The early life of Baber was a tissue of surprising vicissitudes and romantic adventures45. He was the sixth in descent from Tamerlane. The extensive dominions of his grandfather, Abusaid, were shared by the numerous sons of that monarch. One of them, Ahmed Mirza, obtained Samarcand and Bokhara; Balkh or Bactria fell to another, Mahmud Mirza; and Cabul to a third, whose name was Ulugh Beg. Omar Shekh Mirza, the fourth son, and the father of Baber, had at first been in charge of Cabul; but was transferred during his father’s lifetime to Ferghana, on the upper course of the Jaxartes, a small but rich and beautiful country, of which Baber always speaks with fondness. The mother of Baber was a Mogul, the sister
of Mahmud Khan, a descendant of Chaghatai Khan, and head of his branch of the empire of Chengiz Khan. This connection does not seem to have inspired any attachment on the part of Baer towards the Mogul nation, of whom he never speaks in his memoirs but with contempt and aversion46.
Baber was only twelve years old at the death of his father and his own accession (1494). Omar Shekh Mirza had just been involved in a war with his brother, Ahmed Mirza, of Samarcand, and his brother-in-law, Mahmud Khan, the Mogul; and those princes showed no disposition to relent in favour of their youthful nephew. They, however, failed entirely in an attack on his capital; and shortly after Ahmed Mirza died. He was succeeded by his brother, the king of Bactria. He also died soon after, and was succeeded by his son, Baisanghar Mirza. Confusions ensued, and Baber was induced to attempt the conquest of Samarcand for himself. Though he had for some time conducted his own government, he was as yet only fifteen; and considering that circumstance, together with the insignificance of his means, it is much less
surprising that he more than once failed in this undertaking, than that his spirit and perseverance were at last rewarded with success (1497).
The possession of the capital of Tamerlane, which seemed a step to the sovereignty of all Transoxiana, proved in itself to be more than Baber had strength to maintain. The country of Samarcand was exhausted by long disorders, and afforded no means of paying his troops, who, in consequence, began to desert in great numbers. They spread their discontent among those left in Ferghana, and at last openly revolted, under Ahmed Tambol, one of Baber’s principal leaders, in the name of his younger brother, Jehangir Mirza. Such a rebellion at home allowed no time for delay, and Baer left Samarcand, after a reign of a hundred days: on his departure the inhabitants immediately threw off their obedience to him. An unfortunate illness, which he with difficulty survived, so retarded his operations, that, by the time he had abandoned Samarcand, he found he had lost his hereditary dominions. On this he had recourse to his Mogul uncle, and sometimes with slender aid from him, but oftener with his own resources alone, he made various attempts, not without partial success, both on Samarcand and Ferghana. At length, in 1499, he succeeded in recovering his native kingdom; but he had not entirely subdued the rebels when he was tempted by strong invitations from Samarcand to set out for that capital. Before he reached his destination, he learned that both Samarcand
and Bokhara were occupied by the Uzbeks, then founding the dominion which they still possess over Transoxiana47.
Meanwhile Tambol had again seized on Ferghana, and Baber was compelled to take refuge in the almost inaccessible mountains to the south of that country. While there, he learned that Sheibani Khan, the chief of the Uzbeks, had left Samarcand on an expedition; and with characteristic spirit of enterprise he determined to avail himself of the opportunity to attempt to surprise that city. Ile set off with only 240 men; escaladed the walls in the night; overpowered the guards, and magnified the impression of his numbers by boldness and rapidity, until the citizens rose in his favour, and massacred the Uzbeks wherever they were to be found. Sheibani Khan hastened back on this intelligence, but found the gates shut against him, and ultimately withdrew to Bokhara.
The whole of Sogdiana now declared for Baber. He remained for six months in quiet possession, and employed the interval in endeavours to form a combination among the neighbouring princes, by impressing them with a sense of their danger from the Uzbeks. His exertions were fruitless; and he was obliged to encounter alone the whole power of
Sheibani. The hopes of success, which even then he continued to cherish, were frustrated by the baseness of some Mogul auxiliaries, who left the battle for the purpose of plundering his baggage. The consequence was a total defeat; and Baer was obliged to retire with the few troops that adhered to him within the walls of Samarcand. He resolved to defend that place to the last extremity, and repelled various assaults that were made on him by the Uzbeks. Sheibani had then recourse to a blockade, and in four months reduced his enemies to all the miseries of famine. The inhabitants perished in great numbers; the soldiers let themselves down from the walls and deserted; and Baer, who had shared in all the privations of the people, was compelled at last to evacuate the town.
After this he spent nearly two years in the utmost poverty and distress, sometimes in the mountains, and oftener in his uncle’s camp, where he remained in such a state of destitution that his very servants left him from absolute want. He seems to have been almost reduced to despondency by his repeated misfortunes, and once resolved to withdraw to China, and pass his life in obscurity and retirement. Occasional openings in Ferghana served to keep alive his hopes; and at length, with the help of his uncle, he recovered the capital, and was joined by his brother Jehangir, who had hitherto been his nominal rival. Tambol, in this strait, called in the formidable aid of the Uzbeks.
Baber was overpowered, compelled to fly after a desperate conflict in the streets, and so hotly pursued that his companions, one by one, fell into the hands of the enemy, and his own horse was so much exhausted that he was overtaken by two of Tambol’s soldiers. They endeavoured to persuade him to surrender; and Baber, while he kept up the parley, continued to push on towards the mountains. At length he thought he had succeeded, by arguments and entreaties, in bringing over the pursuers to his interest, and they took a solemn oath to share his fortunes; but, whether they were originally insincere, or lost heart when they contemplated the prospect before them, they ended by betraying Baber to his enemies; and it was with the utmost difficulty that he again recovered his freedom. He only escaped to a condition almost as hopeless as captivity. His uncle’s Mogul army had been defeated by Sheibani, and himself made prisoner; while the whole of Transoxiana, except that annexed to Bactria, fell into the hands of the Uzbeks.
All his prospects being thus extinguished, Baer bade a last farewell to his native country of Ferghana, and set out to try his fortune in new scenes beyond the range of Hindu Cush.
After all that he had done and suffered (enough to fill up an eventful life) Baber was yet only in his twenty-third year. He bore his numerous reverses with the elasticity of youth. He himself tells us that he often shed many tears, and composed
many melancholy verses; but in general his cheerful temper buoyed him up, and enabled him to enjoy the present and to entertain favourable prospects of the future. He says he never had more perfect pleasure than for a few days after he evacuated Samarcand, when he first got a full meal, a quiet night’s rest, and a temporary freedom from labour and anxiety. He had often similar moments of enjoyment, thanks to his sociable habits and his relish for simple pleasures. He pauses, in relating one of his desperate expeditions, to describe a particular sort of melon with which he had been struck: if ever he had an interval of rest he was occupied with plants and gardening; and during all his marches, in peace or war, flowers and trees and cheerful landscapes were never thrown away on him. It may be because others have not opened their hearts as he has done, but there certainly is no person in Asiatic history into whose tastes and feelings we can enter as into Baber’s.
Bactria was now in the hands of Khusru Shah, a favourite of Baber’s late uncle, and afterwards minister to his cousin, Baisanghar Mirza, the same whom he had driven out of Samarcand. Khusru Shah had since murdered his master, and was in possession of what remained of his dominions. He endeavoured to conciliate Baber, and received him with a show of hospitality when he entered his territory. His professions arose from a sense of his own insecurity; it was not long ere all the Moguls in his employment proffered their services
to Baber; and, before they had openly declared themselves, Khusru’s own brother, Baki, came over to the same side, and was followed by the whole of the army. When Baber approached Khusru’s frontier he had between two and three hundred followers, many of them armed with clubs; and only two tents, the best of which was allotted to his mother. He now set out to invade Cabul at the head of a regular and well equipped army. His uncle, Ulugh Beg, the king of that country, had expired two years before; his son and successor had been expelled by his minister; and he, in his turn, had been dispossessed by the Mogul or Turki family of Arghun, who had been for some time in possession of Candahar. Baber occupied Cabul almost without opposition (1504); and, regarding the original owner as completely ejected, he took possession in his own name, and subsequently resisted an attempt of his cousin to regain his inheritance. He afterwards lost Bactria; which was recovered by Khusru Shah, and ultimately conquered by the Uzbeks. Babel’s connection with the country beyond the mountains was therefore entirely cut off.
He was now king of Cabul, over which country he reigned for twenty-two years, before his conquest of India; and which was enjoyed by his descendants till the end of the seventeenth century.
But though Baber had gained a fixed establishment, he was by no means in a state of repose. He had, in fact, only changed the character of his
toils and perils. He was still threatened from without by an enemy who had hitherto proved irresistible; and within, a great part of his territory was in the hands of independent tribes, and so strong that he could not hope to subdue it; while part of the rest was possessed by personal enemies and rivals. His title was doubtful; he had no minister whom he could trust; his brother Jehangir had but lately joined him after having been long in rebellion; and his army was an assemblage of adventurers, strangers to him. and traitors to their former masters.
His first years were spent in the conquest of Candahar, in expeditions into the mountains of the Afghans and Hazarehs, and in a dangerous journey to Herat to concert measures with that branch of the house of Tamerlane for their common defence against the Uzbeks. On these occasions he underwent the usual risks and more than the usual hardships of war, and had once nearly perished in the snow during a winter march through the mountains of the Hazarehs.
In this period his brother Jehangir revolted (1506); but was subdued and pardoned: a more serious insurrection took place while he was at Herat, when his Mogul troops set up one of his cousins as king, who was also defeated and pardoned (1507); and he was afterwards brought to the brink of ruin by a conspiracy of the Moguls, who had come over from Khusru Shah. These men, from two to three thousand in number, gave
the first sign of their disaffection by an attempt to seize Baber’s person; and when he had escaped and fled from Cabul, they called in Abdu Rizak the son of Ulugh Beg, whom Baber had supplanted in the government (1508). The right of this young man had probably little influence; for all the princes of the house of Tamerlane seemed to consider that conqueror’s dominions as a common prize, from which each might take what share he could: his strength lay in the connections he possessed in a country where his father had reigned; and those were so powerful that Baber found himself deserted by the whole of his troops except about 500 men. A moment’s despondency, at this crisis, would have been fatal; but Baber made up for his small force by the boldness and activity of his enterprises: he led his troops to repeated encounters, exposed himself in the hottest of every engagement, and, almost entirely by his personal courage and exertions, at last retrieved his affairs48.
His most important wars were with his old enemies the Uzbeks. Sheibani Khan, after the conquest of Transoxiana, invaded Khorasan, took Herat, and extinguished the principal branch of the house of Tamerlane. He then advanced to Candahar and took the city. He was drawn off by distant troubles before he had reduced the citadel;
but left it so weakened that it fell into the hands of its old possessors the Arghuns, who had remained in the neighbourhood, and who now retained it for several years (from 1507 to 1522). What might have been Baber’s fortune if the Uzbeks had continued their progress, it is not easy to surmise. It is possible he might have shared the fate of so many princes of his family, had not Sheibani Khan encountered a new enemy whose success put a stop to the career of Tartar conquest. This was Shah Ismael Saffavi, king of Persia, with whom Sheibani went to war about this time, and by whom he was totally defeated and slain (1510).
His death opened a new field to Baber, or rather recalled him to that which had been the scene of his earliest exploits. He immediately occupied Bactria, made an alliance with Shah Ismael, and, with the aid of a Persian force, took Bokhara, and again obtained possession of Samarcand (1511).
But he was destined never to be long successful in Transoxiana: before the end of a twelvemonth he was driven out of Samarcand by the Uzbeks; and, although he maintained the contest, with the support of the Persians, for two years longer, yet he at last suffered a total defeat, and lost all his acquisitions except Bactria (1514).
It was after this failure that he turned his serious attention to India, and began those enterprises, the result of which has already been related.
After the taking of Agra, Baber’s first act was
to distribute the Captured treasures to his adherents.
He gave his son Humayun a diamond, which was esteemed one of the finest in the world and he sent a present of a shahrukhi each to every man, woman, and child, slave or free, in the country of Cabul49.
But, although in possession of the capital, Baber was far from having conquered the kingdom. He only occupied the part to the north-west of Delhi, with a narrow tract along the Jamna to Agra. The whole of the country to the east of the Ganges had become independent in Ibrahim’s time under Deria Khan Lohani. His son took the title of king by the name of Mohammed Shah Lohani, and seems to have possessed Behar on both sides of the Ganges. Many places on the west of the Jamna had also been in rebellion in Ibrahim’s time, and many of those which had been obedient now held out under the Afghan and Fermuli chiefs belonging to the late government. Nor was this the only opposition with which Baber had to contend: a strong dislike and hostility at first subsisted between his troops and the Indians, the villages round his camp were deserted, and it became a matter of
great difficulty to procure grain or forage for the army.
Discontent of his troops.
In addition to this, the summer, always nearly intolerable to natives of cold countries, was in that year unusually oppressive, and so affected his troops that all ranks began to murmur, and at length to clamour to be led back to Cabul: some even made preparations for returning without leave. On this, Baber assembled the officers, and pointed out to them that, as the conquest of India had long been the great object of their labours, it would be weakness and disgrace to abandon it now that it was achieved; that he, therefore, was determined to remain in India; that all who chose to return were at liberty to do so at once; but that henceforth he would hear of no remonstrances against his resolution. This address induced the greater part to give up their discontents. Khaja Kilan, however, one of his best and most confidential chiefs, was among those that decided to return, and was accordingly appointed to a government beyond the Indus, and dismissed with honour to his new charge.
The determination so strongly expressed had an effect even on the enemy; and many, who had hitherto expected Baber to withdraw as Tamerlane had done, now made their submission: detachments were sent to reduce others; and, in the course of the next four months, not only had the country held by Sultan Ibrahim been secured, but all the revolted provinces ever possessed by the house of Lodi, including the former kingdom of
Juanpur, were brought into subjection by an army under Prince Humayun, Baber’s eldest son.
The last places which submitted were Biana, Dhulpur on the Chambal, and Gwalior beyond that river.
After he had thus been acknowledged by all the Mussulmans, Baber had to commence a war with the Hindus, who, contrary to their usual practice, were on this occasion the aggressors.
Hamir Sing, the Rajput prince who recovered Chitor in the reign of Ala u din Khilji (1316), had, in the course of a long reign, re-established the Rajput dominion over all Mewar; to which his son had added Ajmir50. After the separation of Malwa from Delhi the new kings of that country were engaged in frequent hostilities with the rajas of Mewar; and, immediately before the time of Baber, Mahmud, king of Malwa, had been defeated and taken prisoner by Sanga, the Rajput prince51 (1519).
Sanga, the sixth in succession from Hamir, possessed all the hereditary dominions of Mewar, and likewise held the eastern part of Malwa as far as Bilsa and Chanderi52, in dependence. He was recognised as their leader by the rajas of Marwar, and Jeipur, and all the other Rajput princes53.
Being a natural enemy to the king of Delhi, he had opened a friendly communication with Baber
while he was advancing against Ibrahim, and for the same reason he began to form combinations against him as soon as he found him established in the former position of that prince. Besides his Hindi” allies, Sanga was on this occasion accompanied by Mahmud, a prince of the house of Lodi, who had assumed the title of king, and, though possessed of no territory, was followed by 10,000 adherents. The Lodi chiefs formerly driven out by Humayun also returned to their former possessions, or raised men in other places to co-operate with the raja. Great efforts were made on both sides to secure the alliance of Hasan Khan, raja of Mewat, who, by his name, must have been a converted Hindu. His territory is that hilly tract extending towards the river Chambal, from within twenty-five miles of Delhi, and including the petty state which is now called Macheri or Alwar.
The son of this chief being a hostage in bees hands, he adopted the liberal policy of sending him to his father as the true way to gain his sincere cooperation. His generosity did not make the desired impression; for Hasan Khan was no sooner set at ease about his son than he openly joined the enemy. Raja Sanga immediately advanced to support his ally, and soon arrived at Biana, within fifty miles of Agra. He drove the garrison of that place, with loss, into their fort, and cut off all communication between them and the capital. Baber, on this, sent forward a detachment to observe the enemy, and soon after moved out with all his
forces. He had reached Sikri54, about twenty miles from Agra, when he found himself in the neighbourhood of the Hindu army. His advanced guard was immediately attacked; and though reinforced from the main body, was defeated with heavy loss. If the raja had pressed on during the first panic, it is probable he would have obtained an easy victory: he chose to withdraw to his encampment after his success,
and thus allowed Baber ample time to take up a position and to fortify his camp, so as to make it a difficult matter to assail him.
Baber’s troops had looked on this contest in a very serious light from the first; and the reports of fugitives, together with the disaster which had taken place almost before their eyes, had made a very deep impression on them; when, by ill luck, a celebrated astrologer arrived from Cabul, and loudly announced, from the aspect of Mars, the certain defeat of the king’s army, which happened to be in the quarter opposite to that planet. The consternation occasioned by these real and imaginary terrors was so general that even the officers of the highest rank were infected, lost all courage and decision in council, and could scarcely even maintain an appearance of firmness before their men. Baber’s Indian troops began to desert; some of them went over to the enemy; and the rest of the army, though faithful, was completely dispirited and alarmed. Baber himself, though he despised
the prediction of the astrologer, was not insensible to the dangers of his situation: he tells us that he repented of his sins, forswore wine, and gave away his gold and silver drinking vessels to the poor; he also made a vow to let his beard grow, and promised to remit the stamp tax on all Mussulmans, if it should please God to give him victory. But he was too much used to danger to be depressed; and that he might infuse some of his own spirit into his troops, he assembled his officers of all ranks, and without touching on the usual topics of necessity, or of spoil and conquests, – scarcely even on that of religion, – he made a direct appeal to their sense of honour, and set the chance of glory against the risk of death. His theme seems to have been well chosen, for the whole assembly answered him with one voice, and accompanied their acclamations with an oath on the Koran to conquer or die. This scene revived the courage of the army; and, as every day brought in accounts of some fresh disorder in the provinces, Baler determined no longer to avoid an action, but to bring things to an immediate crisis.
With this view, he drew up his army in front of his intrenchments, and, after arranging his guns, and making his other preparations, he galloped along the line from right to left, animating his soldiers by short addresses, and instructing the officers how to conduct themselves in the battle. The Hindus, it appears, were equally ready for a decisive effort; but so anxious is Baber to do justice to the great occasion, that,
instead of his own account of the action, he gives us the elaborate despatch of his secretary, from which we can barely discover, in many pages of flowery declamation, that Baber gained a great victory,
that Raja Sanga escaped with difficulty, and that Hasan Khan and many other chiefs were slain. Baber (to return to his own narrative) could now relieve his heart by a torrent of abuse against the astrologer, who came to congratulate him on his victory, and whom he inveighed against as a perverse, conceited, and insufferable evil-speaker: he was an old servant, however, and Baber made him a liberal present, while he desired him to quit his dominions.
After this victory, Baer proceeded to reduce Mewat, and brought it into greater order than it ever had been in under the former government. Having promised, before the great battle, that he would allow any one who pleased leave of absence to Cabul, he formed all who desired to avail themselves of that permission into a detachment, and sent them back under the command of Humayun.
He spent the next six months in internal arrangements, and restoring order throughout the provinces that had been disturbed during the doubtful period of his contest with Raja Sanga; and by the end of the year his authority was everywhere re-established, except in Oud, beyond the Ganges. A body of Afghans still remained in arms in that province, and a detachment had been sent against them.
About the beginning of the next year Baber marched against Chanderi, on the borders of Bundelcand and Malwa.
It was held by Medni Rai, a Rajput chief who had risen to great power under Mahmud II., king of Malwa. He had afterwards usurped the government; and, on being expelled by Mahmud with the aid of the king of Guzerat, established himself at Chanderi, under the protection of Raja Sanga. He had made good his retreat after the late battle, and now offered a desperate resistance. But the Rajputs, as usual, showed more valour than skill or perseverance. On the second day of the siege they gave up all for lost, and Baber witnessed one of those extraordinary instances of self-devotion which are so common in Rajput history. His troops had already mounted the works, when the garrison put their women to death, and rushed forth naked, not to conquer, but to die.
They drove the Mussulmans before them, leaped from the ramparts, and continued their charge with unabated fury until they were overpowered and destroyed: 200 or 300 had remained to defend Medni Rai’s house, most of whom slew each other, each contending who should be the first victim.
During the siege of Chanderi, Baber received intelligence of the defeat of his detachment in Oud by an Afghan chief named Baban, or Biban, and immediately marched, himself, in that direction. The Afghans having taken post at the passage of the Ganges, Baber threw a bridge over the river,
under the fire of his artillery, and ultimately compelled the enemy to retire beyond the Gogra, whither he marched in pursuit of them. He seems to have compelled the rebels to take refuge in the territories of the king of Bengal, and it was probably on this occasion that he reduced Behar; if that was not done before by Humayun: but in this place there is an interruption in the Memoirs, which is not filled up by any other historian.
For some months after this, Baber seems to have been in bad health, and to have indulged in a longer course of relaxation than often fell to his lot. His Memoirs (which are now resumed) are filled with descriptions of Hindu forts and temples, and of fountains and cascades that he had visited; as well as of his own gardens and improvements, and of the jugglers, wrestlers, and other sources of amusement peculiar to India.
Even during this period he made the important acquisition of the fort of Rintambor: it was made over to him by the second son of Raja Sanga, that prince having died, and having been succeeded by the eldest son.
His attention was at last effectually roused by the intelligence that the province of Behar had been seized on by Sultan Mahmud, the same Lodi prince who had been present at the defeat of Raja Sanga. Mahmud seems to have been supported from Bengal; and being joined by the Afghans in Behar and the adjoining provinces, his army soon swelled to such an extent as to be called
100,000 men. With this force he had advanced to Benares by the time when Baber reached the junction of the Jamna and Ganges, now Allahabad. The approach of Baber, however, dissolved this hasty assemblage, which was already a prey to dissension. They had attempted to storm the hill fort of Chunar; and a repulse they met with, though not in itself considerable, was sufficient, in the present state of their minds, to break up the army. Mahmud retreated with such portion as he could keep together. He took up a position behind the river Son (Soane); and many of the chiefs who had quitted him made their submission to Baber. Baber continued his advance; and Mahmud, finding it in vain to oppose him, sought for safety in flight.
All Behar south of the Ganges was now in Baber’s hands; North Behar was still in possession of the king of Bengal, who had a considerable army on foot in that quarter. His object appears to have been to have retained that portion of the Delhi territories without quarrelling with the possessor of the rest; and he kept an ambassador in Baber’s camp, to amuse him with negotiations, until Baber lost patience, crossed the Ganges, and advanced against the Bengalese army.
He had still to pass the river Gogra, on which the enemy were encamped, near its junction with the Ganges. He was, however, well provided with boats, and drove away those of the Bengalese, which might otherwise have obstructed his passage.
The Bengalese then moved down to oppose his crossing, and a cannonade was kept up on both sides. As Baber’s divisions landed in succession, they charged the different parties opposed to them, and at last drove the enemy from the field. Soon after this the king of Bengal consented to terms of peace. Baber was preparing to return to Agra, when he heard that a body of Afghans, who had separated from the Bengal army, under Baban and another chief, named Bayazid, had crossed the Gogra, and taken Luknow. He immediately marched in that direction; and, on the retreat of the Afghans, sent a detachment in pursuit of them. It followed them across the Ganges and Jamna, and had completely dispersed them in Bundelcand, when the setting in of the rainy season put an end to all operations.
For the last fifteen months of his life Baber’s health seems to have been greatly broken: the silence of his diary gives a proof of his diminished activity, and some circumstances lead to a belief that his authority began to be weakened by the prospect of its speedy cessation. Humayun left his government of Badakhshan without leave, and Khalifa, Baber’s prime minister, on being selected to replace him, found means to excuse himself, and remain at court. Notwithstanding Humayun’s unlooked for return, he was affectionately received; and a dangerous illness, with which he was soon after attacked, was the immediate cause of the death of Baber.
When it was announced to him that the physicians had given over all their efforts, declaring that medicine could no longer avail, Baber seized on the only hope that remained, and, in conformity with a superstition which still prevails in the East, he determined to devote his own life for that of his son. His friends, who had as little doubt of the efficacy of this substitution as he had himself, entreated him to forbear from a sacrifice involving the happiness of so many; but Baber’s resolution was unmoved. He walked three times round the bed of the dying prince (a solemnity usual on such occasions), and then spent some moments in earnest prayer to God; at the end of which, he was filled with such assurance, that he more than once exclaimed, “I have borne it away – I have borne it away!” and so powerful was the impression both on his mind and his son’s, that all the historians agree that Humayun began from that time to recover, while it is certain that Baber, who was already ill, and whose health must have been severely shaken by his anxiety and agitation, began visibly to decline. It soon became evident that his end was approaching.
He called his sons and ministers about him, explained his dying wishes, and enjoined concord among all, and affection among his children. But Khalifa, his minister, whose influence, for some unexplained reason, was, at that time, irresistible, had already resolved to overturn the dearest of his plans. Desirous of keeping power in his own hands, he determined to
set aside Baber’s own sons, and to give the crown to his son-in-law, Mehdi Khaja, a young man whose thoughtless and flighty disposition made it seem easy to keep him in perpetual dependence55. Mehdi Khaja was at no pains to undeceive him in these expectations, and was now considered by himself and others as assured of the succession the moment that Baber should breathe his last. As that moment approached, however, he was suddenly seized by Khalifa, put into confinement, and cut off from all communication with those around. The cause of this revolution is explained in a narrative referred to by Mr. Erskine, which is given on the authority of Mohammed Mokim, the father of the author. Khalifa, it seems, was on a visit to Mehdi Khaja, with no person present but Mokim: he was suddenly summoned to Baber, who lay at the last extremity. Mehdi Khaja attended him with great respect to the door, and stood looking after him, so that Mokim could not follow without pushing by him. “As soon as Khalifa was fairly gone, he muttered to himself, ‘God willing, I will soon flay your hide off, old boy;’ and, turning round at the same instant, saw my father. He was quite confounded; but, immediately seizing my
father’s ear, with a convulsive eagerness, twisted it round, and said, hurriedly, You, Tajik! the red tongue often gives the green head to the winds.’” Mokim lost no time in apprising Khalifa of what had passed; and the result was, his immediately transferring his allegiance to Humayun.
In the midst of these intrigues, with which he was probably unacquainted, Bailer expired, – the most admirable, though not the most powerful, prince that ever reigned in Asia.
He died, at Agra, in the fiftieth year of, his age, and the thirty-eighth of his reign. His body was buried, by his own desire, at Cabul, and on a spot which it is probable that he had himself selected56.
Baber’s character is best shown in his actions; but something remains to be said of his private life and his writings. His memoirs are almost singular in their own nature, and perfectly so if we consider the circumstances of the writer. They contain a minute account of the life of a great Tartar monarch, along with a natural effusion of his opinions and feelings, free from disguise and reserve, and no less free from all affectation of extreme frankness and candour.57
The style is plain and manly, as well as lively and picturesque; and being the work of a man of genius and observation, it presents his countrymen and contemporaries, in their appearance, manners, pursuits, and actions, as clearly as in a mirror. In this respect it is almost the only specimen of real history in Asia; for the ordinary writers, though they give pompous accounts of the deeds and ceremonies of the great, are apt to omit the lives and manners even of that class; while every thing beneath their level is left entirely out of sight. In Berber, the figures, dress, tastes, and habits of each individual introduced are described with such minuteness and reality, that we seem to live among them, and to know their persons as well as we do their characters58. His description of the countries he visited, their scenery, climate, productions, and works of art and industry, are more full and accurate than will, perhaps, be found, in equal space, in any modern traveller; and, considering the circumstances
in which they were compiled, are truly surprising59.
But the great charm of the work is in the character of the author, whom we find, after all the trials of a long life, retaining the same kind and affectionate heart, and the same easy and sociable temper, with which he set out on his career, and in whom the possession of power and grandeur had neither blunted the delicacy of his taste, nor diminished his sensibility to the enjoyment of nature and imagination.
“It is a relief,” says his translator, “in the midst of the pompous coldness of Asiatic history, to find a king who can weep for days, and tell us that he wept for the playmate of his boyhood.” He speaks with as much interest of his mother and female relations as if he had never quitted their fireside; and his friends make almost as great a figure in the personal part of his narrative as he does himself. He repeats their sayings, records their accidents and illnesses, relates their adventures, and sometimes jokes on their eccentricities.
After a letter, on the affairs of his government, to his most confidential counsellor, Khaja Kilan (then at Cabul), he tells him little anecdotes of their common acquaintances, which he thinks will
amuse him, and adds, “For God’s sake excuse all these fooleries, and do not think the worse of me for them.” He endeavours afterwards to persuade Khaja Kilan to leave off wine, as he had done; and says, in substance, “Drinking was a very pleasant thing with our old friends and companions; but now that you have only Shir Ahmed and Heider Kuli to take your wine with, it can be no great sacrifice to leave it off.” In the same letter, he says how much he envies his friend his residence at Cabul, and adds, “They, very recently, brought me a single musk melon60: while cutting it up, I felt myself affected with a strong feeling of loneliness, and a sense of my exile from my native country, and I could not help shedding tears while I was eating it.”
It would have been fortunate if Baber had left off wine sooner, for there seems good reason to think his indulgence in it tended to shorten his days. Many a drinking party is recorded in his memoirs, with at least as much interest as his battles or negotiations; and unsuitable as they are to his station, they are not the least agreeable scenes in Baber’s history. The perfect ease and familiarity among the company makes one forget the prince in the man; and the temptations that generally lead to those excesses – a shady wood, a hill with a fine prospect, or the idleness of a boat floating down a river; together with the amusements
with which they are accompanied, extemporary verses, recitations in Turki and Persian, with sometimes a song, and often a contest of repartee – take away all the coarseness that might attach to such scenes of dissipation.
The unsettled nature of his life is shown by his observing, near the end of it, that since he was eleven years old he had never kept the fast of the Ramzan twice in any one place; and the time not spent in war and travelling was occupied in hunting and other sports, or in long excursions on horseback about the country. On his last journey, after his health had begun to fail, he rode, in two, days, from Calpi to Agra (160 miles), without any particular motive for dispatch; and on the same journey he swam twice across the Ganges, as he said he had done with every other river he had met with. His mind was as active as his body: besides the business of the kingdom, he was constantly taken up with aqueducts, reservoirs, and other improvements, as well as introducing new fruits and other productions of remote countries. Yet he found time to compose many elegant Persian poems and a collection of Turki compositions, which are mentioned as giving him a high rank among the poets of his own country61.
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45. The account of Baber is taken from his own Memoirs, translated by Mr. Erskine. It differs, in some respects, from that given by Ferishta.
46. “Under these circumstances,” observes Mr. Erskine, “it may seem one of the strangest caprices of fortune, that the empire which he founded in India should have been called, both in the country and by foreigners, the empire of the Moguls; thus taking its name from a race which he detested.” (Erskine’s Baber, p. 236.) The reason is, that the Indians call all northern Mussulmans, except the Afghans, Moguls: they now apply the term particularly to the Persians.
47. The Uzbeks (so called from one of their khans) were a mass of tribes of Turki, Mogul, and probably of Fennic origin, moulded into one people, but with a great preponderance of Turks. They had before been settled on the Jaik, and had been in possession of a large tract in Siberia. (Erskine’s Baber, Introduction, pp. lix. lx.)
48. Mr. Erskine, from Khafi Khan and Ferishta. Baber’s Memoirs break off in the beginning of the insurrection, and are not resumed for some years. The intervening portion seems never to have been written. (Erskine’s Baber, p. 236.)
49. The shahrukhi is only 10d. or 11d; but the whole sum must have been very great; and this injudicious expenditure justifies the nickname of “the Calender” given to him at the time, from a religious order, whose practice it is to keep nothing for to-morrow. He could not always have been so profuse, though always generous; for after he once got Cabul, we hear of no financial embarrassments.
50. Colonel Tod’s Rajputana, vol. i. p. 274.
51. Briggs’s Ferishta, vol. iv. p. 261.
52. Baber’s Memoirs, p. 312.
53. Colonel Tod, vol. i. p. 299.
54. Now Fattehpur Sikri.
55. Khalifa was one of Baber’s old officers; but it is not easy to conjecture how he could acquire so inordinate a power under so able a sovereign as Baber, and with an experienced heir-apparent like Humayun. Equally extraordinary does it seem that, from this time forward, he disappears, and is not mentioned in Ferishta or Abul Fazl, either under his own name of Khalifa, or his title of Nizam u din.
56. “He had directed his body to be interred in this place, to him the choicest in his wide dominions.” “A running and clear stream yet waters the fragrant flowers of the cemetery, which is the great holyday resort of the people of Maul. In the front of the grave is a small but chaste mosque of white marble.” There is a noble prospect from the hill that overlooks Baber’s tomb,” &c. &c. (Burnes’s Travels, vol. i. p. 141.
57. In this last respect, they are a contrast to those of Tamerlane, which, with all their simplicity of language, are evidently written for effect. “One day, having unintentionally trodden on an ant, I felt as if my foot had lost all its power.” (Memoirs of Teimur, p. 30.) Who can imagine this to be natural, even if the author had been a Bramin ascetic, instead of the most sanguinary of conquerors?
58. These portraits, however, are necessarily confined to the inhabitants of the courts and camps where Baber passed his days: in the countries which he has so well delineated, he only gives such remarkable particulars about the natives as would strike a stranger, without attempting a detailed account of their way of life, with which he must necessarily have been unacquainted.
59. Compare his descriptions of the countries through which he fought his way with those of ibn Batuta, himself a writer of remarkable merit, and a professed traveller and inquirer. Or compare his geography with that of any Asiatic who has written expressly on the science.
60. This fruit had not then been introduced into India.
61. Almost all that has been said of Baber has been drawn from Mr. Erskine’s admirable translation of his Memoirs from the Turki. The notes and supplements which accompany that work remove the obscurities which, without such assistance, would beset us in every page; and the preliminary dissertation gives a complete view of the state of Asia in Baber’s time, and contains the best account of the geography of the countries which were the scene of his exploits, and the clearest exposition of the divisions of the Tartar nations. The translation seems to have imbibed the very spirit of the original. The style is singularly happy, strikingly characteristic, though perfectly natural, and equally remote from the usual inflated language of the East, and from the imitation of scriptural simplicity into which other translators of similar works have fallen.
This collection transcribed by Chris Gage