« AnteriorContinuar »
Observations on the Oriental Apologue; by James Ross, Esq.
formerly of Dinagepore in Bengal.
[From the Asiatic Annual Register.]
EASTERN governments are despotic; and an historian truly to detail the public and private lives of past despots, has to dwell on events which must necessarily grate the heart perhaps of his patron the reigning despot. Accordingly, in the East, men of genius have turned their minds to fiction, and thus have rendered their well told stories equally instructing and entertaining as common history; for while this with us in Europe has been too often filled with obscurities, defects, and contradictions, to the fables of the East we have no such relations of events to oppose, as have appeared to other writers through different mediums; in history, partiality tells us one story, and antipathy another; but in the relation of a professed fable it were idle to set one fiction in opposition to another.
An apologue, or fable, was the first specimen, perhaps, of wit that man in his rude state made use of; and has been long esteemed in the East, because of its peculiar safety in amusing the old and instructing the young, after they became polite. There, indeed, it is at this day as often had recourse to, as it was in the days of a Lucman or an Esop. Like some fabulists in Europe, orientalists pretend not to distinguish between a story and a tale, an apologue and a fable, or an allegory and a parable, but like as they are found in Sadi, they are mingled indiscriminately; and they make-non tantum feræ, sed etiam arbores-not only beasts, but even stocks and stones speak with a human interest and feeling, and render them the mediums of conveying the most striking truths of common life, morality, and prudence. Yet they consider that
Ficta, voluptatis causâ, sunt proxima veris:
Fictions to please should bear the face of truth; and are accordingly most partial to the more natural commerce of human beings, as more consonant to historical probability. They address their apologues either to the understandings or the passions, or to both jointly. Those of Sadi are chiefly preceptive, and contain but a single precept or event. He tells us--" I never complained of my
wretched and forlorn condition, but on one occasion, when my feet were naked, and I had not wherewithal to shoe them.' Soon
after, meeting a man without feet, I was thankful for the bounty of providence to myself, and with perfect resignation submitted to my want of shoes." Yet in his story of the Santon Barsisa, where different characters are conducted through a variety of events, where a diversity of precept is introduced as applicable to the characters and circumstances, or where the passions are of course excited, the moral, however complicated, is recollected and carried on without trouble or confusion. This story is to be found in No. 148. of the Guardian ; and it forms the basis of that popular romance the Monk. The following is a verbal translation from the fifth sermon of Sadi, in which, with many ingenious and applicable stories, it is, according to the oriental custom, quoted as a parable :
" It is related, that among the children of Israel there was a holy man of the name of Barsisa, who for forty years had lived apart from mankind, and detached from the world and its vain pursuits. He had spent his whole life in counting his beads, and in acts of piety, and in holding supplication and intercourse with the deity. The appetite of inordinate desire he had eradicated with the knife of self-denial, and the seed of godly zeal he had sown in the field of divine inspiration. Were you to soar into the etherial regions, till you brought the ninth heaven into your view, or penetrate into the bowels of the earth till you saw the backs of the bull and tortoise, he possessed such probity, faith, and good works, as would weary the most eloquent tongue to detail them, and commanded such praiseworthy and excellent qualifications as would puzzle the nicest fancy to unravel them. year many thousands of the distempered and infirm, the sickly and ailing would collect on the plain around his cell, some covered with the leprosy, and blind from the mother's womb, others fiectic, dropsical, and jaundiced: the whole would lay themselves under his cell; and when the luminary of day would display his glorious countenance in the east, and the sun unfurl the standard of his splendour over the face of the globe, then would Barsisa walk forth on the terrace of his cell, breathe a single breath of blessing over them, and cure them in an instant of all their disorders. Most wonderful of works, that publicly he should have thrown open upon him the gate of such treasured benevolence, yet in secret was the arrow of separation laid on the bow of his rejection; that at first he should outwardly appear a lovely picture, yet hiddenly was a carcass mangled with the sword of disapprobation : and that to the eye he seemed, alas ! pure as virgin silver, yet internally was his intrinsic value debased with an
alloy. In the exultation of his heart, that wretched man would address himself, and say, ' verily who am I?' and strutting vauntingly abroad, exclaim, am I not a credit to God Almighty ? Little was he in the mean time aware that it had been recorded on the tablet of the last tribunal; thou meetest no approbation with me.'-Acts, ii. 22. In the process of time the devil secretly was laying under the floor of his cell a train of temptation and chain of machination, that on some unpropitious moment the thorn of bad luck might, intentionally or not, entangle itself perhaps in the skirts of his garment. The wrath and indigvation of the devil was daily getting more inflamed against him, while the grove of his obedience to God blossomed fuller with good works; till at length that the daughter of the reigning king fell ill of so dangerous a malady, that all the faculty despaired of her cure. And this damsel had three brothers, all of them governors of distant provinces. And they all three dreamt on the same night, that it behoved them to report their sister's illness to Barsisa. Next day they communicated their dreams to one another, and their accounts agreeing in every circumstance, every one exclaimed to himself, “it is my dream precisely.' They accordingly proceeded to the capital, and took along with them their beautiful sister unto the holy man's cell. Barsisa was occupied at prayer. After he had finished, they entreated his assistance for their sister, and detailed to him their respective dreams. Barsisa said, there is a stated time for supplication, when God is peculiarly propitious to petitions; when that time shall come I will not be sparing of my prayers. Then the royal brothers left their sister in the charge of the holy man, and betook themselves unto the sports of the field. When the wily devil found they were gone, he said, now is my opportunity of plunging the faith and soul of Barsisa's prolonged period of righteousness in the tempestuous ocean of lust.' Accordingly, blowing a breath of stupefaction on the brain of that modest virgin, she staggered, and fell senseless to the floor, so as to allow the holy man's eye to catch a glimpse of her unveiled charms. The devil heaped the fuel of temptation on the fire of sensuality, and the flame of concupiscence burnt fiercely throughout the saint's frame ; then did the hand of impetuosity and desire draw the mask of presumption and indifference over his heart and mind, so that the carnal appetite domineered, the machia nations of Satan commenced their operations, and the crime of fornication speedily contaminated his body. At that juncture the devil made his appearance before the altar of his cell, in the figure of an old man, and questioned ihe particu
lars of what had befallen him. Barsisa related all that had passed. The devil replied, 'O, Barsisa! be of good cheer, for sin is natural to man, the most high God is merciful, and the door of repentance open; yet were it prudent to keep this statement for the present a secret from her brothers." Barsisa said, ' Alas! alas ! how can we daub the sun's orbit over with clay, or hide the bright face of day from such as have eyes to behold it?' The devil replied, that, as I can teach you, O Barsisa! may very readily be done ; let the damsel be slain, and her body buried under ground; and when the brothers return and inquire after her, you can tell them you were busy at prayer when she took her departure, and know not what became of her.' Thus, just as theaccursed devil had advised, Barsisa murdered the princess, and carrying her body outside his cell, buried it under ground. Soon after, the three brothers, courageous as lions, and nobly attended, having returned from the hunt, presented theinselves before the hermit's cell, and inquiring for their sister, concluded they had only to ask his blessing, and take her away cured of her distemper; but on not meeting her ready to attend them, they asked the hermit after her. He answered them verbatim as the devil had instructed him; and, as a matter of course, believing what so sanctified a man told them, they took his blessing and their leave. They were proceeding towards the city, and expecting every step to overtake their sister, when the evil-minded devil, having in the mean time transformed himself into a decrepit old woman, with a staff in her hand, and a handkerchief round her head, met them by the way. They questioned her, and said, 'good woman, did you meet a lady on this road of such a figure and description ?' She replied, you are perhaps seeking the daughter of the reigning king? They said, the same. The pretended old woman fell a weeping, and subbed aloud. The brothers of the princess suspected all was not right. They added, 'be circumspect in what you have to state, for our minds cruelly misgive us from what you have already insinuated.' The old woman gave a freedom to her tongue, and replied, ' that personage whom you recommended to his care on setting forth on your sports, the hermit defiled; after that he committed murder on her body, and has hid her under the place where he prostrates himself at prayer.' Then taking them along with her, she proceeded to the grave of their sister, which they dug up, and found the body fresh murdered, and still weltering in its blood. Upon which they rent the garments from their bodies, and, in the grief of so horrible an event, cast, ashes on their heads. After that, they put a halter round
Barsisa's neck, and led him towards the city; while a crowd gathered from all quarters, expressing their astonishment how such a series of events could have come to pass. They then caused a gibbet to be erected, and brought Barsisa under it; and, whatever intercession the holy men of the city would set on foot to get him released from punishment, they would not listen to their solicitations, but had him hung upon the gallows in the most ignominious manner; and such as heretofore would have considered it as a blessing to catch the water he had used in his ablutions, and apply it to the same precious purpose they would rose-water; and would have esteemed the dust of his shoes as a collyrium fit to be applied only to their eyes, were crowded round him with their skirts filled with stones, that they might hurl them at his head with
In this state of matters the devil presented himself before the gallows, under the figure of a reverend old man, with his head illuminated with rays of glory, and said, 'O Barsisa! I am the God of this earth, and that is the God of heaven, whom you have served for a series of years, and who has permitted you to be overtaken with this calamity ; and in recompense of such a continued and faithful obedience has left you to perish on a gallows; show me only one sign of adoration, that I may deliver you from so ignominious an exit. With a motion of his brow, Barsisa made a sign of worshipping the accursed devil; when that instant, a voice descended from the seventh heaven, announcing, Let this man, perished as he is in this world and the next, be utterly annihilated ; let his soul sink down to hell, his carcass be cast unto the dogs, and his brain become the portion of the fowls of the air."
The abstract and substance of this apologue is, that God, who is Lord of all things, and who is perfectly just and supremely good, may express his displeasure on whom he. pleases; and that man has no reason to complain, though
the last shall be first, and the first last; for many be called, but few chosen." Matth. XX. 16. 66. What shall we say, then ? Is there unrighteousness with God? God forbid. Even for this purpose have I raised thee up, that I might show my power in thee, and that my name might be declared throughout the earth : therefore hath he (God) mercy on whom he will have mercy; and whom he will he hardeneth." Rom. ix. 14. and 18. L'Estrange, fable 217. folio edit. tells us :
“After laughing at her toil all the summer, a grasshopper wanted to borrow some grain of an ant during winter.” “ Tell me," asks the ant, “ what you did during the summer?” “I sung," replied the grass. VOL. I. New Series.