Sidebilder
PDF
ePub

made a body of one hundred and sixty thousand men. His state officers, the favourite slaves, stood near him in splendid apparel, their belts glittering with gold and geins. Near them were seven thousand eunuchs; four thousand of them white, the remainder black. The porters or doorkeepers were in number seven hundred. Barges and boats, with the most superb decorations, were seen swimming upon the Tigris. Nor was the palace itself less splendid, in which were hung up thirty thousand pieces of tapestry; twelve thousand five hundred of which were of silk embroidered with gold. The carpets on the floor were twenty-two thou. sand. A hundred lions were brought out, with a keeper to each lion. Among the other spectacles of rare and stupendous luxury, was a tree of gold and silver, spreading into eighteenlarge branches; on which, and on the lesser boughs, sat a variety of birds, made of the same precious metals, as well as the leaves of the tree: while the machinery affected spontaneous motions, the several birds warbled their natural harmony. Through this scene of magnificence the Greek ambassador was led by the vizier to the foot of the caliph's throne.”

The reflection, if not the magnificence of Abdalrahman, is inte resting; and each of these anecdotes not only merit their place in the Decline and Fall of the Roman Empire, but illustrate oriental manners and customs at the present day.—“ Abdalrahman's buildings at Zehra were sustained or adorned by twelve hundred columns of Spanish and African, of Greek and Italian marble. The hall of audience was incrusted with gold and pearls, and a great bason in the centre was surrounded with the curious and costly figures of birds and quadrupeds. In a lofty pavilion in the

gardens, one of those basons and fountains, so delightful in a sultry climate, was replenished, not with water, but with the purest quicksilver. The seraglio of Abdalrahma, bis wives, concubines, and black eunuchs, amounted to six thousand three hundred persons; and he was attended to the field by a guard of twelve thousand horse, whose belts and scimetars were studded with gold.” We may profit by the experience of this monarch; for after his decease this authentic memorial was found in his closet: “ I have now reigned above fifty years in victory or peace, beloved by my subjects, dreaded by my enemies, and respected by my allies. Riches and honours, power and pleasure, have waited on my call, nor does any earthly blessing appear to have been wanting to my felicity. In this situation I have diligently numbered the days of pure and genuine happiness which have fallen to my lot: they amount to FOURTEEN! Oman, place not thy confidence in this present world!”

This reflection of Abdalrahman corresponds with the pathetic exclamation of Vanity from another voluptuous sovereign, renowned above all oriental princes for wisdom, wealth, and magnificence. The short dynasty of Hyder, the annihilation of the Mogul empire, the prostrate thrones, and tottering crowns of so many European monarchs, all within the short space of twenty years, wonderfully evince the fallacy of mundane speculations, and confirm the sublime line of the poet:

“He builds too low, who builds beneath the skies!" It is but justice lo the celebrated historian to add his remark on Abdalrahman's memorial, that “ the confession of the Arabian monarch, the complaints of Solomon, and the happy ten days of the emperor Seghed, will be triumphantly quoted by the detrac

tors of human life. Their expectations are commonly immoderate, their estimates are seldom impartial. “ If I may speak of myself, (the only person of whom I may speak with certainty) my happy hours,” says Gibbon, “ have far exceeded, and far exceed, the scanty numbers of the caliph of Spain ; and I shall not scruple to add, that many of them are due to the pleasing labour of composing the History of the Decline and Fall of the Roman Empire.”— With honest pleasure, as with equal truth, I may make the same assertion respecting the many delightful days I have spent in compiling these memoirs, and delineating their illustrations.

It is not probable that the Mysore sovereigns, who gave rise ta these reflections, enjoyed many happy hours, in the true sense of the expression. The splendors of royalty, especially in Asia, dazzle the eye of the spectator; he beholds the purple and fine kinen, the brilliant tiara, stately palace, and obsequious nobles, His imagination carries him to the interior apartments, where beauty, wealth, and pleasure, obey the imperial nod. But did he at the same time oppose the fear, distrust, and jealousy of despotism, he would exclaim with our immortal bard:

Unweary lies the head with such a crown!
O polish'd perturbation ! golden care!
That keeps the ports of slumber open wide
To many a watchful night!
- What stronger breast-plate than a heart untainted ?
Thrice is he arm'd that hath his quarrel just;
And he but naked, though lock'd up in steel,
Whose conscience with injustice is corrupted."

The truth of Shakespeare's observation is abundantly confirmed by Dr. Buchanan's picture of the inner apartments of Tippoo's palace: “ From the principal front of the sultaun's palace at Seringapatam, which served as a revenue office, and as a place from whence he occasionally shewed himself to the populace, the chief entry into the private square was through a strong narrow passage, wherein were chained four tigers; which, although somewhat tame, would, in case of any disturbance, become unruly. Within these was the hall in which Tippoo wrote, and into which very few persons were ever admitted. Immediately behind this was the bedchamber, which communicated with the hall by a door and two windows, and was shut up on every other side. This door was strongly secured on the inside, and a close iron grating defended the windows. The sultaun, lest any person should fire upon him while in bed, slept in a hammock, which was suspended from the roof by chains, in such a situation as to be invisible through the windows. In the hammock were found a sword and a pair of pistols.

That this suspicion and anxious dread pervades the whole despotic system, from the imperial musmud to the durbar of every inferior oppressor, is evident from the general construction of the great houses in Hindostan, which are full of dark passages, close narrow stairs, and short turnings, from whence the dagger of the assassin may best execute the meditated blow. Too true, I fear, is the melancholy picture of Sir William Jones in most parts of the world, but in Asiatic regions it applies with tenfold force-it formed part of a letter to Lord Teignmouth, written from Bengal in 1793.

“ Of European politics I think as little as possible; not because they do not interest my heart, but because they give me too much pain. I have goodwill towards men, and wish peace on earth; but I see chiefly under the sun, the two classes of men whom Solomon describes, the oppressor and the oppressed. I have no fear in England of open despotism, nor of anarchy.”

This distrust and suspicion in some measure accounts for the custom in India, especially among the Mahomedans, that in default of children, and sometimes where there are lineal descendants, the master of a family adopts a slave, frequently a Haffshee, Abyssinian, of the darkest hue, for his heir: he educates him agreeably to his wishes, and marries him to one of his daughters. As the reward of superior merit, or to suit the caprice of an arbitrary despot, this honour is also conferred on a slave recently purchased, or already grown up in the family; and to him he bequeaths his wealth, in preference to his nephews, or any collateral branches. This is a custom of great antiquity in the east, and prevalent among the most refined and civilized nations. In the earliest period of the patriarchal history, we find Abraham complaining for want of children, and declaring that either Eliezer of Damascus, or probably one born from him in his house, was his heir ; to the exclusion of Lot, his favourite nephew, (for whom he had just fought with the king of Elam and his confederates) and all the other collateral branches of his family.

The arrival of our ill-fated countrymen from Mangulore, during our stay at Tellicherry, replete with anecdotes of Tippoo's cruelty, and the distresses they had sustained in that fortress, aggravated by what they heard of the dreadful sufferings of the VOL. IV.

2 D

« ForrigeFortsett »