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Edward Granville Browne

Edward Granville Browne (1862 – 1926), born in Stouts Hill, Uley, Gloucestershire, England, was a British orientalist who published numerous articles and books of academic value, mainly in the areas of history and literature. His works are respected for their scholarship, uniqueness, and style.

The scholarly value of his works was acknowledged both during his lifetime and even more, after his passing. He gained a professorship at Cambridge University. Much of his publications are related to Persia (now called Iran), either in the fields of history or Persian literature. He is perhaps best known for his documentation and historical narratives of the Bábí movement as relayed by Count Gobineau. He published two translations of Bábí histories, and wrote several of the few Western accounts of early Bábí and Bahá'í history. His professorship at Cambridge was, however, of the Arabic language.

He published in areas which few other Western scholars had explored to any sufficient degree. He used a language and style that showed high respect for everybody, even toward those he personally did not view in positive light. In A Year Among the Persians (1893) he wrote a sympathetic portrayal of a Persian society which few Westerners had ever seen, including a frank account of the effects of opium. It did not attract the attention it deserved at the time of its initial publication, but after his death in 1926 it was reprinted and became a classic in English travel literature. He also published the first volume of A Literary History of Persia in 1902 with subsequent volumes in 1906, 1920, and 1924. At the close of the twentieth century it remains the standard authority on the subject.

Among Persians, at a time when nearly the whole nation was highly suspicious of foreigners, and in particular of any British or Russian person due to the political dynamics of that time, Edward Browne was well accepted by the people who knew him and his works. He is well remembered today, and a street named after him in Tehran, as well as his statue, remained even after the Iranian revolution in 1979.

At the University of Cambridge Browne was mainly responsible for the creation of a school of living oriental languages, in connection with the training of candidates for the Egyptian and Sudenese civil services, and the Lebanese consular service.

Edward Browne married in 1906. He had two sons.

It is important to mention that Browne was not a Bahá'í but rather an orientalist. His interest in the Bábí movement was piqued by a book he stumbled upon in a library in Cambridge by the French diplomat Comte de Gobineau whilst looking for materials on the Sufi movement. The history A Traveller's Narrative was written by `Abdu'l-Bahá and translated by Browne, who added a large introduction and appendixes. Browne was fascinated by the development of the written historical perspectives of the Bahá'ís regarding successorship after the Báb including their idea of an independent dispensation of Bahá'u'lláh. These Bahá'í-authored works emphasized Bahá'u'lláh to a greater extent than the Báb and took a critical view against Mirza Yahya Subh-i-Azal, whom Gobineau listed as the Báb's successor. Browne expressed sympathy for Mirza Yahya and surprise at the route the religion had taken.

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