Thornton Chase, the First Western Baha'i, in his Study
Copyright © 2010 Baha'i National Archives, Wilmete, Used With Permission

Saturday, September 4, 2010

An Encouraging Letter from Shoghi Effendi to the Baha'is of California

When the Baha'is went on Pilgrimage to the Holy Land they often brought gifts with them for the family of Abdu'l-Baha.  Abdu'l-Baha did not permit the family to keep most of these gifts-- sometimes clothing, jewels, home furnishings.  One gift He did accept was brought by William Randall -- the gift of a portable typewriter.  And with this typewriter, Shoghi Effendi typed out his translations of the correspondence addressed by the Master to the Baha'is of the West. Here is a photograph of Shoghi Effendi which I believe was taken during the last years of Abdu'l-Baha's life, probably just prior to Shoghi Effendi attending graduate school at Balliol College in England, perhaps around 1919:

Shoghi Effendi at his portable typewriter
Copyright © 2010 Baha'i National Archives, Wilmette
Used with permission - Please click for larger image

Here is a close-up of Shoghi Effendi, probably taken around the same time, in the years immediately before he became Guardian of the Baha'i Faith

Shoghi Effendi as a young man
Copyright © 2010 Baha'i National Archives, Wilmette
Used with permission

It was on this typewriter that Shoghi Effendi wrote all of his letters to the Baha'is of the West.  All of the lengthy letters in "Baha'i Administration" and "Citadel of Faith," all of the manuscripts of his translations of the writings of Baha'u'llah -- the Gleanings, the Book of Certitude, Prayers and Meditations, as well as his manuscripts of "The Dawn-Breakers" and "God Passes By" -- all were produced on this typewriter.  When he sent the manuscript of Baha'u'llah's Book of Certitude to the United States, he wrote:

Unable to find a good typist, I have had to do the work myself, and I trust that the proofreaders will find it easy to go over and will not mind the type errors which I have tried to correct. I would especially urge you to adhere to the transliteration which I have adopted. The correct title is, I feel, 'The Kitab-i-Iqan' the sub-title 'The Book of Certitude.' May it help the friends to approach a step further, and obtain a clearer idea of the fundamental teachings set forth by Baha'u'llah.
(Shoghi Effendi, postscript to a letter published in Baha'i News #46, November 1930, p. 2)

Amatu'l-Baha Ruhiyyih Khanum, his wife, writes, 

"He typed, on a very small portable machine, by the two-finger method, all his own manuscripts..." (The Priceless Pearl, p. 201)
How many hundreds of hours Shoghi Effendi spent on reading his sources and compiling his notes, how many days and months in painstakingly writing out in long hand - and often rewriting - the majestic procession of his chapters, how many more wearisome days he sat at his small portable typewriter, hammering away with a few fingers, sometimes ten hours on end, as he typed the final copy of his work! And how many more hours we spent late into the night, when the daily typing was over, seated side by side at his big table in his bedroom, each with three copies of the typescript before us, proof-reading, making corrections, putting in by hand the thousands of accents on transliterated words which Shoghi Effendi would read aloud, until his eyes were bloodshot and blurred, his back and arms stiff with exhaustion, as we worked on to finish the entire chapter or part of a chapter he had typed that day. It had to be done. There was no possibility of working at a slower pace. he was racing against time to present the Bahá'ís of the West with this inimitable gift on the occasion of the one hundredth anniversary of the inception of their Faith.  (The Priceless Pearl, p. 223)

"God Passes By" is really the only book Shoghi Effendi wrote; everything else was in the form of letters. Anyone who reads this magnificent book Shoghi Effendi labored so hard to give to us, will become much more aware of the grandeur of the Baha'i Faith, and more deeply familiar with its teachings.

Several times, Shoghi Effendi needed to retire to Switzerland, where he fought his spiritual battles, and prepared himself for his unimaginably demanding labors as Guardian of the Baha'i Faith.  Following his return in November, 1923 he wrote to the Baha'is:  

Upon my return, after a forced and prolonged absence, to the Holy Land, it is my first and most ardent wish to renew and strengthen those ties of brotherly love and fellowship that bind our hearts together in our common servitude to His sacred Threshold.

A few weeks later he wrote the following beautiful letter to the Baha'is in California, which he prepared on this same typewriter.  It is a model of encouragement and leadership.  In 1997 a copy of this letter was sent to all of the Baha'is in California, on the occasion of the establishment of the Regional Baha'i Council of the Western States. It is well worth reading and re-reading for the guidance and encouragement it provides.


  1. Brent:

    I never knew that had Shoghi Effendi had accepted the gift of a portable typewriter by William Randall, and that this was the typewriter that the Guardian used for his extensive work in English. Do you know the make and model of this portable typewriter? Is this typewriter on display in the Baha'i International Archives?

    You mention the translation of the Book of Certitude, the prepublication manuscript of which was sent to Alain Locke, in two mailings, for comment. See "Letters to Alain Locke by Shoghi Effendi" online at (the original documents of which came from my own research and which were professionally and nicely presented by Jonah Winters in this online publication). Do you know how Shoghi Effendi reproduced his manuscripts?

    I admire and respect that fact that you obtain some of the historic photographs in your blogs from the National Baha'i Archives, and are publishing these by permission.

    Christopher Buck PhD JD | Attorney at Law | Author
    Religious Myths and Visions of America (2009)

  2. Dear Chris: My recollection is that the typewriter was accepted by Abdu'l-Baha, before Shoghi Effendi became the Guardian. I don't remember where I read this; possibly in the book about Mr Randall, possibly in his daughter's book about her pilgrimage as a child. I don't know if it's in the International Archives, or its make; Khanum does not mention it in The Priceless Pearl. If you know anyone who's served at the World Centre as a pilgrim guide, he or she might know.

    My recollection is that Khanum states that all of the Guardian's typed manuscripts were made with several carbon copies, all of which had to be hand-corrected and with diacriticals added; but I regret I don't know where this is written, either. I tried a word search for "carbon" in Priceless Pearl but came up empty.

  3. Dear Brent,
    In one of her talks at the first National Bahá’í Youth Conference in Wilmette, Ill., in June, 1970, Ruhiyyih Khanum spoke of being with Shoghi Effendi as he wrote. She talked about just how meticulous he was in choosing just the right word or phrase. She mentioned the carbon copies and told how the two of them would proofread them, adding the diacritical marks as they went. I was there when she gave that talk in 1970, and for a long time I had a copy of the recording made that day. I have listened to it many times over the years, and I am familiar with the story.
    Thank you for the wonderful memory.

  4. A friend of mine served as a pilgrim guide for many years. Contact me for his email address:

  5. I am so glad to read all these things and see again these wonderful pictures. All the details about Shoghi Effendi's life are so very very interesting. His light just won't fade in the centuries to come, no doubt. And as a linguistic anthropologist, I just never tire of learning about Shoghi Effendi's translation work. He was such an incredible genius, need I say more? It is heart breaking how some self-centered folks opposed him so bitterly. Then we see the wonderful "gifts" he gave the whole world and world history. What a wonderful legacy from him. But I'm not saying anything new here. Dr Don Addison

  6. This is priceless. Thank you so much for sharing the history. The original letter with all its painstaking editorials sets a very high bar for all of us who write with the help of modern technology!