Page images
PDF
EPUB

of reckoning time is so different from ours, and depends so much upon the sun, that our watches are of very little use at all; and are regarded more as toys and articles of ostentation than as things of convenience. Besides, their curiosity to see and meddle with the inside works, and their wish to adapt them to their own way of counting time, soon spoils the best watches. To inform them when the time of prayer is come, there is an officer to the mosques, called a Muezzin, whose business it is to go up to the top of the building at the proper times, and, in a very loud voice, summon the people to prayers, or, rather, to tell them that the hour of prayer is come.

F. I wonder how they can hear him?

U. O. Of course there are several stationed at proper distances in different parts of a town. It is true, however, that they would not be heard in such noisy towns and such a climate as ours, although the men chosen for this duty have astonishingly loud voices. But in the comparatively quiet towns of Persia, and in the clear, dry air, they are heard quite distinctly.

H. But, Sir, how do the Muezzins themselves know the right time?

· U. O. The truth is, that they are seldom right. I have often heard them announce the noon prayers an hour too late. They generally guess the time by the length of the shadows, by the sun's shining on a certain spot at a particular time, or by the appearance of the sky when the sun does not appear. In this way they are of course liable to much error; but this is not thought of great consequence, since it is lawful to pray after the exact time, although not before.

F. Is that, Sir, what you said was so curious in their way of counting time?

U. O. No: this is not a way of computing, but of observing time. Their way of dividing days is very different from ours, and very uncertain and confused. In the first place, they do not count their days from midnight to midnight, as we do, or from noon to noon, as is done by some nations, but from sunset to sunset. So, as you will observe, what is Monday night with us, is Tuesday night with them.

H. Because they make the night belong to the day that is to come, instead of to the day that is past as we do?

U. O. Precisely so. Then again they divide their day into three portions; the first from sunrise to noon; the second from noon to three o'clock; and the third from thence to sunset. So if you ask them the time of day, they say, “So many hours past sunrise,” or “So many hours to noon." This is certainly very indistinct, and occasions much waste of time, because it prevents punctuality in appointments, and regularity in the distribution and use of time. They are obliged to be always guessing what it would be better to know certainly. When I was there, and my watch was out of order and could not be mended, I was very sensible of the great advantage which we have in the common use of clocks and watches. I may as well tell you now, that the Persians, like other Mohammedans, count their larger portion of time by moons. The beginning of a moon is the beginning of a month, and twelve of these months make a year. Then in what does their year differ from ours?

F. It must be shorter.

U. O. Eleven days shorter : in consequence of which, every year begins eleven days earlier than the preceding. For instance, the month of Ramazan, in which the great fast is kept, began in the year 1835, on the first of January; but their year being so much shorter than ours, it came round again on the 21st of December of the same year, and so every future year it will be eleven days earlier, until in about thirty-one years it will pass through all the seasons back to January again.

H. That seems very awkward.

U. O. It is much more awkward than their old method, under which their ancient festival of the Nurooz, is still always held at the same time of the year. It is perhaps partly owing to this that the common people have hardly any exact notion of any longer period of time than a month, which they estimate by the changes of the moon.

Mr. Dillon. But I should think the changes of the seasons, as from winter to winter, would equally help them to have some notion of years. · U. O. Yes, some notion ; but that notion is very indistinct and confused. Hardly any one among the common people can say how old he is except by guess; and you may think yourself well off if he guesses within ten years of the truth. As one instance among many, I may mention that I once asked a very aged man how old he was. After considering a little, he

VOL. II.

said he could not be less than a hundred and ten years old: but when I questioned him about things that happened, and the king that reigned when he was a boy, it turned out that his age could not exceed ninety years. When I told him so, he actually seemed to consider that his guess had been very near the mark.Let'us turn to the religious observances of the Persians, from which we have strayed a little. Have you any question to ask on what has been said already?

J. (after a pause). What do they do on Sundays, Sir ?

U. 0. Friday, not Sunday, is their sabbath day,—if I may so call it, for the usual business of life goes on on that day as on others, except that the people then go to the mosque to say their prayers and to hear a short sermon. It is not considered in Persia that a man is obliged to go to the mosque on Friday; but that he may say his prayers with almost, if not quite, equal advantage at home. The common people, however, like to attend on that day; and the attendance is almost confined to them. In Turkey it is the custom of the Sultan and great men to go in state to the mosque once on

« PreviousContinue »