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TAGS: A.L.M. Nicolas; Comte de Gobineau; Dawn-Breakers (book); Dispensation of Bahaullah (letter); Edith Sanderson; Interviews
LOCATIONS: France; Iran (documents); Paris; Shimiran; Tihran
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Nicolas' life, his encounter with the Bábí movement, his motivations and translation efforts.
Extracted from Peter Terry, A Prophet in Modern Times, translation of A.L.M. Nicolas, "Seyyed Ali Mohammed dit le Bab", pp. 5-10. (Numbering of notes unchanged; URL's in notes updated.)

See also the original version in The Bahá'í World at Baha'

Interview with A.L.M. Nicolas of Paris:
Translator of many important works of the Báb

by Edith Sanderson

translated by Peter Terry
published in Bahá'í World, Vol. 8 (1938-1940), pages 885-887
New York: Bahá'í Publishing Committee, 1942
... A.L.M. Nicolas' life story and in particular his motivation for studying and writing about the life of the Bab is to be derived from an interview he gave to Miss Edith Sanderson, an American Bahá'í living in Paris, shortly before his demise.(6) This interview, conducted and reported in French (except for the introductory paragraph), is here translated into English in its entirety for the first time:

[Start of Bahá'í World text:]

"A.L.M. Nicolas, after having passed the greater part of his life in Persia, 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 Bahá'ís of Paris have entertained the most cordial relations with him and to them is do our gratitude and appreciation for the courtesy of arranging the following interview, which was sought by Miss Edith Sanderson [ES] expressly for publication in The Bahá'í World. The interview took place on February 7, 1939, as follows:

ES: "What were your beginnings in Persia?"

ALM: "I was born in Rasht Gílán, a province on the West bank of the Caspian [Sea]. I spoke only Persian and Russian. When I went to France [in 1875-76?] I was dressed like a Cossack.

"My beginnings in Írán (Persia) have nothing extraordinary about them: those of an ardent young man, desirous of learning.

"My father was the first interpreter of the French Legation in Persia, a position I myself later filled.(7)"

ES: "In what way did you find yourself in contact with the Bábís?"

ALM: "Gobineau, arriving at the Legation, greatly imbued with diplomatic prejudices, distrusting his colleagues, entered into a conflict with my father on the subject of a manuscript purchased by him from a courtier. My father addressed remarks pertaining to this matter which oriented me towards the idea of verifying for myself the substance of these things. In his papers he left a critique of this book of Gobineau, "Les Religions et les Philosophies dans l'Asie Centrale"(8), which incited me to search out and refute the errors therein, this book having been written without sufficient knowledge [of the subject and] with the assistance of an Israelite(9) whom Gobineau had as [his] professor of Persian and who could only teach his student the little he knew of the sect.(10) I collected documents widely, thanks to the indigenous secretary, Mírzá Ebrahim, of Tihrán, whom I discovered to be Bahá'í and who put me in touch with the believers."

ES: "How did you become interested in the Cause of the Báb, in the Báb Himself? What brought you to translate His works? To write your book "Seyyed Ali Mohammed dit le Báb"?"

ALM: "I had resolved to translate the "Persian Bayán".(11) I admit that during the two or three years of my study [of that book] I was often dazzled by the explanations that the Báb gives us for certain mysteries such as death, the resurrection, the Sirát -- this bridge that passes over hell, narrow as a hair, sharp as a razor, and which the believer traverses with the rapidity of lightning. These explanations pleased me and I exerted myself more and more in my work. I only regret having neglected the translation of the majority of the Writings that issued forth from the pen of the Prophet.

"Also, in reading the "Book of the Seven Proofs"(12), which I translated, I was seduced by the clarity of reasoning of the Báb. I was aided in my work by a young Persian and every day in the afternoon we went walking outside the town(13) leaving through the gate of Shimran.(14). The purity of the air, the serenity, the softness of the temperature and, in certain seasons, the perfume of the acacias predisposed my soul to peace and to tenderness. The meditations that I had upon the strange book I was translating filled me with a kind of intoxication and I became bit by bit profoundly and uniquely a Bábí. The more I plunged into these meditations the more I admired the exalted genius of the one who, born in Shíráz, dreamed of uplifting the Muslim world; and [his] explanation of the meaning of the language of Shí'í belief impelled me gradually to write "Seyyed Ali Mohammed dit le Báb".

"Naturally I wished to perfect my work and this brought me to [carry out] research and [engage in] conversations with the Bábís -- in fact Azalís and Bahá'ís.(15) I found before me an abundant mine and [one] which I did not exhaust for there are works of the Báb that I did not peruse."

ES: "How were your publications first received?"

ALM: "I could not figure this out."

"A young Persian told me that the Bahá'ís approved of my efforts, but that I was mistaken to have translated the Bayán, already abrogated (16), rather than the Íqán.(17)

"This same remark was made by M[onsieur] Hippolyte Dreyfus(18) in one of his works.

"During the summer of 1906 I met M[onsieur] Dreyfus at the same time as Madame Lacheney and Miss Laura Barney: They were the first French and American Bahá'ís to travel in Írán.(19)

"I also knew Professor Browne of the University of Cambridge(20) and dined with him at the French Legation(21). This was before his visit to Bahá'u'lláh at Bahjí, near Saint-Jean d'Acre ('Akká).(22) I could have put him in contact with the Bahá'ís if he had not remained silent on this subject.

"I presented a Siyyid to the Swede Christiansen, which permitted him to write his 'Persian Tales'.(23)

"My labors on the work of the Báb brought me into contradiction with the Baron Rosen(24) who had published selections from the works of the Báb. Baron Rosen believed that if one lightly altered the meaning of the words of the Báb in translating them one would make him more readily understood. My complete knowledge of the Persian language permitted me to discover strikingly real meaning in the faithful translation of the words of the Báb."

ES: "Do you think that the teachings of the Báb can be adapted to modern times?"

ALM: "Perfectly, on condition however that Modern Times adapt themselves to the decisions of the Báb."

ES: "Do you believe in the global applicability of the Revelation of the Báb?"

ALM: "I see no reason for the world not to submit to the Revelation of the Báb. 'It is difficult,' says the French proverb, 'to satisfy all the world and one's father.' But reason always ends by being reasonable."

"Miss Sanderson adds that 'The Bahá'ís owe much to the work of M[onsieur] A.L.M. Nicolas, for this erudite one translated into French the following writings of the Báb, which permit a deeper study of this remarkable person and of his life-giving revelation:

"Beyan Persan, four volumes (Paul Geuthner, Paris)

"Beyan Arabe (Librairie Ernest Leroux, Paris)

"Les Sept Preuves du Báb (Maisonneuve Frères, Paris)

"M[onsieur] Nicolas is also known to Orientalists for his 'Essais sur le Chéïkhisme', in four installments (Paul Geuthner, Paris)”

[End of Bahá'í World text; Peter Terry continues:]

Seven years prior to this interview, in 1932, Shoghi Effendi's annotated translation of Nabíl's Narrative, entitled "The Dawn-breakers" was first published. The footnotes to this massive tome of Bábí history contained many quotations from the translations and historical writings of A.L.M. Nicolas in French. Two years after this, on February 8, 1934, Shoghi Effendi addressed the Bahá'ís of the world with a series of pen portraits of the Báb, Bahá'u'lláh, 'Abdu'l-Bahá and the Administrative Order of the Bahá'í Faith, entitled "The Dispensation of Bahá'u'lláh". In her biography of Shoghi Effendi entitled "The Priceless Pearl" (25), his wife, denominated Ruhiyyih Khánum Rabbaní wrote: "Another highly important aspect of the divinely conferred position Shoghi Effendi held of interpreter of the [Bahá'í] Teachings was that he not only protected the Sacred Word from being misconstrued but that he also carefully preserved the relationships and importance of different aspects of the Teachings to each other and safeguarded the rightful station of each of the three Central Figures(26) of the Faith. An interesting example of this is reflected in a letter of A.L.M. Nicolas, the French scholar who translated the Bayán of the Báb into French and who might correctly be described as a Bábí. For many years he was under the impression that the Bahá'ís had ignored the greatness and belittled the station of the Báb. When he discovered that Shoghi Effendi in his writings exalted the Báb, perpetuated His memory through a book such as Nabíl's Narrative, and repeatedly translated His words into English, his attitude completely changed. In a letter to one of the old believers in France he wrote…" (27) and she then gives an English translation of a portion of Nicolas’ letter which was originally composed in French. Moojan Momen elaborates on the context in which this letter was written(28): "Towards the end of Nicolas' life, however, he was sent copies of two important works by Shoghi Effendi: a translation of "Nabíl's Narrative" of the life of the Báb, and "The Dispensation of Bahá'u'lláh", in which the Báb's station as an independent Messenger of God equal in essence to Bahá'u'lláh is stated emphatically. Nicolas was, of course, overjoyed. To the lady who sent him these books, Miss Edith Sanderson, he wrote…" and he then gives an English translation of the entirety of this letter as it was published in French in The Bahá'í World.(29) A revised translation of this letter is attempted here:

"I do not know how to thank you nor how to express to you the joy that inundates my heart. Thus, one must not only admit but love and admire the Báb. Poor great Prophet born at the very heart of Persia without any means of instruction and who alone in the world, encircled with enemies, by the force of his genius was able to create a universal and wise religion. That Bahá'u'lláh has, since then, succeeded him, may be, but I wish that the sublimity of the Báb be admired, who besides paid with his life, with his blood for the reform he preached. Cite me another comparable example. Finally, I can die in peace. Glory to Shoghi Effendi who calmed my torment and my anxieties, glory to him who recognizes the value of Siyyid 'Alí Muhammad called the Báb. I am so happy that I kiss your hands which have traced my address upon the envelope that brought me the message of Shoghi. Thank you, Mademoiselle. Thank you from the bottom of my heart."


(6) The Bahá'í World, volume VIII (1938-1940), pp. 885-887; portions translated into English and published in Ibid., pp. 37-38). Mrs. Laura Clifford Dreyfus-Barney, in an unpublished article she wrote for 'The Bahá'í World' referred to meeting “Mrs. Sanderson and her daughters, Sybil of opera fame and Edith who became later a leading Bahá'í in France. It was through May Bolles that both Edith and Hippolyte [Dreyfus] entered the Faith a short time after she had given me the Message.” This article is available in its entirety at

(7) A.L.M. Nicolas served as First Interpreter in Tihrán from 1904-1907; see op.cit., p. 516.

(8) First published by Didier & Cie, in Paris, 1865; reprinted many times since then and currently in print.

(9) Persian Jew.

(10) A major portion of "Les Religions et les Philosophies dans l'Asie Centrale" is devoted to a survey of the life and teachings of the Báb and the fate of his followers, and includes an Appendix with the earliest translation of one of the books of the Báb.

(11) "Bayán-i-fársí"

(12) "Dalá'il-i-Sab'ih"

(13) Tihrán, capital city of Iran.

(14) Shimírán, the location of summer resorts located on the outskirts of Tihrán according to "An Epitome of Bábí and Bahá'í History to A.D. 1898", by Mírzá Muhammad Jawád-i-Qazvíní, translated by E.G. Browne in "Materials for the Study of the Bábí Religion", Cambridge University Press, 1918, p. 5.

(15) Beginning in the 1850s, while Mírzá Yahyá Subh-i-Azal and Bahá'u'lláh were both residents of Baghdád, these half-brothers attracted separate circles of admirers and followers. Around 1867, about seventeen years after the martyrdom of the Báb, when both lived in Adrianople, the half-brothers separated households and from that time until the present the votaries of Mírzá Yahyá have been denominated Azalís, while the adherents of Bahá'u'lláh have been called Bahá'ís. There were very few true Bábís or 'people of the Bayán' in existence while Nicolas was living in Írán, and this is even moreso the case today.

(16) The Báb indicated in Bayán-i-fársí that the laws and ordinances he revealed would be subject to the approval of "Him Whom God shall make manifest". Bahá'u'lláh, who claimed to be "Him Whom God shall make manifest" indicated in various of his writings, including the "Kitáb-i-Aqdas", that certain of the laws and ordinances of the Báb were reaffirmed and that others were abrogated.

(17)"Kitáb-i-Íqán" is the principal doctrinal work of Bahá'u'lláh, written circa 1861 in Baghdád.

(18) Hippolyte Dreyfus (1873-1928), the first native Frenchman to become a Bahá'í, circa 1900, the translator of four volumes of writings of Bahá'u'lláh into French, of one volume of the collected talks [called "Some Answered Questions" in its English translation by Laura Clifford Barney [his wife], of 'Abdu'l-Bahá into French, and the author of two books and several articles on the Bahá'í Faith.

(19) According to Madame Yvonne Meyer-May, the sister of Hippolyte Dreyfus, in a short biographical sketch she sent to Shoghi Effendi shortly after the demise of her brother, "in 1906, he visited Persia where, due to his knowledge of the language, which he spoke and wrote fluently, he established ties of friendship that were to remain always faithful to him." This sketch is found in Thomas Linard's compilation of biographical materials on Hippolyte Dreyfus, at

(20) Edward Granville Browne

(1862-1926), a British orientalist who published many books and articles on the Bábí and Bahá'í religions, and served as professor of Arabic and Persian literature at Cambridge University for many years.

(21) Tihrán.

(22) E.G. Browne visited Bahá'u'lláh at Bahjí, near 'Akká (Acco in present-day Israel) in 1890. His visit lasted one week, and during that time he met with Bahá'u'lláh four times. For the original source of these details and much more information please see Moojan Momen's article on Browne at:

(23) Arthur Christensen (1875-1945), the eminent Danish Orientalist, who made important contributions to linguistic, religious, and historical studies, and excelled in Persian folk narrative studies (published in 1918, 1923, 1936, 1958).

(24) Baron Victor Rosen (1849-1908) in the course of cataloguing the collections of Arabic and Persian manuscripts in St. Petersburg, took a close interest in the Bábí and Bahá'í movements and wrote a number of papers on the subject as well as arranging for a collection of the writings of the Báb and Bahá'u'lláh to be published.

(25) London: Bahá'í Publishing Trust, 1969, p. 204.

(26) The Báb, Bahá'u'lláh and 'Abdu'l-Bahá.

(27) "The Priceless Pearl", p. 204.

(28) "The Babi and Bahá'í Religions, 1844-1944: Some Contemporary Western Accounts", collected and edited by Moojan Momen; George Ronald, 1981, pp. 36-40.

(29) Op. cit., p. 38; the French original was first published in The Bahá'í World, volume VI (1934-1936), and subsequently reprinted in each volume of that publication inclusive of volume XIII (1954-1963).

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