Page images

Khelàfet, destined to fall by the dagger of an assassin, whose zeal was whetted in this instance by the persuasions of a beautiful woman, of whose person he could obtain possession only by the murder of Ally. Her rancour sprang from a feeling of revenge for the loss of her father, brother, and husband, in a recent conflict with the Khalif, whose head, together with a male and female slave, and three thousand dirhems, was the price fixed by this sanguinary and mercenary woman for her person, which is thus noticed in the characteristic phraseology of the original.

"On his arrival at Kufah, Eben Mûljûm became acquainted with, and violently enamoured of, a woman whose uncommon beauty and attractions he was unable to resist; whose name was Kettaumah, and of whom, adds our author, might justly be said, that her face was like the glorious reward of the virtuous, and the tresses which adorned her cheek, like the black record of the villain's guilt."

P. 357.

To observe and lament the wanton effusion of human blood is as common as the perusal of history-and no history exhi bits a greater prodigality of life than the rise and establishment of Islam, nor more instances of inexorable inhumanity. The massacre at Kerbela of upwards of seventy of the sons, grandsons, or intimate connexions of the illustrious Ally, is one of the greatest atrocities on record. It is detailed at considerable length, and in an affecting manner, in the work before us, and we had marked some passages for transcription; but as the necessity of abridging it would deprive the recital of part of its interest, we shall altogether omit it. The mind sickens at the contemplation of such turpitude; feels debased at being forced to acknowledge a fellowship of being with the actors in such scenes; and in the record of the particulars, deeply deplores the desolations of our nature. But there is no piece of history better authenticated, or more amply detailed; and scarcely any historical incident more pathetic. One can scarcely wish to restrain a feeling of satis faction in knowing that most, if not all, of the perpetrators of this horrid and accursed deed, were, as far as this world can witness, condignly punished-all suffered most ignominiously.

Nor doth the justice of this world thus terminate. The memory of all, and the names of many of the murderers, are handed down to these times in denouncing anathemas. Hymns and canticles of various sorts are gotten by heart by every Shiah, and are publicly chanted in buildings set apart for the purpose, at the annual commemoration of the martyrdom of Kerbela. This mourning, which is, we believe, very uniVOL. I. New Series. Gg

formly observed in most Mahommedan countries, continues through the first ten days of the month Moherrem. The mourners issue from the Imàmbareh, or buildings above mentioned, with torn garments and dishevelled hair, and run in frantic procession through the streets of their towns, vociferating Hassan and Hussein, the revered names of Ally's sons, the principal martyrs of Kerbela, with suitable execrations on the Khalif Yezzìd, and his murderous abettors. Two slight fabrics, domed, like Mahommedan tombs, highly ornamented with gilding, &c. are carried about by the crowd. Bloody clothes are sometimes placed in these tombs; and other fictions of pantomimic sorrow are introduced to excite a more lively remembrance, and a stronger feeling of resentment. To such a pitch of phrensy are these fanatics sometimes wrought, that it is not safe for a Sunneh to encounter them. The writer of this article has had opportunities of witnessing these wild processions, and has seen blood shed and lives lost in such encounters.

We are strongly impelled to remark the frequency of challenges to individual combat, which are recorded in the volume before us, and the avidity with which they were accepted, between parties in the ranks opposed to each other. They forcibly remind us of the candidates for this heroic distinction in the Iliad. The taunting speeches of the duellists, and the unfeeling insolence of the victors, are also similar; and, indeed, substituting Mahommedan and Pagan, or Christian, for Greek and Trojan; and Khaled or Ally, and Kerreib or Gherraur, for Hector and Ajax, and other heroes, the result is truly Homeric. Nay, we have (p. 111.) a warrior spreading dismay and ruin through the enemy's ranks disguised in the armour of one still more celebrated. The Mahommedan Patroclus is not, indeed, slain; nor the armour of the Achilles of the faith lost, or the similarity would have been too complete for accidental coincidence. A reference to pages 44, 110, 119, 280, and others of this first volume, will evince the accuracy of this comparison in a very amusing manner.

Nor were these challenges and combats confined to men of inferior note. Generals and commanders in chief, and even sovereigns, among the early Mahommedans and their opponents, as well as among the Greeks and Trojans, gave and accepted challenges, and contended for mastery in the presence of their armies. Foremost on these occasions were the Khalif Ally, and the general of cavalry, the heroic and generous Khaled. A poet has immortalized the name and exploits of the latter; and that the reader may form some judgment of

the strain of the work, our author has selected and translated these four lines :

"Thy irresistible valour hath hushed the raging tempest; in battle thou hast been armed with the tusks of the elephant, and the jaws of the alligator; thy mace hath hurled the terrors of the day of judgment through the Roman provinces; and the lightning of thy cimeter hath spread wretchedness and mourning among the cities of the Franks." P. 89.

This fierce and intractable man was, like his apparent prototype Achilles, alive to the potency of female blandishments; and Khaled also persisted, to an extent involving the deep displeasure of the Agamemnon of Islàm, in his attachment to his bright Briseis.

Tiresome and disgusting it would be to collect half the instances of atrocity detailed in this volume. We shall briefly notice two or three; premising that we are willing to hope, for the sake of humanity, that a little oriental exaggeration is mixed with the details. A villain “armed with a little brief authority" finished his bloody career consistently. While in the agonies of dissolution, it was made known to him that certain obnoxious persons, to the number of several hundreds, were in his power. Speechless, and equal only to one slight effort, he passed his hand across his throat, indicating significantly and sufficiently, by this departing act, the fate of his prisoners. This is told of Yezzid, the author of the tragedy at Kerbela. On a par almost with this, in point of feeling, is the relation of another writer, that eastern despots have been known, without interrupting the conversation or amusement in which they may, at the moment, have been engaged, to notify their will as to an execution, by a slight horizontal motion to and fro of the hand. This would be at once understood, and acted on as a sufficient death warrant. Executions in the east are generally by decapitation.

Of another ferocious tyrant, it is related in the work before us, on the authorities enumerated in the early part of this arti cle, that

"Exclusive of those who perished in battle, the amount of whom can be estimated by Him alone who knows all things, there fell by the arbitrary mandates of Hejauje not less than one hundred and twenty thousand persons. In a dream in which he appeared to some one soon after his death, he is made to declare that although for each of this numerous list of victims of his fury, Divine Justice was satisfied with inflicting on him the punishment of a single death; yet that for the execution of Sauid alone" (one of his more illustrious victims) "he was condemned to suffer seventy times the agony of dissolution. There were after all found in the different

[ocr errors]

prisons of his government, when Providence thought fit to relieve mankind from his oppressions, full thirty thousand men and twenty thousand women; many of them confined in that species of prison invented by himself, without roof: in which, alternately exposed to the scorching rays of the sun, and the vicissitudes of cold, heat, and rain, the unhappy victims were left to suffer every variety of pain and wretchedness.” P. 480.

On his death-bed, haunted by his reflections, he employed confidential persons to ascertain the public opinion of his character; and had the consolation to learn the general hope and belief that the hottest place in hell was assuredly reserved for him.

Another of these monsters swore a tremendous oath, that if it were his fortune to be successful in an enterprise that he was about to undertake, he would not restrain the sword from its course of vengeance, until the blood of his opponents had flowed in a stream sufficient to turn the wheel of a corn-mill, and he had appeased his hunger by eating bread prepared from flour so ground. His enterprise succeeded; and he caused twelve thousand of his prisoners to be led into a water course and butchered; and diverting a neighbouring streamlet through its channel, turned a mill with the human gore liquefied, and commingled with the water. His conscience thus appeased by the promised repast, he proceeded to the farther gratification of his vengeance, by causing four thousand more of his prisoners to be gibbeted. This, by the way, appertains also to Yezzid.

Merwaun, another of these instruments of wrath, after the capture of a fortress, seated himself at one of its gates, and causing the garrison to be led out, one by one, saw their throats cut to the last man. Proceeding in his career, he promised a thousand pieces of gold, and the most beautiful maiden in another fort that resisted him, to the man who should first enter it. The place was captured, and

"The principal adventurer was punctually paid his thousand dinaurs, and desired by Merwaun to take his choice among the fairest of the female captives. This he accordingly proceeded to do; and having fixed upon a young girl of exquisite beauty, was conducting her downwards from the fort; when, seizing her opportunity, the generous damsel suddenly clasped the odious foreigner in her arms with all the force of female revenge, and casting herself headlong from the works before he could disengage himself from her embrace, they were both together dashed to pieces in the fall. Enraged at such an instance of desperate and mortal antipathy, Merwaun caused every human being that was found in the place to be put to death, without mercy and without exemption." P. 506.

[ocr errors]

Opposed to these frequent instances of enormity, in which hundreds of thousands of human beings perished-to such an aggregate, indeed, in the first century of the Mahommedan era, as, making due allowance for the exaggerations of historians, may excite surprise, how, in such countries, such hosts could be produced and reproduced;-opposed to these enormities, occasional instances of humanity are recorded by the Arabian writers, and preserved by the author of the Retrospect, who does not withhold from himself and his readers the little consolation to be thence derived; but, with a generous sentiment, indulges in the contemplation of them, as the refreshing Oasis of the moral desert of Arabia.

We were desirous of noticing some parts of this work, in which the author treads the ground preoccupied by Gibbon; but for reasons that may be too obvious, must now decline itremarking merely, that Major Price, in adhering to the authority of the original sources whence he has drawn the materials for his work, differs considerably in several instances from the relation of that celebrated writer; to whose general accuracy, in as far as agreeing in the main with such authorities may deserve that commendation, this Retrospect bears honourable testimony. Considering that Mr. Gibbon was unable to consult such original works, his industrious research, and discriminating talents, demand as much praise as can ever be due to great abilities allied to overweening vanity, and grossly misapplied to purposes for which they were never bestowed.

Our readers will have perceived that our opinion of Major Price's work is favourable; and we were gratified at being accidentally afforded an opportunity of ascertaining that a similar sentiment prevailed in quarters more important to its author's interests. It is patronised, we understand, by the Indian government, and we are fully warranted in saying that the importance of the subject, the competent knowledge of the author in the language of the originals, his indefatigable patience of inquiry, his judgment in selection, and facility in arranging and communicating the result, give him a fair claim also to the patronage of the literary public.

« PreviousContinue »