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Arabian Poetry, by W. A. Clouston, [1881], at

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*** Of the biographical, historical, and critical Notes prefixed to Carlyle's translations, the more lengthy ones are, with a few exceptions, here presented in an abridged form. Additional Notes are placed within brackets.



The simile at the conclusion of this little piece will appear elegant to every reader, but to an inhabitant of the East, where vegetation and fertility are in many places almost entirely dependent upon the overflowing of the rivers, it must have been peculiarly striking.


The figure in the last stanza is undoubtedly somewhat bold, but we have many in our own language almost equally so; and while we admire the "darkness visible" of Milton, we ought not to find fault with the "speaking silence" of the Arabian poet.


[The allusion to the superstition of the pagan Arabs that a bird issued from the brain at a man's death and screeched over his grave (see note on v. 70, Poem of Antara) determines, as the translator remarks, the antiquity of this poem. The idea contained in the four last lines is also found in one of the odes of Hafiz—thus paraphrased by Atkinson, in the Notes on his epitome of the Shāh Nāmeh of Firdausī:

Zephyr through thy locks is straying,
Stealing fragrance, charms displaying;
Should it pass where Hafiz lies,
From his conscious dust would rise
Flow’rets of a thousand dyes.]

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Hatim Tai was an Arabian chief who lived a short time prior to the promulgation of Mohammedanism. He has been so much celebrated through the East for his generosity, that even at the present day the greatest encomium which can be given to a generous man is to say that he is "as liberal as Hatim." He was also a poet; but his talents were principally exerted in recommending his favourite virtue. An Arabian author thus emphatically describes Hatim's character: "His poems expressed the charms of beneficence; and his practice evinced that he wrote from the heart." The instances related of Hatim's generosity are innumerable; and the following are selected as affording a lively picture of Arabian manners.

The Emperor of Constantinople having heard much of Hatim's liberality, resolved to make trial of it. For this purpose he despatched a person from his court to request a particular horse which he knew the Arabian Prince valued above all his other possessions. The officer arrived at Hatim's abode in a Clark tempestuous night, at a season when all the horses were at pasture in the meadows. He was received in a manner suitable to the dignity of the imperial envoy, and treated that night with the utmost hospitality. The next day the officer delivered to Hatim his message from the Emperor, at which Hatim appeared greatly concerned. "If," said he, "you had yesterday apprised me of your errand, I should instantly have complied with the Emperor's request, but the horse he asks is now no more: being surprised by your sudden arrival, and having nothing else to regale you with, I ordered that particular horse to be killed, and served up to you last night for supper." (The Arabians prefer the flesh of horses to any other food.) Hatim immediately ordered the finest horses to be brought, and begged the ambassador to present them to his master. The Emperor could not but admire this mark of Hatim's generosity, and confessed that he truly deserved the title of the most liberal among men.

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It was the fate of Hatim to give umbrage to other monarchs. Numan, King of Yemen, conceived a violent jealousy against him, on account of his reputation; and thinking it easier to destroy than surpass him, the envious prince commissioned one of his sycophants to rid him of his rival. The courtier hastened to the desert where the Arabs were encamped. Discovering their tents at a distance, he reflected that he had never seen Hatim, and was contriving means to obtain a knowledge of his person, without exposing himself to suspicion. As he advanced, deep in meditation, he was accosted by a man of an amiable figure, who invited him to his tent. He accepted the invitation, and was charmed with the politeness of his reception. After a splendid repast, he offered to take leave, but the Arab requested him to prolong his visit.

"Generous stranger," answered the officer, "I am confounded by your civilities; but an affair of the utmost importance obliges me to depart."

"Might it be possible for you," replied the Arab, "to communicate to me this affair, which seems so much to interest you? You are a stranger in this place; if I can be of any assistance to you, freely command me."

The courtier resolved to avail himself of the offer of his host, and accordingly imparted to him the commission he had received from Numan. "But how," continued he, "shall I, who have never seen Hatim, execute my orders? Bring me to the knowledge of him, and add this to your other favours."

"I have promised you my service," answered the Arab. "Behold, I am a slave to my word. Strike!" said he, uncovering his bosom—"spill the blood of Hatim, and may my death gratify the wish of your prince, and procure you the reward you hope for. But the moments are precious; defer not the execution of your king's command, and depart with all possible expedition; the darkness will aid your escape from the revenge of my friends: if to-morrow you be found here, you are inevitably undone."

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These words were as a thunderbolt to the courtier. Struck with a sense of his crime and the magnanimity of Hatim, he fell down on his knees, exclaiming: "God forbid that I should lay a sacrilegious hand on you! Nothing shall ever urge me to such baseness." He then quitted the tent and took the road again to Yemen.

The cruel monarch, at the sight of his favourite, demanding the head of Hatim, the officer gave him a faithful account of what had passed. Numan in astonishment cried out: "It is with justice, O Hatim! that the world reveres you as a kind of divinity. Men instigated by a sentiment of generosity may bestow their whole fortune; but to sacrifice life is are action above humanity!"

After the decease of Hatim, the Arabs over whom he presided refused to embrace Islam. For this disobedience Mohammed condemned them all to death, except the daughter of Hatim, whom he spared on account of her father's memory. This generous woman, seeing the executioners ready to perform the cruel command, threw herself at the Prophet's feet, and conjured him either to take away her life or pardon her countrymen. Mohammed, moved with such nobleness of sentiment, revoked the decree he had pronounced, and, for the sake of Hatim's daughter, granted pardon to the whole tribe.

[It is related that Hatim, the poet En-Nabigha of Dubyān, and a man of the tribe of Nabīt were at the same time suitors for the hand of Mawia, the daughter of Afsār. Mawia, disguised as a poor woman, visited each of her three lovers, to partake of their hospitality. Each killed a camel on the occasion: the man of Nabīt and the poet En-Nabigha placed before her the tail of the camel each had killed; but Hatim gave her the fattest pieces of the hind part, of the hunch, and of the part between the shoulders, which are esteemed the greatest dainties. It so happened that when Hatim came to woo Mawia he found both his rivals there on the same business. Mawia desired each of them to describe his way of life in verses, promising to give her

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hand to him who excelled in poetical talent. En-Nabigha and the man of Nabīt in their verses boasted of the good use which they made of their riches; and when it came to Hatim's turn he recited the poem, beginning: "O Mawia! riches come in the morning and depart in the evening," which Carlyle has freely rendered into English (pp. 99, 100 of this volume). When the table was spread, the servants put before each of the wooers that portion of camel's flesh which he had given Mawia when she visited them in disguise. En-Nabigha and the man of Nabīt thereupon slunk away ashamed. Hatim at this time had already one wife, whom Mawia required him to divorce before she would give him her hand in marriage. "Never," said Hatim, "never shall I put away the mother of my daughter," and he departed home. But on the death of his wife, shortly after this, he renewed his wooing, and married Mawia, who bore him the spirited daughter that saved her tribe from destruction by her intercession with the Prophet, as above mentioned.—A number of Hatim's poetical effusions are preserved by Oriental writers; among these is the following little piece (paraphrased, by Miss Louise Zoller, a young lady of considerable literary culture, from the German version of Von Hammer-Purgstall):

How many are sordid slaves to their pelf!
Little doth Avarice give, and evil its gifts.
Praise be to God! riches serve as my slaves,
Freeing captives forlorn, helping the needful.
Mean minds are contented with that which is mean;
But he who truly is great aspires to deeds which are noble.

Hatim is the hero of a modern Persian romance, of which an English translation, by Mr. Duncan Forbes, was published in 1830. This work professes to recount Hatim's marvellous adventures in distant lands—going about relieving the distressed and removing obstacles to the union of fond lovers. The Romance of Hatim Taï appears to be mainly compiled from ancient Sanskrit fables and tales; and the adventures ascribed to the generous Arab chief are purely fictitious, but very

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entertaining.—Like Zuhayr the poet, Hatim is said by Muslim writers to have predicted the advent of Muhammad.

"Hatim Taï no longer exists," says the celebrated Persian poet Sa‘dī, in his Gulistan, or Rose-Garden; "but his exalted name will remain famous for virtue to eternity. Distribute the tithe of your wealth in alms; for when the husbandman lops off the exuberant branches from the vine, it produces an increase of grapes."]


The antitheses contained in the second and last stanzas of this poem are much admired by the Arabian commentators. Both this poem and the one following [p. 102] are taken from the Hamāsa; and afford curious instances of the animosity which prevailed amongst the several Arabian clans, and of the rancour with which they pursued each other, when once at variance.


There have been several poets of the name of Nabegat: the author of these verses was descended from the family of Jaid. As he died in the 40th year of the Hijra [a.d. 660], aged one hundred and twenty, he must have been fourscore at the promulgation of Islām; he however declared himself an early convert to the new faith. The Arabian historians give us a curious instance of Mohammed's affection for him. Nabegat, being one day introduced to the Prophet, was received by him with a salutation usual enough amongst the Arabians: "May God preserve thy mouth!" This benediction, proceeding from lips so sacred, had such an effect, that in an instant the poet's teeth, which were loosened by his great age, became firm in his head, and continued sound and beautiful as long as he lived. The Mohammedan doctors however are much divided in opinion upon the important point, whether Nabegat actually retained all his original teeth, or whether, having lost them, he got a new set.

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[This song is still popular in Arabia, especially among the desert tribes. Mrs. Godfrey Clerk, in her ’Ilâm-en-Nâs, p. 108, gives the following translation:

A hut that the winds make tremble
  Is dearer to me than a noble palace;
And a dish of crumbs on the floor of my home
  Is dearer to me than a varied feast;
And the soughing of the breeze through every crevice
  Is dearer to me than the beating of drums;
And a camel's-wool abāh which gladdens my eye
  Is dearer to me than filmy robes;
And a dog barking around my path
  Is dearer to me than a coaxing cat;
And a restive young camel, following the litter,
  Is dearer to me than a pacing mule;
And a feeble boor from midst my cousinhood
  Is dearer to me than a rampant ass.

And this is Captain Burton's version (Pilgrimage, iii. p. 262):

O take these purple robes away,
  Give back my cloak of camel's hair,
And bear me from this tow’ring pile
  To where the black tents flap i’ the air.
The camel's colt with falt’ring tread,
  The dog that bays at all but me,
Delight me more than ambling mules—
  Than every art of minstrelsy.
And any cousin, poor but free,
  Might take me, fatted ass! from thee.

The differences observable in these two translations and in that by Carlyle probably arise from each having been made from distinct variants of the original.

Mu‘āwiya was the fifth Khalif in succession from Muhammad, and the founder of the house of ’Umayya.]

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Shafay, the founder of one of the four orthodox sects into which the Mohammedans are divided, was a disciple of Malek Ben Ans, and the master to Ahmed Ebn Hanbal; each of whom, like himself, founded a sect which is still denominated from the name of its author. The fourth sect is that of Abu Hanifah. This differs in tenets considerably from the three others; for whilst the Malekites, the Shafaites, and the Hanbalites are invariably bigoted to tradition in their interpretations of the Koran, the Hanifites consider themselves as at liberty in any difficulty to make use of their own reason.—The reputation Shafay acquired was not entirely the consequence of his theological writings: he published many poems, which have been much admired. This specimen seems intended to recommend the doctrine of fatalism—a doctrine which has always been favoured by the orthodox Mohammedans.

["It is eminently erroneous and unjust," says Mr. Redhouse, in a valuable paper on "The Most Comely Names, i.e., the Titles of Praise bestowed on God in the Qur’ān," &c., which appeared in a recent number of the Journal of the Royal Asiatic Society,—"as well as inconsequent and inconsistent, for professing Christians, writers and speakers, to cast upon Muslims, their scriptures, and their prophet, the unfounded accusation of fatalism. That is a pagan idea, with which Islām has no more in common than Christianity has. What Muhammad taught, what the Qur’ān so eloquently and so persistently sets forth, and what real faithful Muslims believe, conformably with what is contained in the Gospels and accepted by devout Christians, is, that God's Providence pre-ordains, as His Omniscience foreknows, all events, and overrules the designs of men, to the sure fulfilment of His all-wise purposes."]


Ibrahim Ben Adham was a hermit of Syria, equally celebrated for his talents and piety. He was the son of a prince of Khorassan,

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and was born about the 97th year of the Hijra [a.d. 715]. The reason of his betaking himself to a religious life is related by Ibrahim Ben Yesar, from the holy man's own mouth. "I once requested him," says this author, "to inform me by what means he arrived at his exalted sanctity, and by what motives he was first induced to take leave of the world. For a while he continued silent, but upon my repeatedly urging him, he answered, that being one day eagerly engaged in the chase, he was surprised with hearing a voice behind him utter these words: 'Ibrahim! it was not for this purpose thou wast created.' He immediately stopped his horse, and turned about to see from whence the voice came, but discovering no one near, he fancied it to be an illusion, and returned to his sport. In a short time he heard the same words pronounced still more loudly, Ibrahim! it was not for this purpose thou wast created.' He now no longer doubted the reality of the admonition, and falling down in a transport of devotion, cried out: 'It is the Lord who speaks; his servant will obey.' Immediately he desisted from his amusement, and changing clothes with an attendant, bade adieu to Khorassan, took the road towards Syria, and from thenceforward devoted himself entirely to a life of piety and labour." Ben Adham performed the stated pilgrimage to Mecca without companions, and without having provided any necessaries for his journey. He obliged himself also to make eleven hundred genuflexions in every mile, by which means twelve years elapsed before he completed his pilgrimage. As he was returning from Mecca he met the Khalif Haroun Alrashid, who was going thither, accompanied by a magnificent train; and it was upon this occasion that he addressed these verses to the Commander of the Faithful, as a reproach for his ostentatious devotion.


Isaac Almousely is considered by the Orientals as the most celebrated musician that ever flourished. He was born in Persia, but having resided almost entirely at Mousel, he is generally supposed to have been a native of that place. Mahadi, the

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father of Haroun Alrashid, having accidentally heard Almousely sing one of his compositions, accompanied by a lute, was so charmed with the performance that he carried him to Bagdad, and appointed him principal musician to the court; an office which Almousely filled with universal applause during the reigns of five successive Khalifs of the house of Abbas, viz., Mahadi, Hadi, Haroun, Amin, and Mamoun.—Haroun Alrashid, whose inauguration is commemorated in these verses [p. 110], was the fifth of the Abbasside Khalifs, and the second son of Mahadi. He succeeded to the throne upon the demise of his elder brother Hadi, in the 170th year of the Hijra [a.d. 786]. Haroun, who was passionately fond of music, could not but be charmed with the talents of Almousely. At every party of amusement given by the Khalif, Almousely made one; and he is represented, like another Timotheus, to have been able at pleasure, by the touches of his lute, to raise or depress the passions of his master. Ebn Khalican relates the following remarkable instance of the effect of his musical powers upon the Khalif:

Haroun Alrashid having quarrelled with his favourite mistress, Meridah, left her in a rage, and refused to see her again. The lady was in despair, and knew not in what manner to bring about a reconciliation. In the mean time the vizier, Jaafer, who had always been a friend to Meridah, sent for Almousely, and giving him a song, composed for the purpose, requested him to perform it before the Khalif with all the pathos he was master of. Almousely obeyed; and such were the powers of his execution, that Haroun, immediately bidding adieu to his anger, rushed into the presence of Meridah, and taking all the blame of the quarrel upon himself, entreated his mistress to forgive his indiscretion, and bury what was past in an eternal oblivion. The historian adds (for such must always be the catastrophe of an Eastern story when it terminates happily), that the lady, overjoyed with this sudden alteration in the Khalif's disposition, ordered ten thousand dirhems to be given to Jaafer, and as much to Almousely; while Haroun, on his part, not less pleased with their reconciliation than the lady, doubled the present to each.

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The family of Barmec was one of the most illustrious in the East: they were descended from the ancient Kings of Persia, and possessed immense property in various countries; they derived still more consequence from the favour which they enjoyed at the court of Bagdad, where for many years they filled the highest offices of the state with universal approbation. The first of this family who distinguished himself at Bagdad was Yahia Ben Khaled, a person endowed with every virtue and talent that could render a character complete: He had four sons, Fadhel, Jaafer, Mohammed, and Musa, all of whom showed themselves worthy of such a father. Yahia was chosen by the Khalif Mahadi to be governor to his son Haroun Alrashid, and when Haroun succeeded to the Khalifate, he appointed Yahia to be his grand vizier, an event alluded to in the preceding composition. This dignity Yahia held for some years, and when increasing infirmities obliged him to resign it, the Khalif conferred it upon his second son, Jaafer.

Jaafer's abilities were formed to adorn every situation: independent of his hereditary virtues, he was the most admired writer and the most eloquent speaker of his age; and during the time he was in office, he displayed at once the accuracy of a man of business and the comprehensive ideas of a statesman. But the brilliancy of Jaafer's talents rendered him more acceptable to his master in the capacity of a companion than in that of a minister. Haroun resolved, therefore, that state affairs should no longer deprive him of the pleasure he derived from Jaafer's society; and accordingly made him relinquish his post, and appointed his brother Fadhel, a man of severer manners, grand vizier in his room. For seventeen years the two brothers were all-powerful in Bagdad and throughout the empire; but, as often happens in the East, their authority was overturned in a moment, and their whole house involved in ruin.

The disgrace and consequent ill-treatment of the Barmecides throw an eternal stain upon the memory of Alrashid; and the

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causes to which they are commonly attributed seem so vague and romantic that we can scarce imagine a prince like Haroun could ever have been actuated by such motives to commit such enormities. The reason for their disgrace most generally received is as follows:

The Khalif had a sister called Abassa, of whom he was passionately fond, and whose company he preferred to everything but the conversation of Jaafer. These two pleasures he would fain have joined together, by carrying Jaafer with him in his visits to Abassa; but the laws of the Harem, which forbade anyone except a near relation being introduced there, made that impossible; and he was obliged to be absent either from his sister or from his favourite. At length he discovered a method which he hoped would enable him to enjoy at the same time the society of these two persons who were so dear to him: This was to unite Jaafer and Abassa in marriage. They were married accordingly; but with this express condition, that they should never meet except in the presence of the Khalif. Their interviews, however, were very frequent; and as neither could be insensible of the amiable qualities which the other possessed, a mutual affection took place between them. Blinded by their passion, they forgot the Khalif's injunction, and the consequences of their intercourse were but too apparent. Abassa was delivered of a son, whom they privately sent to be educated at Mecca. For some time their amour was concealed from Alrashid; but the Khalif having at length received intelligence of it, he gave way to his rage, and determined to take the most severe revenge. In consequence of this cruel resolve, he immediately commanded Jaafer to be put to death, and the whole race of Barmec to be deprived of their possessions and thrown into prison. These orders were obeyed: Jaafer was beheaded in the antechamber of the royal apartment, whither he had come to request an interview with the implacable Haroun; and his father and brothers perished in confinement.

Some of the consolatory words which Yahia delivered to his unfortunate family, whilst they were in prison, are preserved by

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[paragraph continues] Ben Shonah: "Power and wealth," said the venerable old man, "were but a loan with which fortune entrusted us: we ought to be thankful that we have enjoyed these blessings so long; and we ought to console ourselves for their loss by the reflection that our fate will afford a perpetual example to others of their instability."—The fall of the house of Barmec was considered as a general calamity. By their courtesy, their abilities, and their virtues, they had endeared themselves to everyone; and, according to an Oriental writer, "they enjoyed the singular felicity of being loved as much when in the plenitude of their power as in a private station; and of being praised as much after their disgrace as when they were at the summit of their prosperity."


Taher Ben Hosein appears to have been the most celebrated general of his time. He commanded the forces of Mamun, the second son of Haroun Alrashid, and it was chiefly owing to his abilities that Mamun arrived at the throne.

This epigram on Taher reminds us of the following well-known lines, upon a brother and sister, both extremely beautiful, but who had each lost an eye; and it is curious to observe how easily the same idea is modified by a different poet into a satire or a panegyric:

Lumine dextro Acon, capta est Leonilla sinistro,
  Sed potis est forma vincere uterque deos:
Alme puer, lumen quod habes concede sorrori,
  Sic tu cæcus Amor, sic erit illa Venus.

An eye both Lycidas and Julia want,
  Yet each is fairer than the gods above;
Couldst thou, sweet youth, thine eye to Julia grant,
  Thou wouldst be Cupid, she the Queen of Love.

THE ADIEU—p. 113.

This beautiful little composition, which hears a striking resemblance to one of Sappho's odes, was sung before the

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[paragraph continues] Khalif Wathek, by Abu Mohammed, a musician of Bagdad, as a specimen of his musical talents; and such were its effects upon the Khalif, that he immediately testified his approbation of the performance by throwing his own robe over the shoulders of Abu Mohammed, and ordering him a present of a hundred thousand dirhems.—Wathek was the ninth Khalif of the house of Abbas, and a son of Motassem, the youngest of Haroun Alrashid's children. He succeeded his father a.d. 841, and died after a short reign of five years. Wathek was not deficient either in virtue or abilities: he not only admired and countenanced literature and science, but in several branches of them, particularly poetry and music, was himself a proficient. His last words were.: "King of heaven, whose dominion is everlasting, have mercy on a wretched prince, whose reign is transitory!"

[This prince is the hero of Beckford's "Arabian" tale of Vathek, which Byron has highly praised for "correctness of costume, beauty of description, and power of imagination;" but, though certainly a remarkable work of fancy, it is far from meriting the encomiums which were at one time so lavishly bestowed upon it.]


Abu Teman is reckoned the most excellent of all the Arabian poets; and I regret that I have not been able to give a more adequate specimen of his talents. He was born near Damascus, a.h. 190 [a.d. 805], and educated in Egypt; but the principal part of his life was spent at Bagdad, under the patronage of the Abbaside Khalifs. The presents he is reported to have received from these princes, and the respect with which he was treated by them, are so extravagant that one can scarce give credit to the accounts of historians. For a single poem which he presented to one of them, he was rewarded with fifty thousand pieces of gold, and at the same time assured that this pecuniary favour was infinitely below the obligation he had conferred; and upon reciting an elegy he had composed on the death of some great man, he was told that no one could be said to die who had been

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celebrated by Abu Teman. This poet expired at Mousel, before he had quite reached his fortieth year. His early death had been already predicted by a contemporary writer, in these words: "The mind of Abu Teman must soon wear out his body, as the blade of an Indian scimitar destroys its scabbard."

[Lord Byron, in his Letters, employs the same expression, with reference to himself, that "the sword wears out the sheath."—Abū Temmām was the compiler of the Hamāsa, a collection of ancient Arabic poetry, consisting of epigrams, odes, elegies, &c. It was a saying of Abū Temmām that fine sentiments delivered in prose were like gems scattered at random, but when they were confined in a poetical measure, they resembled bracelets and strings of pearls.]


Abd Alsalem was a poet more remarkable for abilities than morality. We may form an idea of the nature of his compositions from the nickname he acquired amongst his contemporaries of "Cock of the evil Genii." He died a.h. 236 [a.d. 850], aged near eighty.

EBN ALRUMI—pp. 120, 121.

Ebn Alrumi is reckoned by Arabian writers as one of the most excellent of all their poets. He was by birth a Syrian, and passed the greatest part of his life at Emessa, where he died, a.h. 283 [a.d. 896]. Alrumi attempted every species of poetry, and he attempted none in which he did not succeed. But he requires no further encomium when we say that he was the favourite author of the celebrated Avicenna, who employed a great portion of his leisure hours in writing a commentary upon the works of Ebn Alrumi.

[The beautiful epigram of Ibnu ’r-Rūmī, which our translator has expanded into the verses, "To a Lady Weeping" (p. 120), is

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thus rendered into Latin verse by Sir W. Jones, in his Poeseos Asiaticæ Commentarii:

Vidi in hortulo violam,
  Cujus folia rore splendebant;
Similis erat flos illi (puellæ) cœruleos habenti oculos,
  Quorum cilia lacrymas stillant.

Professor John W. Hales, of King's College, London, has directed the Editor's attention to the close resemblance which a verse of one of Lord Byron's "Hebrew Melodies" bears to the first stanza of Carlyle's paraphrase of Ibnu ’r-Rūmī's epigram:

I saw thee weep—the big bright tear
  Came o’er that eye of blue;
And then methought it did appear
  A violet dropping dew.—Byron.

When I beheld thy blue eye shine
  Through the bright drop that Pity drew,
I saw beneath those tears of thine
  A blue-eyed violet bathed in dew.—Carlyle's Trans.

Byron's "Hebrew Melodies" were published, with music arranged by Braham and Nathan, in 1814; the second edition of Carlyle's "Specimens of Arabian Poetry" was issued in 1810: Byron had, doubtless, read the volume, and boldly appropriated the Arab poet's fine simile.]


Ali Ben Ahmed distinguished himself in prose as well as in poetry; and a historical work of considerable reputation of which he was the author is still extant. But he principally excelled in satire; and so fond was he of indulging this dangerous talent, that no one escaped his lash: if he could only bring out a sarcasm, it was matter of indifference to him

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whether an enemy or a brother smarted under its severity. He died at Bagdad, a.h. 302 [a.d. 9141—The person to whom this epigram is addressed, Cassim Obid Allah, was successively vizier to Motadhed and Moctafi his son, the sixteenth and seventeenth Khalifs of the house of Abbas; the latter of whom was principally indebted to the activity of Obid Allah for his exaltation to the throne. This vizier died a.h. 294 [a.d. 906], having been entrusted with the chief direction of affairs at Bagdad for nearly fifteen years.


The thought contained in these lines appears so natural and so obvious, that one wonders it did not occur to all who have attempted to write upon a birthday or a death. To me, however, it was perfectly novel.—The Persian verses given in the Asiatic Miscellany, vol. ii., p. 374, seem to be a translation from our Arabian author.

[The verses to which Carlyle refers, translated from the Persian by Sir W. Jones, are as follows:

On parent knees, a naked new-born child,
Weeping thou sat’st, while all around thee smiled:
So live, that, sinking to thy last long sleep,
Calm thou mayst smile, while all around thee weep.

[paragraph continues] Strange as it may appear, the original of these lines has been ascribed to the Rev. Charles Wesley. In Notes and Queries, May 10, 1879 (5th Series, vol. xi., p. 365), a correspondent quotes the following passage, from page 399 of Mr. George J. Stevenson's Memorials of the Wesley Family, London, 1876: "On the last day of January, 1750, a clap of thunder unusually loud and terrible aroused Mr. and Mrs. [Charles] Wesley at two in the morning. Greatly alarmed, Mrs. Wesley went with her husband to consult a physician. Overtaken by a shower of rain, they made too great haste home, and the consequence was the premature birth of their first child. The mother recovered, not

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the child. The occasion awakened the muse of the father, who wrote the following lines:


The man that ushered thee to light, my child,
Saw thee in tears while all around thee smiled:
When summoned hence to thine eternal sleep,
Oh! may’st thou smile, while all around thee weep."

[paragraph continues] The writer in Notes and Queries then cites the supposed "imitation" of these lines by Sir W. Jones, and while shrewdly remarking that the resemblance was too great to be a mere coincidence, he allows that the Orientalist "has greatly improved the language, taking the rough gold of the original and moulding it into a form of beauty that will live for ever." As may be readily supposed, replies to this charge of plagiarism against Jones quickly followed in the same useful and entertaining miscellany: one writer observing that the lines ascribed to Wesley in Mr. Stevenson's book appear to be an ill-remembered citation from the beautiful and almost perfect quatrain of Sir W. Jones; another remarking that it would indeed be something strange to find such a man as Jones borrowing ideas of Charles Wesley; and both pointing out the original as given in Carlyle's volume, together with his English rendering. Other correspondents quoted a French translation of verses, identical with the Arabic original, by the Persian poet Hatif, and an apothegm, similar in sentiment and even in language, from Galland's Maximes, &c., des Orientaux.—Altogether, the idea of Charles Wesley's having written the original of this beautiful little piece is simply absurd. Moreover, the story bears upon the face of it the stamp of improbability. Ladies in an "interesting condition" do not leave their houses at two o'clock in the morning to go and consult the family doctor.]


This author was a native of Naharwan, but he lived principally at Bagdad, where he expired, a.h. 318 [a.d. 930], at the

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advanced age of a hundred. He is represented to have had a most voracious appetite, and as little delicacy in the choice of his food. Of this Nuvari relates the following ludicrous instance. The poet one day mounted his ass, in order to pay a visit to a nobleman in Bagdad. He was introduced into the saloon, and in the meantime the attendants conducted his ass into the kitchen, where it was killed and dressed, and at the proper time served up to him at table. The poet relished his dinner so much that he devoured every morsel which was set before him, declaring that he had never tasted such excellent veal in his life. When evening approached, he called for his ass, that he might return home; but the animal was nowhere to be found; and at length they confessed the trick which had been put upon him. The nobleman, however, made him a present which amply compensated for his loss, and he took leave, perfectly satisfied with his entertainment.

The occasion of this odd composition and its real intent are variously related. Some say that it means no more than it pretends to do, and that it was actually composed on the death of a favourite Cat. Others tell us that the poet here laments the misfortunes of Abdallah Ebn Motaz, who was raised to the Khalifate by a popular tumult, a.h. 296 [a.d. 908], and, after enjoying his dignity a single day, put to death by his rival Moctader. As the poet durst not show his grief for Abdallah in a more open manner, he invented, according to these authors, this allegory, in which the fate of Abdallah is represented under that of a cat. But the opinion most generally received is that these verses were composed as an elegy upon the death of a private friend, whose name is not known, but who, like Abdallah, owed his ruin to the rash gratification of a headstrong passion. This young man entertained an affection for a favourite female slave belonging to the vizier Ali Ben Isa, and was equally beloved by her in return. Their amour had been concealed for some time, but the lovers being one day unfortunately surprised in each other's company by the jealous vizier, he sacrificed them both to his fury upon the spot.

p. 424


Mohammed Ben Arfa, here called Naphta-wah, was descended from a noble family in Khorassan. He applied himself to study with indefatigable perseverance, and was a very voluminous author in several branches of literature; but he is chiefly distinguished as a grammarian. He died a.h. 323 [a.d. 9341


Radhi Billah, the son of Moctader, was the twentieth Khalif of the house of Abbas, and the last of these princes who possessed any substantial power. He is universally represented to have been a man of talents, and these compositions will show that he was not deficient in poetical merit. He died a.h. 329 [a.d. 940]


The Court of Aleppo, during the reign of Saif Addaulet Ia.d. 944-966], was the most polished in the East: the Sultan and his brothers were all eminent for poetical talents, and whoever excelled, either in literature or in science, was sure of obtaining their patronage; so that at a time when not only Europe, but great part of Asia, was sunk in the profoundest ignorance, the Sultan of Aleppo could boast of such an assemblage of genius at his court as few sovereigns have ever been able to bring together.—Elmacin relates that Saif Addaulet, having conceived a passion for a princess of the blood royal, gave such public marks of the preference he entertained for her, that the ladies of his harem took alarm, and resolved to rid themselves of the object of their jealousy by means of poison. The Sultan, however, obtained intelligence of their design, and determined to prevent it, by transporting the princess to a castle at some distance from Aleppo; and whilst she remained in this solitude he addressed to her these verses.

p. 425


Ebn Bakiah was vizier to Azzad Addaulet or Bachteir, Emir Alomra of Bagdad, under the Khalifs Moti Lillah and Tay Lillah: but Azzad Addaulet being deprived of his office and driven from Bagdad by Adhed Addaulet, Sultan of Persia, Ebn Bakiah was seized upon and crucified at the gates of the city by order of the conqueror.—The mode of punishment inflicted on the vizier gave occasion to this quibbling composition, which appears to a European more remarkable for its unfeelingness than for its ingenuity. Amongst the Orientals, however, who prefer this kind of jeu de mots to every other species of wit, it has always been so much admired, that there is scarce any historian of those times who has not inserted in his work a copy of the verses upon Ebn Bakiah.


History can show few princes so amiable and few so unfortunate as Shems Almaali Cabus. He is described as possessed of almost every virtue and every accomplishment: his piety, justice, generosity, and humanity are universally celebrated; nor was he less conspicuous for intellectual powers: his genius was at once penetrating, solid, and brilliant, and he distinguished himself equally as an orator, a philosopher, and a poet. In such estimation were his writings held that the most careless productions of his pen were preserved as models of composition; and we are told that a famous vizier of Persia could never open even an official despatch from Shems Almaali without exclaiming: "This is written with the feather of a celestial bird!"

Shems Almaali ascended the throne of Georgia on the death of his brother, a.h. 366 [a.d. 976]; and during a reign of thirty-five years made the Georgians happy by his administration. His ruin was at length occasioned by an unfortunate piece of generosity. In a contest between Mowid Addaulet and Faker Addaulet, two rival princes of the house of Bowiah, the latter had been overcome by his brother, and with difficulty escaped

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into Georgia, where Shems Almaali afforded him an asylum. Mowid Addaulet considered the kindness shown to his brother as an insult to himself, and in revenge he overran Georgia with a numerous army, and obliged Faker Addaulet and Shems Almaali to fly for refuge to the mountains of Khorassan. For three years the exiled princes led a wandering and uncomfortable life, surrounded by danger and harassed by necessity; but at the end of that period Mowid Addaulet died, and Faker Addaulet, without opposition, assumed the sceptre of Persia. With unparalleled ingratitude, Faker Addaulet refused to restore Shems Almaali to his hereditary dominions, and the unfortunate prince remained fourteen years longer in exile. At length Faker Addaulet died, and Shems Almaali reassumed the government of Georgia. He found many abuses had crept into the state, which he determined to correct; but the great men who profited by them conspired to deprive him once more of power, and during the absence of his son he was seized and thrown into prison, where the aged monarch perished of cold on the bare ground.

After the character given of Shems Almaali, it is almost superfluous to add that he was a patron of literature. His court abounded with men of genius from all parts of the East, amongst whom was the celebrated Avicenna, who lived many years under his protection.

[This little poem of Shamsu-’l-Ma‘ālī (i.e., "Sun of the Higher Regions") Qābūs was probably composed during his exile in Khorassan.—The ideas expressed in the last six lines of Carlyle's translation, which fairly represents the original, are identical with some of those contained in the second of Mr. Payne's specimens of the Poetry of the "Thousand and One Nights," as given in pp. 367, 368 of the present volume, which, there can be little doubt, is a variant of the Georgian monarch's poem.]

ON LIFE—p. 134.

[A Parallel to the sentiment contained in these verses—but far less elegantly expressed—is found in an old Greek epigram, which Major Robert Guthrie Macgregor has thus translated:

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[paragraph continues] ("Greek Anthology, with Notes Critical and Explanatory," Sect, vii., 148, p. 567)

Death dogs us all: we're fattened as a flock
Of swine, in turn, for slaughter on the block.

In Buddha's Dammapada, or Path of Virtue, rendered into English by Professor F. Max Müller, and prefixed to Captain Rogers’ translation of Buddhaghosha's Parables, is the following apothegm: "Death carries off a man who is gathering flowers, and whose mind is distracted, as a flood carries off a sleeping village."]


The occasion of this jeu d’esprit is thus related by Abulfeda: Carawash, Sultan of Mousel, being one wintry evening engaged in a party of pleasure along with Barkaidy, Ebn Fadhi, Abu Jaber, and the improvisatore poet Ebn Alramacram, resolved to divert himself at the expense of his companions. He therefore ordered the poet to give a specimen of his talents, which at the same time should convey a satire upon the three courtiers, and a compliment to himself. Ebn Alramacram took his subject from the stormy appearance of the night, and immediately produced these verses.


Ali Ben Mohammed was a native of that part of Arabia called Hijaz, and is celebrated not only as a poet but as a politician. In the latter of these characters he undertook a commission at the request of the Emir Alomra of Bagdad, the object of which was to excite an insurrection at Cairo, against the Egyptian Khalif Taher Liazaz; but being detected in his intrigues, he was thrown into prison, about a.h. 416 [a.d. 1025], and soon after suffered death.


Tabataba deduced his pedigree from Ali Ben Abu Taleb, and Fatima, the daughter of Mohammed. He was born at Ispahan,

p. 428

but passed the principal part of his life in Egypt, where he was appointed chief of the schereffs—i.e., descendants of the Prophet, a dignity held in the highest veneration by every Muslim. He died a.h. 418 [a.d. 1027], with the reputation of being one of the most excellent poets of his time.


Ben Yousef for many years acted as vizier to Abu Nasser, Sultan of Diarbeker. His political talents are much praised; and he is particularly celebrated for the address he displayed while upon an embassy to the Greek emperor at Constantinople. His passion for literature appears to have been extreme. The greater part of his leisure hours were devoted to study; and such was his assiduity in collecting books, that he was able to form two very large libraries, the one at Miaferakin and the other at Amid, which for some centuries after his death were considered as the great fountains of instruction for all Asia.


The life of this prince was chequered with various adventures: he was perpetually engaged in contests either with neighbouring sovereigns or with the princes of his own family. For several years, however, he maintained himself in the possession of his little kingdom, and during this period rendered Mousel the seat of science and literature. But in the year of the Hijra 442 [a.d. 1050] he was obliged to submit to his brother Abu Camel, who caused him to be conveyed to a place of security, where, however, he was treated with every consideration for his rank and years until after his brother's death, when it is said he was murdered by the inhuman hands of his own nephew.

ABU ALOLA—p. 141.

Abu Alola is esteemed one of the most excellent of the Arabian poets. He was born blind, or at least lost his sight at a very

p. 429

early age; but this did not deter him from the pursuit of literature. To prosecute his studies with more advantage, he travelled from Māara, the place of his nativity, to Bagdad, where he spent a few months in attending the lectures of the different professors at the academy of that city, and in conversing with the learned men who resorted thither from all parts of the East. After this short stay in Bagdad, he returned to his native cottage, which he never again quitted. But notwithstanding the difficulties he laboured under, and the few advantages he had received from education, "he lived," according to Abulfeda, "to know that his celebrity spread from the sequestered village which he inhabited to the utmost confines of the globe."—Abu Alōla died at Māara a.h. 449 [a.d. 10571, aged 86. He attempted every species of poetry, and succeeded in all.


The character and fate of this illustrious statesman are thus described by Gibbon: "In a period when Europe was plunged in the deepest barbarism, the light and splendour of Asia may be ascribed to the docility rather than the knowledge of the Turkish conquerors. An ample share of their wisdom and virtue is due to a Persian vizier who ruled the empire under Alp Arslan and his son. Nedham, one of the most illustrious ministers of the East, was honoured by the Khalif as an oracle of religion and science; he was trusted by the Sultan as the faithful vicegerent of his power and justice. After an administration of thirty years, the fame of the vizier, his wealth, and even his services were transformed into crimes. He was overthrown by the insidious arts of a woman and a rival; and his fall was hastened by a rash declaration that his cap and inkhorn, the badges of his office, were connected by the divine decree with the throne and diadem of the Sultan. At the age of ninety-three years the venerable statesman was dismissed by his master, accused by his enemies, and murdered by a fanatic. The last words of Nedham attested his innocence, and the remainder of Malec's life was short and inglorious."

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Malec died in the year of the Hijra 465 [a.d. 1072], and with him expired the greatness and union of the Seljuk empire.


Waladata, the daughter of a Spanish king named Mohammed Almostakfi Billah, was born at Cordova. She was a woman no less beautiful than talented. She was devoted to the study of rhetoric and poetry; she cultivated the friendship of the distinguished poets of her age, and frequently indulged in the pleasure of their conversation. In writing she had a great deal of wit and acumen, as may be seen from this distich.—Cassiri: Bib. Hisp.

Almostakfi was the last Khalif of the house of ’Umayya who reigned in Spain.


Seville was one of those small sovereignties into which Spain had been divided after the extinction of the house of ’Umayya. It did not long retain its independence, and the only prince who ever presided over it as a separate kingdom seems to have been Motammed Ben Abad, the author of these verses. For thirty-three years he reigned over Seville and the neighbouring districts with considerable reputation, but being attacked by Joseph, son of the emperor of Morocco, at the head of a numerous army of Africans, was defeated, taken prisoner, and thrown into a dungeon, where he died, a.h. 488 [a.d. 10951.


This author was by birth an African, but having passed over to Spain, he was much patronised by Motammed, Sultan of Seville. After the fall of his master, Ben Abd returned into Africa, and died at Tangier, a.h. 488 [a.d. 1095].—Ben Abd wrote at a time when Arabic literature was upon the decline in Spain, and his verses are not very unlike the compositions of our own metaphysical poets of the 17th century.

[The Arabian conquerors of Spain introduced the gallant custom of serenading their mistresses, on which occasion, not only

p. 431

the words of their songs, but the airs, and even the colour of their habits, were expressive of the triumph of the fortunate, or the despair of the rejected lover. The Kitar—whence our guitar, from the Spanish guitarra—was their favourite instrument.—Richardson.

The idea expressed in the first stanza of this serenade—the comparison of the eye of his sleeping mistress to a sheathed sword—is identical with a verse of Antara's beautiful poem beginning: "When the breezes blow from Mount Sa‘dī," &c., where the poet says of his darling Abla (p. 198, l. 4, et seq.):

"She draws her sword from the glances of her eyelashes, sharp and penetrating as the blade of her forefathers, and with it her eyes kill, though it be sheathed."

Again, in the verses recited by Antara before King Mundhir (foot of page 217):

"The eyelashes of the songstress from the corner of the veil are more cutting than the edge of cleaving scimitars."

The Persian poet Hafiz employs the same comparison:

"The glance of the cup-bearer is an unsheathed sword for the destruction of the understanding."

And the Afghan poet, Khushhāl Khān, Khattāk ("Selections from the Poetry of the Afghans," by Major Raverty, page 188):

I am intoxicated with that countenance, which hath sleepy, languid eyes:
By them I become all cut and gashed—thou wouldst say those eyes sharp swords contain.

Other illustrations of this similitude are given in Notes on the Poetry of the Romance of Antar.]


[Carlyle furnishes no particulars regarding this author, nor does he state whence the jeu d’esprit which he translates was taken. Mr. Lyall, in his "Translations from the Hamāsa and Aghānī," gives a fragment by Ishāq son of Khalaf, who was probably the

p. 432

same with our author. This fragment is of a very different cast from the amusing epigram paraphrased by Carlyle: it expresses the author's anxiety as to the possible fate of his daughter when he is dead. Mr. Lyall infuses into his translations so much of the real spirit of Arabic poetry, and the verses in question are so peculiarly interesting, that the temptation to reproduce his rendering of them in this connection is simply irresistible:

1. If no Umeymeh were there, no want would trouble my soul—
    no labour call me to toil for bread through pitchiest night;

2. What moves my longing to live is but that well do I know
    how low the fatherless lies—how hard the kindness of kin.

3. I quake before loss of wealth lest lacking fall upon her,
    and leave her shieldless and bare as flesh set forth on a board.

4. My life she prays for, and I from mere love pray for her death—
    yea, Death, the gentlest and kindest guest to visit a maid.

5. I fear an uncle's rebuke, a brother's harshness for her:
    my chiefest end was to spare her heart the grief of a word.


These explanatory Notes on the above are also by Mr. Lyall:

v. 3. "Meat on a butcher's board" is a proverbial expression for that which is utterly defenceless and helpless.

v. 4. The scholiast compares the proverbs (both current in the Ignorance)—"An excellent son-in-law is the Grave," and "To bury daughters is an act of mercy;" the reference in the latter is to the practice of burying female children alive immediately after birth, which was still prevalent (though not widely spread) among the pagan Arabs at the time of the Prophet's mission. The lot of women among the Arabs of the Ignorance was a hard one; and it is most probable that the practice in question was perpetuated, if it did not begin, in the desire to save the family the shame of seeing its women ill-used or otherwise disgraced.

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v. 5. He looks forward to the time when his daughter will be 'left fatherless, and find no love such as that which she found in him.


Of the author, Mr. Lyall has been able to ascertain nothing. The fragment, as shown in the rhyme of the first hemistich of the original, is the beginning of a qasīda. By his name (Ishāq), Mr. Lyall thinks the author should be a Muslim, since but one authentic instance is known of a biblical name being borne by an Arab, who was not a Jew; yet the sentiment of v. 4 is rather pagan than Islāmic.]


Abu Ismael was a native of Ispahan. He devoted himself to the service of the Seljuk Sultans of Persia, and enjoyed the confidence of Malek Shah, and his son and grandson, Mohammed and Massoud, by the last of whom he was raised to the dignity of vizier. Massoud, however, was not long in a condition to afford Abu Ismael any protection; for being attacked by his brother Mahmoud, he was defeated and driven from Mousel, and on the fall of his master the vizier was seized and thrown into prison, and at length, in the year 515 [a.d. 1121], sentenced to be put to death. This poem seems to have been composed in the interval of time between the flight of Massoud and the imprisonment of Abu Ismael; at least it breathes such sentiments as we might expect from a man in a similar situation.

This composition has obtained more general approbation than almost any poem extant in the East; it is celebrated by the historians, commented on by the critics, and quoted by the people. I have therefore given it entire from the edition of Dr. Pocock.—The extreme popularity of this production is a striking proof of the decay of all true taste amongst the Orientals: it were otherwise impossible that they could prefer the laboured conceits and tinsel ornaments of Abu Ismael to the simplicity of the bards of Yemen, and the elegance of the poets of Bagdad.

p. 434

[Such is our translator's estimate of the Lāmiyyatu-’l-‘Ajem, to which, whatever may be its shortcomings, his own rendering into English verse has certainly not done justice. It were much to be wished that Carlyle had endeavoured to preserve in his translation the external form, at least, of the original verses; but this could hardly have been expected perhaps in an age when our own English poetry was characterised by an absurd affectation of refined "sensibility," and was, according to Lord Byron, as artificial as Carlyle would have us believe this poem of Et-Tugrā‘ī to be. And yet, in 1758, or forty years before the first edition (very inaccurately printed, by the way) of Carlyle's "Specimens" was published, the Lāmiyyatu-’l-‘Ajem, under the title of "The Traveller: an Arabic Poem," was "rendered into English verse, in the same iambic measure as the original," by Leonard Chappelow, BḌ., of Carlyle's own University of Cambridge; of which, strange to say, our translator makes no mention. And it may here be remarked as not less strange, perhaps, that in Lowndes’ Bibliographer's Manual, while Dr. Pocock's Latin version of the original, with Notes, and Chappelow's English translation are both noticed, no mention is made of Carlyle's later rendering.

This poem is styled Lāmiyyatu-’l-‘Ajem, or the Lāmiyya of the non-Arabs, from the rawī, or binding letter of the rhyme running through the piece, which is the Arabic letter called lām (our "L"); and from the author of it being a Persian, or foreigner: the Arabs distinguishing mankind into two sections—first, themselves, ‘Arabs, and secondly, ‘Ajem, i.e., non-Arabs; as the "Jews and Gentiles," "Greeks and Barbarians." The author is commonly styled Et-Tūgrā‘ī, from the office he held of "Cypher-writer to the King"—Abu Ismā‘īl had to write the king's Tūgrā, or cypher, on all the royal edicts. This office still exists in Turkey: the holder is styled Tūgrā-kesh, cypher-drawer, and tevqī‘ī, cypherer; formerly, nishānjī, marker. The Poet's full name was Mu‘ayyidu-’d-Dīn, Hasan (or Husayn) ’bnu ‘Ali, Abu Ismā‘īl, Et-Tūgrā‘ī—which signifies: Hasan, son of ‘Alī, father of Ismā‘īl, Supporter of the Faith, Cypher-Writer to the Sultān.

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A still more remarkable "L" poem is the Lāmiyyatu-’l-‘Arab of the renowned pre-Islamite brigand-poet Shanfara‘, of whose life and poetry a most fascinating account is given by Mr. W. G. Palgrave, in his "Essays on Eastern Questions." "Nowhere," says Mr. Palgrave, "is his indomitable self-reliance more savagely expressed than in this famous poem—famous so long as Arab literature shall exist; the completest utterance ever given of a mind defying its age and all around it, and reverting to, or at least idealizing, the absolute individualism of the savage. It is a monolith, complete in itself; and if ever rendered (though I doubt the possibility) into English verse, must stand alone."]


About the middle of the sixth century of the Hijra there lived in the East three physicians, almost equally celebrated for their abilities. They were all surnamed Hebat Allah: the Gift of God; and each professed a different religion, one being a Christian, one a Muslim, and the other a Jew. The first of these—our author—was a native of Bagdad, and according to Abulfaraj, "the elegance of his manners equalled his learning, and the sweetness of his disposition was only exceeded by the sublimity of his genius." Ibn Altalmith was a favourite with all the princes who flourished at Bagdad during his time; but with Almoktafi he lived as a friend. He died, as he had lived, professing the Christian religion, a.h. 560 [a.d. 1164], at the advanced age of one hundred. His last words are preserved by Abulfaraj, and prove at least that his vivacity was unimpaired to the last: "Ibn Altalmith was expiring when his son approached his bed, and inquired whether there was anything he wished for. Upon which the old man in a faint voice exclaimed: 'I only wish that I could wish for anything!'"


The young man whose death is here lamented was the favourite son and intended successor of Alnassar, the thirty-fourth Khalif

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of the house of Abbas. On his death the Khalif was inconsolable: he resorted frequently to the tomb of his son, where he shut himself up, and abandoned himself to the most extravagant expressions of sorrow. Nor were the inhabitants of Bagdad less affected with the death of this amiable young prince: there was scarce a house in the city, we are told by a historian, which did not resound with lamentation, nor a countenance that was not depressed by grief.—Alnassar died a.h. 622 [a.d. r225], having survived his son ten years.

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