Kind, hospitable, tolerant
flattering cheats?

From Sir John Chardin's "Travels in Persia, 1673-1677" Vol. 2 (1988 unabridged Dover republication by Argonaut Press, London, 1927). The text is in the original language and spelling format, and the commentary, as to be expected, is quite "non-PC" and definitely not for the socially squeamish. But it reads wonderfully and provides an insight into both Chardin and his European/Christian affectations of superiority, as well as his object of observation -- Persia and the Persians. Thanks to Farhad Froozan for selecting this excerpt.

A XVII th. Century viewpoint

From the publisher's 1988 introduction:

Jean Chardin (1643-1713), the wealthy son of a French jeweller, became infatuated with the Orient early in life. He undertook two voyages to Persia. The first, begun in 1664, took almost two years to reach there. He stayed for 18 months and continued on to India before returning to France. The second, begun in 1671, took two years of arduous travel through Ottoman Turkey, the Crimea, and the Caucasus to reach Isfahan. He spent four years there prior to returning to France in 1677. In subsequent years, in order to avoid persecution of the Huguenots he fled to England, where he was appointed jeweller to the Crown, and was knighted by Charles II, to become the more familiar Sir John Chardin. The following is a brief excerpt from the Second Volume, Chapter XI, of his "Travels in Persia, 1673-1677". This 2- volume travel classic of his second journey remains one of the most descriptive accounts of 17th century Persia. The contemporary reader may be offput by his somewhat negative impressions of the nature and manners of the Persians. But it should be noted that he endured substantial difficulties in obtaining payment for a consignment of valuable jewels which had been ordered by the Safavid Shah Soleiman III at the end of his first voyage. His extensive dealings with the Grand Vizier ("Prime Minister"), the Nazir ("Grand Steward"), and other courtiers are described at length in his First Volume, and remain a sobering first view of Persia for Europeans.

Chardin's views:

The Persian Blood is naturally thick; it may be seen in the Guebres, who are the remainder of the ancient Persians; they are homely, ill shap'd, dull, and have a rough Skin, and an Olive Complexion. The same Thing is observ'd also in the Provinces next the Indus, whereof the Inhabitants are little better shap'd than the Guebres, because they marry only amongst them: But in the other Parts of the Kingdom, the Persian Blood is now grown clearer, by the mixture of the Georgian and Circassian Blood, which is certainly the People of the World, which Nature favours most, both upon the Account of the Shape and Complexion, and of the Boldness and Courage; they are likewise Sprightly, Courtly, and Amorous. There is scarce a Gentleman in Persia, whose Mother is not a Georgian, or a Circassian Woman; to begin with the King, who commonly is a Georgian, or a Circassian by the Mother's side; and whereas, that ixture begun above a hundred Years ago, the Female kind is grown fairer, as well as the other, and the Persian Women are now very handsome, and very well shap'd, tho' they are still inferior to the Georgians: As to the Men, they are commonly Tall, Straight, Ruddy, Vigorous, have a good Air, and a pleasant Countenance. The Temperateness of their Climate, and the Temperance they are brought up in, do not a little contribute to their Shape and Beauty. Had it not been for the Alliance before mention'd, the Nobility of Persia had been the ugliest Men in the World; for they originally came from those Countries between China and the Caspian Sea, call'd Tartary; the Inhabitants whereof being the homeliest Men of Asia, are short and thick, have their Eyes and Nose like the Chinese, their Face flat and broad, and their Complexion yellow, mix'd with black.

As to the Natural Parts, the Persians have them as beautiful as their Bodies; their Fancy is lively, quick and fruitful; their Memory easy and copious; they have a ready disposition to Sciences, and to the Liberal and Mechanick Arts, and to War also; they love Glory, or rather Vanity, which is only the Shadow of it; they are of a tractable and complying Temper, of an easy and plodding Wit; they are courtly, civil, compliant, and well-bred; they have naturally an eager bent to Voluptuousness, Luxury, Extravagancy, and Profuseness; for which Reason, they are ignorant both of Frugality and Trade. In a Word, they are born with as good natural Parts as any other People, but few abuse them so much as they do.

They are true Philosophers on the account of Riches, and the Misfortunes of the World, and on the Hope and Fear of a Future State; they are a little guilty of Covetousness, and are only desirous of getting, that they may spend it; they love to enjoy the Present, and deny themselves nothing that they are able to procure, taking no Thought for the Morrow, and relying wholy on Providence, and their own Fate; they firmly believe it to be sure and unalterable, and carry themselves honestly in that respect; so when any Misfortune happens to them, they are not cast down, as most Men are, they only say quietly, Mek toub, i.e. That is written, or, it is ordained, that that should happen.

The most commendable Property of the Manners of the Persians, is their kindness to Strangers; the Reception and Protection they afford them, and their Universal Hospitality, and Toleration, in regard to Religion, except the Clergy of the Country, who, as in all other Places, hate to a furious Degree, all those that differ from their Opinions. The Persians are very civil, and very honest in Matters of Religion; so far that they allow those who have embraced theirs, to recant, and resume their former Opinion; whereof, the Cedre, or Priest, gives them an Authentick Certificate for Safety sake, in which he calls them by the name of Apostat, which amongst them is the highest Affront. They believe that all Men's Prayers are good and prevalent; therefore, in their Illnesses, and in other Wants, they admit of, and even desire the Prayers of different Religions: I have seen it practis'd a thousand Times. This is not to be imputed to their Religious Principles, tho' it allows all sorts of Worship; but I impute it to the sweet Temper of the Nation, who are naturally averse to Contest and Cruelty.

The Persians having the Character of Wanton and Profuse; one may easily believe them to be Lazy also; those two Properties being inseperable. Their Aversion to Labour is the most common Occasion of their Poverty. The Persians call the Lazy, and Unactive Men, Serguerdan, i.e. turning the Head this Way, and that Way. Their Language is full of those Circomlocutions; as for Instance, to express a Man reduced to a Mendicant State, they say, Gouch Negui Micoret, he eats his Hunger.

That's one of the least Faults of the Persians; they are besides, Dissemblers, Cheats, and the basest and most impudent Flatterers in the World. They understand Flattering very well; and tho' they do it with Modesty, yet they do it with Art, and Insinuation. You would say, that they intend as they speak, and would swear to it: Nevertheless, as soon as the Occasion is over, such as a Prospect of Interest, or a Regard of Compliance, you plainly see that all their Compliments were very far from being sincere. They take an Opportunity of praising Men, when they come out of a House, or pass by them, so that they may be heard; and they speak so seasonably, that the Praise seems to come naturally from them, and carries no Air of Flattery along with it. Besides those Vices which the Persians are generally adicted to, they are Lyers in the highest Degree; they speak, swear, and make false Depositions upon the least Consideration; they borrow and pay not; and if they can Cheat, they seldom lose the Opportunity; they are not to be trusted in Service, nor in all other Engagements; without Honesty in their Trading, wherein they overreach one so ingeniously, that one cannot help being nubbl'd; greedy of Riches, and of vain Glory, of Respect and Reputation, which they endeavour to gain by all Means possible. Being void of true Virtue, they affect the Shew of it, whether out of a Design to impose on themselves, or the better to attain the Ends of their vain Glory, their Ambition, and their Wantonness. Hypocrisy is the common Disguise they appear in; they would turn a League out of the Way, to avoid a Bodily Pollution; such as brushing as they go by a Man of a different Religion, and receiving one in their House in Rainy Weather, because the Wet of his Cloaths pollutes whatever touches them, whether Persons or Goods: They walk gravely, make their Prayers and Purgations at set Times, and with the greatest Shew of Devotion; they hold the Wisest and Godliest Conversation possible, discoursing constantly of God's Glory, and of his Greatness, in the Noblest Terms, and with all the outward Shew of the most fervent Faith. Altho' they be naturally dispos'd to good Nature, Hospitality, Pitty, Contempt of the World, and of its Riches, they affect them nevertheless, that they may appear to be possest of a larger Share of them than they really are. Whoever sees them only passing by, or in a Visit, will always give them the best Character in the World; but he that deals with them, and pries into their Affairs, will find that there is little Honesty in them; and that most of them are Whited Sepulcres, according to our Saviours Expression, which I think the more proper here, because the Persians study particularly a strict Observation of the Law. That is the Character of the Generality of the Persians: But there is without doubt an Exception to that general Depravation; for among some of the Persians there is as much Justice, Sincerity, Virtue and Piety to be found , a samong those who profess the best Religions. But the more one Converses with that Nation, the fewer one finds included in the Exception, the Number of Truly, Honest, and Courteous Persians being very small.

The Persians are the most Civiliz'd People of the East, and the greatest Complimenters in the World. The Polite Men amongst them, are upon a level with the Politest Men of Europe. Their Air, their Countenance, is very well composed, Lovely, Grave, Majestical, and as Fond as may be; they never fail complimenting one another about the Precedency, either going out or coming into a House, or when they meet, but 'tis over presently. They look upon two Things in our Manners, as very ridiculous, viz. Contending so long, as we do, who shall go first; and covering our Head, to do Honour to any Man, which amongst them is a want of Respect, or a Liberty which no body takes but with his Inferiors or familiar Friends: They observe the right and the left Hand, but our Left is their Right, and so 'tis all over the East. They say, that Cyrus began first to place Men on his left Hand, out of respect to them, because that side is the weaker part of the Body, and the most exposed to Danger.


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