IT is matter of surprise that a book so replete with interest as Erskine and Leyden’s translation of Bābur’s Memoirs has never been reprinted since its publication in 1826. For many years it has been so scarce and costly that it is practi­cally unprocurable. An abridged edition was issued by Caldecott in 1824, and another by Colonel Talbot in 1909, but it is high time that a complete reprint should be made accessible to the public. The style of the translation, though somewhat old fashioned, is vigorous and direct, and is not disfigured by too close an adherence to the idioms of the original. According to Elphinstone, ‘The translation seems to imbibe the very spirit of the original, and the style is singularly happy, strikingly characteristic, though per­fectly natural.’* The literary and historical value of the Memoirs cannot be estimated too highly, and as a picture of the life of an Eastern sovereign in court and camp, the book stands unrivalled among Oriental autobiographies. In the words of the same historian: ‘It is almost the only specimen of real history in Asia. … In Bāber the figures, dresses, habits, and tastes, of each individual introduced are described with such minuteness and reality that we seem to live among them, and to know their persons as well as we do their characters. His descriptions of the countries visited, their scenery, climate, productions, and works of art are more full and accurate than will, perhaps, be found in equal space in any modern traveller.’ According to another high authority,* Bābar’s ‘place in biography and literature is determined by his daring adventures and persevering efforts in his early days, and by the delightful Memoirs in which he related them. Soldier of fortune as he was, Bābar was none the less a man of fine literary taste and fastidious critical perception. In Persian, the language of culture … he was an accomplished poet, and in his native Tūrki he was master of a pure and unaffected style, alike in prose and verse. … Wit and learning, the art of turning a qua­train on the spot, quoting the Persian classics, writing a good hand, or singing a good song were highly appreciated in Bābar’s world, as much perhaps as valour, and infinitely more than virtue. Bābar himself will break off in the middle of a tragic story to quote a verse, and he found leisure in the thick of his difficulties and dangers to compose an ode on his misfortunes. His battles as well as his orgies were humanized by a breath of poetry.

‘Hence his Memoirs are no rough soldier’s diary, full of marches and counter-marches; … they contain the personal impressions and acute reflections of a cultivated man of the world, well read in Eastern literature, a close and curious observer, quick in perception, a discerning judge of persons, and a devoted lover of nature. … The utter frankness of self-revelation, the unconscious portraiture of all his virtues and follies; his obvious truthfulness and fine sense of honour give the Memoirs an authority which is equal to their charm.’

Pavet de Courteille, a translator of the Memoirs, says of him:* ‘D’une persévérance à toute épreuve, doué d’une résolution inflexible, brave de sa personne, alliant la ruse à l’audace, libéral et même magnifique dans ses dons, sachant punir, et pardonner au besoin, habile homme de guerre, général prévoyant, très capable de commander une armée et d’inspirer de la confiance à ses soldats, … administrateur prudent et consommé, qui ne méprisait aucun détail, ce prince n’a pas été seulement un conquérant, mais encore un fondateur.’ As to the value of the Memoirs the same author remarks: ‘Il abonde en détails des plus instructifs sur les personnages politiques de la fin du XVe siècle de notre ère et de la première partie du XVIe, sur les célé­brités littéraires et artistiques de cette époque, l’âge d’or de la littérature turque orientale; surtout les hommes enfin, soit princes, soit chefs de clan, soit simples particu­liers, dont le nom a mérité de ne pas tomber en l’oubli; il renferme les notions les plus précises et les plus dignes de foi sur la partie de l’Asie centrale que son éloignement de nous et sa situation isolée au milieu de montagnes inaccessibles et glacées … rendent presque inabordable pour le voyageur isolé; il ne néglige même pas les détails purement techniques relatifs à la faune et la flore de ces provinces reculées, sans oublier, bien entendu, les considérations ethnographiques.’

The Memoirs are in the form of an irregularly kept diary. The first part (A. H. 899 to 914) contains a continuous narra­tive of his early life and troubles, and was probably elaborated at a later date in India. The succeeding portions consist of fragments of a Journal written from time to time and often from day to day, rough drafts in fact, for an autobiography. The style of the later portion is generally inferior to that of the earlier, and bears evidence of a lack of revision, although certain passages, as for instance the detailed description of India, may have been written up, as Lane-Poole points out, ‘during the comparative leisure of Bābar’s last year’. As Pavet de Courteille observes in the Preface to his translation, the fact that the first portion of the Memoirs was written, or revised, in India (1520-30) is proved by Bābur’s frequent allusion to events that occurred during his resi­dence in Hindustan, and his use of expressions that were only current in the cis-Indus region, and were so little known trans-Indus that he has to explain them, e.g. words to denote measures of distance, time, &c. Bābur was in the habit of recording rough notes of anything that struck his fancy, which were afterwards worked up in his Journal, as can be inferred from his remark on p. 245, vol. ii, of the Memoirs that ‘hereafter if I observe anything worthy of being described I shall take notice of it, and if I hear anything worth repeating I will insert it.’

Five gaps occur in the Memoirs, viz.:

(a) From the end of 908 to the end of A. H. 909 (A. D. 1503-4).

(b) From the beginning of 914 to the beginning of A. H. 925 (A. D. 1508-19).

(c) From the beginning of 926 to the beginning of A. H. 932 (A. D. 1520-5).

(d) A. H. 934 (April 2nd to Sept. 18th, A. D. 1528).

(e) A. H. 936-7 (A. D. 1529-30).

At the end of the chapters, where two of these gaps occur (a and b), the narrative breaks off suddenly in the middle of a sentence. In one of these the hiatus is supplied by Pavet de Courteille’s French translation of the Tūrki text, but the authenticity of this passage, which will be found in Appendix A, is open to doubt. These blanks in Bābur’s narrative, which afford evidence of the irregular manner in which the Journal was kept, have been partly filled by Erskine’s historical supplements. Pavet de Courteille points out that these lacunae are as Bābur left them, a conclusion which is confirmed by the fact that they occur in all existing texts both Tūrki and Persian, so that they cannot be attri­buted to the ravages of time, the negligence of copyists, or any other accident independent of the author’s will. Bābur has left no record of the last fifteen months of his life, about which little is known. Erskine in his concluding supple­ment has supplied almost all the available information on the subject, but this is necessarily meagre.

The principal Tūrki manuscripts of the Bābur-nāmeh are the following:

(a) The Russian Foreign Office MS. transcribed in 1757 by Dr. Kehr from an unknown source. This manuscript was used by Ilminski for the preparation of his Kāzān text printed in 1857, on which Pavet de Courteille’s French translation is based, and, although old and therefore important, it is not, in the opinion of Mr. A. G. Ellis (late Assistant Librarian, India Office, whose knowledge of Oriental bibliography is unrivalled), of very great value, being at times ungrammatical, and even unintelligible.

(b) The Elphinstone MS., which was purchased by Mr. Elphinstone in Peshawar in 1809, and after many vicissi­tudes found a home in the Advocates’ Library, Edinburgh. This manuscript, according to Mr. Ellis, was transcribed between 1543 and 1593. It is of high value, though unfortunately incomplete. Erskine collated his work from it.

(c) The Hyderābād Codex, which belongs to the library of the Sālār Jang family at Hyderābād, is the finest and most complete manuscript of the Bābur-nāmeh, and, though not so old as the last named, has proved of the utmost value in the preparation of a reliable text. Mr. Ellis is of the opinion that it was transcribed about 1700. To Mrs. Beveridge’s indefatigable energy and resource is due the discovery of the last two manuscripts, one of which (Hyderābād Codex) she has edited with much scholarly care for the trustees of the Gibb Memorial. It is a matter of great regret to me that I am debarred from using her erudite translation of the Memoirs, based mainly on the Elphinstone and Hyderābād MSS., now in course of publica­tion.