BLTC Press Titles


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Theory of Colours

Johann Wolfgang von Goethe


Some Experiences of an Irish R. M.

Edith Somerville and Martin Ross


My Man Jeeves

P. G. Wodehouse


The Story of Doctor Dolittle

Hugh Lofting


Haroun Alraschid, caliph of Bagdad

by Edward Henry Palmer

Excerpt:

HAROUN ALRASCHID, more properly written Hariin er Rashfd, "Aaron the Orthodox," was the fifth of the Abbaside caliphs of Bagdad. His full name was Hariin 'bn Mohammed ibn Abdallah ibn Mohammed ibn Ali 'bn 'Abdallah ibn Abbas. He was born at Ray the last day of Dhi '1 Hejjah, 145 A.H. (20th March, 763 A.D.), according to some accounts, and according to others, 1st Moharrem, 149 A.H. (15th Feb., 766 A.D.)

Haroun was twenty-two years old when he ascended the throne. His biographers unanimously speak of him as "the most accomplished, eloquent, and generous of the Caliphs;" but though his name is a household word, and few figures stand out more grandly prominent in the history of their times, little is really popularly known about his private life and personal history.

I shall endeavour in the following sketch to paint not only the monarch but the man; the emperor and the adventurous prince, whose incognito strolls about Bagdad furnish some of the most humorous incidents of the "Arabian Nights."

Imbued with that strict devotional spirit which is so characteristic of the true Mohammedans, and which makes their religion enter into every phase of their thought and mingle with every incident of their daily life, Haroun Alraschid was unremitting in the ceremonial observances of his faith.

Every alternate year, with very few exceptions, he made the pilgrimage to Mecca, or he prosecuted a "Holy War" against the enemies of Islam. His pilgrimages were always performed on foot, and when we consider the distance between Bagdad and Mecca, and the inhospitable nature of the arid desert through which he had to travel, this fact alone will give some idea of the indomitable energy and perseverance of his character. He was the only Caliph who ever imposed upon himself so austere a duty, and he was perhaps the only one who ever condemned himself to the performance of a hundred prostrations with his daily prayers. Upon his pilgrimages he was always accompanied by a hundred doctors learned in the law, together with their sons; and in the years that he Haroun and the Blind Poet. 31

did not visit Mecca himself, he performed the pilgrimage vicariously, sending three hundred men for that purpose at his own expense, and providing them with magnificent equipments for the journey. His piety was no doubt sincere, but there is good reason to believe that it was in a great measure due to his desire to

"Compound for sins he was inclined to,
By damning those he had no mind to."

Save in his lavish generosity, he much resembled his predecessor, Mansiir, and, like him, took great delight in literature, especially poetry, and in the society of learned men.

It is related that Haroun Alraschid one day gave a great entertainment, to which Abu 'Atahfyeh, a blind poet, was invited. After dinner the Caliph said to the poet, "Give us a description of the happiness and prosperity which we enjoy." Whereupon Abu 'Atahfyeh sang :—

"Right happy may thy life be made,
Safe in the lofty castle's shade 1" .

"Bravo !" said Haroun.

"And every morn and eve may all
Thy every slightest wish forestall l"

"Excellent!" said the Commander of the Faithful.

"But when thy latest struggling sighs,
With rattlings in the breast arise,
Then shalt thou of a surety know
'Tis all deception here below!"

On hearing this the Caliph burst into tears, and El Fadhl, the son of Yahya the Grand Vizier, of whom we shall have a great deal to say in the course of our narrative, turned to the poet, and said, in a tone of remonstrance—"The Commander of the Faithful sent for you to amuse him, and you have only made him sad." "Nay," said Alraschid, "leave him alone; he only saw that we were growing blind, and did not wish to make us more so."


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