Mahomet Ali Beg; Or, the Faithful Minister of State

by William Somervile

William Somervile


A LONG descent and noble blood
Is but a vain fantastic good,
Unless with inbred virtues join'd,
An honest, brave, and generous mind
All that our ancestors have done,
Nations reliev'd and battles won,
The trophies of each bloody field,
Can only then true honour yield,
When, like Argyle, we scorn to owe,
And pay that lustre they bestow;
But if, a mean degenerate race,
Slothful we faint, and slack our pace,
Lag in the glorious course of fame,
Their great achievements we disclaim.
Some bold plebeian soon shall rise,
Stretch to the goal, and win the prize;
For since the forming Hand of old
Cast all mankind in the same mould;
Since no distinguish'd clan is blest
With finer porcelain than the rest;
And since, in all, the ruling mind
Is of the same celestial kind;
'Tis education shews the way
Each latent beauty to display;
Each happy genius brings to light,
Conceal'd before in shades of night:
So diamonds from the gloomy mine,
Taught by the workman's hand to shine,
On Chloe's ivory bosom blaze,
Or grace the crown with brilliant rays.
Merit obscure shall raise its head,
Though dark obstructing clouds o'erspread;
Heroes as yet unsung, shall fight
For slaves oppress'd, and injur'd right;
And able statesmen prop the throne,
To Battle-Abbey roll unknown.
Sha Abbas, with supreme command,
In Persia reign'd, and bless'd the land;
A mighty prince, valiant and wise,
Expert, with sharp discerning eyes,
To find true virtue in disguise.
Hunting (it seems) was his delight,
His joy by day, his dream by night;
The sport of all the brave and bold
From Nimrod, who, in days of old,
Made men as well as beasts his prey,
To mightier George, whose milder sway
Glad happy crowds with pride obey.
In quest of his fierce savage foes
Before the sun the monarch rose,
The grisly lion to engage,
By baying dogs provok'd to rage;
In the close thicket to explore,
And push from thence the bristled boar;
Or to pursue the flying deer
While deep-mouth'd hounds the valleys cheer,
And Echo from repeating hills
His heart with joy redoubled fills.
Under a rock's projecting shade
A shepherd-boy his seat had made,
Happy as Crœsus on his throne,
The riches of the world his own:
Content on mortals here below
Is all that Heaven can bestow.
His crook and scrip were by him laid,
Upon his oaten pipe he play'd;
His flocks securely couch'd around,
And seem'd to listen to the sound.
Returning from the chase one day,
The king by chance had lost his way;
Nor guards nor nobles now attend,
But one young lord, his bosom friend.
Now tir'd with labour, spent with heat,
They sought this pleasant cool retreat;
The boy leap'd active from his seat,
And, with a kind obliging grace,
Offer'd the king unknown his place.
The Persian monarch, who so late
Lord of the world, rul'd all in state,
On cloth of gold and tissue trod,
Whole nations trembling at his nod,
With diamonds and with rubies crown'd,
And girt with fawning slaves around,
Behold him now! his canopy
The' impending rock, each shrub, each tree,
That grew upon its shaggy brow,
To their great prince observant bow;
Yield, as in duty bound, their aid,
And bless him with a friendly shade:
On the bare flint he sits alone,
And, oh! would kings this truth but own,
The safer and the nobler throne!
But where do I digress? 'tis time
To check this arrogance of rhyme.
As the judicious monarch view'd
The stripling's air, nor bold nor rude,
With native modesty subdued,
The blush that glow'd in all its pride,
Then trembled on his cheeks, and died;
He grew inquisitive to trace
What soul dwelt in that lovely case:
To every question, serious, gay,
The youth replied without delay,
His answers for the most part right,
And taking, if not apposite;
Unstudied, unaffected sense
Mix'd with his native diffidence.
The king was charm'd with such a prize,
And stood with wonder in his eyes;
Commits his treasure to the care
Of the young lord; bids him not spare.
For cost, or pains, to' enrich his breast
With all the learning of the East.
He bow'd, obey'd: well clothed, well fed,
And with his patron's children bred,
Still every day the youth improv'd,
By all admir'd, by all belov'd.
Now the first curling down began
To give the promise of a man;
To court he's call'd, employ'd, and train'd,
In lower posts; yet still he gain'd
By candour, courtesy, and skill,
The subjects' love, the king's good-will.
Employ'd in greater matters now,
No flatteries, no bribes, could bow
His stubborn soul; true to his trust,
Firm, and inexorably just,
In judgment ripe, he soon became
A Walpole, or a Walsingham;
And wakeful for the public peace,
No dragon guards the Golden Fleece
With half that vigilance and care;
His busy eyes kenn'd every where;
In each dark scheme knew how to dive,
Though cunning dervises contrive
Their plots, disguis'd with shams and lies,
And cloak'd with real perjuries.
Now high in rank the peer is plac'd,
And Ali Beg with titles grac'd;
No bounds his master's bounties know,
His swelling coffers overflow,
And he is puzzled to bestow:
Perplex'd and studious to contrive
To whom, and how, not what to give,
His pious frauds conceal the name,
And skreen the modest man from shame.
Whoe'er would heavenly treasures raise,
Must grant the boon, escape the praise.
But his immense and endless gain
No private charities could drain:
On public works he fix'd his mind,
The zealous friend of human-kind.
Convenient inns on each great road,
At his own proper costs endow'd,
To weary caravans afford
Refreshment both at bed and board.
From Thames, the Tiber, and the Rhine,
Nations remote with Ali dine;
In various tongues his bounty's blest,
While with surprise the stranger-guest
Does here on unbought dainties feast.
See stately palaces arise,
And gilded domes invade the skies.
Say, Muse! what lords inhabit here?
Nor favourite eunuch, prince, nor peer:
The poor, the lame, the blind, the sick,
The idiot, and the lunatic.
He curb'd each river's swelling pride;
O'er the reluctant murmuring tide
From bank to bank his bridges stride.
A thousand gracious deeds were done,
Buried in silence and unknown.
At length, worn out with years and care,
Sha Abbas died; left his young heir
Sha Sefi, unexperienc'd, raw,
By his stern father kept in awe,
To the seraglio's walls confin'd,
Barr'd from the converse of mankind.
Strange jealousy! a certain rule
To breed a tyrant and a fool.
Still Ali was prime minister,
But had not much his master's ear;
Walk'd on unfaithful slippery ground,
Till an occasion could be found
To pick a quarrel; then, no doubt,
As is the mode at court—turn out.
Sha Sefi, among eunuchs bred,
With them convers'd, by them was led:
Beardless, half-men! in whose false breasts
Nor joy, nor love, nor friendship rests.
There spite and pining envy dwell,
And rage, as in their native hell;
For, conscious of their own disgrace,
Each excellence they would debase,
And vent their spleen on human race.
This Ali found: strange senseless lies
And inconsistent calumnies
They buzz into the monarch's ears,
And he believes all that he hears.
"Great Prince,' said they, "Ali, your slave—
Whom we acknowledge wise and brave—
Yet pardon us—we can't but see
His boundless pride and vanity:
His bridges triumph o'er each tide,
In their own channels taught to glide.
Each beggar and each lazy drone
His subject more than yours is grown,
And for a palace leaves his cell.
Where Xerxes might be proud to dwell.
His inns for travellers provide,
Strangers are listed on his side:
In his own house how grand the scene!
Tissues and velvets are too mean,
Gold, jewels, pearls, unheard expence!
Suspected, bold magnificence!
Whence can this flood of riches flow?
Examine his accounts, you'll know:
Your eye on your exchequer cast,
The secret will come out at last.
Ali next morn (for 'twas his way
To rise before the dawn of day)
Went early to the council-board,
Prostrate on earth, his king ador'd:
The king, with countenance severe,
Look'd sternly on his minister;
"Ali,' said he, "I have been told
Great treasures, both in gems and gold,
Were left, and trusted to your care;
'Mong these one gem exceeding rare
I long to view, which was (they said)
A present from the Sultan made,
The finest that the world e'er saw,
White, large, and fair, without a flaw.'
The unblemish'd Ali thus replied,
"Great Sir! it cannot be denied
'Tis brilliant, beautiful, and clear,
The Great Mogul has not its peer.
Please it your majesty to go
Into the treasury below,
You'll wonder at its piercing ray,
The sun gives not a nobler day.'
Together now they all descend;
Poor Ali had no other friend
But a soul faithful to its trust,
The sure asylum of the just.
In proper classes now are seen
The diamonds bright, the emeralds green;
Pearls, rubies, sapphires, next appear,
Dispos'd in rows with nicest care.
The king views all with curious eyes,
Applauds with wonder and surprise
Their order and peculiar grace,
Each thing adapted to its place;
The rest with envious leer behold,
And stumble upon bars of gold.
Next, in an amber box, is shown
The noblest jewel of the crown:
"This, Sir,' said he, "believe your slave,
Is the fine gem the Sultan gave;
Around it darts its beams of light,
No comet e'er was half so bright.
The king with joy the gem admires,
Well-pleas'd, and half convinc'd, retires:
"Ali,' said he, "with you I dine;
Your furniture, I' told, is fine.'
Wise Ali, for this favour show'd,
Humbly with lowest reverence bow'd.
At Ali's house now every hand
Is busy at their lords command,
Where at the' appointed hour resort,
The king and all his splendid court.
Ali came forth his prince to meet,
And, lowly bowing, kiss'd his feet,
On all his compliments bestows,
Civil alike to friends and foes.
The king, impatient to behold
His furniture and gems and gold,
From room to room the chase pursued,
With curious eye each corner view'd,
Ransack'd the' apartments o'er and o'er,
Each closet search'd, unlock'd each door;
But all he found was plain and coarse,
The meanest Persian scarce had worse:
These Ali for convenience bought,
Nor for expensive trifles sought.
One door a prying eunuch spied,
With bars and locks well fortified,
And now, secure to find the prize,
Show'd it the king with joyful eyes:
"Ali,' said he, "that citadel
Is strong, and barricadoed well;
What have you there?' Ali replied,
"Oh! sir, there's lodg'd my greatest pride;
There are the gems I value most,
And all the treasures I can boast.'
All now convinc'd of his disgrace,
Triumph appear'd in every face.
The monarch doubted now no more;
The keys are brought, unlock'd the door,
When, lo! upon the wall appear
His shepherd's weeds hung up with care;
Nor crook nor scrip was wanting there,
Nor pipe that tun'd his humble lays,
Sweet solace of his better days!
Then, bowing low, he touch'd his breast,
And thus the wondering king addrest:
"Great prince! your Ali is your slave,
To you belong whate'er I have;
Goods, house, are yours, nay yours this head.
For speak the word and I am dead:
These moveables, and these alone.
I may with justice call my own.
Your royal sire, Abbas the Great,
Whom nations prostrate at his feet
On earth ador'd, whose soul at rest,
In Paradise a welcome guest,
Enjoys its full in fragrant bowers,
Or wantons upon beds of flowers,
While the pure stream, in living rills,
From rocks of adamant distils,
And black-ey'd nymphs attend his nod,
Fair daughters of that bless'd abode;
By his command I left the plain,
An humble but contented swain;
Nor sought I wealth, nor power, nor place:
All these were owing to his grace;
'Twas his mere bounty made me great,
And fix'd me here in this high seat,
The mark of envy: much he gave,
But yet of nought depriv'd his slave:
He touch'd not these. Alas! whose spite,
Whose avarice would these excite?
My old hereditary right!
Grant me but these, great Prince! once more,
Grant me the pleasure to be poor;
This scrip, these homely weeds, I'll wear,
The bleating flocks shall be my care!
The' employ that did my youth engage
Shall be the comfort of my age.
The king, amaz'd at such a scorn
Of riches in a shepherd born;
"How soars that soul,' said he, "above
The courtier's hate or monarch's love!
No pow'r such virtue can efface,
No jealous malice shall disgrace:
Wealth, grandeur, pomp, are a mere cheat,
But this is to be truly great.'
While tears ran trickling down his face,
He clasp'd him in a close embrace,
Then caus'd himself to be undrest,
And clothed him in his royal vest;
The greatest honour he could give,
Or Persian subjects can receive.

Last updated April 01, 2023