“I suppose that anyone with sort of broad European culture has a fairly good idea of Persian history– he must have– it’s part of our history, as well. And, having been brought up in France, I was perfectly familiar with Lettres Persanes and all the rest of it. For that matter, Omar Khayyam was a part of the English heritage, almost, now. And, as my minister on various occasions, Anthony Eden, was a Persian scholar, one picked up a little. He always claimed that he read Hafiz before going to sleep, and so, if only to look like one’s minister, one pretended that one also read Hafiz before going to sleep at night.”
– Sir George Humphrey Middleton (21 January 1910 – 12 February 1998), British ambassador to Lebanon (1956–1958), Argentina (1961–1964) and Egypt (1964–1965), and “Chief Political Resident in the Persian Gulf Residency and Chargé d’affaires in Iran during the Abadan Crisis.”
Anthony Eden was British Prime Minister 1955-1957.
From the Harvard Oral History Project
Note: It is incredible the purchase that Persian culture had in the British political and cultural elite as late as the 1950s. But it is also incredible that they could confuse Montesquieu and Edward Fitzgerald’s Khayyam with the real thing.