The Garden Guide

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

Genghis Khan and Timur

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The name of Timur is frequently coupled with that of Genghis Khan; yet the latter was a rude uncultivated barbarian, while there is evidence that the former was versed in all the knowledge of his age and country. We know, from his Memoirs, that Timur was taught to read the Koran; he appears to have cultivated his own language, and he understood and admired the Persian odes of Hafiz. His native language was the 'Chagatai Turkish,' which, at that time, prevailed from the Ulugh Tagh mountains to the Hindu Kush, and from the Caspian to the Cobi desert. The period between the reign of Timur and that of Babur, was the golden age of Turkish literature, and the princes of the great conqueror's family wrote poetry in their own tongue, and gave liberal encouragement to its cultivation amongst their courtiers. Ali Shir Beg, the Grand Vizier to Hosein Meerza, composed a poem in the Turkish language, and also wrote a complete prosody; and the other Amirs, at the courts of the Timuride princes, while they studied the literature of Persia, did not neglect the poetry of their native Turkish. Timur seems to have given the first impulse to these intellectual pursuits amongst his countrymen, and, though he owes his fame chiefly to his conquests, it would be unfair to forget his liberal encouragement of learned men, his love of the game of chess, and his claims to literary merit, in the composition of his Memoirs and Institutes. He has no right to the title of a reformer or of a benefactor to the human race, but neither was he a coarse and ruthless destroyer of his fellow creatures, like Genghis, and so many other Asiatic conquerors. He lived in an age and amongst a people to whom mercy and toleration were unknown. The realization of his own ideal of a perfect sovereign would have been impossible; yet he has some claim to the admiration of posterity, and, with Gibbon, we may excuse a generous enthusiasm in the reader of the Institutes, for their great author.