As soon as the ambassador had furnished me with an extract of his vakayeh nameh, or his instructions, I walked out to an adjacent cemetery to read it over undisturbed. I kept the paper carefully folded in the lining of my cap, and as it was my first initiation into public business, the principal contents of it have remained in my memory through life.
The ambassador was, in the first place, enjoined to discover, in truth, what was the extent of that country called Frangistan; and if the Shah, known in Persia by the name of the Shahi Frank, or king of the Franks, actually existed, and which was his capital.
In the second place, he was ordered to discover how many Ils, or tribes of Franks, there were; whether they were divided into Shehernisheens and Sahranisheens, inhabitants of towns and dwellers in the desert, as in Persia, who were their khans, and how governed.
Thirdly, to inquire what was the extent of France, whether it was a tribe of the Franks or a separate kingdom, and who was the infidel Boonapoort, calling himself emperor of that country.
In the fourth place, his attention was to be turned particularly to what regarded the Ingliz, who had long been known in Persia, by means of their broadcloth, watches, and penknives. He was to inquire what description of infidels they were, whether they lived in an island all the year round, without possessing any kishlak (warm region) to migrate to in the summer, and whether most of them did not inhabit ships and eat fish; and if they did live there, how it happened that they had obtained possession of India; and he was to clear up that question so long agitated in Persia, how England and London were connected, whether England was part of London, or London part of England?
In the fifth place, he was commanded to bring positive intelligence of who and what the Coompani was, of whom so much was said — how connected with England — whether an old woman, as sometimes reported, or whether it consisted of many old women; and whether the account which was credited of its never dying, like the lama of Thibet, were not a fable. He was also enjoined to clear up certain unintelligible accounts of the manner in which England was governed.
In the sixth place, some positive information concerning Yengi duniah, or the New World, was much wanted, and he was to devote part of his attention to that subject.
Lastly, he was ordered to write a general history of the Franks, and to inquire what would be the easiest method of making them renounce pork and wine, and converting them to the true and holy faith, that is, to the religion of Islâm.
Having well pondered over this paper, I considered that it would be easy to get it answered through the means of a katib, or scribe, attached to the then Reis Effendi, and with whom, during the short gleam of splendour and riches which had shone upon me, I had formed a great intimacy. I knew the coffee-house he frequented, and the hour he was most likely to be found there; and although he was not much addicted to talking, yet I hoped, as he sipped his coffee and smoked his pipe (particularly if I treated him), his heart might expand, and I might obtain his real opinion.
Full of this idea, I immediately imparted it to the ambassador, who seemed so delighted, that he at once did me the honour to take all the merit of it to himself.
‘Did not I tell you so?’ exclaimed he; ‘did I not say that you were a man of ingenuity? Acknowledge, then, that I am not without penetration; own, that it requires a sharp discernment to discover at once where abilities lie; and that had it not been for me, we should never have discovered this katib, who is to tell us everything, and thus fulfil the instructions of the Asylum of the Universe.’
He then empowered me, if I found it necessary, to promise him a present, by which means, should there be any deficiency in his information, he might perhaps succeed in obtaining it from the fountain head, namely, the Reis Effendi himself.
I went to the coffee-house at the proper time, and there found my friend. I approached him with great demonstrations of friendship; and calling to the waiting man, ordered some best Yemen coffee, which was served up as we sat one opposite the other. In the course of conversation he pulled out his watch, when I seized the opportunity of introducing my subject.
‘That is an European watch,’ said I, ‘is it not?’
‘Yes, truly,’ said he; ‘there are none in the world beside.’
‘Wonderful,’ answered I— ‘those Franks must be an extraordinary people.’
‘Yes,’ said he, ‘but they are kafirs’ (infidels).
‘In the name of Allah,’ taking my pipe from my mouth and putting it into his, ‘tell me something respecting them. This Frangistan, is it a large country? Where does its king reside?’
‘What say you, friend?’ answered he; ‘a large country, do you ask? A large country indeed, not governed by one king alone, but by many kings.’
‘But I have heard,’ said I, ‘it is composed of many tribes, all having different names and different chiefs; still being, in fact, but one nation.’
‘You may call them one nation if you choose,’ said he, ‘and perhaps such is the case, for they all shave their chins, let their hair grow, and wear hats — they all wear tight clothes — they all drink wine, eat pork, and do not believe in the blessed Mahomed. But it is plain they are governed by many kings; see the numerous ambassadors who flock here to rub their foreheads against the threshold of our Imperial Gate. So many of these dogs are here that it is necessary to put one’s trust in the mercies of Allah, such is the pollution they create.’
‘In the name of the Prophet speak on,’ said I, ‘and I will write. Praise be to Allah! you are a man of wisdom.’ Upon which, whilst I took out my inkstand from my girdle, and composed myself to write, he stroked his beard, and curled the tips of his moustachios, recollecting within himself which were the principal nations of Europe.
He prefaced his information by saying, ‘But why trouble yourself? They all are dogs alike — all sprung from one dunghill; and if there be truth in Heaven, and we believe our blessed Koran, all will burn hereafter in one common furnace. But stop,’ said he, counting his fingers: ‘in the first place, there is the Nemsé Giaour, the Austrian infidel, our neighbours; a quiet, smoking race, who send us cloth, steel, and glassware; and are governed by a Shah springing from the most ancient race of unbelievers: he sends us a representative to be fed and clothed.
‘Then come those heretics of Muscovites, a most unclean and accursed generation. Their country is so large, that one extremity is said to be buried in eternal snows, whilst its other is raging with heat. They are truly our enemy; and when we kill them, we cry Mashallah, praise be to God! Men and women govern there by turns; but they resemble us inasmuch as they put their sovereigns to death almost as frequently as we do.
‘Again, there is a Prussian infidel, who sends us an ambassador, Allah only knows why; for we are in no need of such vermin: but, you well know, that the Imperial Gate is open to the dog as well as the true believer; for the rain of Providence descends equally upon both.
‘Who shall I say next, in the name of the Prophet? Let us see: there are two northern unbelievers, living at the extremity of all things — the Danes and Swedes. They are small tribes, scarcely to be accounted among men, although it is said the Shah of Denmark is the most despotic of the kings of Franks, not having even janissaries to dispute his will; whilst the Swedes are famous for a madman, who once waged a desperate war in Europe; caring little in what country he fought, provided only that he did fight; and who, in one of his acts of desperation, made his way into our borders, where, like a wild beast, he was at length brought to bay, and taken prisoner. Owing to this circumstance we were introduced to the knowledge of his nation; or otherwise, by the blessing of Allah, we should never have known that it even existed.
‘I will mention one more, called Flemengs, infidels, dun, heavy, and boorish; who are amongst the Franks what the Armenians are amongst us — having no ideas beyond those of thrift, and no ambition beyond that of riches. They used to send us a sleepy ambassador to negotiate the introduction of their cheeses, butter, and salt-fish; but their government has been destroyed since the appearance of a certain Boonapoort, who (let them and the patron of all unbelief have their due) is in truth a man; one whom we need not be ashamed to class with the Persian Nadir, and with our own Suleiman.’
Here I stopped the Katib in his narrative, and catching at the name, I exclaimed, ‘Boonapoort, Boonapoort — that is the word I wanted! Say something concerning him. I have heard he is a rare and daring infidel.’
‘What can I say,’ said my companion, ‘except that he once was a man of nothing, a mere soldier; and now he is the sultan of an immense nation, and gives the law to all the Franks? He did his best endeavours to molest us also, by taking Egypt, and sent innumerable armies to conquer it; but he had omitted to try the edge of a true believer’s sword ere he set out, and was obliged to retreat, after having frightened a few Mamalukes, and driven the Bedouins into their deserts.’
‘But is there not a certain tribe of infidels called Ingliz?’ said I, ‘the most unaccountable people on earth, who live in an island, and make pen-knives?’
‘Yes, truly,’ said the Katib, ‘they, amongst the Franks, are those who for centuries have most rubbed their heads against the imperial threshold, and who have found most favour in the sight of our great and magnanimous sultan. They are powerful in ships; and in watches and broadcloth unrivalled.’
‘But what have you heard of their government?’ said I: ‘is it not composed of something besides a king?’
‘Yes,’ returned he, ‘you have been rightly informed; but how can you and I understand the humours of such madmen? They have a Shah, ’tis true; but it is a farce to call him by that title. They feed, clothe, and lodge him; give him a yearly income, surround him by all the state and form of a throne; and mock him with as fine words and with as high-sounding titles as we give our sovereigns; but a common aga of the Janissaries has more power than he; he does not dare even to give the bastinado to one of his own viziers, be his fault what it may; whereas the aga, if expedient, would crop the ears of half the city, and still receive nothing but reward and encouragement.
‘Then they have certain houses full of madmen, who meet half the year round for the purposes of quarrelling. If one set says white, the other cries black; and they throw more words away in settling a common question than would suffice one of our muftis during a whole reign. In short, nothing can be settled in the state, be it only whether a rebellious aga is to have his head cut off and his property confiscated, or some such trifle, until these people have wrangled. Then what are we to believe? Allah, the Almighty and All wise, to some nations giveth wisdom, and to others folly! Let us bless Him and our Prophet, that we are not born to eat the miseries of the poor English infidels, but can smoke our pipes in quiet on the shores of our own peaceful Bosphorus!’
‘Strange, strange things you tell me,’ said I, ‘and had I not heard them, I could not believe something more, which is, that all India belongs to them, and that it is governed by old women. Do you know that fact?’
‘I shall not be surprised to hear of anything they do,’ answered he, ‘so mad are they generally reported to be; but that India is governed by infidel old women, that has never yet reached our ears. Perhaps it is so. God knows,’ continued he, musing, ‘for mad people do wonderful things.’
After a pause, ‘Now,’ said I, ‘have I learnt all, or are there more unbelievers? By your beard, tell me; for who would have thought that the world was so composed?’
He reflected for some time, and said, ‘O yes, I forgot to mention two or three nations; but, in truth, they are not worthy of notice. There are Spanish, Portuguese, and Italian infidels, who eat their swine, and worship their image after their own manner; but who, in fact, are nothing even amongst the Franks. The first is known to us by their patakas (dollars); the second sends us some Jews; and the third imports different sorts of dervishes, who pay considerable sums into the imperial treasury for building churches, and for the privilege of ringing bells. I must also mention the papa (pope), the Caliph of the Franks, who lives in Italia, and does not cease his endeavours to make converts to his faith; but we are more than even with him, for we convert infidels in greater proportion than they, notwithstanding all the previous pain which man must suffer before he is accepted for a true believer.
‘One more question I must ask,’ said I, ‘and then I am satisfied. Can you tell me anything positive about Yengi duniah, the New World; for I have heard so many contradictory reports that my brain is bewildered? How do they get at it, underground, or how?’
‘We have not had many dealings with it,’ said the Katib, ‘and, therefore, know not much of the matter; but this is true, that one can get there by ship, because ships belonging to the New World have actually been seen here. They are all infidels, my friend,’ exclaimed he, with a sigh; ‘all infidels, as much as those of the old world, and, by the blessing of Allah, they will all grill in the same furnace.’
Finding that upon this subject the Katib was deficient, I ceased questioning; and our conversation having now lasted a long time, I released him from further importunity, by calling for more coffee and replenishing our pipes. We then separated, with mutual promises of meeting again.
Last updated Tuesday, August 25, 2015 at 14:12