Douce’s Persian manuscripts

Among Douce’s portraits of ‘Learned Foreigners’ there is a plate from the European Magazine depicting the traveller Mirza Abu Talib Khan Isfahani (1752-1806):

Ridley after Drummond, Aboo Taleb Khan, 1801, etching and stipple (Ashmolean Museum, Oxford)

Douce wrote under the portrait: “This gentleman paid me a visit in Gower Street”. Their meeting must have taken place sometime between 1800 and 1803 during Khan’s European tour. In 1810, The travels of Mirza Abu Taleb Khan, in Asia, Africa, and Europe, during the years 1799, 1800, 1801, 1802, and 1803 were translated by Charles Stewart and published in London (for Douce’s copy, see Bodleian Douce M 27-28).

What did Douce and his visitor talk about? In the catalogue of books and manuscripts bequeathed by Douce to the Bodleian there is an entry on a Persian album containing ‘three of the five celebrated poems of Nizami’ (no. 348, p. 60):

Prefixed to the volumes are an account of the story of Leila and Mejnoun, by Mr. Douce: “some particulars relating to this Ms. communicated by Abootalib Khan, a gentleman from Lucknow” […] and the note following: “This Ms. originally belonged (as Aboo Talib told me) to Shaw Allum, whose library fell into the hands of Youlan Kaudir Khan, and being afterwards distributed among his adherents, it passed to Sujah Dowlah, the father of Azof Dowlah, who has been deposed by Saudit Allee.

The manuscript is beautifully illustrated, as can be seen in this painting from Layla u Majnun:

Mughal, early 17th century, Majnun among the animals, Bodleian Library, Oxford, MS Douce 348, fol 42r.

According to Thomas F. Dibdin, Douce and his friends Sir Gore Ouseley (1770-1844) and Sir Charles Wilkins (1749-1836) ‘could expatiate with the happiest effect’ upon the ‘singularly interesting subject’ of Persian art. At the time, Wilkins was working on a dictionary of Sanskrit that he never completed; Ouseley’s Persian manuscripts, also in the Bodleian, include a seventeenth-century Mughal album containing calligraphy and paintings:

Muhammad Ikhlas i Abid, Shah Jehan and his court, watercolour and gilt on paper (Bodleian Library, Oxford)


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