THIS little book of Verses first appeared in 1897, and although it was favourably noticed in the press it did not attract the attention it undoubtedly deserved. The general public was in those days less familiar with Persian literature than it is to-day, and did not perhaps trouble to examine this volume and discover the real poetry which lay hidden under the disguise of a book of translations with a learned historical introduction.

Gertrude Lowthian Bell was twenty years of age when in 1888 she took a brilliant First Class in History at Oxford. How her interest in the East and in Oriental languages was first aroused it is difficult to say, but from a letter written in July, 1891, it is evident that the spell of the East had already begun to capture her fancy. From the delightful Letters of Gertrude Bell, edited by Lady Bell (Ernest Benn), it is possible to follow the course of her studies in Arabic and Persian, and as an introduction to these Poems from the Divan of Hafiz, I think I cannot do better than to piece together extracts from those letters which have relation to this subject.

The first allusion to her interest in Persia is con­tained in the following letter (see Letters, Vol. I., p. 23), which is dated July 22, 1892 (sic for 1891), in which she says: “The Lascelles are moved to Teheran from Bucarest which is rather thrilling. They are coming back to England now and my uncle goes to Persia in October, my aunt later, I don't know when. I should like her to take me out with her, Persia is the place I have always longed to see, but I don't know if she will.” This letter must, however, have been written in July, 1891; and we may assume that her Persian studies began as soon as it had been arranged that she should accom­pany her aunt, Lady Lascelles, to Teheran, which she did in the spring of 1892. In a letter dated February 22, 1892 (Letters, Vol. I., p. 21), Gertrude Bell speaks of having lessons in Persian from Lord Stanley of Alderley; and also of “an offer of lessons from Mr. Strong.” Whether this offer came to anything at this time I do not know, but after her return she at any rate had the advantage of study­ing under a real linguistic genius in the person of S. Arthur Strong. Of her studies of the language while she was in Persia she writes (Letters, I., p. 28): “I learn Persian, not with great energy, one does nothing with energy here. My teacher is a delightful old person with bright eyes and a white turban who knows so little French (French is our medium) that he can neither translate the poets to me nor explain any grammatical difficulties. But we get on admirably nevertheless and spend much of our time in long philosophic discussions carried on by me in French and by him in Persian.”

There are no records of Miss Bell's progress in her Oriental studies between 1893 and February 12, 1896, when she writes (Letters, I., p. 33): “I studied my grammar this morning and went to the London Library where I looked through volumes and volumes of Asiatic Societies … and found little to my purpose.” By “grammar” Arabic grammar is obviously meant, and it was presum­ably in search of materials for her historical intro­duction to the present work that she was hunting through learned Orientalist journals.

Two days later she writes: “My Pundit was extremely pleased with me, he kept congratulating me on my proficiency in the Arabic tongue! I think his other pupils must be awful duffers. It is quite extraordinarily interesting to read the Koran with him—and it is such a magnificent book! He has given me some Arabian Nights for the next time and I have given him some Hafiz poems to read, so we shall see what we shall see. He is extremely keen about the Hafiz book …” The identity of “the Pundit” is not revealed in these Letters, but it is clearly Arthur Strong who is intended. On February 24, 1896, she writes (Letters, I., p. 34): “My Pundit brought back my poems yesterday—he is really pleased with them. I asked him if he thought they were worth doing and he replied that indeed he did. He is full of offers of assistance and wants to read all I have done, which for a busy man is, I think, the best proof that he likes what he has seen. Arabic flies along—I shall soon be able to read the Arabian Nights for fun.”

In the meantime Gertrude Bell had begun to read in the British Museum, and mentions reading “a Persian life of Hafiz with a Latin crib.”

In a letter written apparently in the second half of 1896 (Letters, I., p. 39) she writes: “I saw Heinemann this morning. He was extremely pleasant. I told him a lot about the book and he expressed a desire to see it. So at any rate it will have a reading … I shall send him the poems and preface from Berlin. Mr. Strong cannot come to town and has not yet finished the preface …”

In January, 1897, she writes (Letters, I., p. 40): “The reason why I had not sent the poems to H. was because Mr. Strong has not yet sent me back the preface … I hope I may get it by the next bag. Meantime I have sent the thirty poems with their notes to H. and explained to him why the preface is not with them …”

Such is the history of this little book, which appeared in 1897, as told by Gertrude Bell herself.

Before proceeding to discuss Gertrude Bell's renderings of Hafiz, something further regarding her subsequent studies as an Orientalist may be of interest.

The greater part of 1898 was passed in a voyage round the world, but at the end of September she was back in London, and was hard at work again at Arabic and Persian. It was at this time that I first had the pleasure of knowing Miss Bell, and as a teacher of only a few years' standing had the healthy experience of realising in the presence of such a brilliant scholar my own limitations. For Gertrude Bell, in spite of her infinite variety of interests and diversions—and no man or woman had a fuller life—had entered as thoroughly and as seriously into her Arabic and Persian studies as any professed Orientalist, and in reading old Arabic poetry with her, I was astounded at her quick comprehension of these Bedouin songs with their rich vocabulary of rare words and their unfamiliar pictures of desert life—the desert she had at that time never seen but was later to learn to know and to love so well.

In 1899 Gertrude Bell went to Jerusalem, where she had the advantage of knowing the then German Consul, for she could not have found there a better guide and friend than Dr. Fritz Rosen, who, in addition to his knowledge of Palestine and Arabic, must have delighted Gertrude Bell with his rare knowledge of the Persian people and their language. A letter from Haifa, dated April 7th, 1902 (Letters, I., p. 133), gives a striking picture of the zest with which she pursued her linguistic studies: “This is my day: I get up at 7, at 8 Abu Nimrud comes and teaches me Arabic till 10. I go on working till 12, when I lunch. Then I write for my Persian till 1.30, or so, when I ride or walk out. Come in at 5, and work till 7, when I dine. At 7.30 my Persian comes and stays till 10, and at 10.30 I go to bed… And the whole day long I talk Arabic.”

Perhaps I may be pardoned for adding one anecdote in which I am myself concerned. In 1903 Gertrude Bell made a second tour of the world, and in January of that year passed through Calcutta, where I had the pleasure of meeting her on several occasions. From Calcutta she went to Burma, and I was surprised one day to receive a telegram from Rangoon, saying: “Please send first hemistich of verse ending Wa khayru jalisin fi zaman kitabu.” This is from a famous verse of the poet Al-Mutanabbi, and I was fortunately able to telegraph in reply: “A'azz makanin fiddunya zahru sabihin,” but never learned in what form this cryptic message reached her hands. The transla­tion of this complete verse is: “The finest place in the world is the back of a swift horse, And the best of good companions is a book.”

Enough has been told to show what Gertrude Bell's equipment was as a linguist. As an historian she had long ago proved her worth when taking her brilliant First in History. These joint gifts natu­rally made of her an archæologist of rare powers.

In order to appreciate the worth of the historical introduction which is prefixed to the Poems, it must be realised that the history of Islamic Persia still remains to be written, that most of the sources exist only in manuscript, that very few have been printed and fewer still translated, and further that the his­tory of the Minor Dynasties of Persia during the fourteenth century is one of the most confusing in her annals. The history of the House of Muzaffar, which ruled over Fars and Kirman from 1313 to 1393, is only to be gathered from allusions to be found in Persian general histories. There exists, it is true, one special monograph, but only in manu­script from, and this was not known to Gertrude Bell when she wrote her masterly introduction. It was nothing short of a tour de force to piece together into a connected narrative the scattered facts con­nected with the various royal patrons of Hafiz in such a manner. So valuable indeed was this sketch that Edward G. Browne, the greatest authority on Persian literature in his day, writing in 1902 with many other sources at his disposal, acknowledges his “indebtedness to an excellent and most readable sketch” of the history of this Dynasty. (Persian Literature under Tartar Dominion, p. 162.) In the same work (p. 292) Browne writes: “It is to Miss Gertrude Lowthian Bell that we are indebted for the best estimate of Hafiz, at once critical, sympathetic and full of insight.” As for the portion of the Introduction dealing with the Sufism of the Persian poets, it bears comparison with anything that has been written on this difficult subject. Nor must we omit to praise the Notes which bear further testimony to Gertrude Bell's wide reading and sound judgment. One cannot refrain from expressing a regret that such a fine scholar should not have given more time to the field of Persian historical research in which so little has yet been done and where competent workers are so rare.

Miss Gertrude Bell's library is now suitably housed in Armstrong College, Newcastle-on-Tyne, to which it was presented after her death by her sister, Lady Richmond.

A word in explanation of the terms Divan and Ghazal is, perhaps, in place here since Miss Bell did not define either.

The word Divan means collection, and, when applied to the works of a poet, it means a collection of his poems arranged in alphabetical order, that is, alphabetical order according to the rhyme, for the Ghazal or Ode, which ranges in length from ten to sixteen couplets, is all on one rhyme. This arrangement is convenient for reference but has the disadvantage of making it impossible to date the composition of any given ode, excepting in the rare cases where this can be surmised from some histo­rical or domestic allusion. The Ghazal in some ways resembles our Sonnet, but with the difference that each couplet contains a new idea and rarely hangs together with what precedes or succeeds it. The first half couplets rhyme together, and this same rhyme is retained at the end of every couplet. In the last couplet the poet always introduces his own poetical name.