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The story of the Veiled Prophet of Khorassan being ended, they were now doomed to hear FADLADEEN's criticisms upon it. A series of disappointments and accidents had occurred to this learned Chamberlain during the journey. In the first place, those couriers stationed, as in the reign of Shah Jehan, between Delhi and the Western coast of India, to secure a constant supply of mangoes for the Royal Table, had, by some cruel irregularity, failed in their duty; and to eat any mangoes but those of Mazagong was, of course, impossible.149 In the next place, the elephant, laden with his fine antique porcelain,150 had, in an unusual fit of liveliness, shattered the whole set to pieces -an irreparable loss, as many of the vessels were so exquisitely old, as to have been used under the Emperors Yan and Chun, who reigned many ages before the dynasty of Tang. His Koran, too, supposed to be the identical copy between the leaves of which Mahomet's favourite pigeon used to nestle, had been mislaid by his Koran-bearer three whole days ; not without much spiritual alarm to FADLADEEN, who, though professing to hold with other loyal and orthodox Mussulmans, that salvation could only be found in the Koran, was strongly suspected of believing in his heart, that it could only be found in his own particular copy of it. When to all these grievances is added the obstinacy of the cooks, in putting the pepper of Canara into his dishes instead of the cinnamon of Serendib, we may easily suppose that he came to the task of criticism with, at least, a sufficient degree of irritability for the purpose.
“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 analyse 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-favoured 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 honour 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 licences, too, in which it indulged, were unpardonable ;for instance, this line, and the poem abounded with such:-
Like the saint, 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 candour, 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, 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, thus 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 Rookh 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 for ever!”--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 for ever : 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 for ever, 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 aster, they came to the small Valley of Gardens, which had been planted by order of the Emperor, for his favourite 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.