Paris-Tehran : the Arthur de Gobineau angle

We have been working on a who’s who of the foreign legations in Tehran as they were at the time of Tinco Lycklama’s stays in 1866 and 1867. Remember that only four countries had active diplomatic missions : Russia, Britain, France, and the Ottoman empire.

Tinco enjoyed significant protection from the Ottoman administration once he reached Bagdad. However, when in Tehran, he never mentions any of the Turkish diplomats by name, even though he affirms that he met them several times. In fact, from the account of his travels, we gather that he didn’t think highly of the Turks. About the Ottomans in Tehran, the only thing he says (in quite undiplomatic terms) is that they were all remarkably obese!

He was close to the British minister, Charles Alison, and spent considerable time with the English from both the legation and the Indo-European Telegraph Department. The Russian presence in Tehran was significant and Tinco met its diplomats regularly. However, he talks very little about his encounters with the Russians and, oddly, never even refers to the ambassador – Nicolay Girs.

Tinco is a bit more forthcoming about the French. That makes sense, as their presence and importance at the Qajar court cannot be ignored. The Shah’s personal physician was the French doctor Joseph Tholozan (1820-1897). The royal gardeners were French, as was the chief musician. And, the country’s first polytechnic – the Dar-ol-Funun – was significantly inspired by the French approach to science and counted many French teachers.

Jacques-Adolphe Cousseau, comte de Massignac (1815-1879)
Jacques-Adolphe Cousseau, comte de Massignac (1815-1879)

Shortly after his arrival at Tehran, early May 1866, Tinco’s first official visit was to Jacques-Adolphe Cousseau, comte de Massignac (1815-1879) – the French minister plenipotentiary. Unlike the English and Russian legations, which had offices in central Tehran but moved to compounds outside Tehran during the summer, the French legation had just a single mission in the heart of the capital. Before renting decent lodging of his own, Tinco stayed for a couple of days at the nearby house of assistant chancellor Emile Charles Bernay. When he moved to a house in Tajrish, in the Summer, he became the neighbour of chancellor Amedée Querry.

The French legation provided great assistance to Tinco and his practical arrangements. In fact, Tinco was traveling with a formal recommendation that sollicited the benevolence of Massignac. The intriguing question is : where did this recommendation come from?

In that respect, we need to look at a number of potential candidates – and they may all gravitate around the Ecoles des Langues orientales, in Paris. One of them is Arthur de Gobineau (1816-1882). Gobineau is well-known as one of the leading thinkers on race theory. But, besides this area of debate, he was an eminent orientalist and acclaimed writer – an expert on the history and cultures of the Middle East. He was also Massignac’s predecessor as ambassador to Tehran (1855-63, serving the first year as secretary).

Arthur de Gobineau (1816-1882)
Arthur de Gobineau (1816-1882)

Tinco certainly did not meet Gobineau in Tehran. But, Gobineau belonged to a foreign service network that was tightly related to the Ecoles des Langues orientales. The circumstances seem to indicate (until further notice from the archives) that it was indeed Arthur de Gobineau who provided Tinco’s recommendation.

Arthur de Gobineau had studied oriental languages including Persian. When he took up his position as secretary in Tehran in 1855, he joins a legation that also comprises Charles Barbier de Meynard (1826-1908) and Amedée Querry (1825-1900). The next year, when Gobineau is appointed as minister of the legation, Barbier de Meynard returns to Paris and becomes a teacher at the Ecole des Langues orientales – where Tinco meets him in 1863-65. Amedée Querry, on the other hand, had become a close friend of Arthur de Gobineau and spent a total of seventeen years in Persia. Querry is considered one of the most important scholars and writers about law and justice in 19th century Persia.

Both Gobineau and Barbier de Meynard may have been instrumental in arranging a recommendation for Tinco’s voyage. Let’s keep in mind that, in those years, Tinco was the only European to undertake such an ambitious travel project. It is quite evident that Tinco was in touch with everyone in Paris who had some relationship to the Orient in general, and to Persia in particular. He may never have met Amadée Querry prior to his arrival at Tehran, but it must have been Querry that provided some important introductions has he had been in the region since over ten years. Massignac was courteous and generous in his assistance to Tinco – but Amedée Querry was probably Tinco’s most valuable contact.

There is so much more to discover about this trail of connections. It will help us in understanding how Tinco prepared his grand voyage. It may also shed some light on Tinco’s activities in subsequent years, his connections with the Société de Géographie and the Société d’Ethnographie in Paris, and with to scholars and travellers in other countries. And, through these connections, we should also get a better grip on his years of study (and partying?) in Paris – of which so little is known, yet.



  • For an excellent backgrounder on the people behind the French legation to Iran in the 19th centure – and in particular on Amedée Querry, we recommend the excellent monograph (in French only, at this time) by Prof. Florence Hellot-Bellier: Amédée Querry : drogman en Perse au milieu du XIXe siècle.

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