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THE PERSIAN GULF.
Uncle Oliver. Let us look at the map of Persia to see how the country is circumstanced with regard to water. You observe that in the south-west it is divided from Arabia by a rather narrow arm of the sea, called the Persian Gulf. It has no other sea coast.
Henry. Sir, here is the Caspian Sea !
U. O. It is called a sea, because it is large; but it is properly a great lake. What is a lake ?
H. A body of water quite surrounded by land.
U. O. And that is the case with the Caspian Sea; which should, in fact, be regarded as the chief of those salt lakes for which Persia is remarkable. With regard to rivers, you see that the country is very badly off. There is no country of Asia, except Arabia, so ill provided with rivers. There is indeed not one river of note, except those on the frontiers which separate it from other countries, as the Tigris, which divides it from Turkey, and the Aras, which
separates it from the Russian territories. Now let us consider first the gulf, then the lakes, and then the rivers, a little more particularly. First, for the Gulf. It is, as you see in the map, a large branch of the Indian Ocean, placed between the south of Persia and eastern part of Arabia. Its extent is, but you can see how large it is by the scale of miles in the map, and then tell us, Henry. · [Henry measures it with his eye.]
H. It seems to be almost 600 miles long and about 150 in width, taking one part with another; but in some places it is 200 miles, and at the entrance it is only twenty-five. · U. O. Then you consider Cape Mussenden as the entrance: some place the entrance lower down, at Cape Bombarek; but the strait between these two places may be considered as a passage, beginning at Cape Bombarek and ending at Cape Mussenden, which leads into the Gulf. This Gulf is much better known to us than the Red Sea on the opposite coast of Arabia, because it has been more visited by Europeans; and indeed in former times different commercial powers have had settlements on
some of its islands: of these settlements, that of the Portuguese at Ormuz was the most famous. However, although enough is known for the purposes of navigation, the shores have never been expressly surveyed, as the natives of the East, in general, are very apt to take great offence when drawings are made or surveys are taken of the country; for they cannot at all understand why people should take so much trouble, unless they have some bad design against the places surveyed. The shores of the Gulf are sometimes bold and striking; but generally naked and uninteresting. The rocks are commonly of limestone, and the soil is generally sand, in which little besides date-trees will grow. I think, however, that the range of mountains which appear behind the Gulf in Persia makes the Persian side more interesting than the other. I have already told you that the Persian side of the Gulf is nearly abandoned to the Arabs, and along a shore of many hundred miles there is but one town of any note, which is that of Busheer. The rest of the places marked in the maps are little more than Arab villages. The Arabs, indeed, may be said to possess all the shores of the Gulf; on the Persian side they
live under their own Sheikhs, as in Arabia, and care very little about the King of Persia or the Persians. Busheer and its district is the only part properly under the king.
Frank. Will you tell us how that happens, sir? ,
U. O. I have told you partly already. The Persians do not like the climate or country; but these are just such as the Arabs are accustomed to, and which will best produce their favourite fruit, the date. The Persians only come to that part of the country when business obliges them to do so; and when they are there, their only anxiety is to get beyond the mountains again as soon as possible.
H. But do they not see what a good thing it is to have the possession of the waterside?
U. O. The Persians do not care to have any thing to do with the sea at all. They have always had a remarkable aversion to the sea ; and if a man has a choice of going to a place by land, without more than ordinary danger, they think him a madman if he goes by water. Our own maritime pursuits are so unaccountable to them, that the vulgar opinion, both in Persia and Turkey, is, that we have no country of our
own, but live entirely in ships, except when we can settle ourselves in the countries of others. They will sometimes, in the way of compliment, so speak as if they thought the empire of the world divided between the King of Persia and the King of England, calling the former the king of the earth, and the latter the king of the sea. In so calling our king, they are willing we should take it as a real opinion, or, at least, a very high compliment; but in their own hearts they would not exchange the sovereignty of a single valley in the province of Irak for the whole empire of the sea. They have, therefore, no navy, either for commerce or war.
Mr. Dillon. Is there nothing but this dislike to the sea that prevents the Persians from becoming a maritime people?
U. O. I think not. There is, indeed, hardly any wood fit for building ships growing near the Persian Gulf; yet similar disadvantages have not prevented the Arabians of Muscat from having a navy. They purchase vessels or get them built in India; or else bring wood from thence to build for themselves. The Kings of Persia have indeed sometimes felt a desire to possess a navy; but I believe the only man-of-war ever