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C.D. Warner, et al., comp.  The Library of the World’s Best Literature.
An Anthology in Thirty Volumes.  1917.
 
Mirza-Schaffy
By Friedrich von Bodenstedt (1819–1892)
 
From the ‘Thousand and One Days in the East’

MY first object in Georgia was to secure an instructor in Tartar, that I might learn as quickly as possible a language so indispensably necessary in the countries of the Caucasus. Accident favored my choice, for my learned teacher Mirza-Schaffy, the Wise Man of Gjändsha, as he styles himself, is, according to his own opinion, the wisest of men.  1
  With the modesty peculiar to his nation, he only calls himself the first wise man of the East; but as according to his estimation the children of the West are yet living in darkness and unbelief, it is a matter of course with him that he soars above us in wisdom and knowledge. Moreover, he indulges the hope that, thanks to his endeavors, the illumination and wisdom of the East will also, in the progress of years, actually spread amongst us. I am already the fifth scholar, he tells me, who has made a pilgrimage to him for the purpose of participating in his instructions. He argues from this that the need of traveling to Tiflis and listening to Mirza-Schaffy’s sayings of wisdom is ever becoming more vividly felt by us. My four predecessors, he is further of opinion, have, since their return into the West, promoted to the best of their ability the extension of Oriental civilization amongst their races. But of me he formed quite peculiar hopes; very likely because I paid him a silver ruble for each lesson, which I understand is an unusually high premium for the Wise Man of Gjändsha.  2
  It was always most incomprehensible to him how we can call ourselves wise or learned, and travel over the world with these titles, before we even understand the sacred languages. Nevertheless he very readily excused these pretensions in me, inasmuch as I was at least ardently endeavoring to acquire these languages, but above all because I had made the lucky hit of choosing him for my teacher.  3
  The advantages of this lucky hit he had his own peculiar way of making intelligible to me. “I, Mirza-Schaffy,” said he, “am the first wise man of the East! consequently thou, as my disciple, art the second. But thou must not misunderstand me: I have a friend, Omar-Effendi, a very wise man, who is certainly not the third among the learned of the land. If I were not alive, and Omar-Effendi were thy teacher, then he would be the first, and thou, as his disciple, the second wise man!” After such an effusion, it was always the custom of Mirza-Schaffy to point with his forefinger to his forehead, at the same time giving me a sly look; whereupon, according to rule, I nodded knowingly to him in mute reciprocation.  4
  That the Wise Man of Gjändsha knew how to render his vast superiority in the highest degree palpable to any one who might have any misgiving on the point, he once showed me by a striking example.  5
  Among the many learned rivals who envied the lessons of Mirza-Schaffy, the most conspicuous was Mirza-Jussuf, the Wise Man of Bagdad. He named himself after this city, because he had there pursued his studies in Arabic; from which he inferred that he must possess more profound accomplishments than Mirza-Schaffy, whom he told me he considered a “Fschekj,” an ass among the bearers of wisdom. “The fellow cannot even write decently,” Jussuf informed me of my reverend Mirza, “and he cannot sing at all! Now I ask thee: What is knowledge without writing? What is wisdom without song? What is Mirza-Schaffy in comparison with me?”  6
  In this way he was continually plying me with perorations of confounding force, wherein he gave especial prominence to the beauty of his name Jussuf, which Moses of old had celebrated, and Hafiz sung of in lovely strains; he exerted all his acuteness to evince to me that a name is not an empty sound, but that the significance attached to a great or beautiful name is inherited in more or less distinction by the latest bearers of this name. He, Jussuf, for example, was a perfect model of the Jussuf of the land of Egypt, who walked in chastity before Potiphar, and in wisdom before the Lord.  7
 
 
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