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James White writes

Over the past weeks, I have been cataloguing some of the Persian literary manuscripts in the University of Manchester Library, on a John Rylands Research Institute project sponsored by the Soudavar Foundation.

Pencil sketch of a Persian man

Sketch of a man in Qajar dress
(found in Persian MS 918)

The Library houses around a thousand Persian manuscripts that came to Manchester after circulating in Iran and India. Some of these are rare works, such as the only substantially complete copy known of ʿAwfī’s Lubāb al-albāb (Persian MS 308), the earliest extant biographical compendium of poets in Persian. Then there is the first volume of ʿAlī Ibrāhīm Khān’s Khulāṣat al-kalām (Persian MS 318), an autograph copy of an anthology of narrative poetry, selected and compiled by a judge who lived in Varanasi in the late eighteenth century. Other manuscripts are significant because they date from the life of the compiler, or just after, like the copies of Tuḥfa-yi Sāmī (Persian MS 317) and Taẕkira-yi Naṣrābādī (Persian MS 315).

I have made some discoveries. Some of the manuscripts had not been identified previously, or had been misidentified. Persian MS 328 (below) turns out to be an anthology compiled by the poet Bāsiṭī (fl.c. 1160/1747)  Although anthologies often arrange poems by author, this one is more of a handbook of images. Each chapter takes a different idea, such as ‘On Expectation’, or ‘On Remembering and Forgetting’, and selects lines that engage with the overarching theme. Curiously, Bāsiṭī still refers to this work as a taẕkira (biography) in his preface, a habit that he continued in his other collections of poetry that are not biographical in their genre.

PersianMS328_10b

Beginning of Bāsiṭī’s anthology (Persian MS 328, folio 10b)

Another previously misidentified work in the collection is Persian MS 648, entitled ʿĀshiq ū maʿshūq: Hamīsha Bahār. It was previously thought that this was a copy of the anthology compiled by Ikhlāṣ Chand, but the text is a narrative that follows the adventures of a prince, as he travels through Kashmir in search of the meaning of love. The final line of the work gives the name of the author as Fānī, and the text is dated elsewhere in the manuscript as having been written in 1051/1641-2. On the basis of the name, the date, and the thematic link to Kashmir, the work can be ascribed to the poet Fānī Kashmīrī (d.1081/1671-2). A third previously misidentified work is Persian MS 457, which turns out to be an encyclopaedia compiled for the Quṭb Shāh Abū l-Manṣūr Abū l-Naṣr al-Muẓaffar Sultān ʿAbdallāh.

PersianMS918_b

Sketch of a woman in youth and age (found in Persian MS 918)

Apart from the texts themselves, the manuscripts have been full of intriguing surprises that provide a glimpse into the lives of their former owners. For example, loose in the pages of Persian MS 918, a copy of Luṭf ʿAlī Bayg’s Ātashkada, is a small leaf with two portraits sketched on it in pencil. One side depicts a man in Qajar dress (see top of page), while the other consists of a drawings that represents a young woman when held from one end, and an elderly woman when held from the other (left).

Descriptions for the twenty-four manuscripts included in the project have been uploaded to Fihrist, alongside briefer records for the whole collection which were created with support from the British Institute for Persian Studies and the Iran Heritage Foundation. Images of selected Persian manuscripts are available via our online Image Collections.