IN reference to the allusion quoted from Nizami (on page 37) to Omar Khayyám’s prophecy about his own grave, the following letter from Nishapur will have a considerable interest. The writer is a man of wide reputation as one of the travelling artists of the Illustrated London News:

NISHAPUR, 27th October, 1884.


From the association of your name with that of Omar Khayam I feel sure that what I enclose in this letter will be acceptable. The rose-leaves I gathered to-day, growing beside the tomb of the poet at this place, and the seeds are from the same bushes on which the leaves grew.*

I suppose you are aware that I left early last month with Sir Peter Lumsden to accompany the Afghan Boundary Commission in my old capacity as special artist for the Illustrated London News. We travelled by way of the Black Sea, Tiflis, Baku, and the Caspian, to Tehran; from that place we have been marching eastward for nearly a month now, and we reached Nishapur this morning.

For some days past, as we marched along, I have been making inquiries regarding Omar Khayam and Nishapur; I wanted to know if the house he lived in still existed, or if any spot was yet associ­ated with his name. It would seem that the only recognised memorial now remaining of him is his tomb. Our Mehmandar, or “Guest-Conductor,”— while the Afghan Boundary Commission is on Per­sian territory it is the Guest of the Shah, and the Mehmandar is his representative, who sees that all our wants are attended to,— appears to be familiar with the poet’s name, and says that his works are still read and admired. The Mehmandar said he knew the tomb, and promised to be our guide when we reached Nishapur. We have just made the pil­grimage to the spot; it is about two miles south of the present Nishapur; so we had to ride, and Sir Peter, who takes an interest in the matter, was one of the party. We found the ground nearly all the way covered with mounds, and the soil mixed with fragments of pottery, sure indications of former habitations. As we neared the tomb, long ridges of earth could be seen, which were no doubt the remains of the walls of the old city of Nishapur. To the east of the tomb is a large square mound of earth, which is supposed to be the site of the Ark, or Citadel of the original city. As we rode along, the blue dome, which the Mehmandar had pointed out on the way as the tomb, had a very imposing appearance, and its importance improved as we neared it; this will be better understood by stating that city walls, houses, and almost all structures in that part of Persia, are built of mud. The blue dome, as well as its size, produced in my mind, as we went towards it, a great satisfaction; it was pleasing to think that the countrymen of Omar Khayam held him in such high estimation as to erect so fine a monument, as well as to preserve it, — this last being rarely done in the East,— to his memory. If the poet was so honoured in his own country, it was little to be wondered at that his fame should have spread so rapidly in the lands of the West. This I thought, but there was a slight disappointment in store for me. At last we reached the tomb, and found its general arrangements were on a plan I was familiar with in India; whoever has visited the Taj at Agra, or any of the large Mohammedan tombs of Hindostan, will easily un­derstand the one at Nishapur. The monument stands in a space enclosed by a mud wall, and the ground in front is laid out as a garden, with walks. The tomb at Nishapur, with all its surroundings, is in a very rude condition; it never was a work which could claim merit for its architecture, and although it is kept so far in repair, it has still a very decayed and neglected appearance. Even the blue dome, which impressed me in the distance, I found on getting near to it was in a ruinous state from large portions of the enamelled plaster having fallen off. Instead of the marble and the red stone of the Taj at Nishapur,— with the exception of some enamelled tiles producing a pattern round the base of the dome, and also in the spandrils of the door and windows,— there we find only bricks and plaster. The surrounding wall of the enclosure was of crumbling mud, and could be easily jumped over at any place. There is a rude entrance by which we went in and walked to the front of the tomb; all along I had been under the notion that the whole structure was the tomb of Omar Khayam; and now came the disenchantment. The place turned out to be an Imamzadah, or the tomb of the Son of an Imam. The Son of an Imam inherits his sanctity from his father, and his place of burial becomes a holy place where pilgrims go to pray. The blue dome is over the tomb of such a person, who may have been a brute of the worst kind,— that would not have affected his sanctity,— instead of the poet, whom we reverence for the qualities which belonged to himself. When we had as­cended the platform, about three feet high, on which the tomb stood, the Mehmandar turned to the left, and in a recess formed by three arches and a very rude roof, which seemed to have been added to the corner of the Imamzadah, pointed to the tomb of Omar Khayam. The discovery of a “Poet’s Corner” at Nishapur, naturally recalled Westminster Abbey to my mind and revived my spirits from the depression produced by finding that the principal tomb was not that of the Poet. The monument over the tomb is an oblong mass of brick covered with plaster, and without ornament, — the plaster falling off in places; on this and on the plaster of the recess are innumerable scribblings in Persian character. Some were, no doubt, names, for the British John Smith has not an exclusive tendency in this respect; but many of them were continued through a number of lines, and I guessed they were poetry, and most probably quotations from the Rubaiyat. Although the “Poet’s Corner” was in rather a dilapidated state, still it must have been repaired at no very distant date; and this shows that some attention has been paid to it, and that the people of Nishapur have not quite for­gotten Omar Khayam.

The Imamzadah — this word, which means Son of an Imam, applies to the person buried as well as to the tomb — was Mohammed Marook, brother of the Imam Reza, whose tomb at Meshed is considered so sacred by the Shias; — the Imam Reza was the eighth Imam, and died in 818; this gives us an ap­proximate date for his brother, and it is, if I mis­take not, a couple of centuries before the time of Omar Khayam; and the Imamzadah — here I mean the building — would have been erected, most prob­ably, about that number of years before the poet required his resting-place. Behind the Imamzadah is a Kubberstan, or “Region of Graves,” and the raised platform in front of the tomb contains in its rough pavement a good many small tomb-stones, shewing that people are buried there, and that the place had been in the past a general grave-yard. All this is owing to the hereditary sanctity which belongs to the Son of an Imam, and we are perhaps indebted to Mohammed Marook, no matter what his character may have been, for the preservation of the site of Omar Khayam’s burial place; the preservation of the one necessarily preserved the other.

In front of the Imamzadah is the garden, with some very old and one or two large trees, but along the edge of the platform in front of Omar Khayam’s tomb I found some rose bushes; it was too late in the season for the roses, but a few hips were still remaining, and one or two of these I secured, as well as the leaves,— some of which are here en­closed for you; I hope you will be able to grow them in England,— they will have an interest, as in all probability they are the particular kind of roses Omar Khayam was so fond of watching as he pon­dered and composed his verses.

It may be worth adding that there is also at Nishapur the tomb of another poet who lived about the same time as Omar Khayam,— his name was Ferid ed din Attar; according to Vambery, he was “a great mystic and philosopher. He wrote a work called ‘Mantik et Teyr, the Logic of Birds.’ In this the feathered creatures are made to contend in a curious way on the causes of existence, and the Source of Truth. ‘Hudhud,’ the All-Know- ing magical bird of Solomon, is introduced, as the Teacher of Birds; and also Simurg, the Phœnix of the Orientals, and Symbol of the Highest Light.” In this it is understood that the Birds represent humanity, Hudhud is the Prophet, and the Simurg stands for Deity. This tomb I shall not have time to visit. Another three marches take us to Meshed, and then we shall be close to the Afghan frontier. I am sending a sketch of Omar Khayam’s tomb to the Illustrated London News.

Believe me

Yours very truly,

(The sketch above referred to appears in the present volume as a frontispiece.)