Sunday, August 14, 2011

Mohammed Ali Mirza Shah of Persia

The new Shah of Persia, Mo­hammed Ali Mirza, is the first ruler of that country to ascend the throne as a constitutional mon­arch. His grandfather, the old Shah, Nazr-ed-Din, who reigned for nearly fifty years, was an oriental despot pure and simple. His cruelty and his magnificence were equal. When he traveled about his realms he was followed by a caravan which extended for miles behind him. Eighteen hun­dred horses and mules were taken with him, and four thousand sol­diers escorted him. There were volleys of artillery, illuminations, triumphal arches, and forests of flags to greet the Shah-in-Shah, the King of Kings. With him also were carried instruments of torture; for he loved to admin­ister what he called justice and to see it executed before his eyes.

It was he who visited Queen Victoria and left the magnificent house which was placed at his dis­posal in a state of indescribable filth; for the drawing-rooms had been used as pens in which to slaughter sheep and fowls. It is recorded that during his stay in London he attended a reception at Stafford House, where he was the guest of the Duke of Suther­land. The beauty of the mansion so impressed the Shah that he called the Prince of Wales aside and questioned him.
"Who is the owner of this place?" asked his Persian majesty.

"This," said the prince, "is the home of one of our great noblemen."

"Oh !" said the Shah gravely.

"If you will profit by my experience, you will let me tell you that such powerful sub­jects are dangerous. Have his head struck off tomorrow!"


This bloody, sensual old tyrant was assassinated in due time, and was suc­ceeded by his son, the late Shah Muzaf­-far-ed-Din. The new sovereign was utterly unlike his father, being humane and sympathetic, living an abstemious life, and taking great interest in Euro­pean education. He caused the most famous foreign books to be translated into Persian, studied modern science, and became a practical photographer. He was also greatly diverted by the mysteries of the telegraph, and had a short line of wire constructed, over which he delighted to send messages.

Toward the close of his reign, Muzaf­-far-ed-Din became convinced that Persia needed an entire change in its form of government. He established a sort of civil service, reduced the taxes, and finally proclaimed a constitution which gave the control of the finances and of foreign affairs to a senate and an assem­bly, partly elective and partly appointive. He did not live to see his new systems in full working order. While visiting Europe he was sun struck in Paris, and lived only a short time after his return home.

The new Shah, therefore, is to carry out the experiment which his predecessor had but just begun. It is likely that he will do so in good faith. He is a man of thirty-five, short and stout, educated by European instructors, and speaking French and English with some fluency. His manner of life is by no means that of an Oriental. He has no harem, but treats his wife as an equal, providing her with a Parisian dressmaker and a suite of foreign ladies.

As for himself, he has many foreign officers in his household, and shows an especial liking for whatever is French. He is described as a man of few words, a keen sportsman, and a just and upright ruler. Except over the affairs of his court, he has little power under the new constitution, except that he can appoint his sons to be governors of the various provinces of Persia.

To many persons, the notion of any­thing like a constitutional government in Persia seems a good deal of a farce. One is apt to think of Persia as a remote, half-savage country, whose inhabitants dress in sheepskins and are either fierce marauders or enervated sensualists. As a matter of fact, the Persian people retain many of the sturdy qualities which made their empire so great in the days of Cyrus. Teheran, the capital city, has gas and electric lights, tramways, banks, tele­graphs, and excellent shops, while railroads are beginning to make their appearance. The postal system is well developed, and newspapers are published.

There is no reason why, with honesty and efficiency in its government, the new Shah should not at least be the head of a prosperous kingdom, quite able to protect itself against its powerful neighbors. Of course, it is not to be expected that Persia, with her population of less than ten mil­lions, can rise, like Japan, to a place among the great nations of the world. Yet something of what has taken place in the empire of the Mikado may not impossibly be accomplished in the land of the Shah; for the genius of the Persian people, like that of the Japanese, is said by those who know them best to be quick, vigorous, and inventive.

Originally published in Munsey's Magazine.  August 1907.


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