoxication.