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Cordenius. Ha! to the catacombs!
Sylvius. A dismal place, I own, but heed not that; . .
. p. 20. A day and two nights elapse, devoted to the conversion, and in the commencement of the second act Cordenius comes deeply imbued with the knowledge of the Faith. He expresses the sudden unfolding of truth on his mind, and the total and illustrious change of his feelings by a series of glowing similitudes. His attention is deeply excited by the procession of Christians bringing the ashes of the martyrs. They sing a solemn hymn.
These topics are varied for a moment by the appearance of Portia coming to pay her vows to the goddess of flowers. The young Pagan alludes to the influence of this mythological divinity in the fanciful spirit which of old peopled every breeze, and stream, and tree with its protecting genius.
• Full many a time I've listen'd when alone
In such fair spots as this, and thought I heard
Are in full bloom ; and I must gather them. pp. 38, 39. Cordenius returns in strong agitation at the new influx of feeling and truth that has rushed upon his soul. Portia's father offers him her hand: he is delighted at the prospect, yet betrays a solemn anxiety, which rapidly leads to the conclusion, that he has been influenced by the new doctrines. Abjuration is demanded by the Senator, as the test of the lover's worthiness. It is firmly refused.
Ethocles, a Greek, has now been seized as a Christian. His services to the great cause make the brethren eminently anxious for his preservation. Cordenius has commanded the guard over his
dungeon, and has secretly determined to perish for him. An imperial council is held for the destruction of the converts, and Ethocles is to be the first victim. Cordenius comes, disguised, in his place, flings aside his cloak, and declares himself the voluntary substitute of the Greek preacher. On Nero's pronouncing that he must be a maniac, the soldier then avows his pure and lofty convictions. His death is now inevitable. Nero is in the amphitheatre, Portia and her father are present, vainly supplicating the tyrant for the life of the martyr. Cordenius approaches undismayed.
· Sulpicius. Is he advancing ?
Noble Roman. Yes, and close at hand,
• Sulpicius. How do the people greet him ?
• Noble Roman. Every face
pp. 69, 70. Cordenius is about to be exposed to a lion, when his friend Orceres, indignant at this base death of so eminent a soldier, sends an arrow through him.
• Orceres. Have I done well, my friend? — this is a death
Sylvius. That dying look, which almost smiles upon thee,
p. 76. We shall not now advert to the obvious irregularities of this poem. The introduction of the Parthian, selected apparently for no other reason than the national skill in archery; the improbability of the scene with Nero; the hurried conversion, and the brief efforts of Portia's love :- but looking upon the • Martyr' as merely a dramatic sketch of a very extensive and absorbing subject, we must give its already highly distinguished author the praise of having done, at least, no dishonour to her early and legitimate fame.
Art. IX. Travels and Adventures in the Persian Provinces on the
Southern Banks of the Caspian Sea. With an Appendix, containing short Notices on the Geology and Commerce of Persia. By James
B. Fraser. 4to. pp. 384. London. Longman and Co. 1826. Mr. Fraser has already made us acquainted with a considerable portion of the least civilised provinces of Persia in the very interesting narrative of his journey into Khorasān.* The present work takes up the history of his travels at the point where the former ended, and conducts the author from Astrabad, at the southeast corner of the Caspian sea, through the provinces of Mazunderān and Gheelān, which border its southern shores, to Tabreez, the seat of the government of Abbas Meerza, Prince-Royal of Persia. The nature of the country, and the state of its population, afforded a much more limited field of enquiry than Mr. Fraser found in the earlier part of his journey; but it was a field, nevertheless, that deserved his attention, though not, perhaps, at the expense of such severe difficulties, sufferings, and dangers as those which he experienced in his examination of it.
Indeed, the author's personal adventures form too large a portion of the volume before us. They tended, it is true, to elicit a good deal of the character of the people amongst whom they occurred; but, in other respects, they are not particularly attractive. They are made up, for the most part, of little details, which, however important to the individual whom they chiefly affected, are of little value to the reader. They have none of that romantic colouring which one expects to find in a story of adventures upon the banks of the Caspian sea: they leave a disagreeable impression on the mind, on account of the indignities which the author suffered; and they are narrated in a loose, fretful, and garrulous style, that is by no means calculated to redeem their original dulness.
The information, however, which Mr. Fraser has collected with his usual industry, under disadvantages and privations of the most disheartening and painful description, concerning two provinces so little known to us as Mazunderân and Gheelān, is, in some respects, novel and important. Had the volume possessed somewhat more of the raciness and animation that are to be found in honest Jonas Hanway's account of his travels on the shores of the Caspian, we should have liked it much better : but it has an air of accuracy, and a sort of business-like look, which compensate, in some measure, for the absence of other qualifications. The descriptions of the country, and its villages and cities, are clear and unlaboured, although it is evident enough that the author's love of the picturesque was frequently not a little depressed by the sufferings to which he was so undeservedly exposed.
In the narrative of his journey into Khorasān, Mr. Fraser described the course of his travels until he reached Astrabad, which he entered on the 6th of April, 1822. He was accompanied by Meerza Abd-ool-Rezāk, a Persian of good family, considerable liberality of sentiment, and respectable mental endowments,' and attended by a negro and four native servants. Astrabad, if it resemble most of the cities in Persia, by being, as to the greater part of it, in a ruinous condition, is unlike them in every other respect. The houses are built more in the Indian than the Persian taste, the roofs consisting of red tiles, or thatch, and projecting considerably beyond the walls. Several of the houses are distinguished by the addition of lofty square towers, having openings on each side, for the purpose of admitting the air into the rooms beneath; and most of the better order are surrounded by trees and extensive gardens, which produce an agreeable effect. The streets are paved with stone, and exhibit an appearance of cleanliness and neatness rarely to be met with in the southern provinces. Astrabad, however, though a port of the Caspian sea, has little trade, and yields but an inconsiderable revenue to the royal treasury; and the impenetrable thickets and forests which are suffered to remain untouched in its immediate neighbourhood render it, by their exhalations, one of the most unwholesome towns in the Persian dominions.
After sojourning about a fortnight at Astrabad, Mr. Fraser set out for Saree, the capital of Mazunderān, taking advantage, where it was possible to do so, of the famous causewayed road constructed under the active, enterprising, and enlightened reign of Shah Abbas. The soil of the provinces bordering on the Caspian is rendered so deep and miry by the heavy rains which fall there during many months of the year, that, without such a road, the overland communication between those provinces would be impeded in the winter. It was formed originally with great care, but Mr. Fraser found it almost in ruins. His course was northward of west, and led him sometimes through thick jungles, formed of lofty forest-trees, or of thorns, brambles, and wild pomegranates, sometimes through hamlets prettily situated, whose chief care seemed to be the cultivation of the mulberry. Of the more considerable villages little was to be seen, as the houses were scattered in groups of two or three among a great extent of jungle; and one would think that he was still riding through the forest, but for the little columns of smoke which he sees here and there issuing from among the trees. The women do not conceal themselves in these villages so strictly as in other parts of Persia. Many of them were observed to be handsome, though their beauty fades at an early age. The inhabitants are generally distrustful and inhospitable, probably on account of their vicinity to the Toorkomāns, whose irregular notions of property are proverbial.
Mr. Fraser found the condition of the famous palace of Ashruff, its gardens, fountains, and cascades, which are so enthusiastically described by Hanway, wretchedly changed. These abodes of the splendour and luxury of Shah Abbas are now so decayed, that it is difficult even to trace their former existence.
It is impossible, I think, to traverse these ruins without experiencing very powerfully the emotions which scenes of vanished pomp and pleasure ever awaken ; indeed, I do not remember to have experienced them often in a stronger degree. The old man who accompanied us was minute and eloquent in his narrations, the ruins themselves were extensive and majestic, and at every turn there were points of reminiscence, hints as it were of past realities, which, like the sharp and masterly touches of a fine picture, seemed to bring the past more freshly before us. I could fancy that I saw the actual traces of the gallant and magnificent monarch, who, whatever might be his faults to his own subjects, was always the friend and protector of Europeans, always liberal in his sentiments, and enlightened in his policy; the patron of science, the encourager of all improvement, the Lewis XIV. of Persia. I was carried back in imagination to those times when the great Shah Abbas had given and partaken of many joyous feasts in this very palace; many scenes of deep interest, many too doubtless of dark atrocity, had passed within these walls. Many a lovely form had here sighed for liberty, or for the lover from whose arms she had been torn to suffer the cold embraces of a despot, perhaps but to be immured in his harem. But all were gone — monarch and captive, the palace and the prison, alike crumbled to the dust, and the most sacred spot contaminated by the feet of infidel strangers.' — pp. 22, 23.
There are the remains of many objects of interest in the neighbourhood of Ashruff, but in such a state of ruin, that they scarcely repay the attention of the traveller. The situation, commanding a fine view of the Caspian and of the neighbouring country, was worthy of the expenditure lavished upon it by Shah Abbas. From this place Mr. Fraser pursued his journey through Nica and the plains of Gorgaun to Saree, where he arrived on the 21st of April, and was comfortably lodged, by the governor's order, in the house of Ramzaun Beg, a gentleman distinguished for his taste in domestic architecture. It happened that the room allotted to our traveller, though quite a bijou in its way, was conveniently accessible only by means of a crazy ladder placed outside the window. The house itself, however, and the author's treatment in it, afforded a good practical illustration of a Persian's notions of comfort and hospitality, and, indeed, of the superficial character of every thing which he saw in that country.
• The house, in so far as it met the eye, was good, comfortable, and clean, and the rooms of reception were neat, and even elegant. The walls were nicely plastered, and adorned with devices in stucco; the windows were carved, and coloured in forms like those exhibited in the kaleidoscope. Numerous niches in the walls were fitted up with velvet and gold-worked coverings. A handsome fire-place occu