Persia/Chapter 5

From Wikisource
Jump to navigation Jump to search

CHAPTER II.

OF THE GREAT OFFICERS OF THE EMPIRE.


SECTION I.

OF THE ITIMAD-AD-DOWLAH, OR PRIME MINISTER.

The first personage of the kingdom, next to the sovereign, is the Itimad-ad-dowlah, whose dignity corresponds with that of Grand Vizir anong the Turks, or our prime minister. In petitions addressed to him he is styled Visir azem—supreme Visir, but in familiar language he is denominated Itimad-ad-dowlah, a compound word signifying pillar of the empire. This minister is in fact the axis round which the enormous mass of the affairs of the state revolves. His favour is the only way to obtain appointments and emoluments from the prince: no application reaches the royal ear, unless transmitted through and supported by him. He negotiates with the ambassadors of foreign powers, and concludes or breaks treaties at pleasure. The finances are under his direction, and no public or royal domain can be alienated, no innovation made in the government, and no point whatever decided, without his participation. No document is valid unless it be furnished with his seal, and the governors of provinces act only by his instructions.

The Itimad-ad-dowlah repairs early in the morning to the Divan-kanch, in the palace. There he examines petitions, reads the despatches of the governors, prepares instructions for them, and takes the orders of the king. He communicates with him very rarely viva voce, but in general through the medium of eunuchs, or of some officer who has the right of access to the interior of the palace. In formal audiences, he stands at some distance from the throne, on the right, explains the matters to be deliberated upon, reads papers connected with them, gives his opinion, and takes the decisions of the king. In the excursions made by the sovereign, either for pleasure or to show himself to his subjects, the Itimad-ad-dowlah is commonly on his right; and if he be a man of any capacity, he then obtains what he has long solicited: for he disposes the mind of the prince by animated conversation, by happy sallies, by well-timed praises; and then turning the discourse to the object of his wishes, he rarely meets with a refusal. But by what privations, what toil, what anxiety does he not purchase the honour of being the second personage, or rather the first slave, in the empire? No sooner has the favour of the sovereign exalted a subject to the dignity of Itimad-ad-dowlah, no sooner is his utmost ambition gratified, than he becomes a stranger to peace and happiness. His days belong to the state; he passes them in the palace, away from his women, his children, and the objects of his affection. His nights are disturbed by the constant apprehension lest some courtier who is his enemy, and has contrived to win the good graces of the monarch at an entertainment; some eunuch, whom he has affronted; some female, who shares the king's couch, and whose parents have met with some refusal from him; or lastly the queen-mother, whose schemes he has thwarted, may be secretly preparing his downfall. He frequently owes his high fortune to chance: why then may not his disgrace be the work of intrigue? This apprehension identifies itself with his being, haunts him wherever he goes, and shows him the elevation of his rank merely as a measure of the depth of his possible fall.

The Itimad-ad-dowlah has two methods of retaining his dignity, and the duration of his power depends on the address with which he employs them. These are, to remove by exile or death those from whom he has any thing to fear; and to flatter the vanity and the passions of the sovereign, by magnifying his most insignificant exploits, ascribing to him qualities which he does not possess, and administering to his pleasures.

The post of Itimad-ad-dowlah is at present filled by Mirza Sheffea, an old man, of agreeable and easy manners, who surpasses all his countrymen in political knowledge, and not only has very accurate views respecting the interests of Persia, but is not wholly ignorant of those of the European nations.

The following picture of this old minister, was drawn by Kotzebue, in 1817:—

His Excellency is eighty years of age, and of small stature. His voice sounds as if it issued from the grave. He is vain, rouges, and affects an effeminate elegance of manners. In other respects he is really a phenomenon, for he has filled the post of prime minister during the last forty-five years. He said, that, notwithstanding his arduous occupations, the administration of the government under a sovereign like the present was a delight, and by no means too much for his advanced age: whereas the predecessor of his majesty, Aga Mohammed Khan, had frequently harassed him to such a degree, that, notwithstanding the unbounded love which he bore to his country, he had often been on the point of retiring from his office, and even from Persia. We had no difficulty in believing his Excellency, for the treatment which he experienced from his former master was truly barbarous.

Aga-Mohammed-Khan (uncle to the present king) was a eunuch, who, by a successful conspiracy, obtained possession of the throne, and in order to maintain it committed every imaginable act of cruelty. His condition may have contributed to increase his natural hatred of mankind. Determined to be dissatisfied, he sometimes placed confidence indiscriminately in all; at others, in none: and in the end, he distrusted even himself. Addicted to drinking, he would forget one day the orders which he had given on the preceding: and he roared like a maniac, at the sight of the unfortunate creatures, frequently his own favourites, who had been sacrificed by his command. It is not surprising, that with such a character, he should have united a passion for war, which nevertheless, he conducted disgracefully. He was finally murdered by his own guards.

Mirza Sheffea was long the prime minister of this monster. He was obliged to be constantly near his person, and rarely escaped humiliation or insult, of which the following anecdote affords a striking instance. The minister had daily to take minutes of the orders of the tyrant, which the latter dictated while stretched out on a carpet. If he was in an ill-humour, he would generally accompany them with expressions personally disrespectful to the minister; and on one occasion, probably when intoxicated, he abused Mirza Sheffea, saying, that he was continually plaguing him; that he left him no rest; and that he took delight in tormenting him, and in disturbing his slumbers. The minister continued writing, till his majesty's cushion flew at his head. Trembling with fright, he still proceeded with his writing. The diamond kallioon followed the cushion; and after that, every thing else within reach; and the king concluded with firing a pistol at the object of his fury. The ball passed through the minister's beard and lodged in his shoulder. He fell, and was carried away. The Shah soon fell asleep. Several months elapsed before the minister recovered from his wound, and he could not therefore appear at court. In the mean time, Aga-Mohammed did not once inquire after him: but when he got better, he returned to court, and administered the government as usual.

On another occasion, the bowstring was actually round his neck, when luckily he produced a Koran which he always carried about him, and at the sight of the sacred volume the Shah granted him his life. Notwithstanding this treatment, the old minister said, that had he accompanied Aga Mohammed in his wars, he would certainly not have been murdered.

SECTION II.

OF THE AMEEN-AD-DOWLAH, OR SECOND MINISTER

The second minister in Persia is now known by the title of Ameen-ad-dowlah. This title is a new one, and not to be found in the older travellers. It seems probable, that this minister has superseded the nazir, who, in Chardin's time, was the steward of the domains and effects of the crown, and whose functions have perhaps been extended. Morier calls him lord-treasurer, and says that he has a nazir or deputy. According to the same traveller, the Ameen-ad-dowlah defrays the expenses of the royal household, clothes the king's servants, furnishes the khilauts or robe of honour, and provides for the princes and the women. When one of the latter has reached the fifth month of pregnancy, she sends him a list of all the articles requisite for the infant to which she expects to give birth. The Ameen-ad-dowlah is obliged to supply them immediately. That he may be able to perform this service with precision, he keeps apparel for persons of all ages deposited in immense magazines. It is also the duty of this minister to have every year new apartments constructed. in the seraglio for the new comers admitted into it, and to furnish them with all the requisite utensils, which must be of silver.

This statement is confirmed by Kinnier, who farther informs us that the Ameen-ad-dowlah is charged with the administration of the interior or the home department, including the collection of the revenues, the cultivation of the lands, &c.

Hadice Mohammed Hussain Khan, the present Ameen-ad-dowlah, was originally a green-grocer in lspahan, of which city he is a native. From this humble'station, he rose successively to be deputy of his division, mayor of the city, and chief of a rich and extensive district near Ispahan, where he acquired great reputation for his good government. He afterwards made himself acceptable in the eyes of the late king, by a large peshkeesh or present; and as the then governor Of Ispahan was a man of dissolute life, oppressive and unjust, he succeeded in deposing him, and was himself appointed beylerbey. Here, from his intimate knowledge of the markets, and of all the resources of the city and its inhabitants, he created a larger revenue than had ever before been collected. He became the partner of every shopkeeper, of every farmer, and of every merchant; setting up those with capitals who were in want, and increasing the means of others who were in trade. He thus appeared to confer benefits, when by his numerous monopolies he was raising the price of almost every commodity. As, however, this revenue was apparently acquired without oppression, his reputation as a financier greatly increased: in spite of the opposition of his enemies, he advanced rapidly in the favour of the reigning monarch, and in the honours to which it led. On the accession of the present king, his zeal, his devotedness, and above all his presents, secured to him a continuation of the royal favour; and at length he rose, in 1807, to the dignity of Amee-ad-dowlah, or second visir of the state. How he acquired the wealth which enabled him to emerge from the green-grocer's stall, is not exactly known. His enemies assert, that during the last civil wars in Persia, a string of Jaafer Khan's mules were passing close to his house in 'the middle of the night, when two of them were accidentally detached from the rest, and strayed into his yard: they happened to be loaded with precious ones and other articles of great value, which, on the subsequent destruction of that prince, he appropriated to himself.

There cannot be a stronger instance than he is, of the few qualifications requisite to become a statesman in Persia. Illiterate as any green-grocer may well be supposed, necessity has obliged him, since his elevation, to learn to read and write: but he has succeeded so ill, that he can scarcely make out a common note, or join two words together in writing. At an audience of the king one day called upon to read a list of presents just received, he made so gross a mistake, that his majesty was extremely angry, and about to inflict summary punishment, when he extricated himself from the dilemma, by offering on the spot a large sum of money as an apology for his ignorance.

In his particular department, however, that of raising money to feed the king's coffers, perhaps no man in Persia has ever surpassed him; and with all this, the people of Ispahan, from whom the greater part of his riches are derived, are in general very well disposed towards him. He takes great pride in the improvement of the city and its environs, and with evident success. The public buildings have been repaired and beautified, during his administration; the cultivation has considerably increased, and there is a more general appearance of affluence and prosperity.

It is asserted that Hadjee Mohammed, impressed with the precarious nature of court favour in so arbitrary a monarchy, is in the habit of annually remitting considerable sums to his father, who lives near Bagdad, in order to provide a resource for himself in case of disgrace.

SECTION III.

OF THE VACA-NEVIZ, OR SECRETARY OF STATE.

We have not met with any mention of this dignity in modern travellers, though it still exists. Morier introduces, among the Persian ministers, the secretary-in-chief; and Kinnier informs us, that the events of Feth-Ali's reign are regularly written by the royal historiographer, who is no other than the vaca-neviz, or writer of occurrences. Kämpfer calls him chief secretary of state, and adds, that he is styled viziri-chep, or visir of the left, because his place is on the left of the king. The duty of the vaca-neviz consists in keeping an accurate register of all the decisions and decrees of the king; in examining all the acts of his authority; in reporting either to his majesty in person, or to his ministers, all the important events which occur throughout the empire, and in carefully committing them to writing. He is also keeper of the archives of the state, and of the letters and notes of foreign potentates and their ministers, of treaties of peace, and all diplomatic papers. When any difficulty arises in the administration, the vaca-neviz is consulted, that the conduct pursued, or the decision adopted, on a like occasion, may be followed as a precedent. Thus the vaca-neviz is both secretary, keeper of the archives, and historiographer of the state. It is said, that on the first day of the year, he reads, before the king and the whole court, a sketch of the events of the preceding year. In this respect, the dignity must be of very high antiquity, as its origin must date a,t least so far back as the time of Ahasuerus


SECTION IV.

OF THE MEER-AUB, OR PRINCE OF THE WATERS.

This post we place among the highest dignitaries, not so much on account of its rank as its importance. The reader may recollect what has already been said concerning the extreme dryness of the soil in Persia. There the least rill is a blessing of heaven; the smallest reservoir for collecting rain-water, a treasure which each would strive to appropriate to himself exclusively, did not government regulate the distribution of its contents. The meer-aub is the agent appointed by the supreme power to superintend this distribution of the water of the rivers or springs, which made monthly, in the following manner.

On the canal which conducts the water into the field, is put a circular bowl of very thin copper, with a small hole in the middle: at this hole, the water slowly enters. When the bowl sinks to the bottom, the measure is complete. This operation is repeated till the necessary quantity is furnished. The proprietor pays in proportion to the number of bowls thus filled. The price of the water varies according to the nature and situation. River water is dearer than spring water.

Each province has its meer-aub, under whom there are numerous agents for conducting streams from district to district, and from field to field. His income is immense, for his extortion has no other bounds than his avarice. His favour is of greater importance to the cultivator of the soil than that of the prime minister. His patronage is therefore purchased, and his probity is assailed in a thousand ways by those who are solicitous to obtain a little more water than their neighbours, or to induce him to change the direction of a canal.


SECTION V.

OF THE BEYLERBEYS, OR GOVERNORS OF PROVINCES.

The kingdom of Persia is at present divided into several extensive departments, over which are placed princes of the blood, who have under them officers with the title of Beylerbey, or Bey of Beys. They are also styled Arkan-ad-dowlah, or pillars of the empire.

The Beylerbey hold the first rank in the empire, after the Itimad and the Ameen-ad-dowlah; nay, they are more powerful than those ministers, for they are absolute in their governments,' frequently resist the royal authority, and in some provinces actuactually erect themselves into petty independent princes. Their courts are little inferior in splendour to that of the sovereign; they are composed of the same officers, only their establishments are not so numerous. This, however, is rather a picture of what has been the case under former monarchs; for the present king has had the prudence to adopt a politic precaution for ensuring the permanence of his authority.

When Hadjee Ibrahim had advanced him to the throne, he of course held the appointment of visir: but the king, to counteract the power of this high office, conferred similar dignities on two other persons, who were looked upon as the second and third ministers of state. The authority, therefore, of visir of the empire was divided among three persons; and though Hadjee Ibrahim undoubtedly enjoyed by far the greater share of influence, yet, when the king found it politic to make away with his benefactor, he had formed a party who readily undertook the execution of his wishes.

Feth Ali has pursued the same system in all the cities of his empire. The governors of districts may be considered as the civil officers of the state: they have no authority over the troops; but the commanders, in cases of exigence or alarm, are subject to their requisitions. The commandant of the citadel is another independent authority; so that the office of Beylerbey, which was formerly committed to the charge of one person, is now divided among a considerable number; and, as it is impossible for so many interests to coalesce, the king is sure to be informed of whatever may be done contrary to his orders. His government has been disturbed by only two rebellions; and it is probably owing to this system of counteracting the power and authority of his ministers and officers of state, that his reign has been of longer duration than is usually the case in despotic monarchies.

Each of the Beylerbeys is to the utmost extent of his power a despot, and the connivance of the king is purchased with extraordinary presents. This system of tyranny descends in a successive series from the king to the servants of his governors and officers of state: it returns, however, to its first source, and the government requires pecuniary satisfaction for the oppressive administration of its servants. A striking illustration of this system is given by Mr. Morier:

Mahomed Nebee Khan, from having been originally a scribe, and successively a shopkeeper, a merchant, an ambassador, and governor of Bushire, was at length raised to the visirship of the province of Fars, where, like all the Persians in authority, he was guilty of great extortions. He was sent for by the king, and his adventures afford a specimen of what generally happens to every Persian who has grown into power from his riches. Before he ventured to enter the capital, he sent for his son, who was an attendant on the court, of whom he inquired what were the king's intentions towards him, and what fear there might be for his safety. The king, in order to cloak his game, conferred the dignity of Khan on the son previously to seeing the father, which so blinded him, that he entered the city in full confidence of the monarch's favour. He had been accompanied by Mirza Ahady, governor of the great districts of Corbal and Fars, and his coadjutor in his system of extortion. They were summoned to appear before the king some days after their arrival and were then informed that they were to give an account of their respective offices. After they had stood some time before the king, he said: "Well, have you brought me no peshkeesh (present)?" They remained silent. "Where are the 70,000 toomauns, the arrears of the tribute of Fars; of course you have brought that?" Mirza Ahady answered, that "all that was due had been sent." The king then turned to Mahomed Nebee, who answered the same thing. "Call the ferashes," exclaimed the king, "and beat these rogues till they die." The ferashes came and beat them violently; and when they attempted to say any thing in their own defence, they smote them on the mouth with a shoe, the heel of which was shod with iron. The king's wrath increased with the violence of the blows, until it became so great, that he ordered them to be thrown out of the window, which was more than seventy feet from the ground. At this critical moment came the Ameen-ad-dowlah, who entreated the king to spare their lives, saying that he would be security for the payment of their arrears. Upon this the royal anger ceased, and he permitted the culprits to depart by the less expeditious mode of the staircase. Mirza Ahady was imprisoned; Mahomed Nebee soon afterwards received a khilaut as a palliative for the blows he had received, and as a douceur to keep him in a good humour till he should disclose the secrets of his riches, and exert himself to pay the full demands of the king upon him.

SECTION VI.

OF THE TITLES OF MIRZA AND KHAN.

In Persia there are no nobility, according to the acceptation of that term in Europe. In that country, no dignity, no office, is hereditary; yet there are titles which denote the birth or rank of the persons who bear them: such are those of Mirza and Khan.

Mirza is a Persian compound word, a contraction from mirzadeh, which signifies, son of an emir or prince. This title is very common in Persia: but it would be wrong to suppose that all who assume it are of high birth. It is applied alike to the lawyer, the physician, and the son of the king: its position before or after the name constitutes its value. The princes alone can subjoin it to their proper names, as Abbas Mirza, Hussain Mirza: but as a prefix to the name, it may be assumed by, or conferred on any person. It is right, however, to observe, that none but well-educated men, or such as follow respectable professions, or hold honourable posts, take the title of mirza.

The tide of khan was formerly given to the governors of provinces only. It is of Tartar origin, and very ancient. Quintus Curtius mentions several princes conquered by Alexander, who bore it, as Portican, Oxican, Musican; which shows that it was subjoined to the name in those times, as at present. The number of Persians now honoured with the tide of khan, is very great. It is conferred by the king either on his own subjects to reward their services, or on foreigners as a mark of honour and esteem. Feth Ali bestowed it by letters patent on some of the members of the French embassy sent to Persia under General Gardanne. So much is certain, that it ought to be borne exclusively by military men, and that those who have obtained it by martial achievements despise others who are indebted for it solely to the favour of the prince.

The ceremony attending the creation of a khan, is very simple. The king sends khilaut, or robe of honour, which will hereafter be more particularly described, to the person whom he honours with this title, accompanied with firman, or two letters, the one relating to the present of the khilaut, and the other conferring the title. This firman the receiver must wear three days, attached to the top of his turban.