The Garden Guide

Book: Journey and Embassy to Samarkand
Chapter: Biography - Life of Timur Beg

Character of Timur

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According to Ali of Yezd, Timur was tall and stout, but well shaped. His complexion was ruddy and fair; he had a large flowing beard, broad shoulders, and was very strong. He could not bear a lie, but loved the naked truth. He was bold, courageous, feared, and respected. This picture was drawn by a friendly hand; he is described in very different colours by his enemy Ahmed ben Arabshah, who makes the spirit of winter address the dying conqueror thus:- 'Stop thy rapid career, thou unjust tyrant! How long dost thou mean to carry flames over an unhappy world ? If thou art a spirit of hell, so am I. We are both old, and our occupation is the same, that of subjugating slaves. But proceed to extirpate mankind, and make the earth cold! yet thou wilt find at last that my blasts are colder. If thou canst boast of countless bands, who, faithful to thy orders, harass and destroy, know that my wintry days are, with God's aid, destroyers also;-and by the Almighty that liveth, I will abate thee nothing! Thou shalt be overwhelmed with my vengeance, and all thy fire shall not save thee from the cold death of the icy tempest.' {Malcolm's History of Persia. Goethe gives a poetical version of this speech (Gedichte, p. 394); and Sir W. Jones has translated it into Latin} Undoubtedly Timur's conquests were the cause of much suffering to the human race; but, on the other hand, he certainly was not the remorseless tyrant he is represented by Arabshah, and his other enemies. His boundless ambition led him to contemplate the subjugation of the whole world, and he lost no opportunity of extending his power; yet there is evidence that he had loftier aims than the mere gratification of his lust for conquest. He at least persuaded himself that in conquering Mohammedan countries, he delivered them from oppressive misrule, while religion prompted him to destroy the cities of infidel Hindus. He was idolized by his soldiers, and by his own family, and he was free from the more despicable vices of eastern sovereigns; but the most marked feature in his character was his untiring energy and activity. 'When I clothed myself in the robes of empire,' he says in his Institutes, 'I shut my eyes to safety, and to the repose which is found on the bed of ease.' {Malcolm, in his History of Persia, thus sums up the character of Timur. 'Though one of the greatest of warriors, he was one of the worst of monarchs. He was able, brave, and generous; but ambitious, cruel, and oppressive.'}