Xenophobia and religious conflicts are conspicuous by their absence when six Iranian students in 1815 came to England to learn about Western science and industry. Historian Nile Green’s book on this harmonious and fruitful meeting are encouraging.
The Iranian student Mirza Salih diary underlying “The love of strangers.”
A by now worn quote from Rudyard Kipling says that East is East and West is West and never the two shall meet. Kipling was wrong. It is enough to look up almost any daily newspaper any time on any day during the last thousand years or so to see how wrong he was. East and West have constantly met with often for all involved, at best, unfortunate, at worst disastrous, consequences. The meeting consisted of a violent confrontation that led to the next violent confrontation in a team at the depressingly long history. It is hardly the historian, or even journalists, the role of distributing order and conduct reviews to history’s actors but taking on such a task will give most of both Eastern and Western actors fail.
There are exceptions, though they are small and rarely noticed. Usually, these lucky exceptions disappeared in the violent alarm, in the bloody attacks and in the overheated rhetoric. One such exception is the UCLA verksamme historian Nile Green spent the absolutely delightful and promising study, “The love of strangers. What six Muslim students learned in Jane Austen’s London “(Princeton University Press).
In late September 1815 , the same year as Jane Austen’s “Emma” came from the pressure, a ship arrived to the port of Great Yarmouth, with a time of rare load: six students from Iran sent to England by the country’s crown prince Abbas Mirza. Their mission was at universities and in the factories and workshops studying the new sciences and technologies needed to modernize Iran. Not least, it was important to improve themselves in the art of war and weapons production because Iran was threatened by an aggressive and imperial Russia. Abbas Mirza who resided in Tabriz in northern Iran, then near the Russian arch-enemy, was more aware of his country’s need for modernization than the rest of the Qajar dynasty who were in it then more isolated Tehran. England was seen during these years as an ally and had good relations with the regime in Iran
Sending students to foreign countries was still unusual. Not even the progressive Egypt tried it until a few years later. Some of these students had worked as assistants to English diplomats, including Captain Joseph D’Arcy as the Iranian throne assignment to take care of the six students and ensure that they are optimally utilized the time in “Inglistan”.
One of these students, Mirza Salih, wrote a diary during his stay in England, and it represents Greens vikigaste source, but it is complemented by extensive archival studies, not least in the newspapers of the era – that the Iranians came to visit was in fact an event of high rank who deserved to noted. Strangers from afar was still an exotic feature highlighted in the local press.
Although these students arrived with a royal mandate was not long until the problems were piling up. D’Arcy had promised more than he could keep. It proved to be expensive to pay the livelihoods of those (with one exception) were from the indigenous aristocracy. The money that Abbas Mirza given them soon ran out. Mirza Salih and his friends had to have to find a way to make money. And what had they to sell? First they did away with fine silks and elegant clothes, but it did not go far.
Their major asset was the language, Persian, which was the lingua franca of the future from Iran in the west to far into India in the east. East India Company, which was the major factor of power in India, had need of linguists administrators. Company had their own schools where Mirza Salih went hoping to earn some money and additionally learn English. It went well so-so. If these students were forced to become language teachers so they had no time to devote time to its original mission, to study the new, European sciences and technologies – chemistry, astronomy, mathematics, weapons manufacturing, steam engines and printing presses. They were expected to bring their knowledge of all this when they returned to their homeland and, as Green show, they managed to finish successfully perform their tasks.
Then as now, the student life poor and little moonlighting as a language teacher was not enough to finance their lives. But from the time Iran had the high benefactors who wrote to the British Foreign Secretary Lord Castlereagh; He understood the importance of good relations with Iran and especially in Iran as an enemy of Russia. Castlereagh distributed a time for very generous contributions to students and would continue to do so during their stay in the West. That so here immediately able to turn to the country’s foreign minister shows how small the future elite was.Throughout the book one is struck by how easily the students had to make contact with people who could help them. Professors, industrialists, scientists and writers hospitably opened its doors in a way that is now difficult to imagine.
The studies could now begin in earnest , and in the meantime Mirza Salih improved his English. Besides he also learned French and studied ancient history. His dream was to study at what he called Oxford or Cambridge Madrasa . This plan, however, went for naught for the two English universities at that time was mainly religious institutions where Muslims, how enlightened and undogmatic they may have been, did not have access.
That did not stop Mirza Salih from establishing friendly relations with the future orientalists, especially with Samuel Lee seems to have been a language genius. Unlike most of the future graduates, he came from very humble, but his abilities were noticed and he became a professor at Cambridge. Mirza Salih and Lee became friends. They came to work and Lee estimated to have an educated Iranians to talk to and who could help him with tricky language problems. It belongs of course to the point that the future of Oriental studies had mainly two purposes. One was through the study of Islam better understand Christianity’s development and change, the other was to the knowledge of Arabic and Persian to spread the gospel among the Gentiles. Professor Lee’s main efforts were translations of the Christian records of Oriental Languages. His Iranian guest did not mind helping but he seems never to have compromised with their own faith. Some religious conflict never occurred, and Mirza Salih asks rhetorically: “What does religious differences really matter?”
Wherever students traveled met the hospitality and curiosity. Green talks about a mutual xenofili, the opposite of xenophobia, thus a love or friendship to strangers. They sought and received with great kindness of it at this time supported Hannah More who worked for the girls would be educated and who wrote successful novels with an edifying purpose. She was in many ways unlike Jane Austen.
Here there are well call into question the book’s subtitle that tells you precisely Jane Austen. Our Iranian friends never met her and was hardly even aware of her existence. Green often draw parallels between the events and the people in Austen’s novels and incidents of Mirza Salih’s diary entries. They feel like needless attempt to free-ride on the novels fame and these eternal movies and TV series that are based on them. Green’s story can manage on their own. Everything, however, was not the work of the students. The diary tells of an active social life and frequent visits to the theater, which took place in Covent Garden area which was also notorious for its prostitutes. If those frequented by Mirza Salih or any of the other students we do not know. Green points out that Mirza Salih was well aware that the diary would be read when he returned to his country, and then it was best to be discreet about any immoral excesses.
Towards the end of 1819 they were back in Tabriz. Mirza Salih is the one we know most about. He brought a printing press to Iran and started albeit on a modest scale, a printing house where the first book that he let the press was Shaikh Sa’dis “Gulistan” (Rose Garden). Perhaps the most remarkable and which today seems so strange was that he persuaded the heir to open Iran for the Englishmen who wanted to settle there. Abbas Mirza promised them land, tax exemption and that they would freely practice their religion without hindrance. This is partly in thanks for the help and friendship of his broadcast had met in England.
Mirza Salih became a prominent diplomat, he had later care of delicate and sensitive negotiations with Russia. He also founded Iran’s first newspaper.”It is unclear when he died, perhaps in 1845,” writes Green, “but through its central role as introducer of the printing press and the newspaper in Iran, he had transformed his country.”
The other students, we know less about, they are a relatively obscure existence in “The love of strangers.” One of them, Muhammad Ali, were craftsmen, not processing. Home with them, he took one of Iran’s first steam engines. But not only that – he took with him a wife, Mary, from England. A newspaper article from 1826 says that in Tabriz lived an English woman, the daughter of a prominent blacksmith and married to a Persian man named Mahomet Ally who also had important tasks in modernizing Iran. If Mary and Muhammad Ali were happy, we know nothing about, but they lived together until death separated them.
Nile Green has through diligent detective work told a story that might seem a little odd. But if nothing else, it shows that the meetings between East and West can sometimes end happily
Carl Rudbeck ‘s critics and political columnist.