CHAPTER XXI. TEHERAN.
There is sufficient similarity between the bazaar, the mosques, the residences, the suburban gardens, etc., of one Persian city, and the same features of another, to justify the assertion that the description of one is a description of them all. But the presence of the Shah and his court; the pomp and circumstance of Eastern royalty; the foreign ambassadors; the military; the improvements introduced from Europe; the royal palaces of the present sovereign; the palaces and reminiscences of former kings - all these things combine to effectually elevate Teheran above the somewhat dreary sameness of provincial cities. A person in the habit of taking daily strolls here and there about the city will scarcely fail of obtaining a glimpse of the Shah, incidentally, every few days. In this respect there is little comparison to be made between him and the Sultan of Turkey, who never emerges from the seclusion of the palace, except to visit the mosque, or on extraordinary occasions; he is then driven through streets between compact lines of soldiers, so that a glimpse of his imperial person is only to be obtained by taking considerable trouble. Since the Shah's narrow escape from assassination at the hands of the Baabi conspirators in 1867, he has exercised more caution than formerly about his personal safety. Previous to that affair, it was customary for him to ride on horseback well in advance of his body-guard; but nowadays, he never rides in advance any farther than etiquette requires him to, which is about the length of his horse's neck. When his frequent outings take him beyond the city fortifications, he is generally provided with, both saddle-horse and carriage, thus enabling him to change from one to the other at will. The Shah is evidently not indifferent to the fulsome flattery of the courtiers and sycophants about him, nor insensible of the pomp and vanity of his position; nevertheless he is not without a fair share of common-sense. Perhaps the worst that can be said of him is, that he seems content to prostitute his own more enlightened and progressive views to the prejudices of a bigoted and fanatical priesthood. He seems to have a generous desire to see the country opened up to the civilizing improvements of the West, and to give the people an opportunity of emancipating themselves from their present deplorable condition; but the mollahs set their faces firmly against all reform, and the Shah evidently lacks the strength of will to override their opposition. It was owing to this criminal weakness on his part that Baron Eeuter's scheme of railways and commercial regeneration for the country proved a failure. Persia is undoubtedly the worst priest-ridden country in the world; the mollaha influence everything and everybody, from the monarch downward, to such an extent that no progress is possible. Barring outside interference, Persia will remain in its present wretched condition until the advent of a monarch with sufficient force of character to deliver the ipeople from the incubus of their present power and influence: nothing short of a general massacre, however, will be likely to accomplish complete deliverance. Without compromising his dignity as "Shah-iri-shah," "The Asylum of the Universe," etc., when dealing with his own subjects, Nasr-e-deen Shall has profited by the experiences of his European tour to the extent of recognizing, with becoming toleration, the democratic independence of Ferenghis, whose deportment betrays the fact that they are not dazed by the contemplation of his greatness. The other evening myself and a friend encountered the Shah and his crowd of attendants on one of the streets leading to the winter palace; he was returning to the palace in state after a visit of ceremony to some dignitary. First came a squad of foot-runners in quaint scarlet coats, knee-breeches, white stockings, and low shoes, and with a most fantastic head-dress, not unlike a peacock's tail on dress-parade; each runner carried a silver staff; they, were clearing the street and shouting their warning for everybody to hide their faces. Behind them came a portion of the Shah's Khajar bodyguard, well mounted, and dressed in a gray uniform, braided with black: each of these also carries a silver staff, and besides sword and dagger, has a gun slung at his back in a red 'baize case. Next came the royal carriage, containing the Shah: the carriage is somewhat like a sheriffs coach of "ye olden tyme," and is drawn by six superb grays; mounted on the off horses are three postilions in gorgeous scarlet liveries. Immediately behind the Shah's carriage, came the higher dignitaries on horseback, and lastly a confused crowd of three or four hundred horsemen. As the royal procession approached, the Persians- one and all-either hid themselves, or backed themselves up against the wall, and remained with heads bowed half-way to the ground until it passed. Seeing that we had no intention of striking this very submissive and servile attitude, first the scarlet foot-runners, and then the advance of the Khajar guard, addressed themselves to us personally, shouting appealingly as though very anxious about it: "Sahib. Sahib!" and motioned for us to do as the natives were doing. These valiant guardians of the Shah's barbaric gloriousness cling tenaciously to the belief that it is the duty of everybody, whether Ferenghi or native, to prostrate themselves in this manner before him, although the monarch himself has long ceased to expect it, and is very well satisfied if the Ferenghi respectfully doffs his hat as he goes past. Much of the nonsensical glamour and superstitious awe that formerly surrounded the person of Oriental potentates has been dissipated of late years by the moral influence of European residents and travellers.