THE MSS

Being myself admitted formally (in the course of my first few readings) to the joyous company of the Sufis, (I cannot here discuss the curiously patriarchal systems of mystic fraternity in vogue among Muslim, if only because I am a Freemason) I was enabled to use several fine MSS. for the translation, a privilege of which I availed myself without scruple, as knowing I was well entitled to them; and without diffidence, because of the invariable courtesy which adepts in these mysteries exhibit to their fellow workers in the divine Arcanum.

I was also permitted to order a copy to be made, which the calligraphist has still in hand. It is the sort of order that acquits a man of the charge of doing nothing for posterity, for assuredly nobody who knows India will try to raise false hopes in me that I may live long enough to see it.

I would warn scholars that, unless they are in some way definitely mystics and truly acknowledged as such, they will do better to hunt for the lost books of Livy than for the Bagh-i-muattar. There is no copy in any public library here or in the East: not surprising, when one hears Platt in 1874 complain that of so famous a classic as the Gulistan there is no genuine Persian MS., but only the garbled Indian copies, in either the India Office Library or the British Museum.

If you question a Persian on the subject he will “begin to curse and to swear, saying: I know not the” book.

Of late I have amused myself by asking stray Persians “Have you ever heard of Abdullah el Haji?” and when they denied all knowledge of him, quoting:

“Forget an if thou wilt, the scribe!
The lovely script to heart be laid!”

The reason is of course that it is held exquisitely sacred; and seeing that the nature of the symbolism renders it open to the prurient jest or prudish reproach of the notoriously foul-minded Anglo-Saxon, the Persian, who is nothing if not dignified, is justly chary of casting his pearls before swine. Indeed, a certain scent seller with whom I once argued against all this secrecy replied by begging my permission to depart, “for a Jew had promised to spit on his beard before as sohri (noon prayer), and he feared to miss the appointment”.

But for all that, no well appointed private library but has one or more copies of the little masterpiece; no travelling merchant but carries at least some leaves of it under his dirty sheepskin. It is too sacred even to sell, whatever the extremity; the one copy – a mutilated and incorrect Indian – which by dint of infinite diplomacy I half cajoled, half forced from a drunken Afghan elephant-snarer in Ceylon, where I was shooting on leave, became the prey of the ants which help to make that devil-haunted Eden a House of Little Ease.

As, seriously, I expect to get my copy within twelve months or so (a brother officer, now at Q…, where they copyist lives, has promised me to stretch out – unofficially – the iron hand of the Sirkar on my behalf) I may say that I intend to issue the MS. in facsimile, as a pendant to the present volume.

For, when all is said and one, I do not believe in either the advisability or the efficacy of this secrecy business. The Apocalypse has been published for some years now, and I have yet to meet anyone who really knows how to extract the gold. Certainly no unworthy person. All arcana are indicible. A man whose formula is “n” may understand (n + 1), but not (n + 101). So that my Persian MS. is doubly safe from the profaning touch of the British Public. Even the Persians themselves hold that there are Guardians who know how to guard: without pandering to any such superstitious beliefs, I may say that as far as results go, I believe them to be right.

I should observe that the translation itself, as well as many of the notes, is due in the very greatest degree to the earnest help of my munshi, and of a certain dealer in furs, with whom I travelled through L…h, A…r, and G…t, as well as in the C…s country, during two successive summers.

Some two months after the completion of translation, I fell in with the gentleman whose name appears with mine on the title page. He represented to me that a large class of scholars might be reached by a considerable extension of the notes to cover ethnographical, critical, and other interesting points. We went to work accordingly during my last leave in England, and accomplished (I think) a good deal.

(Major Lutiy's death left this paragraph incomplete. I need only add that on his departure from the front he sent the MSS., with numerous further additions, to me. I have retained the paragraph to explain the occasional diversity of opinion in reading or interpretation, and the way in which `I' and `we' are alternatively used in the notes. Ed.)

The verse renderings are in every case later paraphrases from the original drafts, and the prose has been carefully revised at leisure.

I wished to put the whole into verse: but the `prodigious difficulties of the monorhyme', as Burton only too inadequately says, beat me as often as not.

Had I been able to obtain the aid of a professional poet, I might have made a better job of it, for my experience is confined to vers de societe! But I have done my best.


Thelema

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