The Ruin Of The Barmecidesp 111

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The family of Barmec was one of the most illustrious in the East: they were descended from the ancient Kings of Persia, and possessed immense property in various countries; they derived still more consequence from the favour which they enjoyed at the court of Bagdad, where for many years they filled the highest offices of the state with universal approbation. The first of this family who distinguished himself at Bagdad was Yahia Ben Khaled, a person endowed with every virtue and talent that could render a character complete: He had four sons, Fadhel, Jaafer, Mohammed, and Musa, all of whom showed themselves worthy of such a father. Yahia was chosen by the Khalif Mahadi to be governor to his son Haroun Alrashid, and when Haroun succeeded to the Khalifate, he appointed Yahia to be his grand vizier, an event alluded to in the preceding composition. This dignity Yahia held for some years, and when increasing infirmities obliged him to resign it, the Khalif conferred it upon his second son, Jaafer.

Jaafer's abilities were formed to adorn every situation: independent of his hereditary virtues, he was the most admired writer and the most eloquent speaker of his age; and during the time he was in office, he displayed at once the accuracy of a man of business and the comprehensive ideas of a statesman. But the brilliancy of Jaafer's talents

Arabian Poetry: Extracts From The Lay of the Himyarites: Notes on Shorter Poems rendered him more acceptable to his master in the capacity of a companion than in that of a minister. Haroun resolved, therefore, that state affairs should no longer deprive him of the pleasure he derived from Jaafer's society; and accordingly made him relinquish his post, and appointed his brother Fadhel, a man of severer manners, grand vizier in his room. For seventeen years the two brothers were all-powerful in Bagdad and throughout the empire; but, as often happens in the East, their authority was overturned in a moment, and their whole house involved in ruin.

The disgrace and consequent ill-treatment of the Barmecides throw an eternal stain upon the memory of Alrashid; and the p. 416

causes to which they are commonly attributed seem so vague and romantic that we can scarce imagine a prince like Haroun could ever have been actuated by such motives to commit such enormities. The reason for their disgrace most generally received is as follows:

The Khalif had a sister called Abassa, of whom he was passionately fond, and whose company he preferred to everything but the conversation of Jaafer. These two pleasures he would fain have joined together, by carrying Jaafer with him in his visits to Abassa; but the laws of the Harem, which forbade anyone except a near relation being introduced there, made that impossible; and he was obliged to be absent either from his sister or from his favourite. At length he discovered a method which he hoped would enable him to enjoy at the same time the society of these two persons who were so dear to him: This was to unite Jaafer and Abassa in marriage. They were married accordingly; but with this express condition, that they should never meet except in the presence of the Khalif. Their interviews, however, were very frequent; and as neither could be insensible of the amiable qualities which the other possessed, a mutual affection took place between them. Blinded by their passion, they forgot the Khalif s injunction, and the consequences of their intercourse were but too apparent. Abassa was delivered of a son, whom they privately sent to be educated at Mecca. For some time their amour was concealed from Alrashid; but the Khalif having at length received intelligence of it, he gave way to his rage, and determined to take the most severe revenge. In consequence of this cruel resolve, he immediately commanded Jaafer to be put to death, and the whole race of Barmec to be deprived of their possessions and thrown into prison. These orders were obeyed: Jaafer was beheaded in the antechamber of the royal apartment, whither he had come to request an interview with the implacable Haroun; and his father and brothers perished in confinement.

Some of the consolatory words which Yahia delivered to his unfortunate family, whilst they were in prison, are preserved by p. 417

Ben Shonah: "Power and wealth," said tUpwarfptable old man, "were but a loan with which fortune entrusted us: we ought to be thankful that we have enjoyeW^^blessings so long; and we ought to console ourselves for their loss by the reflection that our fate will afford a perpetual example to others of their instability."—The fall of the house of Barmec was considered as a general calamity. By their courtesy, their abilities, and their virtues, they had endeared themselves to everyone; and, according to an Oriental writer, "they enjoyed the singular felicity of being loved as

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Arabian Poetry: Extracts From The Lay of the Himyarites: Notes on Shorter Poems much when in the plenitude of their power as in a private station; and of being praised as much after their disgrace as when they were at the summit of their prosperity."

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