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C.D. Warner, et al., comp.  The Library of the World’s Best Literature.
An Anthology in Thirty Volumes.  1917.
From Babur’s ‘Memoirs’
Babur (1483–1530)
IN the month of Ramzan, in the year 899 [A.D. 1494], and in the twelfth year of my age, I became King of Ferghana. The country of Ferghana is situated in the fifth climate, on the extreme boundary of the habitable world. On the east it has Kashgar; on the west, Samarkand; on the south, the hill country; on the north, in former times there were cities, yet at the present time, in consequence of the incursions of the Usbeks, no population remains. Ferghana is a country of small extent, abounding in grain and fruits. The revenues may suffice, without oppressing the country, to maintain three or four thousand troops.  1
  My father, Omer Sheikh Mirza, was of low stature, had a short, bushy beard, brownish hair, and was very corpulent. As for his opinions and habits, he was of the sect of Hanifah, and strict in his belief. He never neglected the five regular and stated prayers. He read elegantly, and he was particularly fond of reading the ‘Shahnameh.’ 1 Though he had a turn for poetry, he did not cultivate it. He was so strictly just, that when the caravan from [China] had once reached the hill country to the east of Ardejan, and the snow fell so deep as to bury it, so that of the whole only two persons escaped; he no sooner received information of the occurrence than he dispatched overseers to take charge of all the property, and he placed it under guard and preserved it untouched, till in the course of one or two years, the heirs coming from Khorasan, he delivered back the goods safe into their hands. His generosity was large, and so was his whole soul; he was of an excellent temper, affable, eloquent, and sweet in his conversation, yet brave withal and manly.  2
  The early portion of Babur’s ‘Memoirs’ is given to portraits of the officers of his court and country. A few of these may be quoted.  3
  Khosrou Shah, though a Turk, applied his attention to the mode of raising his revenues, and he spent them liberally. At the death of Sultan Mahmud Mirza, he reached the highest pitch of greatness, and his retainers rose to the number of twenty thousand. Though he prayed regularly and abstained from forbidden foods, yet he was black-hearted and vicious, of mean understanding and slender talents, faithless and a traitor. For the sake of the short and fleeting pomp of this vain world, he put out the eyes of one and murdered another of the sons of the benefactor in whose service he had been, and by whom he had been protected; rendering himself accursed of God, abhorred of men, and worthy of execration and shame till the day of final retribution. These crimes he perpetrated merely to secure the enjoyment of some poor worldly vanities; yet with all the power of his many and populous territories, in spite of his magazines of warlike stores, he had not the spirit to face a barnyard chicken. He will often be mentioned in these memoirs.  4
  Ali Shir Beg was celebrated for the elegance of his manners; and this elegance and polish were ascribed to the conscious pride of high fortune: but this was not the case; they were natural to him. Indeed, Ali Shir Beg was an incomparable person. From the time that poetry was first written in the Turki language, no man has written so much and so well. He has also left excellent pieces of music; they are excellent both as to the airs themselves and as to the preludes. There is not upon record in history any man who was a greater patron and protector of men of talent than he. He had no son nor daughter, nor wife nor family; he passed through the world single and unincumbered.  5
  Another poet was Sheikhem Beg. He composed a sort of verses, in which both the words and the sense are terrifying and correspond with each other. The following is one of his couplets:—
  During my sorrows of the night, the whirlpool of my sighs bears the firmament from its place;
The dragons of the inundations of my tears bear down the four quarters of the habitable world!
  It is well known that on one occasion, having repeated these verses to Moulana Abdal Rahman Jāmī, the Mulla said, “Are you repeating poetry, or are you terrifying folks?”  7
  A good many men who wrote verses happened to be present. During the party the following verse of Muhammed Salikh was repeated:—
  What can one do to regulate his thoughts, with a mistress possessed of every blandishment?
Where you are, how is it possible for our thoughts to wander to another?
  It was agreed that every one should make an extempore couplet to the same rhyme and measure. Every one accordingly repeated his verse. As we had been very merry, I repeated the following extempore satirical verses:—
  What can one do with a drunken sot like you?
What can be done with one foolish as a she-ass?
  Before this, whatever had come into my head, good or bad, I had always committed it to writing. On the present occasion, when I had composed these lines, my mind led me to reflections, and my heart was struck with regret that a tongue which could repeat the sublimest productions should bestow any trouble on such unworthy verses; that it was melancholy that a heart elevated to nobler conceptions should submit to occupy itself with these meaner and despicable fancies. From that time forward I religiously abstained from satirical poetry. I had not then formed my resolution, nor considered how objectionable the practice was.  10
Transactions of the Year 904 [A.D. 1498–99]

  Having failed in repeated expeditions against Samarkand and Ardejan, I once more returned to Khojend. Khojend is but a small place; and it is difficult for one to support two hundred retainers in it. How then could a [young] man, ambitious of empire, set himself down contentedly in so insignificant a place? As soon as I received advice that the garrison of Ardejan had declared for me, I made no delay. And thus, by the grace of the Most High, I recovered my paternal kingdom, of which I had been deprived nearly two years. An order was issued that such as had accompanied me in my campaigns might resume possession of whatever part of their property they recognized. Although the order seemed reasonable and just in itself, yet it was issued with too much precipitation. It was a senseless thing to exasperate so many men with arms in their hands. In war and in affairs of state, though things may appear just and reasonable at first sight, no matter ought to be finally decided without being well weighed and considered in a hundred different lights. From my issuing this single order without sufficient foresight, what commotions and mutinies arose! This inconsiderate order of mine was in reality the ultimate cause of my being a second time expelled from Ardejan.
  Babur’s next campaign was most arduous, but in passing by a spring he had the leisure to have these verses of Saadi inscribed on its brink:—
        I have heard that the exalted Jemshid
      Inscribed on a stone beside a fountain:
“Many a man like us has rested by this fountain,
And disappeared in the twinkling of an eye.
Should we conquer the whole world by our manhood and strength,
Yet could we not carry it with us to the grave.”
  Of another fountain he says:—“I directed this fountain to be built round with stone, and formed a cistern. At the time when the Arghwan flowers begin to blow, I do not know that any place in the world is to be compared to it.” On its sides he engraved these verses:—
      Sweet is the return of the new year;
      Sweet is the smiling spring;
    Sweet is the juice of the mellow grape;
      Sweeter far the voice of love.
Strive, O Baber! to secure the joys of life,
Which, alas! once departed, never more return.
  From these flowers Babur and his army marched into the passes of the high mountains.  14
  His narrative goes on:—  15
  It was at this time that I composed the following verses:—
  There is no violence or injury of fortune that I have not experienced;
This broken heart has endured them all. Alas! is there one left that I have not encountered?
  For about a week we continued pressing down the snow without being able to advance more than two or three miles. I myself assisted in trampling down the snow. Every step we sank up to the middle or the breast, but we still went on, trampling it down. As the strength of the person who went first was generally exhausted after he had advanced a few paces, he stood still, while another took his place. The ten, fifteen, or twenty people who worked in trampling down the snow, next succeeded in dragging on a horse without a rider. Drawing this horse aside, we brought on another, and in this way ten, fifteen, or twenty of us contrived to bring forward the horses of all our number. The rest of the troops, even our best men, advanced along the road that had been beaten for them, hanging their heads. This was no time for plaguing them or employing authority. Every man who possesses spirit or emulation hastens to such works of himself. Continuing to advance by a track which we beat in the snow in this manner, we reached a cave at the foot of the Zirrin pass. That day the storm of wind was dreadful. The snow fell in such quantities that we all expected to meet death together. The cave seemed to be small. I took a hoe and made for myself at the mouth of the cave a resting-place about the size of a prayer-carpet. I dug down in the snow as deep as my breast, and yet did not reach the ground. This hole afforded me some shelter from the wind, and I sat down in it. Some desired me to go into the cavern, but I would not go. I felt that for me to be in a warm dwelling, while my men were in the midst of snow and drift,—for me to be within, enjoying sleep and ease, while my followers were in trouble and distress,—would be inconsistent with what I owed them, and a deviation from that society in suffering which was their due. I continued, therefore, to sit in the drift.
  Ambition admits not of inaction;
The world is his who exerts himself;
In wisdom’s eye, every condition
May find repose save royalty alone.
  By leadership like this, the descendant of Tamerlane became the ruler of Kabul. He celebrates its charms in verse:—
  Its verdure and flowers render Kabul, in spring, a heaven.
but this kingdom was too small for a man of Babur’s stamp. He used it as a stepping-stone to the conquest of India (1526).
  Return a hundred thanks, O Babur! for the bounty of the merciful God
      Has given you Sind, Hind, and numerous kingdoms;
      If, unable to stand the heat, you long for cold,
      You have only to recollect the frost and cold of Ghazni.
  In spite of these verses, Babur did not love India, and his monarchy was an exile to him. Let the last extract from his memoirs be a part of a letter written in 1529 to an old and trusted friend in Kabul. It is an outpouring of the griefs of his inmost heart to his friend. He says:—  19
  My solicitude to visit my western dominions (Kabul) is boundless and great beyond expression. I trust in Almighty Allah that the time is near at hand when everything will be completely settled in this country. As soon as matters are brought to that state, I shall, with the permission of Allah, set out for your quarters without a moment’s delay. How is it possible that the delights of those lands should ever be erased from the heart? How is it possible to forget the delicious melons and grapes of that pleasant region? They very recently brought me a single muskmelon from Kabul. While cutting it up, I felt myself affected with a strong feeling of loneliness and a sense of my exile from my native country, and I could not help shedding tears. [He gives long instructions on the military and political matters to be attended to, and continues without a break:—] At the southwest of Besteh I formed a plantation of trees; and as the prospect from it was very fine, I called it Nazergah [the view]. You must there plant some beautiful trees, and all around sow beautiful and sweet-smelling flowers and shrubs. [And he goes straight on:—] Syed Kasim will accompany the artillery. [After more details of the government he quotes fondly a little trivial incident of former days and friends, and says:—] Do not think amiss of me for deviating into these fooleries. I conclude with every good wish.  20
  The ‘Memoirs’ of Babur deserve a place beside the writings of the greatest of generals and conquerors. He is not unworthy to be classed with Cæsar as a general and as a man of letters. His character was more human, more frank, more lovable, more ardent. His fellow in our western world is not Cæsar, but Henri IV. of France and Navarre.  21
Note 1. The ‘Book of Kings,’ by the Persian poet Firdawsī. [back]

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