three pairs of lovers with space

TRAVELS IN ASSYRIA, MEDIA, AND PERSIA, 1815

 

James Silk Buckingham (1786-1855) was a Cornishman who, after spending most of his youth as a sailor, travelled extensively in Egypt and the Near East from 1813 to 1818. After an interlude as a journalist in India, he next settled in London, where he wrote books about his travels, and later became a reformist Member of Parliament.

His Travels in Assyria, Media, and Persia concern a journey undertaken between September and December 1815. It was first published in 1829, but the extracts which follow, which include all he had to say about Greek love, are taken from the second edition, published in two volumes, London, 1830. The love described was chaste, though passionate, and it has been thought worthwhile to give the full context for fuller understanding.

 

Volume I

CHAPTER I.  From Bagdad, across the Diala, to Kesrabad or Dastagherd 1 

The book opens with Buckingham staying in the house of another adventurous traveller, Claudius James Rich, the British Resident in Baghdad, whither he had travelled from Aleppo (as described in a previous work), and waiting to set out for Bombay in India. 

Sept. 3rd. — We had been put off from day to day, with assurances of a Persian  Ambassador's being about to return to Teheran, in whose train we might make a  safe entry into Persia.  … 

"Assembly of the caravan, under the walls of Bagdad": an illustration accompanying the original text

The Ambassador’s departure having then been severely postponed …

A large party of Persian pilgrims, who had been waiting, with ourselves, for many days, to profit by this occasion, for the sake of protection, now determined therefore to set out without it, and rely on their own strength for defence. We began accordingly to prepare for our journey, as I had determined to delay no longer, but to accompany them.  

The future companion of my way was an Afghan Dervish, named Hadjee Ismael, —one who, besides his own tongue, understood Persian, Turkish, and Arabic, was of a cheerful temper, well known on the road, and neither so impudent nor so ignorant as most of those who belong to his class. He was acknowledged to be one of the first engravers on stone in all the East, and had executed some seals and rings for Mr. Rich, which were finer than any this gentleman had seen even in Constantinople. 

With a very ordinary degree of industry and application, this man might have acquired a moderate share of wealth; but, in becoming a Dervish he had followed the strong bent of his natural inclination, — which was to renounce the sordid cares of this worlds to live a life of indolence and pleasure, and to move from place to place for the sake of that variety of incident and character which he loved to meet and to observe.  

Such a companion was in many respects very congenial to my wishes ; and what rendered him more so in this particular insistance was, that it was his own desire that I should pass with him as a Mussulman, under the name of Hadjee Abdallah, ibn Suliman, min Massr: i.e. "The Pilgrim Abdallah, (the Slave of God,) the Son of Solomon, from Egypt." He had even engraved a ring for me with this name on it, offered to assist me in reading the Koran, and to become my voucher on all occasions, provided I would constantly support the character of a Mohammedan, and state myself to be an Arab of Egypt, since that was still the accent of my Arabic, and that the country with which I was most familiar.  

The disadvantages of such a companion were only these; — that I should be obliged on all occasions to be my own groom, cook, and servant; and on some occasions perhaps his also, from our being so completely on a level; but for all this I was well prepared by long previous discipline. [pp. 3-5]

 

CHAPTER V. Visits at Kermanshah to the Friends of my Companion

Kermanshah was a frontier town just within Persia, where Buckingham and his companion now arrived. 

"Persian hall, and evening entertainment": an illustration accompanying the original text

Sept. 15th. — We took an early walk through all the principal parts of the town; in the course of which, my companion, the Dervish Ismael, met with a hundred of his old acquaintances, and forty or fifty of his best friends, he having been at different periods a frequent resident of Kermanshah. The salutations between them were in all cases cordial, but with the chosen few it was that of the closest and fondest affection. They kissed each other on the lips, on the cheeks, and on the shoulders; drew off to look for a moment face to face, as if to assure themselves that the joy of meeting was not a mere illusion; and re-embraced again and again, with greater warmth than before. We were thus taken into several private parties, saw the interior of many of the largest houses, and were entertained after the best manner of the country. All these were gratifying advantages, and afforded me much unexpected pleasure ; but it was still inferior to the gratification I derived from witnessing at every succeeding interview, so much of cordial attachment and friendly joy, which unequivocally displayed itself in those happy meetings of men who evidently regarded each other sincerely.  

"Interior of Persian bath at Kermanshah": an illustration accompanying the original text

Every step of our road from Bagdad thus far, had given me more favourable impressions of the general character of my companion than I had anticipated. The extent of his information, and the depth of his metaphysical researches, had often surprised me; while, though several dark spots tainted his history, there was nevertheless such a total absence of the meaner qualities of the soul, so high and independent a spirit, so frank and undisguised a heart, and so much of charity and benevolence mingled with every feeling to which it gave birth, that the good seemed to me to outweigh by far the evil. I could not therefore but feel an esteem for the man, mixed with a constant and a deep regret that so much natural talent and overflowing benevolence of disposition should have been half lost, and half perverted to worthless purposes, from the want of a proper bias being given by education and example in youth.  

Ismael, for such was his name, was by birth an Aghwan, or Affghan, from the country between Hindoostan and Turkomania. His father was poor, but avaricious to an extreme degree; and he conceived that it was the constant sight of this sordid passion displayed before him in its excess, which gave him a contempt for wealth and worldly honours at an early period of his life.  

His brothers, he said, were of similar dispositions with their father; and he therefore left them all, before he had attained his tenth year, and that too without a sigh of regret, excepting only those with which he answered a fond mother's tears, as she wept over her darling boy at parting. He promised, however, constantly to think of her, and to prove a friend when all the world should have neglected her. 

After wandering through the whole of the Khorassaun, visiting the great city of Bokhara in the north, and obtaining always the mere supply of food and raiment which he desired, by the occupations which fortune threw in his way, he came down through Persia to Bagdad, and there for a period settled.  He had by this time read most of the Poets and Philosophers of the East, since he already understood the Persian, the Turkish, and the Arabic languages, sufficiently well to write in each. He had studied Astronomy, Alchemy, and Physiognomy, as sciences — not on those principles of demonstration which form the basis of scientific pursuits in Europe, but after the best manner which the learning and learned men of the country could point out to him. He had come at last, however, to the conclusion of the Royal Hebrew, who was called the wisest of men, that all was vanity and vexation of spirit. Like this luxurious monarchy he had tasted of every pleasure which either courage or money could procure him. In his pursuit of sensual enjoyments, he had broken down every barrier of moral or religious prohibition; and, conceiving himself to be the lord of his own soul, without future tribunal or account, had launched into the abyss of forbidden gratifications — in which he became so deeply immersed, that the satiety of their excess, as he himself expressed it, wrought out its own cure.  

                                                                   Baghdad

At Bagdad he became more correct in his conduct, though still equally regardless of wealth or of worldly honours. Having an extraordinary talent as an engraver, he applied himself to the engraving of rings and seals; in which he soon became so celebrated, that there was not his equal throughout the land of Islam. Applications were made to him from Constantinople and all the great towns of Turkey, as well as from every part of Persia, from Tabriz to Shiraz. As his charges were always extravagantly high, from his consciousness of being without a rival, and from its requiring a very powerful inducement to draw him either from his studies or his pleasures, money flowed fast into his purse. Had he possessed half the avarice of his father, he might soon have been a wealthy man; but the moment that he found himself master of a sufficient sum, he quitted Bagdad on an excursion of pleasure, generally into some parts of Persia, where he remained until all was expended, and then returned to his occupations to recruit and prepare for further relaxations. Without this variety, he said, life would be insupportable; at the best, he thought it had too much of monotony, even in its pleasures, for a vivid and ardent mind; and if this were not relieved by those occasional flashes of joy, and pangs of torture, which at one moment intoxicate, and at another harrow up the soul of the man of feeling, it would be better to terminate than to continue a life not worth the trouble of preserving.  

Ismael had been known to the English residents at Bagdad for several years, during which period he had executed a number of seals and rings in a way that could be done by no one else in the city. He was well known, therefore, both to Mr. Rich and Mr. Hine, who equally approved of my making him the guide and companion of my future journey.  

The circumstances under which our intimacy took place were these: — Being desirous of having a seal-ring engraved, for my own use, with the Arabic name of Abdallah-ibn- Suliman, the Dervish Ismael was sent for by the gentlemen of the house, and was brought by Mr. Hine to my chamber. Some complimentary salutations having passed between us, we sat down together; and, Mr. Hine leaving us alone, when the order for the seal was perfectly explained, we fell into other topics of conversation. Not many minutes had passed, however, before my visitor started up hastily and exclaimed: — "W’Allah! ya Hadjee Abdallah, in can t'roakh al thaany Doonya, ana u'idjey maak" — By God, O! Pilgrim Abdallah! if you go even to the other world, I will follow you." I answered “Al Ullah, "—It rests with God. And thus our first interview ended.  

I had thought no more of this affair, regarding it as the mere flight of a capricious fancy; but the Dervish himself was more in earnest than I had conceived. He went immediately to declare his wish to Mr. Rich, who treated it as I had done myself; and thus the matter remained suspended. Some few days afterwards the ring was brought, when Ismael then told me that he had made every thing ready for his departure, and would not listen to a refusal. I was myself perfectly passive in the case; as it was a matter of indifference to me who my companion was provided he understood Arabic and Persian, of the last of which languages I knew but little. Mr. Rich still thought, as before, that so apparently capricious a determination was not likely to last; and that I might therefore be abandoned on the road, if I went with the Dervish only. Mr. Hine, however, thought he knew sufficiently of Ismael's character to vouch for his fidelity, and advised me to take him with me, as he desired.  

                    J. S. Buckingham

In all this, not a word was said about the time of service, or of the compensation expected for it. The affair was concluded as a matter of pure attachment, by his saying, "I shall lose here the opportunity of gaining two or three thousand piastres for the execution of orders now on my hands; I shall suffer more in tearing myself away from two or three friends who are very dear to me, and from one tender object of my affections who is of far more value to me than my own existence ; but from the moment that I saw you and heard your voice, I felt that your soul contained what I had all my life been searching for in vain, and that it was my destiny to follow you wherever you might go.” He added, "I shall go and bury my sorrows in the bosom of love, and await the moment of our separation with all the tranquillity of a soul resigned to its fate.” I did all that was in my power to combat this illusion, for such it evidently was, but in vain. The Dervish remained fixed in his purpose, beyond all the power of entreaty or refusal to shake it.  

When the day of our departure from Bagdad came, Ismael appeared before me in tears, and his eyes were red and swoln with shedding them; but when I asked him why he would make such painful sacrifices for my sake, he answered only by beating his hand violently upon his heart, stifling a deep sob, and turning aside his head to hide the vehemence of his grief. We armed ourselves in my room, before we descended into the court to mount; and when I braced on my pistols, he handled them, and tried their locks with a sort of frantic pleasure. His own musket, which was a small East India military one, of English make, pleased him extremely; and he tried the elasticity of my lance, shaking his head at the same time, and regretting that he was not expert in the use of so appropriate a weapon as this was for a horseman. He examined every item of my baggage with scrupulous attention, demanded to know the exact sum of money which I took with me, and what was the nature of the papers I possessed. In short, his behaviour appeared to me so strange and unaccountable, that I felt myself now and then relapsing into those suspicions which my kind advisers had previously removed. But my naturally confiding disposition overcame all doubts, and I was ultimately quite satisfied with the arrangements made.  

We set out therefore together, without any other feeling on my part than a strong desire to know more of my companion, whose conduct appeared so inexplicable, — and every day partially accomplished that wish. At the gate of Bagdad, Ismael was met by an elderly Christian merchant, whose name was Eleeas, and the parting between these was like that of a father and a son separating never again to meet. Tears flowed fast from the eyes of both; and when I learned that this venerable old man was the father of Ismael's love, there was something associated with the idea of a Moslem Dervish dying with affection for the daughter of a Christian merchant, and these — though one was poor and despised the world, and the other wealthy and attached to it — hanging over each other's neck in all the sorrow of the most closely united souls, — there was something in all this so strange, yet so affecting, that I felt my own sympathies powerfully touched by the scene.  

On our way, the Dervish was always too much occupied, either in his own reflections, or in conversation with me, to attend to the common duties of the road; so that all this, as I expected, had fallen on me. But for this I was prepared; and although it occupied more of my time than was favourable to the making such ample observations on our route as I desired, yet it in no way interrupted the general tranquillity of my mind, and I was therefore content and happy.  

The Dervish was as regardless of his own immediate concerns as of mine; for, after quitting Bakouba, he had lost a purse containing forty-five gold sequins, — a small bag, in which were some fine stones that he had promised to engrave for his friends, during his absence, at the first place he should find leisure, — as well as a paper in which were written certain commissions for him to execute for his friend Eleeas, from Ispahaun, the loss of which last affected him more deeply than all the rest.  

We had travelled thus far, however, happily together; and each appeared satisfied with the other. On the road, the Dervish scarcely ate or drank sufficiently to support nature, and slept always on the bare earth without a covering. His sleep was seldom tranquil: for, besides his speaking dreams, I had been often awakened by him in the night, when I found him sitting in a corner, smoking his short pipe formed only of the clay-ball without a stem, and either repeating some passages of Persian poetry, or sighing out occasional exclamations in his native tongue.  

We were in every sense of the word companions; and though the vigilance of our look-out when alone, or the fear of being betrayed to suspicious observers when in a caravan, occasioned us to talk but little when on horseback; yet, when we had alighted at the caravanserai, and the evening shadows came to veil us from the observation of others, we often sat up in close conversation together until midnight. It was in the course of these communions that I had learned such of the particulars of his history as are already detailed, with other still more striking features of his disposition.  

It must be premised that this man, though bred a Moslem, and always supposed to have so continued, — as any recantation of the faith in one born a believer is punished with death, — had reasoned himself out of all belief in any revealed religion whatever. His notions on this subject, and his reasons for the opinion which he entertained that all the reputed Prophets were either misguided zealots or shameless impostors, were so like those of Deists in most countries as to need no detail. He professed his admiration, however, of the precept which enjoined us 'to do unto others as we would they should do unto us;’ but, like many others who publicly make this the rule of their conduct, he very frequently departed from it. His passion were by nature too powerful, and through life had reigned too long without control, to be made subject to any laws: so that, when doctrines stood in the way of his pleasures, he invariably trampled them under foot.  

His companions and bosom friends in Bagdad were two Moslems: one a Persian of the Sheeah sect, the chief Mollah of the Tomb of Imaum Moosa, the author of many existing books on science and philosophy, and by far the most learned man of that city; the other an Arab Soonnee, a Mollah also, of the Mosque of the Vizier, near the banks of the Tigris at Bagdad. Besides these, were eight or ten wealthy Christian merchants, Armenians and Catholics, who were known to each other as fellow members of a secret society, calling themselves ‘Mutuffuk b'el Filosofeeah,’ or ‘United by Philosophy.’ These men met occasionally at the house of one or other of the Christian members, and there gave loose to every sort of debauchery which could be indulged in as pleasure. Music, wine, lascivious dances, women, and, in short, all that was deemed voluptuous, was yielded to; so that the Bacchanalia of ancient Rome seemed to be revived by these Eastern libertines.  

During the late Ramadan, nearly a thousand pounds sterling was expended among, this knot of philosophers, for women only; by which, however, they procured those of the first distinction in the place, both wives and daughters of those high in office and in wealth. That such things are practicable and practised, is beyond a doubt; and, indeed, when the very separate state in which the women live from the men, their liberty of going out and coming in when they please, except in royal harems where they are guarded by eunuchs, and the impossibility of recognizing one woman from another in their street-dresses, be considered; — one cannot but subscribe to the opinion of Lady Mary Wortley Montague, that as far as the safety of intrigue is implied by liberty, the women of Turkey have more than those of Europe.' The separate purses of the husband and the wife, and the stated allowances of the latter, contribute very powerfully to their infidelity. Shut out from that open intercourse with men which the females of Europe enjoy, and denied the benefit of education, the only pleasures they know are those of the passions, a love of novelty in suitors for their favours, and a fondness for finery in dress. As, however, they seldom entertain any decided preference for particular individuals, and would find it generally difficult to indulge their choice, all affairs of this nature are conducted by inferior agents, and money is the only standard by which the claims of the solicitors are measured. When the sum is once fixed, the rest is easily accomplished; and whole nights are passed by supposed faithful wives in the arms of others, without their being missed by their husbands, since it is not the fashion of the country for married people to share constantly the same bed. Three thousand piastres, or about one hundred and fifty pounds sterling, were currently named as the price of the daughter of the Dufterdar Effendi, one of the Secretaries of State; and this sum was said to have been actually paid by an old Christian merchant who had a wife and twelve children of his own !  

Amidst all this, I was at a loss to conceive how the Dervish could find much enjoyment, while labouring under the strong passion which I supposed he must then have felt for the object of his affections at Bagdad, whom he had quitted with so much reluctance. What was my surprise, however, on seeking an explanation of this seeming inconsistency, to find it was the son, and not the daughter, of his friend Elias who held so powerful a hold on his heart! I shrunk back from the confession as a man would recoil from a serpent on 'which he had unexpectedly trodden; and I was struck silent from further enquiry, as one would be averse to moving forward while so venomous and deadly a reptile lay in his path. I was delighted to find, however, at last, that this was a pure and honourable passion. His fondness for the boy was of such a nature as that he could not suffer him ever to leave the house, or be profaned by his exposure to the sight of others, keeping him always as sacred as the most secluded member of the harem; and in answers to enquiries naturally suggested by the subject, he declared he would rather suffer death than do the slightest harm to so pure, so innocent, so heavenly a creature as this. The friendship existing between the father of the child and its avowed lover, seemed to prove at least that the parent was satisfied as to the nature of the feeling ; and all that I saw myself, though I then thought it was for a female person, still appeared to me, even after I was undeceived in this particular, to be the result of a genuine effusion of nature, and in no way the symptoms of a depraved feeling.  

I remembered all that had been said on the subject of the love of boys among the Greeks, by those who conceived it to be a pure and honourable affection, as well as by those who thought the contrary. M. De Pauw's remarks on the beauty of the Grecian youth were fresh in my recollection, and Archbishop Potter's apology for, or defence of the practice, as springing from an honourable source, were still familiar to me. This instance seemed so strong a confirmation of the possibility of such a passion existing, and being yet productive of no corrupt effects, that I had no longer any doubt but that the greater number of instances were of this kind.  

The remarks of Archbishop Potter on this subject are so much to the purpose, that it may not be deemed irrelevant to introduce them here: He says: —  

Here follow a few pages of quotations from a source given as “Archaeologia Graeca, vol. ii. chap, ix, p. 239, 8vo. ed. 1820.”  Potter’s summary of Greek boy-love can be read there, or better still for those wishing to understand it, one can read the ancient sources he cites. The first third is a recounting of what Ephoros said here about boy-love in Crete. For the present narrative, it suffices for the reader to know that Buckingham believes Potter’s arguments that Greek boy-love was mostly chaste on the grounds that many Greek writers insisted that it was honourably conducted.  (There is no indication Buckingham or Potter considered the possibility that the Greeks’ idea of what was not honourable might differ radically from their own).… 

I took the greatest pains to ascertain, by a severe and minute investigation, how far it might be possible to doubt of the purity of the passion by which this Affghan Dervish was possessed, and whether it deserved to be classed with that described as prevailing among the ancient Greeks; and the result fully satisfied me that both were the same. Ismael was, however, surprised beyond measure, when I assured him that such a feeling was not known at all among the people of Europe. ‘But how?’ said he: ‘Has Nature then constituted you of different materials from other men? Can you behold a youth, lovely as the moon, chaste, innocent, playful, generous, kind, amiable, — in short, containing all the perfections of innocent boyhood, which like the most delicate odour of the rose, exists only in the bud, and becomes of a coarser and less lovely kind when blown into maturity — can you look on a being, so fit for Heaven as this is, and not involuntarily love it?' I agreed with him that a sort of admiration or affection might be the result, but I at the same time strove to mark the distinction between an esteem founded on the admiration of such rare qualities, and any thing like a regard for the person. I did not succeed, however, in convincing him; for, to his mind, no such distinction seemed to exist; and he contended that if it were possible for a man to be enamoured of every thing that is fair, and lovely, and good and beautiful, in a female form, without a reference to the enjoyment of the person, which feeling may most unquestionably exist, so the same sentiment might be excited towards similar charms united in a youth of the other sex, without reference to any impure desires; and that, in short, in such a case, the lover would feel as much repugnance at the intrusion of any unchaste thought, as would the admirer of a virtuous girl at the exhibition of any indelicacy, or the presence of any thing, indeed, which could give offence to the strictest propriety in their mutual intercourse.  

The Dervish added a striking instance of the force of these attachments, and the sympathy which was felt in the sorrows to which they led, by the following fact from his own history. The place of his residence, and of his usual labour, was near the bridge of the Tigris, at the gate of the Mosque of the Vizier. While he sat here, about five or six years since, surrounded by several of his friends, who came often to enjoy his conversation and. beguile the tedium of his work, he observed, passing among the crowd, a young and beautiful Turkish boy, whose eyes met his, as if by destiny, and they remained fixedly gazing on each other for some time. The boy, after ‘blushing like the first hue of a summer morning,' passed on, frequently turning back to look on the person who had regarded him so ardently. The Dervish felt his heart 'revolve within him,' for such was his expression, and a cold sweat came across his brow. He hung his head upon his graving-tool in dejection, and excused himself to those about him, by saying he felt suddenly ill. Shortly afterwards, the boy returned, and after walking to and fro several times, drawing nearer and nearer, as if under the influence of some attracting charm, he came up to his observer, and said, ‘Is it really true, then, that you love me?' ‘This,' said Ismael, ' was a dagger in my heart; I could make no reply.' The friends who were near him, and now saw all explained, asked him if there had been any previous acquaintance existing between them. He assured them that they had never seen each other before. ‘Then,’ they replied, ‘such an event must be from God.'  

The boy continued to remain for a while with this party, told with great frankness the name and rank of his parents, as well as the place of his residence, and promised to repeat his visit on the following day. He did this regularly for several months in succession, sitting for hours by the Dervish, and either singing to him, or asking him interesting questions, to beguile his labours, until, as Ismael expressed himself, 'though they were still two bodies, they became one soul.' The youth at length fell sick, and was confined to his bed, during which time his lover, Ismael, discontinued entirely his usual occupations, and abandoned himself completely to the care of his beloved. He watched the changes of his disease with more than the anxiety of a parent, and never quitted his bed-side, night or day. Death at length separated them; but even when this stroke came, the Dervish could not be prevailed on to quit the corpse. He constantly visited the grave that contained the remains of all he held dear on earth, and, planting myrtles and flowers there, after the manner of the East, bedewed them daily with his tears.  

His friends sympathized powerfully in his distress, which, he said, ‘continued to feed his grief,' until he pined away to absolute illness, and was near following the fate of him whom he deplored. On quitting Bagdad, however, the constant succession of new scenes and new events that befel him, in an excursion through Persia to Khorasan, progressively obliterated the deep impressions which sorrow had made upon his happiness. It was on this occasion, of his leaving the city, that his feelings burst forth in an elegiac. ‘Ode to Love,' which he paraphrased from his native tongue, the Pushtoo, into Arabic; and even in that form it appeared exceedingly eloquent, and reminded me powerfully of the praises which Anacreon  bestowed on his lovely, and, perhaps, equally chaste Bathyllus.  

From all this, added to many other examples of a similar kind, related as happening between persons who had often been pointed out to me in Arabia and Persia, I could no longer doubt the existence in the East of an affection for male youths, of as pure and honourable a kind as that which is felt in Europe for those of the other sex. The most eminent scholars have contended for the purity of a similar passion, which not only prevailed, but as we have already seen, was publicly countenanced, and praised, in Greece; and if the passion there could be a chaste one, it may be admitted to be equally possible here. De Pauw ascribes it in that country to the superior beauty of the males to the females, which is hardly likely to have been the sole cause; but, even admitting the admiration of personal beauty to have entered largely into the sources of this singular direction of feeling, it would be as unjust to suppose that this necessarily implied impurity of desire, as to contend that no one could admire a lovely countenance and a beautiful form in the other sex, and still be inspired with sentiments of the most pure and honourable nature toward the object of his admiration.  

One powerful reason why this passion may exist in the East while it is quite unknown in the West, is probably the seclusion of women in the former, and the freedom of access to them in the latter. People of such warm imaginations and high sensibilities as some among the Asiatics unquestionably are, must pour out their hearts and discharge the overflowing affections of their nature on something, and they are likely to fix them on that which they deem most amiable and lovely among the objects familiar to them. Had they the unrestrained intercourse which we enjoy with such superior beings as the virtuous and accomplished females of our own country, they would find nothing in nature so deserving of their love as these. But in countries where scarcely a virtuous and never an accomplished female exists, where almost every woman is without education, and where opportunity and high payment are all that is required to make the most chaste a willing prey; in countries, in short, where, besides the debased state of female society, men are so completely shut out even from this, that the occasional sight of their beauty cannot inflame them, where can any thing so love-inspiring else be found, as a young, an innocent, an amiable, and an intelligent youth ? And who but those of the very basest of their species, would think of degrading, even in their own eyes, a being, whether male or female, whom they devotedly and sincerely loved?  

Such debauchees as we have in England, who pride themselves on the number of innocent girls they have seduced and betrayed, might perhaps do so; but these are surely not a criterion by which to judge the great mass of any country. Even where custom and habit may have deadened the feelings of shame at this crime, the voice of nature must be always heard to plead against it. And such, indeed, is the fact; for while the Jelabs or public boys of Turkey and Persia are as much despised and shunned in those countries, as abandoned women are with us, or even more so; the youths who are the avowed favourites or beloved of particular individuals, are as much respected, and thought as honourably of, as any virtuous girl, whose amiable qualities should have procured her an honourable lover, while her companions were seeking in vain for such a distinction.  

Title page of Buckingham's Travels in Assyria, Media, and Persia

But it is time to return from a digression, which it is hoped will not be thought wholly irrelevant, as tending to elucidate a very important feature in the manners of the East, and one on which much misconception exists. My Dervish, then, notwithstanding this disposition, unknown and almost inconceivable among us, had many excellent qualities which Europeans, as well as Asiatics, know how to appreciate. He was brave and fearless in the highest degree, a virtue in the estimation of all men, from the savage to the sage. He had a heart that felt most warmly for the distresses of the poor, and had relieved many from his own purse, and pleaded the cause of others in appeals to mine, during the short time we had been together. On our route, we had found a little orphan boy, whom his master had left behind him on the road, from his incapacity to walk as fast as the daily journeys of the caravan. As his feet had swollen from his being shoeless, Ismael set him on his own horse, and walked from Harounabad all the way to this place, on his account alone. Not satisfied with this, he had this morning sought but his master in a khan, publicly reproved him for his cruelty and want of feelings purchased a pair of shoes for the lad himself, and gave him two sequins to provide against any similar abandonment. He had been hitherto faithful in all his transactions with me, whether it regarded his word or the unlimited use of my purse, and I believe him to have been sincere in his expressions of gratitude for my consenting to take him with me. He had brought his mother to Bagdad in her old age, and supported both her and her widowed sister with a large family of children for several years, always leaving with them a sufficient sum of money whenever he quitted that place on an excursion of pleasure. And to close all, he was apparently beloved by every one who knew him for any length of time, which a man can hardly be without having many real claims to esteem. In Bagdad, besides the gentlemen of the English Residency, who thought highly of his general character, and those of his other friends who all spoke to me of his intended absence with regret, there was not one among more than fifty that we had met to-day who did not salute and embrace him warmly, expressing a hope that he was come to make some stay among them, and evincing great disappointment, and even sorrow, when he spoke of his being merely the passenger of an hour. [pp. 133-169]  

 

CHAPTER XVI. Departure from Ispahan – and Journey by Ammeenabad and Yezdighaust to Persepolis. 

They had just let the Persian city of Ispahan and had encamped “at the village of Mayar, which is esteemed nine fursucks” thence. 

OCT. 15th. — While we were preparing to move at an early hour in the morning, the attention of the Dervish was attracted by the sight of a Persian stanza inscribed on the brick-wall of the recess in front of our chamber. Some sorrowing lover had probably written it, under the warm recollections of his mistress; and Ismael, whom it powerfully reminded of his young lover at Bagdad, was moved to a degree of feeling which I was still unable to comprehend. The Persian verse, as far as he was able to interpret it in Arabic, expressed the following lamentation: - ‘When the remembrance of thee steals into my heart, like a spy in the night, tears of water first flow from my eyes; but these soon give place to tears of blood.’ After repeating the verse in Persian aloud for several times, and evidently with a high degree of admiration, and looking alternately at the writing and at me, he exclaimed, ‘Ah ! how hard it is to have one's heart divided between Philosophy and Love! The first would make me your disciple and your follower throughout the world; but the last — yes ! it cannot be otherwise, — that will make me abandon all my dreams of wisdom and perfection, and hasten my return to the young Elias, the moment that you embark upon the ocean for India.’ — 'Al Ullah,' ‘It is with God,' I replied; and the Dervish repaired with sorrow to his labours. [pp. 426-7]