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“In order,” said he, importantly swinging about his chaplet of pearls, “ to convey with clearness my opinion of the story this young man has related, it is necessary to take a review of all the stories that have ever
“My good FADLADEEN !” exclaimed the Princess, interrupting him, "we really do not deserve that you should give yourself so much trouble. Your opinion of the poem we have just heard will, I have no doubt, be abundantly edifying, without any further waste of your valuable erudition.” — “If that be all," replied the critic, -evidently mortified at not being allowed to show how much he knew about everything but the subject immediately before him, -"if that be all that is required the matter is easily despatched.” He then proceeded to analyze the poem, in that strain (so well known to the unfortunate bards of Delhi) whose censures were an infliction from which few recovered, and whose very praises were like the honey extracted from the bitter flowers of the aloe. The chief personages of the story were, if he rightly understood them, an ill-favored gentleman, with a veil over his face; a young lady, whose reason went and came, according as it suited the poet's convenience to be sensible or otherwise ; — and a youth in one of those hideous Bucharian bonnets, who took the aforesaid gentleman in a veil for a Divinity. “From such materials," said he, “what can be expected ? - after rivalling each other in long speeches and absurdities, through some thousands of lines as indigestible as the filberts of Berdaa, our friend in the veil jumps into a tub of aquafortis; the young lady dies in a set speech, whose only recommendation is that it is her last; and the lover lives on to a good old age for the laudable purpose of seeing her ghost, which he at last happily accomplishes, and expires. This, you will allow, is a fair summary of the story; and if Nasser, the Arabian merchant, told no better, 151 our Holy Prophet (to whom be all honor and glory!) had no need to be jealous of his abilities for storytelling.”
With respect to the style, it was worthy of the matter;
it had not even those politic contrivances of structure, which make up for the commonness of the thoughts by the peculiarity of the manner, nor that stately poetical phraseology by which sentiments mean in themselves, like the blacksmith's 152 apron converted into a banner, are so easily gilt and embroidered into consequence. Then, as to the versification, it was, to say no worse of it, execrable: it had neither the copious flow of Ferdosi, the sweetness of Hafez, nor the sententious march of Sadi; but appeared to him, in the uneasy heaviness of its movements, to have been modelled upon the gait of a very tired dromedary. The licenses, too, in which it indulged, were unpardonable; — for instance, this line, and the poem abounded with such :
Like the faint, exquisite music of a dream.
“What critic that can count,” said FADLADEEN, “and has his full complement of fingers to count withal, would tolerate for an instant such syllabic superfluities?" He here looked round, and discovered that most of his audience were asleep; while the glimmering lamps seemed inclined to follow their example. It became necessary, therefore, however painful to himself, to put an end to his valuable animadversions for the present, and he accordingly concluded, with an air of dignified candor, thus : “Notwithstanding the observations which I have thought it my duty to make, it is by no means my wish to discourage the young man :
so far from it, indeed, Speed 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.”
Some days elapsed, after this harangue of the Great Chamberlain, before LALLA Rookh could venture to ask for another story. The youth was still a welcome guest in the pavilion — to one heart, perhaps, too dangerously welcome :— but all mention of poetry was, as if by common consent, avoided. Though none of the party had much respect for FADLADEEN, yet his censures, tlius magisterially delivered, evidently made an impression on them all. The Poet himself, to whom criticism was quite a new operation (being wholly unknown in that Paradise of the Indies, Cashmere), felt the shock as it is generally felt at first, till use has made it more tolerable to the patient; - the Ladies began to suspect that they ought not to be pleased, and seemed to conclude that there must have been much good sense in what FADLADEEN said, from its having sent them all so soundly to sleep; – while the self-complacent Chamberlain was left to triumph in the idea of having, for the hundred and fiftieth time in his life, extinguished a Poet. LALLA Rooki alone - and Love knew why - persisted in being delighted with all she had heard, and in resolving to hear more as speedily as possible. Her manner, however, of first returning to the subject was unlucky. It was while they rested during the heat of noon near a fountain, on which some hand had rudely traced those well-known words from the Garden of Sadi, — “Many, like me,
have viewed this fountain, but they are gone, and their eyes are closed forever!” – that she took occasion, from the melancholy beauty of this passage, to dwell upon the charms of poetry in general. “It is true,” she said, “few poets can imitate that sublime bird, which flies always in the air, and never touches the earth : 153 it is only once in many ages a Genius appears, whose words, like those on the Written Mountain, last forever : 154 but still there are some, as delightful, perhaps, though not so wonderful, who, if not stars over our head, are at least flowers along our path, and whose sweetness of the moment we ought gratefully to inhale, without calling upon them for a brightness and a durability beyond their nature. In short," continued she, blushing, as if conscious of being caught in an oration, “it is quite cruel that a poet cannot wander through his regions of enchantment, without having a critic forever, like the old Man of the Sea, upon his back!” 155
FADLADEEN, it was plain, took this last luckless allusion to himself, and would treasure it up
in his mind as a whetstone for his next criticism. A sudden silence ensued; and the Princess, glancing a look at FERAMORZ, saw plainly she must wait for a more courageous moment.
But the glories of Nature, and her wild fragrant airs, playing freshly over the current of youthful spirits, will soon heal even deeper wounds than the dull Fadladeens of this world can inflict. In an evening or two after, they came to the small Valley of Gardens, which had been planted by order of the Emperor, for his favorite sister Rochinara, during their progress to Cashmere, some years before; and never was there a more sparkling assemblage of sweets, since the Gulzar-e-Irem, or Rose-bower of Irem. Every precious flower was there to be found that poetry, or love, or religion has ever consecrated; from the dark hyacinth, to which Hafez compares his mistress's hair,156 to the Cámalatá, by whose
blossoms the heaven of Indra is scented.157 As they sat in the cool fragrance of this delicious spot, and LALLA ROOKJ remarked that she could fancy it the abode of that Flower-loving Nymph whom they worship
in the temples of Kathay,158 or of one of those Peris, those beautiful creatures of the air, who live upon per fumes, and to whom a place like this might make some amends for the Paradise they have lost, — the young Poet, in whose eyes she appeared, while she spoke, to be one of the bright spiritual creatures she was describing, said hesitatingly that he remembered a Story of a Peri, which, if the Princess had no objection, he would velture to relate. “It is,” said he, with an appealing look to FADLADEEN, “in a lighter and humbler strain than the other;” then, striking a few careless but melancholy chords on his kitar, he thus began :