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Chapter 17

Education--Educated but not instructed--The Mullahs--The
Madrassahs--The Royal College in Teheran--Secular Schools--The
brain of Persian students--Hints on commercial education for
Englishmen--Languages a necessity--Observation--Foreigners and
Englishmen--The Englishman as a linguist--Special commercial
training in Germany--The British manufacturer--Ways and ways--Our
Colonies swamped with foreign-made goods--Russia fast and firmly

To believe that the Persians are illiterate would be a mistake, and to think that the masses of Iran were properly educated would be a greater mistake still; but, if I may be allowed the expression, the average Persian cannot be better described than by saying he is "educated in ignorance"; or, in other words, the average Persian is educated, yes; but instructed, no.

If what the people are taught can be called education--and we in England should not be the first to throw stones at others--the average Persian is better educated than the average European. But there is education and education. It is difficult to find the commonest man in Persian cities who cannot read to a certain extent, and most people can also write a little and have a smattering of arithmetic.

The teaching, except in the larger and principal centres, is almost entirely in the hands of the Mullahs, so that naturally, as in our clerical schools, religion is taught before all things, verses of the Koran are learnt by heart, and the various rites and multiple religious ceremonies are pounded into the children's brains, and accessory religious sanitary duties of ablutions, etc., which are believed to purify the body and bring it nearer to Allah, are inculcated. Even in remoter villages, the boys are taught these things in the Mosques as well as a little reading, and enough writing for daily uses and how to add and subtract and multiply figures. Famous bits of national poetry and further passages from the Koran are committed to memory.

In the large cities a higher education can be obtained in the elaborate Madrassahs adjoining the mosques, and here, too, entirely at the hands of the Mullahs; but these higher colleges, a kind of university, are only frequented by the richer and better people, by those who intend to devote themselves to medicine, to jurisprudence, or to theological studies. Literature and art and science, all based mostly on the everlasting Koran, are here taught à fond, the students spending many years in deep and serious study. These are the old-fashioned and more common schools. But new schools in European or semi-European style also exist and, considering all things, are really excellent.

In Teheran, a Royal College has been in existence for some years. It has first-class foreign teachers, besides native instructors educated in Europe, and supplies the highest instruction to the students. Modern languages are taught to perfection, the higher mathematics, international jurisprudence, chemistry, philosophy, military strategy, and I do not know what else! I understood from some of the professors that the students were remarkable for their quickness and intelligence as compared with Europeans, and I myself, on meeting some of the students who had been and others who were being instructed in the University, was very much struck by their facility in learning matters so foreign to them, and by their astounding faculty of retaining what they had learnt. It must be recollected that the various scientific lessons and lectures were delivered not in Persian, but in some foreign language, usually French, which intensified their difficulty of apprehending.

Other private schools have also been started on similar principles in various parts of the Empire. Even in Yezd a most excellent school on similar lines is to be found and will be described later on.

Naturally the Mullahs look askance upon these Government schools, in which foreign methods are adopted. The Alliance Française of Paris, which has a committee in Teheran, has opened a French school under the direction of Mr. Virioz, a certificated professor. The school has nearly 100 pupils, all natives. This is a primary school, of which the studies are in French, but a Mullah has been added to the staff to teach the Koran and religious subjects. In Hamadan, a large Jewish centre, the Alliance Israelite has opened important schools which have largely drained the American Presbyterian schools of their Jewish pupils. Other secular schools, it appears, are to be opened in which foreign education is to be imparted, and no doubt this is a first and most excellent step of Persia towards the improvement, if not the actual reform, of the old country.

Not that the religious education received from the priests was without its good points. The love for literature and poetry, which it principally expounded, developed in the people the more agreeable qualities which have made the Persian probably the most polite man on this earth. The clerical education, indeed, worked first upon the heart, then upon the brain; it taught reverence for one's parents, love for one's neighbours, and obedience to one's superiors; it expounded soft, charitable ways in preference to aggression or selfishness--not the right instead of the duty--as is frequently the case in secular schools.

But softness, consideration, poetry, and charity are things of the past; they can only be indulged in by barbarians; in civilisation, unluckily, there is very little use for them except for advertisement sake. So the Persians were wise to resort to our style of education, which may yet be the means of saving their country. They will lose their courteousness--they are fast beginning to do that already--their filial love, their charity, and all the other good qualities they may possess; only when these are gone will they rank in civilisation quite as high as any European nation!

The wealthier people send their sons to be educated abroad in European capitals, and one cannot help being struck by the wonderful ease with which these fellows master not only languages, but science and extremely complex subjects. Whether this is due to the brain of young Persians being fresher owing to its not having been overtaxed for generations--and therefore the impressions are clearly received and firmly recorded, or whether the mode of life is apt to develop the brain more than any other part of their anatomy is difficult to say, but the quickness and lucidity of the average young Persian brain is certainly astounding when compared to that of European brains of the same ages.

The Persian, too, has a most practical way of looking at things,--when he does take the trouble to do so--not sticking to one point of view but observing his subject from all round, as it were, with a good deal of philosophical humour that is of great help to him in all he undertakes; and it is curious to see how fast and thoroughly the younger Persians of better families can adapt themselves to European ways of thought and manner without the least embarrassment or concern. In this, I think, they surpass any other Asiatic nation, the small community of the Parsees of India alone excepted.

And here a word or two on the education of Englishmen intending to make a living abroad, especially in Asia, and particularly in Persia, will not, I hope, be out of place. With the fast-growing intercourse between East and West, sufficient stress cannot be laid upon the fact that sound commercial education on up-to-date principles is chiefly successful in countries undergoing the processes of development, and that, above all, the careful study of foreign languages--the more the better--should occupy the attention of the many students in our country who are to live in Asia. There is a great deal too much time absolutely wasted in English schools over Latin and Greek, not to mention the exaggerated importance given to games like cricket, football, tennis, which, if you like, are all very well to develop the arms and legs, but seem to have quite the reverse effect upon the brain.

Yet what is required nowadays to carry a man through the world are brains, and not muscular development of limbs. As for a classical education, it may be all right for a clergyman, a lawyer, or for a man with high but unprofitable literary tastes, but not for fellows who are not only to be useful to themselves, but indirectly to the mother country, by developing the industries or trades of lands to be opened up.

If I may be permitted to say so, one of the principal qualities which we should develop in our young men is the sense of observation in all its forms--a sense which is sadly neglected in English education. It has always been my humble experience that one learns more of use in one hour's keen observation than by reading all the books in the world, and when that sense is keenly developed it is quite extraordinary with what facility one can do things which the average unobservant man thinks utterly impossible. It most certainly teaches one to simplify everything and always to select the best and easiest way in all one undertakes, which, after all, is the way leading to success.

Again, when observation is keenly developed, languages--or, in fact, anything else--can be learnt with amazing facility. The "knack" of learning languages is only due to observation; the greatest scientific discoveries have been due to mere observation; the greatest commercial enterprises are based on the practical results of observation. But it is astounding how few people do really observe, not only carefully, but at all. The majority of folks might as well be blind for what they see for themselves. They follow like sheep what they are told to do, and make their sons and grandsons do the same; and few countries suffer more from this than England.

When travelling in the East one cannot help being struck by the difference of young Englishmen and foreigners employed in similar capacities in business places. The foreigner is usually fluent in four, five or six different languages, and has a smattering of scientific knowledge which, if not very deep, is at any rate sufficient for the purposes required. He is well up in engineering, electricity, the latest inventions, explorations, discoveries and commercial devices. He will talk sensibly on almost any subject; he is moderate in his habits and careful with his money.

Now, take the young Englishman. He seldom knows well more than one language; occasionally one finds fellows who can speak two tongues fluently; rarely one who is conversant with three or four. His conversation generally deals with drinks, the latest or coming races, the relative values of horses and jockeys and subsequent offers to bet--in which he is most proficient. The local polo, if there is any, or tennis tournaments afford a further subject for conversation, and then the lack of discussible topics is made up by more friendly calls for drinks. The same subjects are gone through with variations time after time, and that is about all.

Now, I maintain that this should not be so, because, taking things all round, the young Englishman is really au fond brighter and infinitely more intelligent than foreigners. It is his education and mode of living that are at fault, not the individual himself, and this our cousins the Americans have long since discovered; hence their steaming ahead of us in every line with the greatest ease.

We hear that the Englishman is no good at learning languages, but that is again a great mistake. I do not believe that there is any other nation in Europe, after the Russians, who have greater facility--if properly cultivated--and are more capable of learning languages to perfection than the English. I am not referring to every shameless holiday tripper on the Continent who makes himself a buffoon by using misapplied, mispronounced, self-mistaught French or Italian or German sentences, but I mean the rare observant Englishman who studies languages seriously and practically.

Speaking from experience, in my travels--which extend more or less all over the world--I have ever found that Englishmen, when put to it, could learn languages perfectly. Hence my remarks, which may seem blunt but are true. Truly there is no reason why the gift of learning languages should be neglected in England,--a gift which, I think, is greatly facilitated by developing in young people musical qualities, if any, and training the ear to observe and receive sounds correctly,--a fact to which we are just beginning to wake up.

It is undoubted that the command of several languages gives a commercial man an enormous advantage in the present race of European nations in trying to obtain a commercial superiority; but the command of a language requires, too, to a limited extent the additional etiquette of ways and manners appropriate to it to make it quite efficient; and these, as well as the proper manner of speaking the language itself, can only, I repeat, be learnt by personal observation.

The Germans train commercial men specially for the East, men who visit every nook of Asiatic countries where trade is to be developed, and closely study the natives, their ways of living, their requirements, reporting in the most minute manner upon them, so that the German manufacturers may provide suitable articles for the various markets. In the specific case of Persia, Russia, the predominant country in the North, does exactly the same. The Russian manufacturer studies his client, his habits, his customs, and supplies him with what he desires and cherishes, and does not, like the British manufacturer, export to Eastern countries articles which may very well suit the farmer, the cyclist, or the cabman in England, but not the Persian agriculturist, camel-driver, or highwayman.

The everlasting argument that the British manufacturer supplies a better article borders very much on the idiotic. First of all, setting apart the doubt whether he does really supply a better article, what is certain is that a "better article" may not be of the kind that is wanted at all by the people. There are in this world climates and climates, peoples and peoples, religions and religions, houses and houses, customs and customs; and therefore the well-made English article (allowing it to be well-made) which suits English people is not always adapted for all other countries, climates, and usages.

Another prevalent mistake in this country is to believe that the Persian, or any other Oriental, will only buy cheap things. The Oriental may endeavour to strike a bargain--for that is one of the chief pleasures of his existence, though a fault which can easily be counter-balanced--but he is ever ready to pay well for what he really wants. Thus, if because of his training in fighting he requires a certain curl and a particular handle to his knife; if he fancies a particular pattern printed or woven in the fabrics he imports, and if because of his religious notions he prefers his silver spoons drilled with holes; there does not seem to be any plausible reason why his wishes should not be gratified as long as he pays for the articles supplied.

We, who own half the world, and ought to know better by this time, seem constantly to forget that our customs, and ways, seem as ridiculous to Orientals (to some of ourselves, too,) quite as ridiculous as theirs to us. In some cases, even, great offence can be caused by trying to enforce our methods too suddenly upon Eastern countries. Civilised people may prefer to blow their noses with an expensive silk handkerchief, which they carefully fold up with contents into the most prominent pocket of their coats; the unclean Oriental may prefer to close one nostril by pressing it with his finger and from the other forcibly eject extraneous matter to a distance of several feet away, by violent blowing, repeating the operation with the other nostril. This may be thought not quite graceful, but is certainly a most effective method, and possibly cleaner than ours in the end. We may fancy it good manners when in public to show little more of our shirts than the collar and cuffs, but the Persian or the Hindoo, for instance, prefers to let the garment dangle to its full extent outside so as to show its design in full. Again, we may consider it highly unbecoming and improper for ladies to show their lower limbs above the ankle; the Persian lady thinks nothing of that, but deems it shocking to show her face.

And so we could go on and on; in fact, with the Persians, one might almost go as far as saying that, with the exception of eating and drinking and a few other matters, they do most things in a contrary way to ours. They remove their shoes, when we would remove our hats; they shave their heads and let the beard grow; they sleep in the day and sit up the greater portion of the night; they make windows in the roof instead of in the walls; they inoculate smallpox instead of vaccinating to prevent it; they travel by night instead of by day.

It would be absurd to believe that we can alter in a day the customs, religions, and manners of millions of natives, and it seems almost incomprehensible that in such long colonial experience as ours we have not yet been able to grasp so simple a fact. But here, again, comes in my contention that our failing is absolute lack of observation; unless it be indeed our conceited notion that other people must rise up to our standard. Anyhow, we have lost and are losing heavily by it.

We see the Germans and Austrians swamping our own Colonies with goods wherewith our bazaars in India are overflowing; whereas English articles--if cottons are excepted--are seldom to be seen in the bazaars. This seems indeed a curious state of affairs. Nor do we need to go to India. England itself is overflowing with foreign-made goods. Now, why should it not be possible--and certainly more profitable--to meet the wishes of natives of Eastern countries and give them what they want?

There is another matter which greatly hampers the British manufacturer, in his dealings with Persians particularly. It is well to recollect that the blunt way we have of transacting business does not always answer with Orientals. Impatience, too, of which we are ever brimful, is a bad quality to possess in dealings with Persians. Times have gone by when England had practically the monopoly of the trade of the East and could lay down the law to the buyers. The influx of Europeans and the extension of trade to the most remote corners of the globe have increased to such an extent during the last few years--and with these competition--that the exporter can no longer use the slack, easy ways of half-a-century ago, when commercial supremacy was in our hands, and must look out for himself.

A knowledge of the language, with a conciliatory, courteous manner, a good stock of patience and a fair capacity for sherbet, hot tea and coffee, will, in Persia, carry a trader much further in his dealings than the so-called "smarter ways" appreciated in England or America; and another point to be remembered in countries where the natives are unbusiness-like, as they are in Persia, is that personal influence and trust--which the natives can never dissociate from the bargain in hand--go a very long way towards successful trading in Iran.

This is, to my mind, one of the principal reasons of Russian commercial successes in Northern Persia. We will not refer here to the ridiculous idea, so prevalent in England, that Russia was never and never will be a manufacturing country. Russia is very fast developing her young industries, which are pushed to the utmost by her Government, and what is more, the work is done in a remarkably practical way, by people who possess a thorough knowledge of what they are doing. The natives and the geographical features of the country have been carefully studied, and the Russian trading scheme is carried firmly and steadily on an unshakable base. We sit and express astonishment at Russian successes in Persia; the people at home can hardly be made to realise them, and I have heard people even discredit them; but this is only the beginning and nothing to what we shall see later on unless we proceed to work on similar sensible lines. It certainly arouses admiration to see what the Russians can do and how well they can do it with ridiculously small capital, when we waste, absolutely waste, immense sums and accomplish nothing, or even the reverse of what we intend to accomplish. But there again is the difference between the observant and the unobservant man.