by E. G. Browne
Originally published by Cambridge University Press, 1910.
Republished by Washington, DC Mage Publishers, 1995.
Reviews published in CIRA Bulletin, International Journal of Middle Eastern Studies, and Journal of Islamic Studies
I first came E. G. Browne through his Literary History of Persia, and my imagination was captured by his enthusiasm for Persia, his wealth of knowledge, and the empathy he brought to both language and culture. He thus embodied all the advantages of that tradition of scholarship which seeks to immerse itself in every aspect of the country under study, and which is correspondingly imbued in its judgements with an unusual kind of awareness.
In the History, in the course of a commentary on Hafez, Browne quoted the poet's observation that "There is no musician who can make drunk and sober dance to the same tune." He himself wholeheartedly adopted the national cause and maintained his faith in the future of liberal democracy embodied in the constitution for Persia. He was an unabashedly devoted adherent of the Whig view of progress in historical development. He emerges as an impassioned activist whose work is a polemic in the cause of the Nationalists, and of progress in Iran, in Amanat's view seeing the Revolution as a battle with profound moral undertones. However, he was aware of his own limitations as an historian of the Revolution, owing to the difficulty of fully examining or impartially criticising the contemporary events. In the work Browne quoted liberally the views of those struggling to reform the country, but, true to his expressed intention, restrained himself on sweeping judgements. He understood, for example, that courage has no political affiliations, and unlike some who have attempted to emulate him, did not seek to eradicate the vision of those who chose to dance to a different tune.
Browne was ahead of his time in challenging notions of national stereotypes and attacked the false and superficial judgements embodied in such concepts as "backwardness." He was also alert to the perceptions of Western intrusion and interference, and their struggle, in particular embodied by al-Afghani, for a revolution in the existing feeble and oppressive system as part of a movement for independence, self-determination, and dignity. Above all, however, Browne was captivated by the Revolution' s wealth of ideas as expressed in his subsequent The Press and Poetry of Modern Persia. Freedom of expression produced an intensely lively debate in which Persians could at last openly address the thought of Locke and Rousseau and discuss their possible adoption in their own country . Browne' s interest in literature led him to bring out the variety of new expression, drawing attention to poems, stories, satire, and cartoons, as well as articles of debate.
In his introduction to this edition Amanat observes that Browne saw the struggle as one by "an oppressed and impoverished nation to establish a constitutional order despite domestic tyranny, foreign intervention and ideological division." He feels impelled, however, to defend Browne against the prevail pale galileans by contrasting Browne's liberalism with the shortcomings of academic orientalism and the biases of the popular view, though he considers Browne part of the spirit of his time in perceiving a largely imaginary world called the orient. Amanat also asks the significant question of how The Persian Revolution is pertinent to our understanding of the present situation in Iran. In particular he ponders how a popular revolution with liberal objectives and a largely secularizing program can seventy years later result in a second revolution of a very different character. It may be observed that the question and its various responses could provide a comment on the Whig theory of history. Amanat' s perceptive point that the work is organized like a drama again underscores Browne' s way of interpreting the world through literature. The story passes from background to engagement to the triumph of the revolutionaries and its climatic end, thus emphasizing its heroic spirit. As Amanat says, Browne saw the Persian national awakening as not only a political movement but a renewal of the culture and vitality of the Persian people.
The Persian Revolution must also be assessed as a contribution to the discipline of history. It provides a very full contemporary account of the event, and thus functions as a significant collection of primary material. Interestingly Amanat points out that this book and the most important of all contemporary sources, Nazim al-Islam Kermani's History of the Awakening of the Persians, contributed at different stages to each other' s account and historical perspective, this being particularly true of the mise en scene of the early chapters. Inevitably, perhaps, Browne's work does not attempt to provide depth of analysis, particularly in terms of the background of some of the participants, and of their true interests and objectives. It says little, for example, of the network of relationships behind the revolutionary movement and overlooks the very significant role played by the bazaar. It needed Kasravi to bring out the part played by more ordinary people, and it is a pity that the editor does not take the opportunity to comment on Browne's view in relation to Kasravi's. He also does not address the problem of why Browne does not demonstrate awareness of Taqizada's socialism. Browne further does not address the question of how far the Revolution really did bring about structural change. He was, however, quick to seize upon the significance of the Russian defeat by Japan and the subsequent revolution in Russia, both of which indeed had reverberations far beyond Persia.
One of the most welcome feature of this new edition is a hitherto unpublished selected correspondence of E. G. Browne together with some examples of contemporary reviews of The Revolution compiled with admirable initiative and fair-mindedness by Mansour Bonakdarian to produce a varied picture of the man and his work. Here Browne's single-minded devotion to his cause, conscientiously suppressed to some extent in his book, comes across far more strongly. The letters reveal Churchill and Smart cautioning Browne against unqualified support for the Nationalists, and that they perceived, as he did not, the problems of lack of political experience. Of contemporary reviews, The Manchester Guardian identified the value of the quotations from original sources . The fiercest criticism came from The Times: "Rarely has there been a more violent example of the professor in politics." The most prescient was that of the reviewer of The New York Times, who wrote, "Mr. Browne believes that national diversity is a higher law and a more desirable state than uniformity. But such a conclusion is open to grave doubts in days when rapid communications, commercial enterprise and national ambitions appear to be welding the people of the world in a more homogeneous whole."
In the last two decades, a growing literature on postcolonialism has focused on the Orientalist scholars of the West who, implicitly or explicitly, placed their knowledge and expertise at the service of their respective imperialist governments. Not all Orientalist scholars, however, fall into this category. Edward G. Browne, the quintessential British Orientalist, was one such exception. The new edition of Browne's classic, The Persian Revolution, which includes all the original supplementary documents Browne translated, together with a fresh introduction by Abbas Amanat and a helpful essay by Mansour Bonakdarian, makes it possible to study this different Orientalist academic in courses that deal with Postcolonial Studies and Middle East history.
Edward Granville Browne (1862-1926) was a supporter of anti-imperialist movements in Asia, Africa, and Ireland. Today we would call him a multiculturalist, because he was a vocal critic of rapid modernization in the East and its destruction of cultural diversities. Browne was so devoted to the Persian people and their aspirations for a more democratic order that in the midst of the revolution he interrupted the work of his monumental four-volume Literary History of Persia (1902-26) to support the constitutional cause in Iran and to demonstrate to the English-speaking world the remarkable achievements of this revolution.
Especially valuable are The Persian Revolution's supplements-translations of documents, such as the constitution of 1906 and the Supplementary Constitutional Laws of 1907. Also, with the help of the Iranian scholar Mirza Muhammad Qazvini in Cambridge, Browne wrote short biographies, appended to the book, of a number of participants in both the Tobacco Protest and the Constitutional Revolution.
In his sympathetic introduction, Abbas Amanat points out that the book, written in a simple, accessible language, clearly labels the protagonists (the nationalists) and the antagonists (the shah, the reactionary courtiers). This means that Browne presents the movement more or less as a unified nationalist movement fighting predominantly against the autocratic monarchy and, to a lesser degree, against the imperialist policies of Russia and Britain. Information that could have been used by hostile Western observers or conservative Iranian opponents of the revolution was avoided or glossed over. Browne speaks glowingly of the Pan-lslamist movement and men such as Sayyid Jamal al-Din Asadabadi (al-Afghani). In his view, Pan-lslamism, based on a common faith, was more rational than the Pan-Germanic and Pan-Slavic movements which were based on a supposed common race. In addition, he purposely does not state the religious affiliation of the many Babi sympathizers who were at the forefront of the movement.
The Persian Revolution emphasizes the working relationship between the clerical and secular elements and glosses over the fact that anti-clerical sentiments were shared by a large number of constitutional activists. Thus, the hostile actions of the archconservative Shaykh Fazlullah Nuri were presented as deeds of an individual who collaborated with the shah, rather than as part of the overall hostility of several leading clerics to the Constitutional Revolution. I would add to Amanat's observations that Browne particularly de-emphasizes the more radical social and class dimensions of the movement, such as calls for removal of the shah (and sometimes demands for a republican form of a government); the extensive role of the Baku-based Firqah-yi Ijtima'iyun 'Amiyun (Organization of Social Democrats) and its branches inside Iran; the Anjumans of the Mujahidin; and the many articles in the popular newspaper Sur-i Israfil that called for land distribution, more equitable gender roles, and a radical participatory democracy. In fact, it seems that Browne was more concerned with the internal social agenda of the revolution, which he felt would be harshly judged by the British government and public, than he was with the nationalist and anti-imperialist rhetoric of the revolution and its impact on the West.
Browne relied on a number of junior and even senior British diplomats in Tehran who supplied him with confidential and eyewitness accounts. These letters, which Browne quotes at length, remain some of the most exciting parts of the book, yet Browne, who was not in Iran at the time of the revolution, does not identify the authors for fear of reprisal against them. Mansour Bonakdarian sheds new light on this subject and identifies six of these proconstitutionalist British officials who were used by Browne. They were Walter A. Smart (consular assistant at the Tehran Legation); Major C. B. Stokes (military attache); Patrick Cowan (consular assistant); George Churchill (Orientalist secretary); H. L. Rabino (British vice consul in Rasht); and Sir Cecil Spring-Rice (minister at Tehran in 1906-8). Smart was the author of some of the most moving passages describing the earlier years of the revolution, but he gradually became more cynical. Major Stokes, whose appointment in 1911 to the post of treasury-gendarmeri in Iran by the liberal American financial assistant Morgan Shuster created so much hostility among the Russian and British diplomats, was the most sympathetic. While Bonakdarian provides much intriguing information about these men, one wishes that an appendix had been added to the book in which the authorship of some of the long-unattributed quotes in The Persian Revolution was also divulged.
Bonakdarian also shows that the book received considerable attention soon after its publication, not only by the British and American journals such as the Manchester Guardian, the Times of London, and the New York Times, but also by the Iranian press, most notably the social democratic Iran-i Naw, which published an abridged translation of it in 1910. None of these newspapers disputed Browne's authority on Iran, although his liberal politics were attacked by the Times, which found the contemporary but hostile account of the journalist David Fraser more palatable.
For today's readers, a few other omissions by Browne could also have been pointed out in the introduction. It is generally believed in the new scholarship that the fatwa attributed to Mirza Hasan Shirazi during the Tobacco Protest of 1891 was not written by him (p. 52). M. Panoff was in fact a social democrat (p. 215). The ulama of Najaf, while supportive of many aspects of the constitutional order, ultimately approved Article 2 of the supplementary Constitutional Laws proposed by Shaykh Fazlullah Nuri, which gave veto power over the majlis to a council of clerics (p. 262). The bomb that exploded in front of the shah's automobile in February 1908 was placed there by the well-known social democrat Haidar Khan 'Amu Ughlu and his colleagues (pp. 198-99). The actual leader of the revolutionary army from Gilan was the Dashnak Armenian Yephrem Khan; Sipahadar was the nominal leader (p. 299). Taqizadeh was the political leader in the Tabriz Anjuman who opposed the overthrow of the shah and the takeover of the capital by the revolutionary army in the early summer of 1909 (p. 301). The artillery officer who initiated the bombardment of the majlis in June 1908 was Ajudanbashi (p. 330). The author of the letter that criticizes Sattar Khan and asks Browne to be "moderate in your praise of him in your Constitutional History" is Walter Smart, as Bonakdarian has pointed out elsewhere, and not Muhammad 'Ali Tarbiyat, as Kasravi believed (p. 442).
Mage Publishers should be commended for bringing this classic study back
into print. Students can now see that a divergent relationship can exist
and has existed between Western scholars and Eastern activists involved
in democratic movements. They will also recognize that when an Orientalist
scholar of the caliber of Browne placed his academic and political skills
at the service of the people he studied, the results were remarkable, indeed
Edward Granville Browne (1862-1926), the eminent British orientalist and holder of the chair of Arabic at Cambridge for some thirty years, was also celebrated for his scholarship on Persian literature and history. His four volume A Literary History of Persia, as well as his works on The Press and Poetry of Modern Persia, and The Persian Revolution of 1905-1909 constitute major contributions to the field of Persian studies. However, what distinguished Browne from his fellow orientalists was that he did not always remain the detached scholar, but at times became passionate and even 'a participant in political debates concerning British policy in Iran'.
In fact, Browne's interest in the East was aroused by the Turkish-Russian war in 1877-8. The appeal of the East, at least at its inception, was not merely a romanticized view that he had of a far-away land, but it was rather a result of his disposition towards being on the side of the oppressed and the downtrodden. As he noted in his introduction to A Year amongst the Persians, 'At first my proclivities were by no means for the Turks, but the losing side, more especially when it continues to struggle gallantly against defeat ... always has a claim on our sympathy.' Evidence of such a temperament was still there when he took on the cause of the Iranian constitutionalists as manifested in his chronicling of The Persian Revolution of 1905-1909. The correspondence that he enjoyed with a range of personalities, both Iranian and non-Iranian, much of which was used as a source of information for his book and is now bequeathed to the Cambridge University Library, further corroborates this quality of character.
It would not be too imprudent to say that Browne's aim in writing The Persian Revolution was not merely academic, but, as he says in his preface, it was also 'to arouse in the hearts of my countrymen some sympathy for a people who have, in my opinion, hitherto received less than they deserve' (xx). In fact, throughout his book, he reiterates time and time again his endeavour in dispelling the false impressions that had been propagated by the British press of the time, in particular by the correspondent of The Times newspaper, David Fraser. This in itself is a contributing factor to the reason why The Persian Revolution of 1905-1909 has become a 'classic'. For while it is one of the most comprehensive accounts of the constitutional movement, it also contains much more than a mere account; it is an appeal for the right to the self-determination of a nation, an endorsement of the constitutional movement as it unfolds by an informed contemporary observer in defiance of the general British policy of the time.
In view of the significance of The Persian Revolution of 1905-1909, the decision by Mage Publishers to have it republished as the first of a reprint series with the title 'Persia Observed' is to be welcomed. This series, according to the editor's preface, has the aim of making available some of the 'most useful but out-of-print western accounts about Iran from the early modern times to the twentieth century'. In addition to the text, which is a facsimile reprint of the 1910 edition, the book also contains a general introduction by Abbas Amanat, the editor of the series and an authority on nineteenth-century Iran, as well as a brief section on selected correspondence of E. G. Browne by Mansour Bonakdarian, the author of several articles on Browne. In this second part, excerpts from Browne's correspondence with a variety of personalities are given. They range from British officials, both in the British Legation in Iran and the Foreign Office in London, to Persian constitutionalists like Sayyid Hasan Taqizadah, as well as members of the Persia Committee. There is also a section on the sort of reviews that the book received at the time of its publication in 1910.
Both articles are lucid and intelligently written. Each in its own way provides the necessary background for the reader to appreciate the significance of the book. The brief section on the kind of reviews that the book received is particularly informative as it highlights its controversial aspect at a time when imperialism was what defined British foreign policy. If there is one point, however, that may give the reader the wrong impression, it is the choice made by Bonakdarian of the correspondence with Iranians. The collection of Browne papers held at Cambridge University Library is evidence of the diverse nature of correspondence that Browne enjoyed. It is not only the 'important' players in the constitutional movement that Browne corresponded with; one also finds a number of letters written by a range of Iranian characters, not necessarily known to Browne or of the eminence of Taqizadah, but who nevertheless relay their own experiences of the injustices suffered during the upheavals of the constitutional movement, because they had heard of Browne as one interested in their cause. Surely such material needs to be mentioned, if not underlined, as it illustrates the extent of Browne's reputation in Iran of the time as an unequivocal friend of the country and its people.
Nevertheless, the 'long-term project' of the publishers can only be commended. Whether specialist or non-specialist, those interested in the history of Iran can only applaud an endeavour which will make important works on Iran more widely available to all.