it is by no means my wish to discourage the young man:—so far from it, indeed, that if he will but totally alter his style of writing and thinking, I have very little doubt that I shall be vastly pleased with him.
Long ago I came across a message-board discussion of my game “The Sultan’s Palace” (aka “Palace of Sand”). One writer commended the game overall, but cautioned that it suffers from a touch of orientalism.
A touch of orientalism? Seriously? When I made that game—more years ago than I care to disclose—I set out to slather on every Arabian-Nights stereotype I could think of. And the best you can say is “a touch of orientalism”? Hmph.
But I digress. Revenons à nos moutons.
By 1817, Thomas Moore (1779–1852) was a very successful poet and lyricist; it was time to take a break from his usual Irish themes and delve into the All-Purpose Generic East, otherwise known as Orientalism. The Preface goes into detail about just how much he got the publisher, Longman’s, to pay him for this guaranteed best-seller.
Lalla Rookh’s orientalism isn’t limited to its stories and settings. It extends to the book’s very structure: four long verse narratives embedded in a prose frame. Lalla Rookh, fictional daughter of the real-life Mogul emperor Aurangzeb, is traveling to Kashmir to marry the king of Bucharia. To beguile the journey, her prospective groom has arranged for her entourage to include a poet from his own court. The poet, Feramorz, offers four tales of love gone wrong:
The Veiled Prophet of Khorassan
in which a young woman, thinking her lover is dead, joins a religious cult, and in the end is unwittingly killed by that same lover.
Paradise and the Peri
in which a Peri, lamenting the loss of Eden, collects “a drop of blood, a sigh, and a tear”—each with attached sad story—to regain admittance.
The Fire Worshippers
in which a defender of Iran’s pre-Islamic religion, and the daughter of an invading Arab, fall in love—ending inevitably with the death of both.
The Light of the Haram
in which Nour Mahal, wife of the Mogul emperor Jehangir, has a lovers’ quarrel with her husband and calls upon a sorceress to help her patch things up.
For some reason, this causes Lalla Rookh to fall in love with the poet.
Pro tip: If, like me, you find the verse unreadable, you have an ally in the frame story’s Fadladeen, the Chamberlain. Those were his words at the top of the page.
Lalla Rookh was originally published without illustrations. But by 1861 the book was celebrated enough for Longman’s to put out a new edition, illustrated by John Tenniel (1820–1914). Yes, that John Tenniel. He was a few years away from what is now his best-known work—Alice in 1864-65, Looking Glass in 1871—but his style was fully developed.
The title page further says that the illustrations were engraved by “the brothers Dalziel”. In reality it was probably the brothers and at least one sister Dalziel—along with a varying number of unrelated employees—all using what must be called the house signature.
For this ebook, I have thrown in some illustrations—or, at least, a cover or frontispiece—from a number of other late-19th-century editions:
Spellings of Generic Oriental words and names—transliterated from Arabic, Persian or any other language that caught the author’s fancy—hadn’t yet become fully standardized. So, for example, “Alla” is used consistently, even while we get the etymologically solid “haram” for the word now generally spelled “harem”. Things get even livelier in the Notes, since the author makes no attempt to regularize his sources’ varied spellings.
Equally consistent is the’ where you might expect th’: the’ Elect, the’ invisible, the’ Olympian and so on. Although it makes my skin crawl, I was obliged to leave it, because it goes back to the 1817 original.
“Jehan-Guire” is Jehangir, father of Shah Jahan and hence grandfather of Aurangzeb and great-grandfather of the fictional Lalla Rooh. If you read the “Guire” element as if it were French, you will come out with an approximately correct pronunciation, which may have been the author’s aim. Or, then again, maybe he just had no clue.
Confession: When I first found the 387 numbered notes, taking up the final 50 pages of the book, I thought: This is a great waste of space, and occasionally an insult to the reader’s intelligence, so let me go back and find an edition that doesn’t have them. As it turns out, the notes go back to the 1817 original, where there were one or two footnotes on most pages—and a lengthy Notes section at the end. The 1861 editor has in fact done us a favor by collecting all the notes in one place, where you can consult them or ignore them, as you prefer. (The editor also did me a favor by numbering them continuously.)
D‘Herbelot, cited many times in the notes, is Barthélemy D’Herbelot de Molainville (1625–1695). His most significant work was the four-volume Bibliothèque Orientale, published posthumously in 1697. The Notes suggest that Thomas Moore considered this a solid and unimpeachable source.
The long quotations from D’Herbelot and others also tell us that the author assumes the reader knows French. But he had no such confidence about Italian; citations from Toderini are from the French translation of De Cournand.
For this ebook, the Notes are collected at the end of each story. There are actually more than 387 of them, because the Introduction has a series of (unnumbered) notes of its own. Since there were no illustrations in the Notes section, I’ve broken them up with illustrations and covers from various other editions.
This ebook is based on the 1861 Longman’s edition illustrated by John Tenniel. Additional illustrations are from other editions, as described above.
Typographical errors are marked with and are listed again at the end of each chapter. The word “invisible” means that the letter or punctuation mark is missing, but there is an appropriately sized blank space. “Corrected from 1817 edition” means that I had doubts, so I checked this edition’s reading against the earlier edition from the same publisher.
AN ORIENTAL ROMANCE.
BY THOMAS MOORE.
WITH SIXTY-NINE ILLUSTRATIONS FROM ORIGINAL DRAWINGS BY JOHN TENNIEL,
ENGRAVED ON WOOD BY THE BROTHERS DALZIEL;
AND FIVE ORNAMENTAL PAGES OF PERSIAN DESIGN BY T. SULMAN, JUN.
ENGRAVED ON WOOD BY H. N. WOODS.
LONGMAN, GREEN, LONGMAN, & ROBERTS.
SAMUEL ROGERS, ESQ.
THIS VOLUME IS DEDICATED
HIS VERY GRATEFUL
AND AFFECTIONATE FRIEND
[From several ancient MSS. in the Library of the East India House.]
|He was a youth about Lalla Rookh’s own age||1|
|That Veiled Prophet of Khorassan||8|
|THE VEILED PROPHET OF KHORASSAN.|
[Principally from a beautiful MS. in the British Museum.]
|There on that throne, to which the blind belief
Of millions rais’d him, sat the Prophet-Chief.
|All, all are there;—each Land its flower hath given,
To form that fair young Nursery for Heaven!
|Believes the form, to which he bends his knee,
Some pure, redeeming angel, sent to free.
|She saw that youth, too well, too dearly known,
Silently kneeling at the Prophet’s throne.
|All fire at once the madd’ning zeal she caught;—
Elect of Paradise! blest, rapturous thought!
|She swore, and the wide channel echoed, “Never, never!”||28|
|At length, with fiendish laugh, like that which broke
From Eblis at the Fall of Man, he spoke.
|“Such the refin’d enchantress that must be
This hero’s vanquisher, and thou art she!”
|He raised his veil—the Maid turn’d slowly round,
Look’d at him—shriek’d—and sunk upon the ground!
|Now, through the Haram chambers, moving lights
And busy shapes proclaim the toilet’s rites.
|Young Azim roams bewilder’d,—nor can guess
What means this maze of light and loneliness.
|He sees a group of female forms advance.||59|
|“Poor maiden!” thought the youth, “if thou wert sent.”||62|
Oh! could he listen to such sounds unmov’d,
And by that light—nor dream of her he lov’d?
|“Look up, my Zelica—one moment show
Those gentle eyes to me, that I may know.”
|“Oh! curse me not,” she cried, as wild he toss’d
His desperate hand tow’rds Heaven.
|“Thy oath! thy oath!”||79|
|They saw a young Hindoo girl upon the bank.||81|
|Whose are the gilded tents that crowd the way?||84|
|In vain he yells his desperate curses out.||90|
|For this alone exists—like lightning fire,
To speed one bolt of vengeance, and expire!
|And they beheld an orb, ample and bright,
Rise from the Holy Well.
|And led her glittering forth before the eyes
Of his rude train, as to a sacrifice.
|And death and conflagration throughout all
The desolate city hold high festival!
|“There, ye wise Saints, behold your Light, your Star—
Ye would be dupes and victims, and ye are.”
|He sprung and sunk, as the last words were said—
Quick clos’d the burning waters o’er his head.
|“And pray that He may pardon her,—may take
Compassion on her soul for thy dear sake.”
|For this the old man breath’d his thanks and died.||119|
|PARADISE AND THE PERI.|
[Architectural details from Baghdad, &c.]
|The glorious Angel, who was keeping
The gates of Light, beheld her weeping.
| —She caught the last—
Last glorious drop his heart had shed.
|Like their good angel, calmly keeping
Watch o’er them till their souls would waken.
Then swift his haggard brow he turn’d
To the fair child, who fearless sat.
|Blest tears of soul-felt penitence!||151|
|And now—behold him kneeling there
By the child’s side, in humble prayer.
|“Joy, joy for ever!—my task is done.”||154|
|THE FIRE WORSHIPPERS.|
[In part from the binding of a “Shah Namah,” in the East India House Library.]
|And sits alone in that high bower
Watching the still and shining deep.
|“Oh! ever thus, from childhood’s hour,
I’ve seen my fondest hopes decay.”
|“Here, maiden, look—weep—blush to see
All that thy sire abhors in me!”
|Fiercely he broke away, nor stopp’d,
Nor look’d—but from the lattice dropp’d.
|The morn hath risen clear and calm,
And o’er the Green Sea palely shines.
|’Tis Hafed—name of fear, whose sound
Chills like the muttering of a charm!
|His Chiefs stood round—each shining blade
Upon the broken altar laid.
|“This very night his blood shall steep
These hands all over ere I sleep!”
|And o’er the wide, tempestuous wave
Looks, with a shudder, to those towers.
|And snatch’d her breathless from beneath
This wilderment of wreck and death.
|Shuddering, she look’d around—there lay
A group of warriors in the sun.
|“Tremble not, love, thy Gheber’s here!”||233|
|Ancient Persian Fire-Altar, &c. &c.||236|
|’Twas one of those ambrosial eves
A day of storm so often leaves.
|viii Breathless she stands, with eyes cast down||241|
|He felt it—deeply felt—and stood,
As if the tale had frozen his blood.
|A signal, deep and dread as those
The storm-fiend at his rising blows.
|As mute they pass’d before the flame
To light their torches as they pass’d.
|They come—that plunge into the water
Gives signal for the work of slaughter.
|“Now, Freedom’s God! I come to Thee.”||269|
|Where still she fix’d her dying gaze,
And, gazing, sunk into the wave.
|“Farewell—farewell to thee, Araby’s daughter!”||277|
|THE LIGHT OF THE HARAM.|
[From porcelain and illuminated MSS.]
|Or to see it by moonlight,—when mellowly shines
The light o’er its palaces, gardens, and shrines.
|He saw, in the wreaths she would playfully snatch
From the hedges, a glory his crown could not match.
|Such cloud it is that now hangs over
The heart of the Imperial Lover.
|He heeds them not—one smile of hers
Is worth a world of worshippers.
|Fill’d with the cool, inspiring smell,
The Enchantress now begins her spell.
|No sooner was the flowery crown
Plac’d on her head, than sleep came down.
|That all stood hush’d and wondering,
And turn’d and look’d into the air.
|She whispers him with laughing eyes,
“Remember, love, the Feast of Roses!”
|They had now begun to ascend those barren mountains.||321|
|The marriage was fixed for the morning after her arrival.||329|
T. Y. Crowell 1891: frontispiece
The Poem, or Romance, of Lalla Rookh, having now reached, I understand, its twentieth edition, a short account of the origin and progress of a work which has been hitherto so very fortunate in its course, may not be deemed, perhaps, superfluous or misplaced.
It was about the year 1812, that, far more through the encouraging suggestions of friends than from any confident promptings of my own ambition, I conceived the design of writing a Poem upon some Oriental subject, and of those quarto dimensions which Scott’s successful publications in that form had then rendered the regular poetical standard. A negotiation on the subject was opened with the Messrs. Longman in the same year; but, from some causes which I cannot now recollect, led to no decisive result; nor was it till a year or two after, that any further steps were taken x in the matter,—their house being the only one, it is right to add, with which, from first to last, I held any communication upon the subject.
On this last occasion, Mr. Perry kindly offered himself as my representative in the treaty; and, what with the friendly zeal of my negotiator on the one side, and the prompt and liberal spirit with which he was met on the other, there has seldom, I think, occurred any transaction in which Trade and Poesy have shone out so advantageously in each other’s eyes. The short discussion that then took place, between the two parties, may be comprised in a very few sentences. “I am of opinion,” said Mr. Perry,—enforcing his view of the case by arguments which it is not for me to cite,—“that Mr. Moore ought to receive for his Poem the largest price that has been given, in our day, for such a work.” “That was,” answered the Messrs. Longman, “three thousand guineas.” “Exactly so,” replied Mr. Perry, “and no less a sum ought he to receive.”
It was then objected, and very reasonably, on the part of the firm, that they had never yet seen a single line of the Poem; and that a perusal of the work ought to be allowed to them, before they embarked so large a sum in the purchase. But, no;—the romantic view which my friend, Perry, took of the matter, was, that this price should be given as a tribute to reputation xi already acquired, without any condition for a previous perusal of the new work. This high tone, I must confess, not a little startled and alarmed me; but, to the honour and glory of Romance,—as well on the publisher’s side as the poet’s,—this very generous view of the transaction was, without any difficulty, acceded to, and the firm agreed, before we separated, that I was to receive three thousand guineas for my Poem.
At the time of this agreement, but little of the work, as it stands at present, had yet been written. But the ready confidence in my success shown by others, made up for the deficiency of that requisite feeling, within myself; while a strong desire not wholly to disappoint this “auguring hope,” became almost a substitute for inspiration. In the year 1815, therefore, having made some progress in my task, I wrote to report the state of the work to the Messrs. Longman, adding, that I was now most willing and ready, should they desire it, to submit the manuscript for their consideration. Their answer to this offer was as follows:—“We are certainly impatient for the perusal of the Poem; but solely for our gratification. Your sentiments are always honourable.”*
* April 10, 1815.
I continued to pursue my task for another year, being likewise occasionally occupied with the Irish xii Melodies, two or three numbers of which made their appearance, during the period employed in writing Lalla Rookh. At length, in the year 1816, I found my work sufficiently advanced to be placed in the hands of the publishers. But the state of distress to which England was reduced, in that dismal year, by the exhausting effects of the series of wars she had just then concluded, and the general embarrassment of all classes both agricultural and commercial, rendered it a juncture the least favourable that could well be conceived for the first launch into print of so light and costly a venture as Lalla Rookh. Feeling conscious, therefore, that under such circumstances, I should act but honestly in putting it in the power of the Messrs. Longman to reconsider the terms of their engagement with me,—leaving them free to postpone, modify, or even, should such be their wish, relinquish it altogether, I wrote them a letter to that effect, and received the following answer:—“We shall be most happy in the pleasure of seeing you in February. We agree with you, indeed, that the times are most inauspicious for ‘poetry and thousands;’ but we believe that your poetry would do more than that of any other living poet at the present moment.”*
* November 9, 1816.
The length of time I employed in writing the few stories strung together in Lalla Rookh will appear, to xiii some persons, much more than was necessary for the production of such easy and “light o’ love” fictions. But, besides that I have been, at all times, a far more slow and painstaking workman than would ever be guessed, I fear, from the result, I felt that, in this instance, I had taken upon myself a more than ordinary responsibility, from the immense stake risked by others on my chance of success. For a long time, therefore, after the agreement had been concluded, though generally at work with a view to this task, I made but very little real progress in it; and I have still by me the beginnings of several stories continued, some of them, to the length of three or four hundred lines, which, after in vain endeavouring to mould them into shape, I threw aside, like the tale of Cambuscan, “left half-told.” One of these stories, entitled The Peri’s Daughter, was meant to relate the loves of a nymph of this aërial extraction with a youth of mortal race, the rightful Prince of Ormuz, who had been, from his infancy, brought up in seclusion, on the banks of the river Amou, by an aged guardian named Mohassan. The story opens with the first meeting of these destined lovers, then in their childhood; the Peri having wafted her daughter to this holy retreat, in a bright, enchanted boat, whose first appearance is thus described:—xiv
* * * * * *
For, down the silvery tide afar,
There came a boat, as swift and bright
As shines, in heaven, some pilgrim-star,
That leaves its own high home, at night,
To shoot to distant shrines of light.
“It comes, it comes,” young Orian cries,
And panting to Mohassan flies.
Then, down upon the flowery grass
Reclines to see the vision pass;
With partly joy and partly fear,
To find its wondrous light so near,
And hiding oft his dazzled eyes
Among the flowers on which he lies.
* * * * * *
Within the boat a baby slept,
Like a young pearl within its shell;
While one, who seem’d of riper years,
But not of earth, or earth-like spheres,
Her watch beside the slumberer kept;
Gracefully waving, in her hand,
The feathers of some holy bird,
With which, from time to time, she stirr’d
The fragrant air, and coolly fann’d
The baby’s brow, or brush’d away
The butterflies that, bright and blue
As on the mountains of Malay,
Around the sleeping infant flew.
And now the fairy boat hath stopp’d
Beside the bank,—the nymph has dropp’d
Her golden anchor in the stream;
* * * * * *
A song is sung by the Peri in approaching, of which the following forms a part:—xv
My child she is but half divine,
Her father sleeps in the Caspian water;
His funeral shrine,
But he lives again in the Peri’s daughter.
Fain would I fly from mortal sight
To my own sweet bowers of Peristan;
But, there, the flowers are all too bright
For the eyes of a baby born of man.
On flowers of earth her feet must tread;
So hither my light-wing’d bark hath brought her;
Thy leafiest bed,
To rest the wandering Peri’s daughter.
In another of these inchoate fragments, a proud female saint, named Banou, plays a principal part; and her progress through the streets of Cufa, on the night of a great illuminated festival, I find thus described:—
It was a scene of mirth that drew
A smile from ev’n the Saint Banou,
As, through the hush’d, admiring throng,
She went with stately steps along,
And counted o’er, that all might see,
The rubies of her rosary.
But none might see the worldly smile
That lurk’d beneath her veil, the while:—
Alla forbid! for, who would wait
Her blessing at the temple’s gate,—
What holy man would ever run
To kiss the ground she knelt upon,
If once, by luckless chance, he knew
She look’d and smil’d as others do.
Her hands were join’d, and from each wrist
By threads of pearl and golden twist
Hung relics of the saints of yore,
And scraps of talismanic lore,—xvi
Charms for the old, the sick, the frail,
Some made for use, and all for sale.
On either side, the crowd withdrew,
To let the Saint pass proudly through;
While turban’d heads of every hue,
Green, white, and crimson, bow’d around,
And gay tiaras touch’d the ground,—
As tulip-bells, when o’er their beds
The musk-wind passes, bend their heads.
Nay, some there were, among the crowd
Of Moslem heads that round her bow’d,
So fill’d with zeal, by many a draught
Of Shiraz wine profanely quaff’d,
That, sinking low in reverence then,
They never rose till morn again.
There are yet two more of these unfinished sketches, one of which extends to a much greater length than I was aware of; and, as far as I can judge from a hasty renewal of my with it, is not incapable of being yet turned to account.
In only one of these unfinished sketches, the tale of The Peri’s Daughter, had I yet ventured to invoke that most home-felt of all my inspirations, which has lent to the story of The Fire-worshippers its main attraction and interest. That it was my intention, in the concealed Prince of Ormuz, to shadow out some impersonation of this feeling, I take for granted from the prophetic words supposed to be addressed to him by his aged guardian:—xvii
Bright child of destiny! even now
I read the promise on that brow,
That tyrants shall no more defile
The glories of the Green Sea Isle,
But Ormuz shall again be free,
And hail her native Lord in thee!
In none of the other fragments do I find any trace of this sort of feeling, either in the subject or the personages of the intended story; and this was the reason, doubtless, though hardly known, at the time, to myself, that, finding my subjects so slow in kindling my own sympathies, I began to despair of their ever touching the hearts of others; and felt often inclined to say,
“Oh no, I have no voice or hand
For such a song, in such a land.”
Had this series of disheartening experiments been carried on much further, I must have thrown aside the work in despair. But, at last, fortunately, as it proved, the thought occurred to me of founding a story on the fierce struggle so long maintained between the Ghebers,* or ancient Fire-worshippers of Persia, and their haughty Moslem masters. From that moment, a new and deep interest in my whole task took possession of me. The xviii cause of tolerance was again my inspiring theme; and the spirit that had spoken in the melodies of Ireland soon found itself at home in the East.
* Voltaire, in his tragedy of “Les Guèbres,” written with a similar under-current of meaning, was accused of having transformed his Fire-worshippers into Jansenists:—“Quelques figuristes,” he says, “prétendent que les Guèbres sont les Jansenistes.”
Having thus laid open the secrets of the workshop to account for the time expended in writing this work, I must also, in justice to my own industry, notice the pains I took in long and laboriously reading for it. To form a store-house, as it were, of illustration purely Oriental, and so familiarise myself with its various treasures, that, as quick as Fancy required the aid of fact, in her spiritings, the memory was ready, like another Ariel, at her “strong bidding,” to furnish materials for the spellwork,—such was, for a long while, the sole object of my studies; and whatever time and trouble this preparatory process may have cost me, the effects resulting from it, as far as the humble merit of truthfulness is concerned, have been such as to repay me more than sufficiently for my pains. I have not forgotten how great was my pleasure, when told by the late Sir James Mackintosh, that he was once asked by Colonel W——s, the historian of British India, “whether it was true that Moore had never been in the East?” “Never,” answered Mackintosh. “Well, that shows me,” replied Colonel W——s, “that reading over D’Herbelot is as good as riding on the back of a camel.”
I need hardly subjoin to this lively speech, that xix although D’Herbelot’s valuable work was, of course, one of my manuals, I took the whole range of all such Oriental reading as was accessible to me; and became, for the time, indeed, far more conversant with all relating to that distant region, than I have ever been with the scenery, productions, or modes of life of any of those countries lying most within my reach. We know that D’Anville, though never in his life out of Paris, was able to correct a number of errors in a plan of the Troad taken by De Choiseul, on the spot; and, for my own very different, as well as far inferior, purposes, the knowledge I had thus acquired of distant localities, seen only by me in my day-dreams, was no less ready and useful.
An ample reward for all this painstaking has been found in such welcome tributes as I have just now cited; nor can I deny myself the gratification of citing a few more of the same description. From another distinguished authority on Eastern subjects, the late Sir John Malcolm, I had myself the pleasure of hearing a similar opinion publicly expressed;—that eminent person in a speech spoken by him at a Literary Fund Dinner, having remarked, that together with those qualities of a poet which he much too partially assigned to me was combined also “the truth of the historian.”
Sir William Ouseley, another high authority, in xx giving his testimony to the same effect, thus notices an exception to the general accuracy for which he gives me credit:—“Dazzled by the beauties of this composition,* few readers can perceive, and none surely can regret, that the poet, in his magnificent catastrophe, has forgotten, or boldly and most happily violated, the precept of Zoroaster, above noticed, which held it impious to consume any portion of a human body by fire, especially by that which glowed upon their altars.” Having long lost, I fear, most of my Eastern learning, I can only cite, in defence of my catastrophe, an old Oriental tradition, which relates, that Nimrod, when Abraham refused, at his command, to worship the fire, ordered him to be thrown into the midst of the flames.† A precedent so ancient for this sort of use of the worshipped element, would appear, for all purposes at least of poetry, fully sufficient.
* The Fire-worshippers.
† “Tradunt autem Hebræi hanc fabulam quod Abraham in ignem missus sit quia ignem adorare noluit.” St. Hieron. in Quæst. in Genesim.
In addition to these agreeable testimonies, I have also heard, and, need hardly add, with some pride and pleasure, that parts of this work have been rendered into Persian, and have found their way to Ispahan. To this fact, as I am willing to think it, allusion is made in some lively verses, written many years since, by my friend, Mr. Luttrell:—xxi
“I’m told, dear Moore, your lays are sung,
(Can it be true, you lucky man?)
By moonlight, in the Persian tongue,
Along the streets of Ispahan.”
That some knowledge of the work may have really reached that region, appears not improbable from a passage in the Travels of Mr. Frazer, who says, that “being delayed for some time at a town on the shores of the Caspian, he was lucky enough to be able to amuse himself with a copy of Lalla Rookh, which a Persian had lent him.”
Of the description of Balbec, in “Paradise and the Peri,” Mr. Carne, in his Letters from the East, thus speaks: “The description in Lalla Rookh of the plain and its ruins is exquisitely faithful. The minaret is on the declivity near at hand, and there wanted only the muezzin’s cry to break the silence.”
I shall now tax my reader’s patience with but one more of these generous vouchers. Whatever of vanity there may be in citing such tributes, they show, at least, of what great value, even in poetry, is that prosaic quality, industry; since, as the reader of the foregoing pages is now fully apprized, it was in a slow and laborious collection of small facts, that the first foundations of this fanciful Romance were laid.
The friendly testimony I have just referred to, appeared, some years since, in the form in which xxii I now give it, and, if I recollect right, in the Athenæum:
“I embrace this opportunity of bearing my individual testimony (if it be of any value) to the extraordinary accuracy of Mr. Moore, in his topographical, antiquarian, and characteristic details, whether of costume, manners, or less-changing monuments, both in his Lalla Rookh and in the Epicurean. It has been my fortune to read his Atlantic, Bermudean, and American Odes and Epistles, in the countries and among the people to which and to whom they related; I enjoyed also the exquisite delight of reading his Lalla Rookh, in Persia itself; and I have perused the Epicurean, while all my recollections of Egypt and its still existing wonders are as fresh as when I quitted the banks of the Nile for Arabia:—I owe it, therefore, as a debt of gratitude (though the payment is most inadequate), for the great pleasure I have derived from his productions, to bean my humble testimony to their local fidelity. J. S. B.”
Among the incidents connected with this work, I must not omit to notice the splendid Divertissement, founded upon it, which was acted at the Château Royal of Berlin, during the visit of the Grand Duke Nicholas to that capital, in the year 1822. The different stories composing the work were represented in Tableaux Vivans and songs; and among the crowd of royal and noble personages engaged in the performances, I shall mention those only who represented the principal characters, and whom I find thus enumerated in the published account of the Divertissement.*xxiii
|“Fadladin, Grand-Nasir||Comte Haack, (Maréchal de Cour).|
|Aliris, Hoi de Bucharie||S. A. I. Le Grand Duc.|
|Lalla Roûkh||S. A. I. Le Grande Duchesse.|
|Aurungzeb. le Grand Mogol||S. A. R. Le Prince Guillaume, frère du Roi.|
|Abdallah, Père d’ Aliris||S. A. R. Le Duc de Cumberland.|
|La Reine, son épouse||S. A. R. La Princesse Louise Radzivill.”|
* Lalla Roûkh Divertissement, mêlé de Chants et de Danses, Berlin, 1822. The work contains a series of coloured engravings, representing groups, processions, &c. in different Oriental costumes.
Besides these and other leading personages, there were also brought into action, under the various denominations of Seigneurs et Dames de Bucharie, Dames de Cachemire, Seigneurs et Dames dansans à la Fete des Roses, &c. nearly 150 persons.
Of the manner and style in which the Tableaux of the different stories are described in the work from which I cite, the following account of the performance of Paradise and the Peri will afford some specimen:—
“La décoration représentoit les portes brillantes du Paradis, entourées de nuages. Dans le premier tableau on voyoit la Péri, triste et desolée, couchée sur le seuil des portes fermées, et l’Ange de lumière qui lui addresse des consolations et des conseils. Le second représente le moment où la Peri, dans l’espoir que ce don lui ouvrira l’entrée du Paradis, recueille la dernière goutte de sang que vient de verser le jeune guerrier Indien. . . . . . .
“La Péri et l’Ange de lumière répondoient pleinement à l’image et à l’idée qu’on est tenté de se faire de ces deux individus, et l’impression qu’a faite généralement xxiv la suite des tableaux de cet épisode délicat et intéressant est loin de s’effacer de notre souvenir.”
In this grand Fête, it appears, originated the translation of Lalla Rookh into German* verse, by the Baron de la Motte Fouqué; and the circumstances which led him to undertake the task, are described by himself in a Dedicatory Poem to the Empress of Russia, which he has prefixed to his translation. As soon as the performance, he tells us, had ended, Lalla Rookh (the Empress herself) exclaimed, with a sigh, “Is it, then, all over? are we now at the close of all that has given us so much delight? and lives there no poet who will impart to others, and to future times, some notion of the happiness we have enjoyed this evening?” On hearing this appeal, a Knight of Cashmere (who is no other than the poetical Baron himself) comes forward and promises to attempt to present to the world “the Poem itself in the measure of the original:”—whereupon Lalla Rookh, it is added, approvingly smiled.
* Since this was written, another translation of Lalla Rookh into German verse has been made by Theodor Oelckers (Leipzig, Tauchnitz, Jun.), which has already passed through three editions.
Thomas Moore wasn’t an especially modest man, was he? There are passages in the Preface that would more appropriately have been written by some devoted acolyte after the author’s death.
as far as I can judge from a hasty renewal of my acquaintance with it
text has aquaintance
a copy of Lalla Rookh, which a Persian had lent him
[I wish he had provided more detail. Lalla Rookh is known to have been translated into German and Swedish; “The Veiled Prophet” was translated into Spanish and Italian. Later in the century, many parts were translated into Russian and Polish. In 1876—after this Preface was written—there was even a Bengali version. As for Persian, Agnes Repplier (below) strongly implies that Moore had his information at third hand:
Did not the nephew of the Persian ambassador in Paris tell Mr. Stretch, who told Moore, that “Lalla Rookh” had been translated into Persian ]
S. A. I. Le Grand Duc.
[The abbreviations “S.A.I.” and “S.A.R.” are the French equivalents of “H.I.H.” and “H.R.H.”]
Cover of 1860 Routledge edition
In 1908, essayist Agnes Repplier published the collection A Happy Half-Century and Other Essays, including “When Lalla Rookh was Young”. It offers a good counterpoint to Thomas Moore’s version of how Lalla Rookh came into being.
Never heard of Agnes Repplier (1855–1950)? Me neither. The essay collection’s title page proclaims her as “Litt.D.”, because by 1908 she had racked up an array of honorary doctorates from assorted prestigious institutions such as the University of Pennsylvania. She had some right to feel proud, as she had had a grand total of four years of formal schooling—not because of poverty or other hardship, but because she simply could not behave herself in class. (During those four years, she did manage to become friendly with Elizabeth Robins Pennell, seen elsewhere on this site as the author of Our House and London out of Our Windows.)
And give you, mixed with western sentimentalism,
Some glimpses of the finest orientalism.
“Stick to the East,” wrote Byron to Moore, in 1813. “The oracle, Staël, told me it was the only poetic policy. The North, South, and West have all been exhausted; but from the East we have nothing but Southey’s unsaleables, and these he has contrived to spoil by adopting only their most outrageous fictions. His personages don’t interest us, and yours will. You will have no competitors; and, if you had, you ought to be glad of it. The little I have done in that way is merely a ‘voice in the wilderness’ for you; and if it has had any success, that also will prove that the public are orientalizing, and pave the way for you.”
There is something admirably business-like in this advice. Byron, who four months before had sold the “Giaour” and the “Bride of Abydos” to Murray for a thousand guineas, was beginning to realize the commercial value of R.33 poetry; and, like a true man of affairs, knew what it meant to corner a poetic market. He was generous enough to give Moore the tip, and to hold out a helping hand as well; for he sent him six volumes of Castellan’s “Mœurs des Ottomans,” and three volumes of Toderini’s “De la Littérature des Turcs.” The orientalism afforded by text-books was the kind that England loved.
From the publication of “Lalla Rookh” in 1817 to the publication of Thackeray’s “Our Street” in 1847, Byron’s far-sighted policy continued to bear golden fruit. For thirty years Caliphs and Deevs, Brahmins and Circassians, rioted through English verse; mosques and seraglios were the stage properties of English fiction; the bowers of Rochnabed, the Lake of Cashmere, became as familiar as Richmond and the Thames to English readers. Some feeble washings of this great tidal wave crossed the estranging sea, to tint the pages of the New York “Mirror,” and kindred journals in the United States. Harems and slave-markets, with beautiful Georgians and sad, slender Arab girls, thrilled our grandmothers’ kind hearts. Tales R.34 of Moorish Lochinvars, who snatch away the fair daughters—or perhaps the fair wives—of powerful rajahs, captivated their imaginations. Gazelles trot like poodles through these stories, and lend colour to their robust Saxon atmosphere. In one, a neglected “favourite” wins back her lord’s affection by the help of a slave-girl’s amulet; and the inconstant Moslem, entering the harem, exclaims, “Beshrew me that I ever thought another fair!”—which sounds like a penitent Tudor.
A Persian’s Heaven is easily made,
’Tis but black eyes and lemonade;
and our oriental literature was compounded of the same simple ingredients. When the New York “Mirror,” under the guidance of the versatile Mr. Willis, tried to be impassioned and sensuous, it dropped into such wanton lines as these to a “Sultana”:
She came, soft leaning on her favourite’s arm,
She came, warm panting from the sultry hours,
To rove mid fragrant shades of orange bowers,
A veil light shadowing each voluptuous charm.
And for this must Lord Byron stand responsible.R.35
The happy experiment of grafting Turkish roses upon English boxwood led up to some curious complications, not the least of which was the necessity of stiffening the moral fibre of the Orient—which was esteemed to be but lax—until it could bear itself in seemly fashion before English eyes. The England of 1817 was not, like the England of 1908, prepared to give critical attention to the decadent. It presented a solid front of denial to habits and ideas which had not received the sanction of British custom; which had not, through national adoption, become part of the established order of the universe. The line of demarcation between Providence and the constitution was lightly drawn. Jeffrey, a self-constituted arbiter of tastes and morals, assured his nervous countrymen that, although Moore’s verse was glowing, his principles were sound.
“The characters and sentiments of ‘Lalla Rookh’ belong to the poetry of rational, honourable, considerate, and humane Europe; and not to the childishness, cruelty, and profligacy of Asia. So far as we have yet seen, there is no sound sense, firmness of purpose, or principled R.36 goodness, except among the natives of Europe and their genuine descendants.”
Starting with this magnificent assumption, it became a delicate and a difficult task to unite the customs of the East with the “principled goodness” of the West; the “sound sense” of the Briton with the fervour and fanaticism of the Turk. Jeffrey held that Moore had effected this alliance in the most tactful manner, and had thereby “redeemed the character of oriental poetry”; just as Mr. Thomas Haynes Bayly, ten years later, “reclaimed festive song from vulgarity.” More carping critics, however, worried their readers a good deal on this point; and the nonconformist conscience cherished uneasy doubts as to Hafed’s irregular courtship and Nourmahal’s marriage lines. From across the sea came the accusing voice of young Mr. Channing in the “North American,” proclaiming that “harlotry has found in Moore a bard to smooth her coarseness and veil her effrontery, to give her languor for modesty, and affectation for virtue.” The English “Monthly Review,” less open to alarm, confessed with a sigh “a depressing regret that, R.37 with the exception of ‘Paradise and the Peri,’ no great moral effect is either attained or attempted by ‘Lalla Rookh.’ To what purpose all this sweetness and delicacy of thought and language, all this labour and profusion of Oriental learning? What head is set right in one erroneous notion, what heart is softened in one obdurate feeling, by this luxurious quarto?”
It is a lamentable truth that Anacreon exhibits none of Dante’s spiritual depth, and that la reine Margot fell short of Queen Victoria’s fireside qualities. Nothing could make a moralist of Moore. The light-hearted creature was a model of kindness, of courage, of conjugal fidelity; but—reversing the common rule of life—he preached none of the virtues that he practised. His pathetic attempts to adjust his tales to the established conventions of society failed signally of their purpose. Even Byron wrote him that little Allegra (as yet unfamiliar with her alphabet) should not be permitted to read “Lalla Rookh”; partly because it wasn’t proper, and partly—which was prettily said—lest she should discover “that there was a R.38 better poet than Papa.” It was reserved for Moore’s followers to present their verses and stories in the chastened form acceptable to English drawing-rooms, and permitted to English youth. “La Belle Assemblée” published in 1819 an Eastern tale called “Jahia and Meimoune,” in which the lovers converse like the virtuous characters in “Camilla.” Jahia becomes the guest of an infamous sheik, who intoxicates him with a sherbet composed of “sugar, musk, and amber,” and presents him with five thousand sequins and a beautiful Circassian slave. When he is left alone with this damsel, she addresses him thus: “I feel interested in you, and present circumstances will save me from the charge of immodesty, when I say that I also love you. This love inspires me with fresh horror at the crimes that are here committed.”
Jahia protests that he respectfully returns her passion, and that his intentions are of an honourable character, whereupon the circumspect maiden rejoins: “Since such are your sentiments, I will perish with you if I fail in delivering you”; and conducts him, through a R.39 tangle of adventures, to safety. Jahia then places Meimoune under the chaperonage of his mother until their wedding day; after which we are happy to know that “they passed their lives in the enjoyment of every comfort attending on domestic felicity. If their lot was not splendid or magnificent, they were rich in mutual affection; and they experienced that fortunate medium which, far removed from indigence, aspires not to the accumulation of immense wealth, and laughs at the unenvied load of pomp and splendour, which it neither seeks, nor desires to obtain.”
It is to be hoped that many obdurate hearts were softened, and many erroneous notions were set right by the influence of a story like this. In the “Monthly Museum” an endless narrative poem, “Abdallah,” stretched its slow length along from number to number, blooming with fresh moral sentiments on every page; while from an arid wilderness of Moorish love songs, and Persian love songs, and Circassian love songs, and Hindu love songs, I quote this “Arabian” love song, peerless amid its peers:—R.40
Thy hair is black as the starless sky,
And clasps thy neck as it loved its home;
Yet it moves at the sound of thy faintest sigh,
Like the snake that lies on the white sea-foam.
I love thee, Ibla. Thou art bright
As the white snow on the hills afar;
Thy face is sweet as the moon by night,
And thine eye like the clear and rolling star.
But the snow is poor and withers soon,
While thou art firm and rich in hope;
And never (like thine) from the face of the moon
Flamed the dark eye of the antelope.
The truth and accuracy of this last observation should commend the poem to all lovers of nature.
It is the custom in these days of morbid accuracy to laugh at the second-hand knowledge which Moore so proudly and so innocently displayed. Even Mr. Saintsbury says some unkind things about the notes to “Lalla Rookh,”—scraps of twentieth-hand knowledge, he calls them, while pleasantly recording his affection for the poem itself, an affection based upon the reasonable ground of childish recollections. In the well-ordered home of his infancy, none but “Sunday books” might be read on Sundays in nursery or schoolroom. “But this severity R.41 was tempered by one of those easements often occurring in a world, which, if not the best, is certainly not the worst of all possible worlds. For the convenience of servants, or for some other reason, the children were much more in the drawing-room on Sundays than on any other day; and it was an unwritten rule that any book that lived in the drawing-room was fit Sunday reading. The consequence was that from the time I could read until childish things were put away, I used to spend a considerable part of the first day of the week in reading and re-reading a collection of books, four of which were Scott’s poems, ‘Lalla Rookh,’ ‘The Essays of Elia,’ and Southey’s ‘Doctor.’ Therefore it may be that I rank ‘Lalla Rookh’ too high.”
Blessed memories, and thrice blessed influences of childhood! But if “Lalla Rookh,” like “Vathek,” was written to be the joy of imaginative little boys and girls (alas for those who now replace it with “Allan in Alaska,” and “Little Cora on the Continent”), the notes to “Lalla Rookh” were, to my infant mind, even more enthralling than the poem. There
was a sketchiness about them, a detachment from time and circumstance—I always hated being told the whole of everything—which led me day after day into fresh fields of conjecture. The nymph who was encircled by a rainbow, and bore a radiant son; the scimitars that were so dazzling they made the warriors wink; the sacred well which reflected the moon at midday; and the great embassy that was sent “from some port of the Indies”—
Our great-grandfathers were profoundly impressed by Moore’s text-book acquirements. The “Monthly Review” quoted a solid page of the notes to dazzle British readers, who confessed themselves amazed to find a fellow countryman so much “at home” in Persia and Arabia. Blackwood authoritatively announced that Moore was familiar, not only “with the grandest regions of the human soul,”—which is expected of a poet,—but also with the remotest boundaries of the East; and that in R.43 every tone and hue and form he was “purely and intensely Asiatic.” “The carping criticism of paltry tastes and limited understandings faded before that burst of admiration with which all enlightened spirits hailed the beauty and magnificence of ‘Lalla Rookh.’”
Few people care to confess to “paltry tastes” and “limited understandings.” They would rather join in any general acclamation. “Browning’s poetry obscure!” I once heard a lecturer say with scorn. “Let us ask ourselves, ‘Obscure to whom?’ No doubt a great many things are obscure to long-tailed Brazilian apes.” After which his audience, with one accord, admitted that it understood “Bordello.” So when Jeffrey—great umpire of games whose rules he never knew—informed the British public that there was not in “Lalla Rookh” “a simile, a description, a name, a trait of history, or allusion of romance that does not indicate entire familiarity with the life, nature, and learning of the East,” the public contentedly took his word for it. When he remarked that “the dazzling splendours, the breathing odours” of Araby were without doubt Moore’s “native element,” R.44 the public, whose native element was neither splendid nor sweet-smelling, envied the Irishman his softer joys. “Lalla Rookh” might be “voluptuous” (a word we find in every review of the period), but its orientalism was beyond dispute. Did not Mrs. Skinner tell Moore that she had, when in India, translated the prose interludes into Bengali, for the benefit of her moonshee, and that the man was amazed at the accuracy of the costumes? Did not the nephew of the Persian ambassador in Paris tell Mr. Stretch, who told Moore, that “Lalla Rookh” had been translated into Persian; that the songs—particularly “Bendemeer’s Stream”—were sung “everywhere”; and that the happy natives could hardly believe the whole work had not been taken originally from a Persian manuscript?
I’m told, dear Moore, your lays are sung
(Can it be true, you lucky man?)
By moonlight, in the Persian tongue,
Along the streets of Ispahan.
And not of Ispahan only; for in the winter of 1821 the Berlin court presented “Lalla Rookh” with such splendour, such wealth of R.45 detail, and such titled actors, that Moore’s heart was melted and his head was turned (as any other heart would have been melted, and any other head would have been turned) by the reports thereof. A Grand Duchess of Russia took the part of Lalla Rookh; the Duke of Cumberland was Aurungzebe; and a beautiful young sister of Prince Radzivil enchanted all beholders as the Peri. “Nothing else was talked about in Berlin” (it must have been a limited conversation); the King of Prussia had a set of engravings made of the noble actors in their costumes; and the Crown Prince sent word to Moore that he slept always with a copy of “Lalla Rookh” under his pillow, which was foolish, but flattering. Hardly had the echoes of this royal fête died away, when Spontini brought out in Berlin his opera “The Feast of Roses,” and Moore’s triumph in Prussia was complete. Byron, infinitely amused at the success of his own good advice, wrote to the happy poet: “Your Berlin drama is an honour unknown since the days of Elkanah Settle, whose ‘Empress of Morocco’ was presented by the court ladies, which was, as Johnson remarks, R.46 ‘the last blast of inflammation to poor Dryden.’”
Who shall say that this comparison is without its dash of malice? There is a natural limit to the success we wish our friends, even when we have spurred them on their way.
If the English court did not lend itself with much gayety or grace to dramatic entertainments, English society was quick to respond to the delights of a modified orientalism. That is to say, it sang melting songs about bulbuls and Shiraz wine; wore ravishing Turkish costumes whenever it had a chance (like the beautiful Mrs. Winkworth in the charades at Gaunt House); and covered its locks—if they were feminine locks—with turbans of portentous size and splendour. When Mrs. Fitzherbert, aged seventy-three, gave a fancy dress ball, so many of her guests appeared as Turks, and Georgians, and sultanas, that it was hard to believe that Brighton, and not Stamboul, was the scene of the festivity. At an earlier entertainment, “a rural breakfast and promenade,” given by Mrs. Hobart at her villa near Fulham, and “graced by the presence of royalty,” the R.47 leading attraction was Mrs. Bristow, who represented Queen in the “Garden of Roses.” “Draped in all the magnificence of Eastern grandeur, Mrs. Bristow was seated in the larger drawing-room (which was very beautifully fitted up with cushions in the Indian style), smoking her hookah amidst all sorts of the choicest perfumes. Mrs. Bristow was very profuse with otto of roses, drops of which were thrown about the ladies dresses. The whole house was scented with the delicious fragrance.”
The “European Magazine,” the “Monthly Museum,” all the dim old periodicals published in the early part of the last century for feminine readers, teem with such “society notes.” From them, too, we learn that by 1823 turbans of “rainbow striped gauze frosted with gold” were in universal demand; while “black velvet turbans, enormously large, and worn very much on one side,” must have given a rakish appearance to stout British matrons. “La Belle Assemblée” describes for us with tender enthusiasm a ravishing turban, “in the Turkish style,” worn in the winter of 1823 at the theatre and at evening parties. This masterpiece was of R.48 “pink oriental crêpe, beautifully folded in front, and richly ornamented with pearls. The folds are fastened on the left side, just above the ear, with a Turkish scimitar of pearls; and on the right side are tassels of pearls, surmounted by a crescent and a star.”
Here we have Lady Jane or Lady Amelia transformed at once into young Nourmahal; and, to aid the illusion, a “Circassian corset” was devised, free from encroaching steel or whalebone, and warranted to give its English wearers the “flowing and luxurious lines” admired in the overfed inmates of the harem. When the passion for orientalism began to subside in London, remote rural districts caught and prolonged the infection. I have sympathized all my life with the innocent ambition of Miss Matty Jenkyns to possess a sea-green turban, like the one worn by Queen Adelaide; and have never been able to forgive that ruthlessly sensible Mary Smith—the chronicler of Cranford—for taking her a “neat middle-aged cap” instead. “I was most particularly anxious to prevent her from disfiguring her small gentle mousy face with a great Saracen’s head turban,” R.49 says the judicious Miss Smith with a smirk of self-commendation; and poor Miss Matty—the cap being bought—has to bow to this arbiter of fate. How much we all suffer in life from the discretion of our families and friends!
Thackeray laughed the dim ghost of “Lalla Rookh” out of England. He mocked at the turbans, and at the old ladies who wore them; at the vapid love songs, and at the young ladies who sang them.
I am a little brown bulbul. Come and listen in the moonlight. Praise be to Allah! I am a merry bard.
He derided the “breathing odours of Araby,” and the Eastern travellers who imported this exotic atmosphere into Grosvenor Square. Bedwin Sands, who has “lived under tents,” who has published a quarto, ornamented with his own portrait in various oriental costumes, and who goes about accompanied by a black servant of most unprepossessing appearance, “just like another Brian de Bois Guilbert,” is only a degree less ridiculous than Clarence Bulbul, who gives Miss Tokely a piece of the sack in which an indiscreet Zuleika was R.50 drowned, and whose servant says to callers: “Mon maître est au divan,” or “Monsieur trouvera Monsieur dans son sérail. . . . He has coffee and pipes for everybody. I should like you to have seen the face of old Bowly, his college tutor, called upon to sit cross-legged on a divan, a little cup of bitter black mocha put into his hand, and a large amber-muzzled pipe stuck into his mouth before he could say it was a fine day. Bowly almost thought he had compromised his principles by consenting so far to this Turkish manner.” Bulbul’s sure and simple method of commending himself to young ladies is by telling them they remind him of a girl he knew in Circassia,—Ameena, the sister of Schamyle Bey. “Do you know, Miss Pim,” he thoughtfully observes, “that you would fetch twenty thousand piastres in the market at Constantinople?” Whereupon Miss Pim is filled with embarrassed elation. An English girl, conscious of being in no great demand at home, was naturally flattered as well as fluttered by the thought of having market value elsewhere. And perhaps this feminine instinct was at the root of “Lalla Rookh’s” long popularity in England.
who represented Queen Nourjahad in the “Garden of Roses.”
text unchanged: expected Nourjahan
Young Bedwin Sands
text has Yonng
The original of this text is in the public domain—at least in the U.S.
My notes are copyright, as are all under-the-hood elements.
If in doubt, ask.