Hajji Baba of Ispahan/00
The Reverend Doctor Fundgruben,
Chaplain to the Swedish Embassy at the, Ottoman Porte.
Esteemed and Learned Sir,
You will be astonished to see yourself addressed by one, of whose existence you are perhaps ignorant, and whose name has doubtless long since been errased from your memory. But when I put you in mind of an English traveller, who (forgive my precision) sixteen years ago was frequently admitted to enjoy the pleasure of your conversation, and who was even honoured with a peculiar share of your attention, perhaps then you may indulgently recollect him, and patiently submit to peruse the following volumes, to which he now takes the liberty of prefixing your name.
At the time to which I allude, your precious hours were employed in searching into the very depths of heiroglyphic lore, and you were then almost entirely taken up in putting together the fruits of your researches, which have since appeared and astonished the world in that very luminous work entitled "The Biography of Celebrated Mummies." I have frequently reflected upon the debt of gratitude which you imposed by allowing me to engross so much of your time, and that upon matters of trivial importance, when your mind must have been engaged upon those grave and weighty subjects, which you have treated with such vast learning, clearness, and perspicuity in your above-mentioned treatise. In particular I have borne in mind a conversation, when one beatiful moonlight night, reclining upon a sofa of the Swedish palace, and looking out of those windows which command so magnificent a view of the city and harbour of Constantinople, we discussed subjects which had reference to the life and manners of the extraordinary people its inhabitants.
Excuse me for reporting back your own words; but as the subject interested me much, I recollect well the observation you made, that no traveller had ever satisfied you in his delineation of Asiatic manners; 'for,' 'in general their mode of treating the subject is sweeping assertations, which leave no precise image in the mind, or by disjointed and insulated facts, which for the most part are only of consequence as they relate to the individual traveller himself.' We are both agreed that of all of the books which have ever been published on the subject, the "Arabian Nights' Entertainments" give the truest picture of the Orientals, and that for the best of reasons, because it is the work of one of their own community. 'But' said you, 'notwithstanding they have been put into a European dress, weeded of their numerous repititions, and brought as near to the level of our ideas as can be, still few would be likely to understand them thoroughly who have not lived some time in the East, and who have not had frequent opportunities of associating with its inhabitants. For' you added opening a volume of work at the same time, ' to make a random observation upon the first instance it occurs, here in the history of the three Calendars, I see that Amina, after having requested the porter whom she had met to follow her with his basket, stopped at a closed door, and having rapped, a Christian with a long white beard opened it, into whose hands she put some money without saying a single word. But the Christian, who knew what she wanted, went in again, and a little while after returned, bringing a large pitcher full of excellent wine.' You observed, 'that although we who lived in Turkey might know that wine was in most cities prohibited to be sold openly, and that if it was to be found it would be in the house of a Christian, many of whom disposed of it in a mysterious manner to the Mohamedans, yet that circumstance would not immediately occur to the mere European reader, who perhaps would expect something to be forthcoming in the future narrative, from what is in fact only a trait if common life.'
I then suggested , that perhaps if a European would give a correct idea of Oriental manners, which would comprehend an account of the vicissitudes attendant upon the life of an Eastern, of his feelings about his government, of his conduct in domestic life, of his hopes and plans of advancement, of his rivalities and jealousies, in short, of everything that is connected with the operations of the mind, and those of the body, perhaps his best method would be to collect so many facts and anecdotes of actual life as would illustrate the different stations and ranks which compose a Musselman community, and then work them into one connected narrative, upon the plan of that excellent picture of European life, "GilBlas" of LeSage.
To this you were pleased to object, because you deemed it almost impossible that a European, even supposing him to rejected his own faith and adopted the Mohamedan, as in the case of Monsieur de Bonneval, who rose to high rank in the Turkish government, and of Messrs. C____ and B____, in more modern times (the former a Topchi Bashi of general of artillery, the latter on attendant upon the Capitan Pasha), could ever so exactly seize those nice shades and distinctions of purpose, in action and manner, which a pure Asiatic only could. To support your argument, you illustrated by observing, that neither education, time, nor talent, could ever give to a foreigner, in any given country, so complete a possession of its language as to make him pass for a native; and that, do what he would, some defect in idiom, or even some too great precision in grammar, would detect him, But, said you, if a native Oriental could ever be brought to understand so much of the taste of Europeans, in investigations of this nature, as to write a full and detailed history of his own life, beginning with his earliest education and going through to its decline, we might then stand a chance of acquiring the desired knowledge.
This conversation, reverend sir, has remained treasured up in my mind; for, having lived much in Eastern countries, I never lost sight of the possibilty of either falling in with a native who might have written his own adventures, or of forming such an intimacy with one, as might induce him faithfully to recite them, and thus afford materials for the work which my imagination had fondly conceived might be usefully put together. I have always held in respect most of the customs and habits of the Orientals, many of which, to the generality of Europeans, appear so ridiculous and disgusting, because I have ever conceived them to be copies of ancient originals. For, Who can think the custom of eating with one's fingers disgusting, as now done in the East, when two or more put their hands in the same mess, and at the same time read that partof our sacred history which records, "He that dippeth his hand with me in the dish, &c.? I must own , every time that, dining with my Eastern friends, I performed this very natural operation (although at the same time, let it be understood that I have a great respect for knives and forks), I could not help feeling myself to be a living illustration of an ancient custom, and the proof of the authenticity of those records upon which our happiness depends. Whenever I heard the exclamation so frequently used in Persia on the occasion of little miseries, "What ashes are fallen on my head!" instead of seeing anything ridiculous in the expression, I could not but meditate on the coincidence which so forcibly illustrated one of the commonest expressions of grief as recorded in ancient writ.
It is an ingenious expression which I owe to you, sir, that the manners of the East are as it were stereotype. Although I do not conceive that they are quite so strongly marked, yet, to make my idea understood, I would say that they are like the last impressions taken from a copperplate engraving, where the whole of the subject to be represented is made out, although parts of it, from much use, have been obliterated.
If I may be allowed the expression, a picturesqueness pervades the whole being of Asiatics, which we do not find in our countries, and in my eyes makes everything relating to them so attractive as to create a desire to impart to others the impressions made upon myself. Thus in viewing a beautiful landscape, the traveller, be he a draughtsman or not, tant bien que mal, endeavours to make a representation of it: and thus do I apologize for venturing before the public even in the character of a humble translator.
Impressed with such feelings, you may conceive the fullness of my joy, when, not very long after the conversation above mentioned, having returned to England, I was fortunate enough to be appointed to fill an official situation in the suite of an ambassador, which our government found itself under the necessity of sending to the Shah of Persia. Persia, that imaginary seat of Oriental splendour! that land of poets and roses! that cradle of mankind! that uncontaminated source of Eastern manners lay before me, and I was delighted with the opportunities which could be afforded of pursuing my favorite subject. I had an undefined feeling about the many countries I was about the many countries I was about to visit, which filled my mind with vast ideas of travel ---
Sive per Syrtes iter aestuosas
Sive factorus per inhospitalem
Caucasum, vel quae loca fabulosus
I was in some degree like a French lady of my acquaintance, who had so general notion of the East, that upon taking leave she enjoined me to get acquainted with a friend of hers, living, as she said, quelque part dans le Indes, and whom, to my astonishment resided at the Cape of Good Hope!
I will not say that all my dreams were realized, for perhaps no country in the world less comes up to one'd expectation than Persia, whether in the beauties of nature, or the riches and magnificence of its inhabitants, But in what regards manners and customs, it appears to me that no Asiatics bear so strong the stampm of an ancient origin as they. Even in their features I thought to have distinguished a decided originality of expression, which was confirmed, when I remarked, that the numerous faces seen among the sculptures of Persopolis, so perfect as if chiselled but yesterday, were so many likenesses of modern Persians, more particularly of the natives of Fars.
During my long residence there, I never lost the recollection of our conversation on the sofa of the Swedish palace, and every time I added an anecdote or an observation illustrative of Oriental manners to my store, or a sketch to my collection, I always thought of the Reverend Doctor Fundgruben, and sighed after that imaginary manuscript which some imaginary native of the Eastmust have written as a complete exposition of the life of his countrymen.
I will not say, learned sir, that the years I passed in Persia were years of happiness; or that during that time I could go so far keep up an illusion, that I was living among the patriarchs in the first ages of the world, or among those Persians whose monarchs gave laws to almost the whole of Asia: no, I sighed for shaven chins and swallow-tailed coats; and to speak the truth though adressing an antiquary of your celebrity, I felt that I would rather be among the croed in the Graben at Vienna or in our own Bond Street, that at liberty to range in the ease of solitude among the ruins of the palaces of Darius.
At length the day of my departure came, and I left Persia with books filled with remarks, and portfolios abounding in original sketches. My ideas during the journey were wholly taken up with schemes for the future, and perhaps, like every other traveller, I nourished a sort of sly and secret conviction that I had seen and observed things which no one before me had ever done, and that when I came to publish to the world the fruits of my discoveries, I should create a sensation equal at least to the discovery of a new planet.
I passed at the foot of the venerable Mount Ararat, and was fortunate to meet a favourable moment for traversing the cold regions of Armenia, 'nec Armeniis in oris stat glacies iners mens per omnes'; and I crossed the dangerous borders of Turkey and Persia without any event occuring worthy of record. But I must request your indulgent attention to what befell me at Tocat, for that occurence you are indebted for this letter, and the world for the accompanying volumes.
It was at the close of a fatiguing day's journey, that I and my escort, consisting of two Tatars, two servants, and the conductors of our baggage and post-horses, entered the city of Tocat. Our approach was as usual announced by the howls of the Surejees, who I suppose more than usually exerted their lungs in my service, because they felt that these sounds, the harbingers of rest and entertainment, could not but be agreeable to weary and jaded travellers like ourselves. The moon was shining bright as our cavalcade was clattering over the long paved road leading to the city, and lighted up in awful grandeur, the turret-toped peaks of the surrounding crags. On entering the post-house, I was immediately conducted into the travellers' room where having disencumbered myself of my cloak, arms and heavy boots, and putting myself at ease in my slippers and loose dress, I quietly enjoyed the cup of strong coffee and the chibouk, which were immediately handed to me, and after that my dish of rice, my tough fowl, and my basin of sour curds.
I was preparing to take my night's rest on the sofas of the post-house, where my bed had been laid, when a stranger unceremoniously walked into the room, and stood before me. I remarked that he was a Persian, and, by his dress, a servant. At any other moment I would have been happy to see and converse with him, because, having lived so long in Persia, I felt myself in some measure identified with its natives, and now in a country where both nations were treated with the same degree of contempt, my fellow-feeling for the sectaries of Ali became infinitely stronger.
I discovered that the stranger had a tale of misery to unfold from the very doleful face that he was pleased to make on the occasion, and I was not mistaken. It was this--that his master, one Mirza Hajji Baba, now on his return from Constantinople, where he had been employed on the Shah's business, had fallen seriously ill, and that he had been obliged to stop at Tocat,--that he had taken up abode at the caravanserai, where he had already spent a week, during which time he had been attended by a Frank doctor, an inhabitant of Tocat, who, instead of curing, had in fact brought him to his last gasp,--that having heard of my arrival from Persia, he had brightened up, and requested, without loss of time, that I would call on him, for he was sure the presence of one coming from his own country would alone restore him to health. In short, his servant, as is usual on such occasions, finished his speech by saying, that with the exception of God and myself, he had nothing left to depend on in this life.
I immediately recollected who Mirza Hajji Baba was; for although I had lost sight of him for many years, yet once on a time I had seen much of him, owing to his having been in England, whither in quality of secretary, he had accompanied the fgirst ambassador which Persia had sent in modern times. He had since been employed in various ways in the government, sometimes in high and sometimes in lower situations, undergoing the vicissitudes which are sure to attend every Persian, and at length he had been sent to Constantinople, as resident agent.
I did hesitate an instant though tired and jaded to accompany his servant; and in the same garb in which I was, only throwing a cloak over my shoulders, I walked in all haste to the caravanserai.
There, on a bed laid in the middle of a small room, surrounded by several of his servants, I found the sick Mirza, looking more like a corpse than a living body. When I had first known him he was a remarkably handsome man, with a fine aquiline nose, oval face, an expressive countenance, and a well-made person. He had now passed the meridian of life, but his features were still fine, and his eye was full of fire, As soon as he saw he recognized me, and the joy which he felt at the meeting broke out in a great animation of his features, and in the thousand exclamations so common in a Persian's mouth.
'See,' said he, 'what a fortunate destiny is mine, that at a moment when I thought the angel of death was about to seize me by the arm, the angel of life comes and blows fresh existence into my nostrils!'
After his first transports were over, I endeavoured to make him explain what was the nature of his complaint, and how it had been hitherto treated. I saw well enough by his saffron hue, that bile was the occasion of his disorder, and as I had great experience in treating it during my stay in Persia, I did not hesitate to cheer up his hopes by an assurance of being able to relieve him.
'What can I say?' said he. "I thought at first that I had been struck with the plague. My head ached intensely, my eyes became dim, I had a pain in my side, and a nauseous taste in my mouth, and expected to die on the third day; but no the symptoms still continuem and I am alive. As soon as I arrived here, I inquired for a physician, and was told there were two practitioners in the town, a Jew and a Frank. Of course I chose the latter, but, 'tis plain, that my evil star had a great deal to say in the choice I made. I have not yet been able to discover to what tribe of Franks he belongs,---certainly he is not an Englishman. But a more extraordinary ass never existed in this world be his nation what it may. I began by telling him that I was very, very ill. All he said in answer, with a grave face, was, "Mashallah! Praise be to God!" and when in surprise and rage, I cried out, "but I shall die, man!" with the same grave face he said"Inshallah! Please God!" My servants were about to thrust him from the room, when they found that he knew nothing of our language excepting these two words, which he had only learned to misapply. Supposing that he still might know something pf his profession, I agreed to take his medicine; But I might have saved myself the trouble, for I have been daily getting worse.'
Here the Mirza stopped to take breath. I did not permit him to exert himself further, but without loss of time, returned to the post-house, applied to my medicine-chest, and prepared a dose of calomel, which was administered that evening with all due solemnity. I then retired to rest.
The next morning I repaired to his bed-side, and there, to my great satisfaction, found that my medicine had performed wonders. The patient's eyes were opened, the headache had in great measure ceased, and he was, in short, a different person. I was received by him and his servants with all the honours due to the greatest sage, and they could not collect words sufficiently expressive of their admiration of my profound skill. As they were pouring forth their thanks and gratitude, looking up I saw a strange figure in the room, whose person I must take the liberty to describe, so highly ludicrous and extravagant did it appear. He was of middle size, rather inclined to be corpulent, with thick black eyebrows, dark eyes, a three days' beard, and mustachios. He wore the Turkish long dress, from his shoulders downwards, yellow pabouches, or slippers, shawl about his waist, and carried a long cane in his hand; but from his shoulders up he was a European, with a neckcloth, his hair dressed in the aile de pigeon fashion, a thick tail clubbed, and over all an old-fashioned, three-cornered laced hat. This redoubtable personage made me a bow, and at the same time accosted me in Italian. I was not long in discovering that he was my rival, the doctor, and that he was precisely what, from the description of the MIrza, I expected him to be, viz. an itinerant quack, who perhaps might once have mixed medicines in some apothecary's shop in Italy or Constantinople, and who had now set up for himself, in this remote corner of Asia, where he might physic and kill at pleasure.
I did not shrink from his acquaintance, because I was certain that the life and adventures of such a person must be highly curious and entertaining, and I cordially encouraged him in his advances, hoping thus to acquire his confidence.
He very soon informed me who he was and what were his pursuits, and did not seem to take the least umbrage at my having prescribed for his patiemt without previously consulting him. His name was Ludovico Pestello, and he pretended to have studied at Padua, where he got his diploma. He had not long arrived at Constantinople, with the intention of setting up for himself, where, finding that the city overflowed with Escapulii, he was persuaded to accompany a Pasha of two tails to Tocat, who had recently been appointed to its government, and was now established as his body physician. I suspected this story to be a fabrication, and undertook to examine his knowledge of physic, particularly in the case of my friend the Persian Mirza. The galimatias which he unfolded, as we proceeded, were so extremely ridiculous, and he puzzled himself so entirely by his answers to the plain questions which I put, that at length, not being able to proceed, he joined, most good-naturedly, in the horse laugh from which I could not refrain. I made him candidly confess that he knew nothing of medicine, more than having been servant to a doctor of some eminence at Padua, where he had picked up a smattering; and that, as all his patients were heretics and abominable Musulmans, he never could feel any remorse for those which, during his practice, he had dispatched from this world. 'But caro Signore Dottore,' said I, 'how in the name of all that is sacred,how have you managed hitherto not to have your bones broken? Turks are dangerous tools to play with.'
'Oh,' said he in great unconcern, 'the Turks believe anything, and I take care never to give them medicine that can do harm,'
'But you must have drugs, and you must apply them,' said I. 'Where are they?' 'I have different coloured liquids,' said he, 'and as long as there is bread and water to be had I am never at loss for a pill. I perform all my curesj with them accompanied by the words Inshallah and Mashallah!'
'Bread and water! wonderful!' did I exclaim.
'Signore, si' said he, 'I sprinkle my pills with a little flour for the common people, cover them with gold for my higher patients, the Agas and the Pasha, and they all swallow them without even a wry face.'
I was so highly amused by the account which this extraordinary fellow gave of himself, of the life he lead, and the odd adventures he had met with, that I invited him to dine; and were it not for the length which this letter has already run, I should perhaps have thought it right to make you partake of my entertainment by relating his narrative. I repaid him, as he said, over and above its price by presents from my medicine-chest, which he assured me would plentifully sufficient to administer relief to the whole of Asia Minor.
I could not think of leaving the poor Persian in such hands; and feeling that I might be the means of saving his life, I determined to remain at Tocat until I saw him out of danger.