On the Persians
Delivered 19 February, 1789.
I turn with delight from the vast mountains and barren deserts of Turan, over which we travelled last year with no perfect knowledge of our course, and request you now to accompany me on a literary journey through one of the most celebrated and most beautiful countries in the world; a country, the history and languages of which, both ancient and modern, I have long attentively studied, and on which I may without arrogance promise you more positive information, than I could possibly procure on a nation so disunited and so unlettered as the Tartars: I mean that, which Europeans improperly call Persia, the name of a single province being applied to the whole Empire of Iran, as it is correctly denominated by the present natives of it, and by all the learned Muselmans, who reside in these British territories. To give you an idea of its largest boundaries, agreeably to my former mode of describing India, Arabia, and Tartary, between which it lies, let us begin with the source of the great Assyrian stream, Euphrates, (as the Greeks, according to their custom, were pleased to miscall the Forat) and thence descend to its mouth in the Green Sea, or Persian Gulf, including in our line some considerable districts and towns on both sides the river; then coasting Persia, properly so named, and other Iranian provinces, we come to the delta of the Sindhu or Indus; whence ascending to the mountains of Cashghar, we discover its fountains and those of the Jaihun, down which we are conducted to the Caspian, which formerly perhaps it entered, though it lose itself now in the sands and lakes of Khwarezm: we next are led from the sea of Khozar, by the banks of the Cur, or Cyrus, and along the Caucasean ridges, to the shore of the Euxine, and thence, by the several Grecian seas, to the point, whence we took our departure, at no considerable distance from the Mediterranean. We cannot but include the lower Asia within this outline, because it was unquestionably a part of the Persian, if not of the old Assyrian, Empire; for we know, that it was under the dominion of Caikhosrau; and Diodorus, we find, asserts, that the kingdom of Troas was dependent on Assyria, since Priam implored and obtained succours from his Emperor Teutames, whose name approaches nearer to Tahmu'ras, than to that of any other Assyrian monarch. Thus may we look on Iran as the noblest Island, (for so the Greeks and the Arabs would have called it), or at least as the noblest peninsula, on this habitable globe; and if M. Bailly had fixed on it as the Atlantis of Plato, he might have supported his opinion with far stronger arguments than any, that he has adduced in favour of New Zembla: if the account, indeed, of the Atlantes be not purely an Egyptian, or an Utopian, fable, I should be more inclined to place them in Iran than in any region, with which I am acquainted.
It may seem strange, that the ancient history of so distinguished an Empire should be yet so imperfectly known; but very satisfactory reasons may be assigned for our ignorance of it: the principal of them are the superficial knowledge of the Greeks and Jews, and the loss of Persian archives or historical compositions. That the Grecian writers, before Xenophon, had no acquaintance with Persia, and that all their accounts of it are wholly fabulous, is a paradox too extravagant to be seriously maintained; but their connection with it in war or peace had, indeed, been generally confined to bordering kingdoms under feudatory princes; and the first Persian Emperor, whose life and character they seem to have known with tolerable accuracy, was the great Cyrus, whom I call, without fear of contradiction, Caikhosrau; for I shall then only doubt that the Khosrau of Firdausi' was the Cyrus of the first Greek historian, and the Hero of the oldest political and moral romance, when I doubt that Louis Quatorze and Lewis the Fourteenth were one and the same French King: it is utterly incredible, that two different princes of Persia should each have been born in a foreign and hostile territory; should each have been doomed to death in his infancy by his maternal grandfather in consequence of portentous dreams, real or invented; should each have been saved by the remorse of his destined murderer, and should each, after a similar education among herdsmen, as the son of a herdsman, have found means to revisit his paternal kingdom, and having delivered it, after a long and triumphant war, from the tyrant, who had invaded it, should have restored it to the summit of power and magnificence. Whether so romantick a story, which is the subject of an Epick Poem, as majestic and entire as the Iliad, be historically true, we may feel perhaps an inclination to doubt; but it cannot with reason be denied, that the outline of it related to a single Hero, whom the Asiaticks, conversing with the father of European history, described according to their popular traditions by his true name, which the Greek alphabet could not express: nor will a difference of names affect the question; since the Greeks had little regard for truth, which they sacrificed willingly to the Graces of their language, and the nicety of their ears; and, if they could render foreign words melodious, they were never solicitous to make them exact; hence they probably formed Cambyses from Ca'mbakhsh, or Granting desires, a title rather than a name, and Xerxes from Shi'ru'yi, a Prince and warriour in the Shahnamah, or from Shi'rsha'h, which might also have been a title; for the Asiatick Princes have constantly assumed new titles or epithets at different periods of their lives, or on different occasions; a custom, which we have seen prevalent in our own times both in Iran and Hindustan, and which has been a source of great confusion even in the scriptural accounts of Babylonian occurrences: both Greeks and Jews have in fact accommodated Persian names to their own articulation; and both seem to have disregarded the native literature of Iran, without which they could at most attain a general and imperfect knowledge of the country. As to the Persians themselves, who were contemporary with the Jews and Greeks, they must have been acquainted with the history of their own times, and with the traditional accounts of past ages; but for a reason, which will presently appear, they chose to consider Cayu'mers as the founder of the empire; and, in the numerous disstractions, which followed the overthrow of Da'ra', especially in the great revolution on the defeat of Yezdegird, their civil histories were loft, as those of India have unhappily been, from the solicitude of the priests, the only depositaries of their learning, to preserve their books of law and religion at the expense of all others: hence it has happened, that nothing remains of genuine Persian history before the dynasty of Sa'sa'n, except a few rustick traditions and fables, which furnished materials for the Shahnamah, and which are still supposed to exist in the Pahlavi language. The annals of the Pishdadi, or Assyrian, race must be considered as dark and fabulous; and those of the Cayani family, or the Medes and Persians, as heroick and poetical; though the lunar eclipses, said to be mentioned by Ptolemy, fix the time of Gushtasp, the prince, by whom Zera'tusht was protected: of the Parthian kings descended from Arshac or Arsaces, we know little more than the names; but the Sasani's had so long an intercourse with the Emperors of Rome and Byzantium, that the period of their dominion may be called an historical age. In attempting to ascertain the beginning of the Assyrian empire, we are deluded, as in a thousand instances, by names arbitrarily imposed: it had been settled by chronologers, that the first monarchy established in Persia was the Assyrian; and Newton, finding some of opinion, that it rose in the first century after the Flood, but unable by his own calculations to extend it farther back than seven hundred and ninety years before Christ, rejected part of the old system and adopted the rest of it; concluding, that the Assyrian Monarchs began to reign about two hundred years after Solomon, and that, in all preceding ages, the government of Iran had been divided into several petty states and principalities. Of this opinion I confess myself to have been; when, disregarding the wild chronology of the Muselmans and Gabrs, I had allowed the utmost natural duration to the reigns of eleven Pishdadi kings, without being able to add more than a hundred years to Newton’s computation. It seemed, indeed, unaccountably strange, that, although Abraham had found a regular monarchy in Egypt, although the kingdom of Yemen had just pretensions to very high antiquity, although the Chinese, in the twelfth century before our era, had made approaches at least to the present form of their extensive dominion, and although we can hardly suppose the first Indian monarchs to have reigned less than three thousand years ago, yet Persia, the most delightful, the most compact, the most desirable country of them all, should have remained for so many ages unsettled and disunited. A fortunate discovery, for which I was first indebted to Mir Muhammed Husain, one of the most intelligent Muselmans in India, has at once dissipated the cloud, and cast a gleam of light on the primeval history of Iran and of the human race, of which I had long despaired, and which could hardly have dawned from any other quarter.
The rare and interesting tract on twelve different religions, entitled the Dabistan, and composed by a Mohammedan traveller, a native of Cashmir, named Mohsan, but distinguished by the assumed surname of Fa'ni', or Perishable, begins with a wonderfully curious chapter on she religion of Hu'shang, which was long anterior to that of Zeratusht, but had continued to be secretly professed by many learned Persians even to the author’s time; and several of the most eminent of them, dissenting in many points from the Gabrs, and persecuted by the ruling powers of their country, had retired to India; where they compiled a number of books, now extremely scarce, which Mohsan had perused, and with the writers of which, or with many of them, he had contracted an intimate friendship: from them he learned, that a powerful monarchy had been established for ages in Iran before the accession of Cayu'mers, that it was called the Mahabadian dynasty, for a reason which will soon be mentioned, and that many princes, of whom seven or eight only are named in the Dabistan, and among them Mahbul, or Maha' Beli, had raised their empire to the zenith of human glory. If we can rely on this evidence, which to me appears unexceptionable, the Iranian monarchy must have been the oldest in the world; but it will remain dubious, to which of the three stocks, Hindu, Arabian, or Tartar, the first Kings of Iran belonged, or whether they sprang from a fourth race distinct from any of the others; and these are questions, which we shall be able, I imagine, to answer precisely, when we have carefully inquired into the languages and letters, religion and philosophy, and incidentally into the arts and sciences, of the ancient Persians.
I. In the new and important remarks, which I am going to offer, on the ancient languages and characters of Iran, I am sensible, that you must give me credit for many assertions, which on this occasion it is impossible to prove; for I should ill deserve your indulgent attention, if I were to abuse it by repeating a dry list of detached words, and presenting you with a vocabulary instead of a dissertation; but, since I have no system to maintain, and have not suffered imagination to delude my judgement; since I have habituated myself to form opinions of men and things from evidence, which is the only solid basis of civil, as experiment is of natural, knowledge; and since I have maturely considered the questions which I mean to discuss; you will not, I am persuaded, suspect my testimony, or think that I go too far, when I assure you, that I will assert nothing positively, which I am not able satisfactorily to demonstrate. When Mohammed was born, and Anu'shirava'n; whom he calls the Just King, sat on the throne of Persia, two languages appear to have been generally prevalent in the great empire of Iran; that of the Court, thence named Deri, which was only a refined and elegant dialect of the Parsi, so called from the province, of which Shiraz is now the capital, and that of the learned, in which most books were composed, and which had the name of Pahlavi, either from the heroes, who spoke it in former times, or from Pahlu, a tract of land, which included, we are told, some considerable cities of Irak: the ruder dialects of both were, and, I believe, still are, spoken by the rusticks in several provinces; and in many of them, as Herat, Zabul, Sistan and others, distinct idioms were vernacular, as it happens in every kingdom of great extent. Besides the Parsi and Pahlavi, a very ancient and abstruse tongue was known to the priests and philosophers, called the language of the Zend, because a book on religious and moral duties, which they held sacred, and which bore that name, had been written in it; while the Pazend, or comment on that work, was composed in Pahlavi, as a more popular idiom; but a learned follower of Zera'tusht, named Bahman, who lately died at Calcutta, where he had lived with me as a Persian reader about three years, allured me, that the letters of his prophet’s book were properly called Zend, and the language, Avesta, as the words of the Veda’s are Sanscrit, and the characters, Nagari; or as the old Saga's and poems of Iseland were expressed in Runick letters: let us however, in compliance with custom, give the name of Zend to the sacred language of Persia, until we can find, as we shall very soon, a fitter appellation for it. The Zend and the old Pahlavi are almost extinct in Iran; for among six or seven thousand Gabrs, who reside chiefly at Yezd, and in Cirman, there are very few, who can read Pahlavi, and scarce any, who even boast of knowing the Zend; while the Parsi, which remains almost: pure in the Shahnamah, has now become by the intermixture of numberless Arabick words, and many imperceptible changes, a new language exquisitely polished by a series of fine writers in prose and verse, and analogous to the different idioms gradually formed in Europe after the subversion of the Roman empire: but with modern Persian we have no concern in our prefent inquiry, which I confine to the ages, that preceded the Mohammedan Having twice read the works of Firdausi with great attention, since I applied myself to the study of old Indian literature, I can assure you with confidence, that hundreds of Parsi nouns are pure Sanscrit, with no other change than such as may be observed in the numerous bhashas, or vernacular dialects, of India; that very many Persian imperatives are the roots of Sanscrit verbs; and that even the moods and tenses of the Persian verb substantive, which is the model of all the reft, are deducible from the Sanscrit by an easy and clear analogy: we may hence conclude, that the Parsi, was derived, like the various Indian dialects, from the language of the Brahmans; and I must add, that in the pure Persian I find no trace of any Arabian tongue, except what proceeded from the known intercourse between the Persians and Arabs, especially in the time of Bahram, who was educated in Arabia, and whose Arabick verses are still extant, together with his heroick line in Deri, which many suppose to be the first attempt at Persian versification in Arabian metre: but, without having recourse to other arguments, the composition of words, in which the genius of the Persian delights, and which that of the Arabick abhors, is a decisive proof, that the Parsi Sprang from an Indian, and not from an Arabian, stock. Considering languages as mere instruments of knowledge, and having strong reasons to doubt the existence of genuine books in Zend or Pahlavi (especially since the well-informed author of the Dabistan affirms the work of Zera'tusht to have been lost, and its place supplied by a recent compilation) I had no inducement, though I had an opportunity, to learn what remains of those ancient languages; but I often conversed on them with my friend Bahman, and both of us were convinced after full consideration, that the Zend bore a strong resemblance to Sanscrit, and the Pahlavi to Arabick. He had at my request translated into Pahlavi the fine inscription, exhibited in the Gulistan, on the diadem of Cyrus ; and I had the patience to read the list of words from the Pazend in the appendix to the Farhangi Jehangiri: this examination gave me perfect conviction, that the Pahlavi was a dialect of the Chaldaick; and of this curious fact I will exhibit a short proof. By the nature of the Chaldean tongue most words ended in the first long vowel like shemia, heaven; and that very word, unaltered in a single letter, we find in the Pazend, together with lailia, night, meya, water, nira, fire, matra, rain, and a multitude of others, all Arabick or Hebrew with a Chaldean termination: so zamar, by a beautiful metaphor from pruning trees, means in Hebrew to compose verses, and thence, by an easy transition, to sing them; and in Pahlavi we see the verb zamruniten, to sing, with its forms zamrunemi, I sing, and zamrunid, he sang; the verbal terminations of the Persian being added to the Chaldaick root. Now all those words are integral parts of the language, not adventitious to it like the Arabick nouns and verbals engrafted on modern Persian; and this distinction convinces me, that the dialect of the Gabrs, which they pretend to be that of Zera'tusht, and of which Bahman gave me a variety of written specimens, is a late invention of their priests, or subsequent at least to the Muselman invasion; for, although it may be possible, that a few of their sacred books were preserved, as he used to assert, in sheets of lead or copper at the bottom of wells near Yezd, yet as the conquerors had not only a spiritual, but a political, interest in persecuting a warlike, robust, and indignant race of irreconcilable conquered subjects, a long time must have elapsed, before the hidden scriptures could have been safely brought to light, and few, who could perfectly understand them, must then have remained; but, as they continued to profess among themselves the religion of their forefathers, it became expedient for the Mubeds to supply the lost or mutilated works of their legislator by new compositions, partly from their imperfect recollection, and partly from such moral and religious knowledge, as they gleaned, most probably, among the Christians, with whom they had an intercourse. One rule we may fairly establish in deciding the question, whether the books of the modern Gabrs were anterior to the invasion of the Arabs: when an Arabick noun occurs in them changed only by the spirit of the Chaldean idiom, as werta, for werd, a rose, daba, for dhahab, gold, or deman, for zeman, time, we may allow it to have been ancient Pahlavi; but, when we meet with verbal nouns or infinitives, evidently formed by the rules of Arabian grammar, we may be sure, that the phrases, in which they occur, are comparatively modern; and not a single passage, which Bahman produced from the books of his religion, would abide this test.
We now come to the language of the Zend; and here I must impart a discovery, which I lately made, and from which we may draw the most interesting consequences. M. Anquetil, who had the merit of undertaking a voyage to India, in his earliest youth, with no other view than to recover the writings of Zera'tusht, and who would have acquired a brilliant reputation in France, if he had not sullied it by his immoderate vanity and virulence of temper, which alienated the good will even of his own countrymen, has exhibited in his work, entitled Zendavesta, two vocabularies in Zend and Pahlavi, which he had found in an approved collection of Rawayat, or Traditional Pieces, in modern Persian: of his Pahlavi no more needs be said, than that it strongly confirms my opinion concerning the Chaldaick origin of that language; but, when I perused the Zend glossary, I was inexpressibly surprized to find, that six or seven words in ten were pure Sanscrit, and even some of their inflexions formed by the rules of the Vyacaran; as yushmacam, the genitive plural of yushmad. Now M. Anquetil most certainly, and the Persian compiler most probably, had no knowledge of Sanscrit; and could not, therefore, have invented a list of Sanscrit words: it is, therefore, an authentick list of Zend words, which had been preserved in books or by tradition; and it follows, that the language of the Zend was at least a dialect of the Sanscrit, approaching perhaps as nearly to it as the Pracrit, or other popular idioms, which we know to have been spoken in India two thousand years ago. From all these facts it is a necessary consequence, that the oldest discoverable languages of Persia were Chaldaick and Sanscrit; and that, when they had ceased to be vernacular, the Pahlavi and Zend were deduced from them respectively, and the Parsi either from the Zend, or immediately from the dialect of the Brahmans; but all had perhaps a mixture of Tartarian; for the best lexicographers assert, that numberless words in ancient Persian are taken from the language of the Cimmerians, or the Tartars of Kipchak; so that the three families, whose lineage we have examined in former discourses, had left visible traces of themselves in Iran, long before the Tartars and Arabs had rushed from their deserts, and returned to that very country, from which in all probability they originally proceeded, and which the Hindus had abandoned in an earlier age, with positive commands from their legislators to revisit it no more. I close this head with observing, that no supposition of a mere political or commercial intercourse between the different nations will account for the Sanscrit and Chaldaick words, which we find in the old Persian tongues; because they are, in the first place, too numerous to have been intro- duced by such means, and, secondly, are not the names of exotick animals, commodities, or arts, but those of material elements, parts of the body, natural objects and relations, affections of the mind, and other ideas common to the whole race of man.
If a nation of Hindus, it may be urged, ever possessed and governed the country of Iran, we should find on the very ancient ruins of the temple or palace, now called the throne of Jemshi'd, feme inseriptions in Devanagari, or at least in the characters on the stones at Elephanta, where the sculpture is unquestionably Indian, or in those on the Staff of Fi'ru'z Sha'h, which exist in the heart of India; and such inscriptions we probably should have found, if that edifice had not been erected after the migration of the Brahmans from Iran, and the violent schism in the Persian religion, of which we shall presently speak; for, although the popular name of the building at Istakhr, or Persepolis, be no certain proof that it was raised in the time of Jemshi'd, yet such a fact might easily have been preserved by tradition, and we shall soon have abundant evidence, that the temple was posteriour to the reign of the Hindu monarchs: the cypresses indeed, which are represented with the figures in procession, might induce a reader of the Shahnamah to believe, that the sculptures related to the new faith introduced by Zera'tusht; but, as a cypress is a beautiful ornament, and as many of the figures appear inconsistent with the reformed adoration of fire, we must: have recourse to stronger proofs, that the Takhti Jemshi'd was erected after Cayu'mers. The building has lately been visited, and the characters on it examined, by Mr. Francklin; from whom we learn, that Niebuhr has delineated them with great accuracy: but without Such testimony I should have Suspected the correctness of the delineation; because the Danish traveller has exhibited two inscriptions in modern Persian, and one of them from the same place, which cannot have been exactly transcribed: they are very elegant verses of Niza'mi' and Sadi' on the instability of human greatness, but so ill engraved or so ill copied, that, if I had not had them nearly by heart, I should not have been able to read them; and M. Rousseau of Isfahan, who translated them with shameful inaccuracy, must have been deceived by the badness of the copy; or he never would have created a new king Wakam, by forming one word of Jem and the particle prefixed to it. Assuming, however, that we may reason as conclusively on the characters published by Niebuhr, as we might on the monuments themselves, were they now before us, we may begin with observing, as Chardin had observed on the very spot, that they bear no resemblance whatever to the letters used by the Gabrs in their copies of the Vendidad: this I once urged, in an amicable debate with Bahman, as a proof, that the Zend letters were a modern invention; but he seemed to hear me without surprize, and insisted, that the letters, to which I alluded, and which he had often seen, were monumental characters never used in books, and intended either to conceal some religious mysteries from the vulgar, or to display the art of the sculptor, like the embellished Cusick and Nagari on several Arabian and Indian monuments. He wondered, that any man could seriously doubt the antiquity of the Pahlavi letters; and in truth the inscription behind the horse of Rustam, which Niebuhr has also given us, is apparently Pahlavi, and might with some pains be decyphered: that character was extremely rude, and seems to have been written, like the Roman and the Arabick, in a variety of hands; for I remember to have examined a rare collection of old Persian coins in the Museum of the great Anatomist, William Hunter, and, though I believed the legends to be Pahlavi, and had no doubt, that they were coins of Parthian kings, yet I could not read the inscriptions without wasting more time, than I had then at command, in comparing the letters and ascertaining the proportions, in which they severally occurred. The gross Pahlavi was improved by Zera'tusht or his disciples into an elegant and perspicuous character, in which the Zendavesta was copied; and both were written from the right hand to the left like other Chaldaick alphabets; for they are manifestly both of Chaldean origin; but the Zend has the singular advantage of expressing all the long and short vowels, by distinct marks, in the body of each word, and all the words are distinguished by full points between them; so that, if modern Persian were unmixed with Arabick, it might be written in Zend with the greatest convenience, as any one may perceive by copying in that character a few pages of the Shahnamah. As to the unknown inscriptions in the palace of Jemshi'd, it may reasonably be doubted, whether they contain a system of letters, which any nation ever adopted: in five of them the letters, which are separated by points, may be reduced to forty, at least I can distinguish no more essentially different; and they all seem to be regular variations and compositions of a straight line and an angular figure like the head of a javelin, or a leaf (to use the language of botanists) hearted and lanced. Many of the Runick letters appear to have been formed of similar elements; and it has been observed, that the writing at Persepolis bears a strong resemblance to that, which the Irish call Ogham: the word Agam in Sanscrit means mysterious knowledge; but I dare not affirm, that the two words had a common origin, and only mean to suggest, that, if the characters in question be really alphabetical, they were probably secret and sacerdotal, or a mere cypher, perhaps, of which the priests only had the key. They might, I imagine, be decyphered, if the language were certainly known; but, in all the other inscriptions of the same sort, the characters are too complex, and the variations of them too numerous, to admit an opinion, that they could be symbols of articulate sounds; for even the Nagari system, which has more distinct letters than any known alphabet, consists only of forty-nine simple characters, two of which are mere substitutions, and four of little use in Sanscrit or in any other language; while the more complicated figures, exhibited by Niebuhr, must be as numerous at least as the Chinese keys, which are the signs of ideas only, and some of which resemble the old Persian letters at Istakhr: the Danish traveller was convinced from his own observation , that they were written from the left hand, like all the characters used by Hindu nations; but I must leave this dark subject, which I cannot illuminate, with a remark formerly made by myself, that the square Chaldaick letters, a few of which are found on the Persian ruins, appear to have been originally the same with the Devanagari, before the latter were enclosed, as we now see them, in angular frames.
II. The primeval religion of Iran, if we rely on the authorities adduced by Mohsani Fa'ni', was that, which Newton calls the oldest (and it may justly be called the noblest) of all religions; “a firm belief , that One Supreme God made the world by his power, and continually governed it by his providence; a pious fear, love, and adoration of Him; a due reverence for parents and aged persons; a fraternal affection for the whole human species, and a compassionate tenderness even for the brute creation.” A system of devotion so pure and sublime could hardly among mortals be of long duration; and we learn from the Dabistan, that the popular worship of the Iranians under Hu'shang was purely Sabian; a word, of which I cannot offer any certain etymology, but which has been deduced by grammarians from Saba, a host, and, particularly the host of heaven, or the celestial bodies, in the adoration of which the Sabian ritual is believed to have consisted: there is a description, in the learned work just mentioned, of the several Persian temples dedicated to the Sun and Planets, of the images adored in them, and of the magnificent processions to them on prescribed festivals, one of which is probably represented by sculpture in the ruined city of Jemshi'd; but the planetary worship in Persia seems only a part of a far more complicated religion, which we now find in these Indian provinces; for Mohsan assures us, that, in the opinion of the best informed Persians, who professed the faith of Hu'shang, distinguished from that of Zera'tusht, the first monarch of Iran and of the whole earth was Maha'ba'd, a word apparently Sanscrit, who divided the people into four orders, the religious, the military, the commercial, and the fertile, to which he assigned names unquestionably the same in their origin with those now applied to the four primary classes of the Hindus. They added, that He received from the creator, and promulgated among men, a sacred book in a heavenly language, to which the Muselman author gives the Arabick title of desatir, or regulations, but the original name of which he has not mentioned; and that fourteen Maha'ba'ds had appeared or would appear in human shapes for the government of this world: now when we know, that the Hindus believe in fourteen Menu’s, or celestial personages with similar functions, the first of whom left a book of regulations, or divine ordinances, which they hold equal to the Veda, and the language of which they believe to be that of the Gods, we can hardly doubt, that the first corruption of the purest and oldest religion was the system of Indian Theology, invented by the Brahmans and prevalent in these territories, where the book of Maha'ba'd or Menu is at this hour the standard of all religious and moral duties. The accession of Cayu'mers to the throne of Persia, in the eighth or ninth century before Christ, seems to have been accompanied by a considerable revolution both in government and religion: he was most probably of a different race from the Mahabadians, who preceded him, and began perhaps the new system of national faith, which Hu'shang, whose name it bears, completed; but the reformation was partial; for, while they rejected the complex polytheism of their predecessors, they retained the laws of Maha'ba'd, with a superstitious veneration for the sun, the planets, and fire; thus resembling the Hindu sects, called Saura's and Sagnica's, the second of which is very numerous at Banares, where many agnihotra's are continually blazing, and where the Sagnica's, when they enter on their sacerdotal office, kindle, with two pieces of the hard wood Semi, a fire which they keep lighted through their lives for their nuptial ceremony, the performance of solemn sacrifices, the obsequies of departed ancestors, and their own funeral pile. This remarkable rite was continued by Zera'tusht; who reformed the old religion by the addition of genii, or angels, presiding over months and days, of new ceremonies in the veneration shown to fire, of a new work, which he pretended to have received from heaven, and, above all, by establishing the actual adoration of One Supreme Being: he was born, according to Mohsan, in the district of Rai; and it was He, not, as Ammianus asserts, his protector Gushtasb, who travelled into India, that he might receive information from the Brahmans in theology and ethicks. It is barely possible, that Pythagoras knew him in the capital of Irak; but the Grecian sage must then have been far advanced in years, and we have no certain evidence of an intercourse between the two philosophers. The reformed religion of Persia continued in force, till that country was subdued by the Muselmans; and, without studying the Zend, we have ample information concerning it in the modern Persian writings of several, who professed it. Bahman always named Zera'tusht, with reverence; but he was in truth a pure Theist, and strongly disclaimed any adoration of the fire or other elements: he denied, that the doctrine of two coeval principles, supremely good and supremely bad, formed any part of his faith; and he often repeated with emphasis the verses of Firdausi on the prostration of Cyrus and his paternal grandfather before the blazing altar: "Think not, that they were adorers of fire; for that element was only an exalted object, on the lustre of which they fixed their eyes; they humbled themselves a whole week before GOD; and, if thy understanding be ever so little exerted, thou must acknowledge thy dependence on the being supremely pure." In a story of Sadi, near the close of his beautiful Bustan, concerning the idol of So'mana't’h, or Maha'de'va, he confounds the religion of the Hindus with that of the Gabrs, calling the Brahmans not only Moghs, (which might be justified by a passage in the Mesnavi) but even readers of the Zend and Pazend: now, whether this confusion proceeded from real or pretended ignorance, I cannot decide, but am as firmly convinced, that the doctrines of the Zend were distinct from those of the Veda, as I am that the religion of the Brahmans, with whom we converse every day, prevailed in Persia before the accession of Cayu'mers, whom the Parsi's, from respect to his memory, consider as the first of men, although they believe in an universal deluge before his reign.
With the religion of the old Persians their philosophy (or as much as we know of it) was intimately connected; for they were assiduous observers of the luminaries, which they adored, and established, according to Mohsan, who confirms in some degree the fragments of Berosus, a number of artificial cycles with distinct names, which seem to indicate a knowledge of the period, in which the equinoxes appear to revolve: they are said also to have known the most wonderful powers of nature, and thence to have acquired the fame of magicians and enchanters; but I will only detain you with a few remarks on that metaphysical theology, which has been professed immemorially by a numerous sect of Persians and Hindus, was carried in part into Greece, and prevails even now among the learned Muselmans) who sometimes avow it without reserve. The modern philosophers of this persuasion are called Sufi's, either from the Greek word for a sage, or from the woollen mantle, which they used to wear in some provinces of Persia: their fundamental tenets are, that nothing exists absolutely but GOD: that the human soul is an emanation from his essence, and, though divided for a time from its heavenly source, will be finally re-united with it; that the highest possible happiness will arise from its reunion, and that the chief good of mankind, in this transitory world, consists in as perfect an union with the Eternal Spirit as the incumbrances of a mortal frame will allow; that, for this purpose, they should break all connexion (or taalluk, as they call it), with extrinsick objects, and pass through life without attachments, as a swimmer in the ocean strikes freely without the impediment of clothes; that they should be straight and free as the cypress, whose fruit is hardly perceptible, and not fink under a load, like fruit-trees attached to a trellis; that, if mere earthly charms have power to influence the foul, the idea of celestial beauty must overwhelm it in extatick delight; that, for want of apt words to express the divine perfections and the ardour of devotion, we must borrow such expressions as approach the nearest to our ideas, and speak of Beauty and Love in a transcendent and mystical sense; that, like a reed torn from its native bank, like wax separated from its delicious honey, the foul of man be- wails its disunion with melancholy musick, and sheds burning tears, like the lighted taper, waiting passionately for the moment of its extinction, as a disengagement from earthly trammels, and the means of returning to its Only Beloved. Such in part (for I omit the minuter and more subtil metaphysicks of the Sufi's, which are mentioned in the Dabistan) is the wild and enthusiastick religion of the modern Persian poets, especially of the sweet Ha'fiz and the great Maulavi: such is the system of the Vedanti philosophers and best lyrick poets of India; and, as it was a system of the highest antiquity in both nations, it may be added to the many other proofs of an immemorial affinity between them.
III. On the ancient monuments of Persian sculpture and architecture we have already made such observations, as were sufficient for our purpose; nor will you be surprized at the diversity between the figures at Elephanta, which are manifestly Hindu, and those at Persepolis, which are merely Sabian, if you concur with me in believing, that the Takhti Jemshid was erected after the time of Cayu'mers, when the Brahmans had migrated from Iran, and when their intricate mythology had been superseded by the simpler adoration of the planets and of fire.
IV. As to the sciences or arts of the old Persians, I have little to say; and no complete evidence of them seems to exist. Mohsan speaks more than once of ancient verses in the Pahlavi language; and Bahman assured me, that some scanty remains of them had been preserved: their musick and painting, which Niza'mi celebrated, have irrecoverably perished; and in regard to Ma'ni', the painter and impostor, whose book of drawings called Artang, which he pretended to be divine, is supposed to have been destroyed by the Chinese, in whose dominions he had sought refuge, the whole tale is too modern to throw any light on the questions before us concerning the origin of nations and the inhabitants of the primitive world.
Thus has it been proved by clear evidence and plain reasoning, that a powerful monarchy was established in Iran long before the Assyrian, or Pishdadi, government; that it was in truth a Hindu monarchy, though, if any chuse to call it Cusian, Casdean, or Scythian, we shall not enter into a debate on mere names; that it subsisted many centuries, and that its history has been ingrafted on that of the Hindus, who founded the monarchies of Ayodhya and Indraprestha; that the language of the first Persian empire was the mother of the Sanscrif, and consequently of the Zend, and Parsi, as well as of Greek, Latin, and Gothick; that the language of the Assyrians was the parent of Chaldaick and Pahlavi, and that the primary Tartarian language also had been current in the same empire; although, as the Tartars had no books or even letters, we cannot with certainty trace their unpolished and variable idioms. We discover, therefore in Persia, at the earliest dawn of history , the three distinct races of men, whom we described on former occasions as possessors of India, Arabia, Tartary; and, whether they were collected in Iran from distant regions, or diverged from it, as from a common centre, we shall easily determine by the following considerations . Let us observe in the first place the central position of Iran, which is bounded by Arabia, by Tartary, and by India; whilst Arabia lies contiguous to Iran only, but is remote from Tartary, and divided even from the skirts of India by a considerable gulf; no country, therefore , but Persia seems likely to have sent forth its colonies to all the kingdoms of Asia: the Brahmans could never have migrated from India to Iran, because they are expressly forbidden by their oldest existing laws to leave the region, which they inhabit at this day; the Arabs have not even a tradition of an emigration into Persia before Mohammed, nor had they indeed any inducement to quit their beautiful and extensive domains; and, as to the Tartars, we have no trace in history of their departure from their plains and forests, till the invasion of the Medes, who, according to etymologists, were the sons of Madai, and even they were conducted by princes of an Assyrian family. The three races, therefore, whom we have already mentioned, (and more than three we have not yet found) migrated from Iran, as from their common country; and thus the Saxon chronicle, I presume from good authority, brings the first inhabitants of Britain from Armenia; while a late very learned writer concludes, after all his laborious researches, that the Goths or Scythians came from Persia; and another contends with great force, that both the Irish and old Britons proceeded severally from the borders of the Caspian; a coincidence of conclusions from different media by persons wholly unconnected, which could scarce have happened, if they were not grounded on solid principles. We may therefore hold this proposition firmly established, that Iran, or Persia in its largest sense, was the true centre of population, of knowledge, of languages, and of arts; which, instead of travelling westward only, as it has been fancifully supposed, or eastward, as might with equal reason have been asserted, were expanded in all directions to all the regions of the world, in which the Hindu race had settled under various denominations: but, whether Asia has not produced other races of men, distinct from the Hindus, the Arabs, or the Tartars, or whether any apparent diversity may not have sprung from an intermixture of those three in different proportions, must be the subject of a future inquiry. There is another question of more immediate importance, which you, gentlemen, only can decide: namely, "by what means we can preserve our Society from dying gradually away, as it has advanced gradually to its present (shall I say flourishing or languishing?) state." It has subsisted five years without any expense to the members of it, until the first volume of our Transactions was published; and the price of that large volume, if we compare the different values of money in Bengal and in England, is not more than equal to the annual contribution towards the charges of the Royal Society by each of its fellows, who may not have chosen to compound for it on his admission: this I mention, not from an idea that any of us could object to the purchase of one copy at least, but from a wish to inculcate the necessity of our common exertions in promoting the sale of the work both here and in London. In vain shall we meet, as a literary body, if our meetings shall cease to be supplied with original dissertations and memorials; and in vain shall we collect the most interesting papers, if we cannot publish them occasionally without exposing the Superintendents of the Company’s press, who undertake to print them at their own hazard, to the danger of a considerable loss: by united efforts the French have compiled their stupendous repositories of universal knowledge; and by united efforts only can we hope to rival them, or to diffuse over our own country and the rest of Europe the lights attainable by our Asiatick Researches.