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AN INTERVIEW WITH
A. L. M. NICOLAS OF PARIS
TRANSLATOR OF MANY IMPORTANT WORKS OF THE BAB’
L. M. Nicolas, after having passed the greater part of his life in Iran, now lives in a pleasant corner of Paris in
the rue George Sand, surrounded by his books and his souvenirs of the Orient. For some years the Bahâ’is of Paris have
entertained the most cordial relations with him and to him is due their gratitude and appreciation for the courtesy of the
following interview which was sought by Miss Edith Sanderson expressly for the Bahâ’i World. The interview took
place on February 7, 1939.
Quels furent vos debuts en Perse?
Je suis né ii Rasht Gilán, province de la rive occidentale de la Caspienne. Je ne parlais que le Persan et le Russe. Quand
je vms en France
‘étais habille en cosaque.
Mes debuts en Iran (Perse) n’ont rien d’extraordinaire: ceux d’un jeune homme ardent, desireux de s’instruire.
Mon pére était premier interpréte de Ia Legation de France en Perse, poste que j’ai rempli également plus tard.
De queue facon vous êtes-vous trouvé en rapport avec les Bábis?
Ia Légation, trés imbu des préjugés diplomatiques, méprisant ses collaborateurs, entra en lutte
avec mon père au sujet d’un manuscrit achete par celui-ci
un courtier. Mon pére me fit
ce propos des remarques
qui m’orientèrent vers l’idée de verifier par moi-même Ic fond des choses. Dans ses papiers il laissa une critique de ce
livre de Gobineau: ‘Le Religions et les Philosophie dans l’Asie Centrale,’ qui m’incita
en rechercher et refuter les
erreurs, cet ouvrage ayant été écrit sans données suffissantes avec l’aide d’un Israiilite que Gobineau avait comme
professeur de persan et qui ne pouvait apprendre
son eleve que le peu qu’il savait de la secte. Je me documentai
largement, grace au secré tair
indigéne, Mirzâ Ebrahim, de Tihran, que je découvris étre Bahá’i et qui me mit en rapport avec les sectateurs.”
Comment vous étes-vous interessé
Ia Cause du Bâb, au Báb Lui-meme? Qu’est-ce qui vous a amene
traduire Ses oeuvres? A
ecrire votre livre “Siyyid ‘Ali-Mu5am- mad, dit le Báb?”
“J’avais resolu de traduire Ic Bayán Persan. J’avoue que pendant les deux or trois ans que dura mon etude je fus souvent ebloui par les
explications que le Báb nous donne sur certains mystéres tels que la mort, la resurrection, le Sirat—ce pont qui surpasse l’enfer, fin
comme un cheveu, tranchant comme un rasoir, et que le croyant traverse avec la rapidite de l’eclair. Ces explications me plurent et je
m’enfoncai de plus en plus dans mes travaux. Ii ne me resta plus qu’à regretter d’avoir negligé la traduction de la majorité des écrits
sortis de Ia plume du Prophete.
“De méme, lisant le ‘Livre des Sept Preuves,’ que j’ai traduit, j’ai été séduit par Ia clarte du raisonnement du ]3áb. J’étais aide dans
mon travail par un jeune Persan et chaque jour nous allions l’apres midi nous promener hors de Ia ville en sortant par Ia porte du
Chimran. La pureté de l’air, la sérénité, Ia douceur de la temperature et,
certaines saisons, le parfum des acacias prédisposaient mon
la paix et
Ia douceur. Les réflexions que je me faisais sur l’etrange livre que je traduisais m’envahirent d’une espèce
d’ivresse et je devins peu
peu profondement et uniquement Bábi.
A. L. M. Nicolas, so long known by the worldwide Bah’i Community for his association in IrIn with some of the early followers of
the Báb, and his translations of His Writings into the French language, accorded to Miss Edith Sanderson in Paris just before his recent
demise, the interview which is here reproduced. This interview took place Feb. 7, 1939.
THE BAHA’I WORLD
Plus je me plongeais dans ces reflexions plus j’admirais la hauteur du genie de celui qui, ne
Shiriz, avait rêvé de
soulever le monde musulman, et l’explication du sens des mots de la croyance SMite m’entraina petit
‘Siyyid ‘Ali-Muliammad, dit le Bib.’
“Je voulais naturellement parfaire mon ouvrage et cela m’amena
des recherches et
des conversations avec des
Bibis—de hit des Azalis et des Bahi’Is. Je trouvai devant moi une mine abondante et que je n’ai pas épuisée car il y
des oeuvres du Bib que je n’ai pas affieurées.”
Comment vos publications ont-elles été d’abord accueillies?
“Je n’ai guère pu rendre compte.
“Un jeune Persan m’avait dit que les Bahi’is approuvaient mes travaux, mais que j’avais tort de traduire le Bayin, deja
abroge, plutôt que I’Iqin.
“Cette même remarque a ét faite par
M. Hippolyte Dreyfus dans un de ses ouvrages.
“Au cours de l’éte de 1906 j’ai rencontré M. Dreyfus en méme temps que Mme. Lacheney et Miss Laura Barney: ils
etaient les premiers Bahi’is francais et americains voyageant en Iran.
connu aussi le Professeur Browne de l’Université de Cambridge et dine avec lui
la Légation de France. C’était avant
Bahi’u’llih a Baliji, près de SaintJean d’Acre
J’aurais pu le mettre en rapport avec des Bahi’is s’il
n’était resté silencieux
“Au Suedois Christiansen j’ai présenté un Siyyid, ce qui lui
permis d’ecrire ses ‘Contes Persans.’
“Mes travaux sur l’oeuvre du Bib m’ont amené
être en contradiction avec le Baron Rosen qui avait publié des
extraits des oeuv A
L. M. Nicolas
AN INTERVIEW WITH A. L. M. NICOLAS
The First Bahá’i Summer School of India Held at Simla
In the center is Martha Root, beloved teacher of the Faith throughout East and West, who was touring India and Burma.
rages du Báb: le Baron Rosen considerait que si on changeait légèrement la signification des mots du Mb en le
traduisant on arrivait
mieux Ic faire comprendre. Ma connaissance complete de la langue persane me permettait de
trouver un sens éclatant de vérité dans Ia traduction intégrale des paroles du Báb.”
Pensez-vous que les enseignements du Mb s’adaptent aux temps modernes?
“Parfaitment, is la condition cependant que les Temps Modernes s’adaptent aux décisions du Mb.”
Croyez-vous is la portée mondiale de la Révélation du Mb?
“Je ne vois aucune raison is ce que le monde ne se soumette pas is la Révélation du Mb. ‘Il est difficile,’ dit le proverbe
français, ‘de satisfaire tout le monde et son
père.’ Mais la raison finit toujours par avoir raison.”
Miss Sanderson ajoute que “Les Bahá’is doivent beaucoup is l’oeuvre de M. A. L. M. Nicolas, car cet erudit is traduit en français les
écrits suivants du Mb, ce qui permet une étude plus approfondie de ce remarquable personnage et de sa révélation vivifiante:
Bayán Persan, 4 volumes.1 Bayán Arabe.2
Les Sept Preuves du Mb.3
M. Nicolas est connu aussi par les orientalistes pour ses ttEi sur le Cheikhisme,” en quatre fascicules.4
‘Chez Paul Geuthner, 13, rue Jacob, Paris 6e, France.
Ia Libriaire Ernest Leroux, 206 Boulevard St.
Germain, Paris, 6e.
Chez Maisonneuve Frères, 3 rue Sabor, Paris.
Chez Paul Geuthoer, 13 rue Jacob, Paris 6e, France.
HE chimes of New Orleans were ringing in the New Year as we boarded a steamer bound for Cuba. The Mississippi
river runs from New Orleans to the Delta, a distance of a hundred miles, before it empties into the sea. Old plantations
line its banks. Little life is stirring there today, but before the Civil War, these cotton fields formed part of Louisiana’s
wealth and teemed with life. Spirituals born of pain and gladness and faith in God were sung—songs that will pierce
the hearts of men for generations to come.
In Cuba we were obliged to transship, as Yucatan lies outside frequented steamship lines and only one boat a month
touches there. The coast of Yucatan is inhospitable in the extreme; sandbars stretch far out to sea forcing steamers to
anchor several miles off shore, while passengers must be brought in by means of small boats. Was it force of
circumstances, adventure or destiny that brought an ancient people to choose this land as the center of their religious
and intellectual life that existed for more than a thousand years? The ruins, vast in extent as well as beauty, have
brought forth sighs of admiration from the whole world, yet they are hidden away like jewels in a mine.
The land like the sea is fiat. Rivers run under ground and give no sign of their existence save for a luxurious vegetation.
Even while we sat on the wharf waiting for officials, the values of yesterday slipped away; waiting in the sunshine
appeared a normal occupation and the hours elongated so there was time left over. Every place has its tempo, staccato
or slow, measured or quick, and thus you learn to keep step with each and to be in tune with all.
Some time in the afternoon we drove into Merida, the only city of any considerable size in Yucatan. One can see how
charmingly planned the city had been, with three rows of trees on each side of wide streets, and planting of flowers and
shrubs along the
center. Once it must have been an oasis of fragrant beauty in a parched land. Now its grandeur is bowed in the dust.
Stately mansions copied from the French villas of the eighteenth century are loud in lamentation. Streaks of paint
blacken the walls, oval windows are without panes, while lawns are littered with stucco roses and cupids that have
fallen from ornate cornices. Whole blocks are boarded up. Once on a time fountains ran proud and free everywhere;
now all are silenced. What has brought about such a disastrous change? The answer lies in a shift of ownership that has
bankrupted the rich merchants, for Yucatan is the native habitat of a special type of cactus from which rope is made.
The control of this vastly important industry has become the property of the Mexican government and the income
derived from the plantations goes to Mexico. With the decline of private wealth, the clerical party has fallen on evil
days, and the churches like the manor houses are closed. One priest for a given number of miles is strictly enforced.
Our first visit was to interview Sr. Rube M. Romero, editor and owner of the only liberal newspaper in Yucatan. For his
daring he has been stoned and more than once had his equipment set on fire. He was most receptive to Bahã’i ideals
and listened to the Message with deep attention. He speaks no English and asked for the books in Spanish which he
said he would gladly review in his paper. He accepted and published in the Yucatan an article on The Bahã’i Religion,
placing it on the front page of his paper.
Next we visited the Chamber of Commerce where Sr. N. Sarlet, the chairman granted us an interview. He received us
with courtesy but was noncommital; his preoccupied manner was to become familiar to us while talking with
prominent men of the city, an attitude of listening with ap 888
parent fear of hearing what might be said, a state of fear where no one dared make a decision, a great unwillingness to speak lest
words he used against you.
Chichen Itza was our ultimate destination, a four-hour ride from the city of Merida. The roads were incredibly bad: momentarily it
seemed as though the wheels would fly off and the whole motor shake to pieces. The chauffeur seemed pained by our apprehension;
he assured us that this was considered a fine road and expressed surprise that we could not enjoy it with serenity. Finally, we drew up
before the only inn at Chichen Itra, consisting of a main building surrounded by small adobe houses, each round and thatched. These
are the rooms for guests. Vistas of the Mayan city could be seen through the trees. The work of restoration has been going on for
almost a hundred years, and immediately after the war the Carnegie Institute sent a commission to complete the work. Though there
are innumerable mounds yet untouched, a group of buildings that must have formed the central pivot of the city, stands complete and
perfect. The architecture is surprising, combining many forms which they could not have possibly seen—the field of games might
have been built today, while the ceremonial altars are formed like a pyramid, the top gained by hundreds of steps etched into each of
its four sides, the plumed serpents having been carved to extend the entire length and form a balustrade as well as a symbolic
The Temple of the Warriors, so named by the Carnegie commission has six columns of figures, elaborately dressed in robes of state,
very suggestive of a Greek Temple, while the tower for astronomical observations is round and might have been a mosque. As the
Spanish Fathers burned all Mayan records, little is known of the belief or even the customs of the people. No Rosetta stone has yet
been found to decipher the hieroglyphics written on the stones. Perhaps it is this fact that acts upon the imagination and gives one a
special zest to piece together the fragments that have been gleaned since the Spanish invasion.
There is a moment of supreme glory in every clime—the coming of the day—but
none, I believe, can surpass the sunrise of Yucatan. Its most dramatic feature is caused by the heavy dew that rains down each night
obscuring forest and glen and covering the ground until it looks as though a white sheet had been laid over it. The first shaft of
morning light penetrates the thatch with long fingers of light that swing around the crevices between the walls of adobe and the roof
turning the thatch into bright gold; showers of diamonds shake from the trees, while scarfs of mist float upward to be shot through
with iridescent colors from the sun. Sometimes whole sheets of dew lift from the grass and float off like a magic carpet that disappears
by the wand of the great magician. Jungle birds, wild with the joy of the coming day, try to reach the sun with their top notes and as
the curtains of mist part, one building after another rises to greet the dawn as they did thousands of years ago.
Even to this day, the proud descendants of the Mayans will not speak Spanish unless forced to, but they are glad to pick up English
words and are friendly with strangers. The rainy season had just come to an end when we arrived and an army of workmen were
repairing adobe walls that melt away each year from the excessive rain; even the heavy thatch must be changed every other year.
Mayans will not work under an overseer. A man we would speah of as foreman, is referred to as the oldest friend of the Chichen Itza
Inn, and it was this important person who extended to us his hospitality and invited us to a supper given to celebrate Twelfth Night.
We gladly accepted his invitation. His home, like that of his ancestors before him, was in the jungle. Each house is hidden securely by
miles of vegetation. It is only when the moon is overhead that it is safe to enter the jungle by night. The roads are rough and winding
and often obscured by mist which gives the privacy so dear to the heart of the Mayan people.
Twelfth Night fell at the full of the moon and the night turned clear and bright. Though dew was falling from myriad of leaves, we
could see bits of sky above and a brightness cast by the moon. A member of the family was sent to conduct us and from
THE BAHA’i WORLD
him we learned why there were no locks on the doors at Chichen Ttza. He replied in answer to our question that his
people had never learned to steal, “We do not want what belongs to others because we can use only that which
willingly comes to us.” I asked if there were any Mayan beliefs mixed with the Catholicism which they had practiced
since the Spanish conquest. “We still remember,” he replied, “some of the holy sayings of our ancestors and we keep
them alive from one generation to another.”
At length the flares came into view. Mayan houses consist of two rooms separated by a walled patio. Both poor and
rich sleep in hammocks that are taken down during the day and the space used for other purposes. The poor make their
hammocks of hemp and the well-to-do of raw silk with long knotted fringe that can be wrapped around for warmth.
One hammock lasts a lifetime and reduces the cumbersome apparel of night to its simplest equation. Fragrant boughs
are fastened over the entrance so that bad spirits cannot enter and the hard mud floors are swept and garnished with
As we drove up, the tortilla, the staple food of the country, was being cooked. We were ushered into the room reserved
for ceremonials. Three boards had been placed across one side in order to form an altar. High up were streamers of
tissue paper representing the Three Wise Kings of the East on their visit to Bethlehem. The middle shelf was covered
by crude china dogs, guardians of the Mayan Law, reminding one of the symbol of China. The lowest altar was a
concession to the faith of the Spanish fathers, with the Madonna of Guadeloupe sewn on lace and surrounded by
homemade candles and wayside roses. Before these mixed symbols we sat down, one Englishman, two Spaniards and
myself. For a long time nothing was said. At length, the Spaniard nearest me said in a whisper, “What can one believe?
How much is true, how much false among the myths, the superstitions and the twice-told tales? Yet deep in the heart
lies a persistent belief that we are here for some high purpose, some great design of an Almighty Being.”
In the patio, noisy preparations were go-
ing forward, so we drew closer together that I might answer the question. The appearance of Bahã’u’lláh in this day is
the new chapter of evolution for mankind. An era begins with the appearance of a dynamic personality who founds a
new civilization. History attests this fact. The advent of the Prophet becomes the pivotal point of the spiritual seasons.
His coming is the springtime, His teaching the summer, and when the divine precepts penetrate the heart, the harvest
appears. Finally comes the winter season, when religion is handed down and accepted without question and without
ecstasy. Now mental concepts and discussion take the place of love. Limited minds construct dogmas; forms and
ceremonials become overweeningly important. Belief, no longer spontaneous, becomes rigid. The cold winds of dispute
blow over the land and the truth seeker knows not where to turn for guidance. In this dark hour comes the Illumined
One, He brings again the creative force that man has lost; knowledge of Him renews life and a new energy is apparent
in all things. As the spiritual light creates a higher vibration, old barriers crumble, governments fall, idols are
overthrown. In Bahá’u’lláh’s own words: “The world’s equilibrium hath been upset through the vibrating influence of
this most great, this new World Order. Mankind’s ordered life bath been revolutionized through the agency of this
unique, this wondrous System—the like of which mortal eyes have never witnessed.” (From The Gleanings, page 136.)
Each religion that has preceded this dispensation, has believed that the Prophet sent to his people was The True One
and all others were false. Bahã’u’lláh’s teaching reverses these limitations—all have been sent down at stated intervals
and all have renewed religion. All have restated the fundamental verity of the fatherhood of God and the brotherhood of
man. All have advanced the body politic and have been an honor to mankind. But the outer laws are changed in
accordance with the exigencies of each age. Bahã’u’lláh, speaking of his own message, says: “I have no will but Thy
will, 0 my Lord, and cherish no desire except Thy desire. From my pen floweth only summons
which thine exalted pen hath voiced and my tongue uttereth naught save what the Most Great Spirit hath itself proclaimed in the
kingdom of Thine eternity.” (From Prayers and Meditation, page 108.)
The choice lies with us—the will is free. If we wish, we can investigate truth for ourselves, we can learn the characteristics of a
Messenger of God and apply our knowledge. Pausing, I suggested that we should repeat the Greatest Name that this knowledge may
come to us. At the mention of this greatest of vibrations, the walls before us seemed to dissolve, the heart of the jungle lay bare. With
the inner eye, I beheld an ancient people coming from all directions, crowding near to hear the great Name of God. Even as the three
Kings journeyed from the East to greet the Lord of that day,
so we were journeying to the Mayan people to greet the Lord of this day. Old and new
—present and past—flowed together in that moment of eternity. One instant of reality shot from heaven to earth. When we returned to
the objective world, tears stood in the eyes of my new found friends. In halting phrases, each expressed his reactions. One said that
faith had been born again; another, that he had known in his heart the new message but did not know where to find it; the third felt that
the heritage of the ages was consummated in this day and that the world of the spirit had for a moment become a reality.
When we were called to join in the Mayan supper and celebrate the holiday, Twelfth Night, our hearts were light and joyous and
bound by a new allegiance.
Attendants and friends at the Bahá’i Summer School of Australia held at Yerrinbool, S.W. Australia, in January, 1939.
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