Bábar appears to have been of a frank and generous character; and there are throughout the Memoirs various traits of singular clemency and tenderness of heart for an Eastern monarch and professional warrior. He weeps ten whole days for the loss of a friend who fell over a precipice after one of their drinking parties, and spares the lives and even restores the domains of various chieftains who had betrayed his confidence and afterwards fallen into his power. Yet there are traces of Asiatic ferocity, and of a hard-hearted wastefulness of life, which remind us that we are beyond the pale of European gallantry and Christian compassion. In his wars in Afghánistán and India, the prisoners are commonly butchered in cold blood after the action; and pretty uniformly a triumphal pyramid is erected of their skulls. These horrible executions, too, are performed with much solemnity before the royal pavilion; and on one occasion, it is incidentally recorded, that such was the number of prisoners brought forward for this infamous butchery, that the sovereign's tent had three times to be removed to a different station; the ground before it being so drenched with blood, and encumbered with quivering carcases! On one occasion, and on one only, an attempt was made to poison him—the mother of one of the sovereigns whom he had dethroned having bribed his cooks and tasters to mix death in his repast. Upon the detection of the plot, the taster was cut in pieces, the cook flayed alive, and the scullions trampled to death by elephants. Such, however, was the respect paid to rank, or the indulgence to maternal resentment, that the prime mover of the whole conspiracy, the queen dowager, is merely put under restraint, and has a contribution levied on her private fortune.
The unsettled nature of his life is shown by his observing, near the end of it, that since he was eleven years old he had never kept the fast of the Ramazán twice in any one place; and the time not spent in war and travelling was occupied in hunting and other sports, or in long excursions on horseback about the country. On his last journey, after his health had begun to fail, he rode, in two days, from Kálpi to Ágra (160 miles), without any particular motive for despatch; and on the same journey, he swam twice across the Ganges, as he said he had done with every other river he had met with. His mind was as active as his body; besides the business of the kingdom, he was constantly taken up with aqueducts, reservoirs, and other improvements, as well as introducing new fruits and other productions of remote countries. Yet he found time to compose many elegant Persian poems and a collection of Turkí compositions, which are mentioned as giving him a high rank among the poets of his own country.
The Memoirs of Bábar remained for a time unknown, until they were transposed from the Turkí into the more popular language of Persia. It is difficult to believe that they are the work of an Asiatic and a sovereign. Though copiously, and rather diffusely written, they are perfectly free from the ornamental verbosity, the eternal metaphor, and puerile exaggerations of most Oriental compositions; and though savouring so far of royalty as to abound in descriptions of dresses and ceremonies, they are yet occupied in the main with concerns greatly too rational and humble to be much in favour with monarchs. The English translation seems to have imbibed the very spirit of the original. The style is singularly happy, strikingly characteristic, though perfectly natural, and equally remote from the usual inflated language of the East, and from the imitation of scriptural simplicity into which other translators of similar works have fallen.
[In later life Mr. Erskine again took up the subject in which he had gained distinction. “Observing that most of our general histories” were based “on the brief but judicious abridgment of Firishta,” “it seemed that a nation possessing such an empire as that of the British in India, ought to have some ampler record of the transactions of the different dynasties which preceded their own in that country.” “The most natural and effectual means of supplying this want, he thought, would certainly be a general edition of the historians of India,—a Corpus Scriptorum Historiæ Indicæ,” in fact, such a work as Sir H. Elliot had projected, and of which the present is an imperfect realization. Seeing the difficulties in the way of such a work, he directed his energies “to furnish from as many of the historians of India as were accessible to the author, such a narrative of public events during the first six Emperors of the House of Tímúr, from Bábar to Aurangzíb, as might be at once more minute and more authentic, than, so far as the author knows, has yet appeared in any European language.” Death prevented the accomplishment of this design, but the history of the reigns of Bábar and of Humáyún, which the author had completed before his decease, was published afterwards in 1854, in two volumes. These contain a full and minute account of the reigns of Bábar and his son, leaving nothing to be desired for the elucidation of the history of those times. Were the present work intended only to supply new matter and to make up previous deficiencies, the reigns of Bábar and Humáyún might well be passed over: but as the book is intended to be a continuous history, the annals of these reigns must have their place in it, though there will not be the necessity of entering upon them so fully as their importance would otherwise require. Bábar is essentially the historian of his own times, and the Extracts which follow give the history of his conquest of India. They have been taken from Erskine's translation.
The foregoing article was already in type when a new translation of Bábar's Memoirs issued from the press. This translation has been made direct from the Turkí, or Jaghatai, language into French by M. Pavet de Courteille, of the Collège de France. The text employed was the edition published at Kasan in 1857 by M. Ilminski. M. de Courteille, rendering due justice to the English translation of the Memoirs, declares his sole motive for undertaking a new one was that the English version had been drawn more from the Persian translation than from the original Turkí. Though the English translators possessed the original version, they had but a limited knowledge of its language, and they “relied principally on the Persian.” Such being the case, M. de Courteille has rendered good service by supplying a new version direct from the language in which the illustrious author wrote, and thus dissipating all misgivings as to the accuracy of the Persian translation from which our English version was taken. The following extracts have been carefully compared, and in both versions they tell exactly the same story. Some differences have been noted in the following pages, as well as some passages which are wanting in one or the other version, but these are differences which are attributable to the copyists rather than to the Persian translator. M. de Courteille agrees with the English translators that Bábar wrote the Memoirs late in life, and he also accords with them in believing that he left them incomplete, as we now possess them. Indeed, it is hardly possible to think otherwise. Such an important work, by such an exalted personage, is not likely to have fallen out of notice, and to have been mutilated in the short interval between the date of its completion and of its translation into Persian. But the Turkí and Persian versions are both alike defective, and so the inference is unavoidable that the work was never completed. It is certain that, notwithstanding great search and inquiry, the missing years have never been found. Sir H. M. Elliot was encouraged in his researches by receiving an Extract purporting to be the history of 931, one of the missing years; it turns out, however, to be the narrative of the uneventful year 926, already published by Erskine.
There is a very fine copy of the Turkí text in the Library of the East India Office.*]