The Adventures of Hajji Baba of Ispahan, by James Justinian Morier

Chapter lxxix

Of the manner in which he turned his influence to use, and how he was again noticed by the vizier.

I gave myself much pains to have it well understood in the city, that I was a confidential agent of the grand vizier, and did my best endeavour to impress upon the infidels that without my interference nothing could be done. The fruits of this proceeding were soon manifest, and my services put into requisition in a manner highly conducive to mutual advantage.

One of the most remarkable features in the character of our English guests was their extreme desire to do us good against our inclination. Rather than not attempt it, they put themselves to infinite trouble, and even did not refrain from expense to secure their ends. They felt a great deal more for us than we did for ourselves; and what they could discover in us worthy of their love, we, who did not cease to revile them as unclean infidels, and as creatures doomed to eternal fires, we were quite at a loss to discover. However, I had nothing to do with their tastes; my business was to study how to turn them to account, and the subject in all conscience was rich, and repaid me well for my trouble.

My readers will perhaps recollect that, in the first volume of this my narrative, I mentioned my acquaintance with an infidel doctor, who, among other novelties in medicine, did his utmost endeavours to introduce into Persia a new mode of curing the small-pox. The practice was now totally laid aside; our faculty continued to treat the disorder as our forefathers had done, and the usual quantity of children died as heretofore. A doctor was also attached to the suite of the present elchi, and he was impelled by more than common anxiety to do us good. His zeal to renew the practice of the cow medicine was unbounded, and the quantity of mothers whom he enticed to bring their children to him astonishing.

I, in pursuit of my own schemes, was the first to cry out, that this great influx of women of the true faith into the dwelling of an infidel, be the object what it might, was highly indecorous, and I persuaded the grand vizier to place an officer of the police as sentry at the doctor’s door to prevent the women entering. This very soon stopped his practice, and he was in despair.

‘But why should you grieve?’ said I to him. ‘You get nothing for your trouble, and the people are not obliged to you.’

‘Oh,’ said he (for he and his countrymen had learnt our language), ‘you know not what you say. This blessing must be spread throughout the world; and if your government stops it here, it will be guilty of the blood of all those lives which might have been saved.’

‘What is that to us?’ answered I: ‘let them die — we get nothing by their being alive.’

‘If it be profit that you require,’ exclaimed the doctor, ‘I will willingly pay any sum you may demand, rather than lose my vaccinating matter, which must dry up and be lost if my practice ceases.’

Here we entered into a negotiation, and after much difficulty and show of apprehension concerning the risk I ran of incurring the grand vizier’s displeasure, it was agreed that for certain advantages which I should enjoy, the restriction should be taken from the doctor’s house; and I leave those who know me to guess the numbers of children who now flocked to the man of medicine. His gate was thronged, and nothing more was said respecting the impropriety of the women’s attendance.

Another of his manias was a desire to cut up dead bodies. He did so languish after every corpse that was carried by his house for burial, that I was surprised the people did not set upon him for his impure propensities.

‘But what possible good will accrue to mankind in general,’ said I to him, ‘if you dissect a dead Mussulman?’

‘It is impossible to say what good may be lost by my not dissecting him,’ said he; ‘besides, if I do not keep my hand in practice, I shall lose my former skill.’

He then of his own accord proposed to give a large sum for a corpse, and avowed that he was not particular about its quality, for that of a Jew, Christian, or a true believer, would be equally acceptable.

I kept this in remembrance; and indeed I had so many opportunities afforded me of advancing the designs of the infidels, and of filling my own pockets at the same time, that I felt myself gradually growing into wealth.

The ambassador himself was not without his desires of improving (as he called it) our state; and I cannot resist relating a circumstance which took place between him and the grand vizier. He announced it as his intention to make a present to us of a certain produce of the earth, unknown in most parts of Asia, but much cultivated in Europe, which would not fail to be of incalculable benefit to the people of Persia; and he requested the vizier to assist him in his undertaking, promising shortly to send him a specimen of the intended gift. The vizier, whose nose was always carried very high whenever a present was in the wind, did not fail daily to discuss with me what this great benefit which the ambassador was about to confer might be, and his impatience to gain possession became very great. He discovered through me, that the English representative had brought with him a store of fine broadcloth, upon which he had constantly kept a steady eye. Finding that the projected public benefit was not forthcoming, he conceived in his wisdom that the elchi would have an easy bargain, if he agreed to commute it for a private gift to himself. Therefore, one morning at his uprising he called me, and said, ‘By the blessing of God, whatever we want we have: we have bread and meat — we have salt, and rice, and corn, and fruits, such as the infidels never even saw in a dream; in short, we have everything that it is possible to conceive. Then why should we become indebted to this infidel ambassador for things that we do not want? A happy thought has struck me, by which he will be a gainer, and be saved the trouble he wishes to incur: I will agree to receive cloth in lieu of the public benefit. This is so easy a transaction, that you, who, praise be to Allah! are a man of sharp wit, will easily negotiate. Go, say this to the ambassador, and without loss of time bring me the cloth.’

I forthwith presented myself, and delivered the message. Will it be believed that he and all his beardless suite, upon hearing it, set up such shouts of laughter, as might be heard from the top of Demawend? ‘What affinity has cloth to potatoes?’ said one. ‘We wish to give a cheap and comfortable article of food to your countrymen,’ said another. ‘But it seems that your vizier likes to transfer the whole advantage of the gift from the bellies of the nation to his own back,’ cried a third. The ambassador, however, who appeared the most reasonable of the party, without hesitation very politely ordered a piece of cloth to be delivered to me, which he requested me to present to my master with reiterated expressions of friendship; and with the assurance that it could make no alteration in the sentiments which he entertained for the Persian nation, who he hoped would still receive the potato, as a mark of his high esteem and consideration.

I returned to the vizier full of exultation at the success of my visit; and this, with the preceding and subsequent instances of my abilities, so entirely won his affections, that I soon outstripped every rival, and became his principal favourite and confidant.

Last updated Sunday, March 27, 2016 at 11:58