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LIFE OF FIRDOUSEE,
THE PERSIAN POET, AUTHOR OF SOOHRAB. From Mr. Atkinson's Translation. Oriental munificence is not seldom boasted of by Asiatic writers and historians, whose anecdotes are echoed by translators and romancers, who place the scene of fairy land in the beautiful regions of the East: certain it is, that, the warm feelings of natives of that climate have, occasionally, led them to actions of benevolence which colder natures find some difficulty in believing, however they may admire them. The same ardour has led to
conduct directly opposite; and has produced scenes of tyranny and oppression, of barbarity and bloodshed, at which the sympathies of humanity revolt. The ups and downs of life, the freaks of Fortune, acting by human passions, are no where more surprizing than amid the half civilized Monarchies of the East, where letters triumph to-day, and capricious tyranny
banishes them from the court to-morrow.
In this munificence the Poets of Asia have shared; under this fickleness, also they have suffered, of which instances are not unknown, and a very prominent one is now before us. It were extending our researches too far, perhaps, though the enquiry is not without its curiosity, to interrogate the pages of history for records of rewards bestowed on Poets, which appear to modern calculators enormous.Virgil received ten thousand sesterces for each verse, in a well known passage of his works and a much inferior poet to Virgil, received from Antony, at once, two thousand acres of land in one of the best provinces in Italy. Others might be named; but our present business is with a later age, and a more distant country. The anxiety of the Sovereign to obtain materials for the history of the country he governed is characteristic: his desire for eminent talent to ensure popularity and perpetuity to his design; the liberal acquiescence of ingenious rivals, with the VOL. II. Lit. Pan. New Series, Sept. 1.
intrepid independence of the Poet, are so many marks of a nobleness of mind not to be mistaken. It must, at the same time, be confessed, that the industry of the writer distinguishes him as a Hero of the pen : sixty thousand couplets composed with poetic fire, and polished with poetic skill, are labours not to be viewed without a startling sense of inferiority by the most voluminous of our modern Bards.
We naturally desire to know something of the life of such a man. His adventures depict at once the spirit of the individual, and the taste of the times. More happy than Homer, for the honour of whose birth seven cities contended; yet who wandered from province to province without a home, repeating his verses memoriter, when no longer able to read from his blindness ;– yet more than equally unhappy if the sufferings inflicted by ingratitude and malevolence, are to be estimated by intensity Greece might complain very truly of negrather than by number. The Bard of lect; but we read nothing of any orders for trampling him under the feet of an elephant. And this, at least, is one comfort on which British Bards may reckon : if the public will not honour them, neither will it molest them; if the inspirations of the muse they so highly value, excite but feeble wishes among the world at large, yet are they safe from the misery of the man who hangs on the favours of the great-and if in spite of prudence, ambition tempt them to strive for what fortune refuses, let them villify the blind goddess in good set terms; and reflect on the dan gers and the fate of Homer and Firdousee.
Of Abool Qasim Firdousee, the author of this celebrated work, little is satisfactorily known. He was born at Toos, a city of Khorasan, about the year 950. The following circumstances respecting the origin of the Poem and the life of the Poet, are chiefly derived from the Preface to the copy of the Shahnamu which was collated in the year of the Hijree 829, nearly 400 years ago, by order of Bayisunghur Buhadoor Khan. It appears from that 2 M
Preface that Yuzdjird, the last King of the Sassanian race, took considerable pains in collecting all the chronicles, histories, and traditions, connected with Persia and the Sovereigns of that country, from the time of Kuyomoors to the accession of the Koosroos, which by his direction were digested and brought into one view, and formed the book known by the name of Siyurool Moolook, or the Bastan-namu. When the followers of Moohummud overturned the Persian monarchy, this work was found in the plundered library of Yuzdjırd. The preface above alluded to minutely traces its progress, through different hands in Arabia, Ethiopia, and Hindoostan. The chronicle was afterwards continued to the time of Yuzdjird. In the tenth century, one of the Kings of the Samanian dynasty directed Duqeeqee to versify that extensive work, but the Poet only lived to finish a thousand distichs, having been assassinated by his own slave. Nothing further was done till the reign of Sooltan Mahmood Subooktugeen, in the beginning of the eleventh century. That illustrious conqueror with the intention of augmenting the glories of his reign, projected a history of the Kings of Persia, and ordered the literary characters of his court conjointly to prepare one from all accessible records. While they were engaged upon this laborious undertaking, a romantic accident, which it is unnecessary to describe, furnished the Sooltan with a copy of the Bastan-namu, the existence of which was till then unknown to him. From this work Mahmood selected seven stories or romances, which he delivered to seven Poets to be composed in verse, that he might be able to ascertain the merits of each competitor. The Poet Unsuree, to whom the story of Roostum and Soohrab was given, gained the palm, and he was accordingly engaged to arrange the whole in verse.
the Sooltan, who immediately invited him to his court.
When Firdousee arrived at Ghuzneen, the success of Unsuree in giving a poetical dress to the Romance of Roostum and Soohrab, was the subject of general observation and praise. Animated by this proof of literary taste, he commenced upon the story of the battles of Isfundiyar and Roostum, and having completed it, he em braced the earliest opportunity of getting that poem presented to the Sooltan, who had already seen abundant evidence of the transcendant talents of the author. Mahmood regarded the production with admiration and delight. He, without hesitating a moment, appointed him to complete the Shahnamu, and ordered his chief Minister† to pay him a thousand misqals for every thousand distichs, and at the same time honoured him with the surname of Firdousee, because that he had diffused over his court the delights of paradise.‡ Unsuree liberally acknowledged the superiority of Firdousee's genius, and relinquished the undertaking without apparent regret.
The Minister, in compliance with the
* A singular anecdote is also related in When our author the same preface. reached the capital, he happened to pass near a garden where Unsuree, Usjudee, and Furrokhee were seated. The Poets observed him approach, and at once agreed that if the stranger chanced to have any taste for poetry, which they intended to put to the test, he should be admitted to their friendship. Firdousee joined them and hearing their proposal, promised to Unsuree commenced exert his powers. with an extemporaneous verse:
The light of the moon to thy splendor is weak, Usjudee rejoined :
The rose is eclipsed by the bloom of thy cheek; Then Furrokhee:
Thy eye-lashes dart thro' the folds of the joshun. [armour.]
Firdousee was at this time at Toos, his native city, where he cultivated his poetical talents with assiduity and success. had heard of the attempts of Duqeeqee to versify the history of the Kings of Persia, and of the determination of the reigning King, Mahmood, to patronise an undertaking which promised to add lustre to the age in which he lived. Having fortunately succeeded in procuring a copy of the Bastan-namu, he pursued his studies with unremitting zeal, and soon produced
Like the javelin of Gu in the battle with Poshun.
The Poets were astonished at the readiness of the stranger, and ashamed of being totally ignorant of the story of Gu and Poshun, which Firdousee related as described in the Bastan-namu. They im
kindness and respect.
that part of the Poem in which the bat-mediately treated him with the greatest
‡ Uhmud Mymundee.