Ármin Vámbéry

Árminius Vambéry, his life and adventures

Published by Good Press, 2019
EAN 4057664577986

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The following pages contain a strictly personal narrative of my Travels and Adventures in Asia and in Europe. They make no pretence whatever to be a geographical and ethnological description of the actual Central Asia. Upon these points recent works have greatly added to the knowledge we possessed twenty years ago, when I performed my dangerous pilgrimage from Budapest to Samarkand. A résumé of the various publications of Russian, English, French and German travellers in this region would have formed a separate book, but these have nothing to do with the variegated adventures of my own career, of which I here propose to give the first complete picture to the English reader.



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In presenting this narrative of my adventures in Europe and in Asia to the juvenile reader in England, I must add a few remarks which have not been embodied in the autobiographical reminiscences of this book. I must, in the first place, state that the desire to see foreign countries awoke in me at the tender age of six years. Playing with my younger comrades on the green before our village, I tried, with a crutch under my left arm—for I was lame—to run races with more lissome lads. Remaining usually far behind my rivals, and being jeered at by my comrades for my failures, I would go crying to my dear mother and bitterly complain of the shame which had befallen me. She used with all maternal tenderness to console me, saying, "Never mind that, my dear. If you grow older and stronger, you will beat them all by force of perseverance. I am sure you will yet be far in advance of them all." With firm reliance on the words of my good mother, I did not henceforth care very much for the scoffing of my playmates; I looked forward with great impatience to the time when I should be in advance of them all. With similar encouragements I was spurred on to my elementary studies, and, seeing that by dint of exertion I became one of the most industrious of students, I was fully prepared for the same success in physical competitions. But, alas! here I was to a certain extent disappointed, for my quick motion was generally hindered by the crutch, which I still used at the age of ten, not so much from necessity as from having become too accustomed to it to walk without it, but which I intended to lay aside as soon as possible. It was one day, whilst visiting the tomb of my father in the cemetery, that I made up my mind to walk without that troublesome instrument under my arm. Having thrown away the crutch, I walked, or I should rather say, I jumped, upon one leg a few paces, in order to try locomotion without a wooden support. It was a hard, nay, an exhaustive work; and, as the village was nearly a quarter of an hour's journey from the cemetery, I began to despair, and jumped back to fetch again the despised support. Having taken it in hand and being ready to start again for home, I suddenly felt an extraordinary agitation awakening in my breast; a desire for immediate ease was fighting fiercely with determined resolution, and it was only upon my remembrance of the good advice of my mother that the latter got the upper hand. In order to avoid any future temptation, I broke the crutch asunder, and using one half of it as a walking stick, I returned home, of course with great fatigue and nearly bathed in perspiration.

I relate this incident in order to prove to the young reader that a resolute will is able to accomplish even seemingly impossible things, and that, through persisting in our decisions, we nearly always reach the goal of our desires. With the motto, "Forwards and never backwards!" I, a lame man, destitute of all name, was able to see distant countries in Asia, and to visit such places and peoples as I was anxious to know from the time that I first read of them. For we Hungarians are, as you must know, Asiatics by descent; our ancestors came thousands of years ago from the East to the banks of the Danube, and it is very natural that with us a voyage to Asia is connected with a good deal of national piety.

To Englishmen travels in Asia have another kind of attraction. To one, that continent is the cradle of our holy religion, the ancient seat of civilization; to another, it is a region for adventure, or the far country where he may satisfy his curiosity by witnessing habits and customs so different from his own. To the vast majority of Englishmen Asia is a field for commercial and industrial enterprise, where a noble and grateful task awaits the European, and where a holy duty may be fulfilled.

Now I can assure my young friends in England that Asia is worth seeing and studying. There are many, many features in the character and the social life of the Asiatic which deserve our admiration, although there are also others which will rouse our compassion and instigate us more greatly to love our own country and to cling the more closely to our own religion and institutions. What will strike us most is the difference of opinion and of view we meet at every step in the interior life of the Asiatic. It is not only his physical appearance, his dress and language, his food and habitation, but also his manner of thinking, nay, his mode of walking sitting and lying, which will seem strange to our eyes, and offer to us a spectacle such as we are unaccustomed to in our European world. Of fine scenes, of queer looking towns, of wonderful buildings and old monuments I will not speak at all, but I will repeat what I said before: "A journey to Asia is quite worth the trouble involved in it."

It would be indeed unfair should I conceal from you the fact that travelling in the interior of Asia does not at all belong to the class of enterprises called pleasure trips or vacation tours; for it involves a good deal of trouble and fatigue, of privation and suffering. A man brought up under better circumstances and accustomed to lead a comfortable life must be prepared to nourish his body on the most incredible food, to front all inclemencies of weather, and, what is most difficult, to renounce his notions of cleanliness. Of course a European is only gradually trained for such an extraordinary life of hardships; it is only by getting gradually from bad to worse that we are able to withstand the most trying situations; and if, reading the following pages, you should be astonished at what I went through and what I had to suffer, please to note that in spite of the great poverty in which I spent my childhood my task would not have come to a successful end if my progress from Hungary to Central Asia had not taken place gradually and after a temporary sojourn in the countries I had to pass on my way. Well, the preparation was certainly lengthy and wearisome, but in spite of that preparatory school the whole undertaking was extremely hazardous, and my sufferings were really such as could hardly be described. The account, which you will read in the following pages and all that I have written, contains scarcely the half of the adventures I went through in Europe and in Asia, and ought to be taken only for the outlines of a career I intend to sketch, but will not publish in my lifetime.

I do not need to add that I do not repent at all of having spent the best portion of my life in visiting different Asiatic countries, and of having been an eye-witness of many strange and highly interesting customs and habits of men. The joy and in most satisfaction which I felt whilst looking on the scenes for which my earliest juvenile fancy longed, that same joy I derive now from the recollection of those bygone adventures, and I feel really happy in unfolding the delightful and variegated picture of my former life. Should my young readers in England find an enjoyment in these pages, and should I have succeeded in imparting to them any knowledge of the distant Asiatic world, I shall feel certainly the more happy; for, according to the Oriental, to receive is only a single pleasure, but to give is a twofold one.



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When my father died in 1832 I was but a few months old. My mother was poor, very poor indeed. By marrying again, however, she fondly hoped she might be enabled to give her helpless and fatherless orphans a better bringing up. But in this expectation she was sadly mistaken. Our stepfather, although a very excellent man, did but very little towards relieving the pressing needs of our small household. In due time, too, our family circle got fresh additions; the number of the little ones who stood in need of food and clothing was increasing. The consequence was that our parents, in their solicitude for the welfare of the smaller children, turned the older ones adrift to seek the best way they could their own livelihood as soon as they were supposed to have attained an age ripe enough to take care of themselves.

My turn came when twelve years old. My mother then thought I had reached a period of my life when I ought to look after myself. Although I had been afflicted since my birth with a lameness from which I began to suffer when three years old, and which compelled me to carry a crutch under my left arm up to the time my mother declared me to be of mature age, I was yet, on the whole, a tolerably hearty and healthy boy. The simple fare, often barely sufficient to still the cravings of hunger, the exceedingly scanty clothing allowed to me, and my want of familiarity with even the meanest comforts of life had, already, at this early stage of my life, hardened my body, and inured it to the most adverse climatic conditions.

I had then been attending school for about three years; and as my teachers were lavish in their praises of my extraordinary memory, enabling me to learn by heart, with great ease, almost anything, even passages in Latin which I did not understand at all, I thought of going on with the pursuit of my studies, in order to become a physician or lawyer—the two professions which, at that time, were considered in the rural parts of Hungary as the goal of the most exalted ambition of an educated man.

My mother, too, had some such future in view for me, but inexorable poverty stood in the way of all such ambitious schemings. I had to stoop lower, much lower indeed. I was apprenticed to a ladies' dressmaker. When I had got so far as to be able to stitch two pieces of muslin together, a feeling overcame me that Dame Fortune had something better in store for me than stitching away all my life long. TUTOR AND WAITER.I soon left the shop of the ladies' dress artist, and was engaged by the inn-keeper of the village to be the private teacher of his only son. I was to initiate him into the mystery of reading, writing and arithmetic. But my duties did not end there; I had to perform, besides, such unusual offices as the cleaning of the boots of the family on Saturday evenings, and occasionally waiting on thirsty guests, and handing them a glass of wine or whiskey.



There was, undoubtedly, some slight incongruity between my tender age and the position of a teacher, nor was it easy for one who stood in sore need of instruction himself to impart it to another—and, indeed, the master of the house did not fail to remind me of this anomaly by a treatment anything but in keeping with the dignity of my position as the mentor of his son.

But I received even worse treatment at the hands of the young master—my pupil. The lad was two years my senior, and on one occasion, when carried away with my pedagogic zeal I had given him a severe reprimand for his rude doings, he, nothing loth, fell on me and would have given me a sound thrashing but for the timely appearance of his mother.

My tutorship proved thus a school of hardship for me; but I bravely persevered until I could carry away with me from the Island of Schütt, where I had spent the first years of my childhood, the large sum of eight florins, which represented my net earnings. With this sum I hastened to St. George, in the vicinity of Pressburg, in order to begin there my studies at the gymnasium.

The money I had brought with me was just sufficient to purchase me the necessary books, and kind and charitable people helped me on in many other ways. Seven different families each gave me one day in the week a free meal, adding to it a big slice of bread for breakfast and another for luncheon. I also got the cast-off clothes of the wealthier schoolboys. By dint of application, and owing, perhaps, to the quick and easy comprehension which was natural to me, I succeeded in passing my examination at the first Latin class, as the second at the head of the class. My whole heart was in my studies; I was soon able to speak Latin with tolerable fluency; my professors remarked me and showed me some favour, which greatly assisted me in my struggles.

I passed, also, at St. George my examination in the second Latin class, successfully. My fondness for roving gave me no rest. I began to long for a change and was particularly desirous of going to Pressburg, where there were schools of a higher grade. I therefore left St. George, although I had my livelihood almost assured there, and the year 1846 saw me, at the age of fourteen, within the walls of the ancient City of Coronation.

There began anew my struggling and striving and desperate exertions to support myself. It became clear to me from the very first that, as buildings became taller and crowds larger, the difficulty of making acquaintances was increasing and the interest of others in my fortunes was diminishing. I remained here, for three years, now in the capacity of a servant, and then teaching she-cooks, chambermaids, and other individuals thirsting for knowledge. Every stone of the pavement of that beautiful little town on the blue Danube, could it but speak, might tell some sad tale of misery which I endured there. But youth is able to bear anything and everything!

I continued my studies, undaunted by want and privations, and was steadily advancing towards the object I had proposed to myself; at the end of the first term of school I was reckoned amongst the best scholars. In recalling these sad days, I never cease to wonder at the never-failing cheerfulness and the high spirits which were my constant companions throughout and helped me through all the adversities of life. My sturdy health aided me in the good fight and did not allow my good-humour to desert me.

In spite of my frugal fare, consisting of bread and water only, I could boast of the healthiest of complexions, and was the life and soul of all fun and mischief in the schoolroom as well as at play. VACATION RAMBLES.Every time our school term drew to its end, I was sure to be among the first to seize my travelling-stick, and launch at random out into the world, limping but always on foot, without a penny in my pocket. In this manner I had already visited Vienna, Prague, and other cities and towns in the Austrian monarchy. Often, when tired as I was marching along the road, I would indulge in a good-humoured parley with the driver of a waggon or carriage that happened to pass me, and get, in return for my pains, a lift in his vehicle for a short distance. At night I usually put up at the houses of the reverend clergy of the place, where my Latin conversation was sure to earn for me some regards and a few kreutzers for my travelling expenses; and by a few happy neatly turned compliments, bestowed upon their housekeepers, I generally succeeded in having my travelling-bag filled with provisions for the next day. Truly, politeness and a cheerful disposition are precious coins current in every country; they stand at a high premium with the young and the old, with men and women; and he who has them at his disposal may very well call himself rich, although his purse be empty.

These rambles were a preparatory school for my wanderings as a dervish in after years, and it was always with a heavy heart that I put my walking-stick into a corner at the end of the vacation. Whether or not it was because I suffered from want and had to struggle hard to eke out a livelihood in town, one thing is certain, I disliked living in cities from my earliest childhood. Upon entering the narrow street with its rows of tall houses, and watching the diminishing sky over my head, my youthful spirits sank within me, and only the hope of standing at the end of the school term again a free man under God's bright heaven communing freely with Nature rendered my stay in town bearable.

In 1847, besides continuing my regular studies at school, I began to devote myself to private studies; for it must be owned that the gymnasiums were rather badly managed in Hungary at that time. In addition to reading the greatest variety of literary productions, on travels, which I all-eagerly devoured, I was learning French. Besides my native language, Hungarian, I had acquired German early in life. At about nearly the same time I had mastered Sclavonian, and as my studies at school had rendered me familiar with Latin and Greek, I found myself, not quite sixteen years old, conversant with so many principal languages that acquiring the idioms kindred to them had become a comparatively easy task for me.

I always took special delight in memorizing. Children have very vague ideas about natural gifts, and when I was able to increase the number of words which I could master in one day from ten to sixty and even to a hundred, my exultation knew no bounds. I must frankly own, however, that I had not at that time the faintest conception as to what the result of these successful exertions, which so flattered my vanity, might be.

Thus it happened that from the private study of French I gradually passed over to the study of the remaining branches of the Latin family. I did the same thing with the Germanic languages, and, beginning with English, I soon eagerly extended my studies to Danish and Swedish. I pursued the same method with the Sclavonic dialects, and as I never omitted, in the zeal of learning, to read out loud and to hold conversations with myself in the languages I was learning, I had acquired, in a surprisingly short time, a certain kind of proficiency in all these languages which my youthful conceit made me imagine was perfection itself; and I am afraid I had rather an exalted opinion of myself at that time.

Vanity injures the character of a man in most cases, but it proves at times a very wholesome incentive to exertion. In this instance the conceit which was the result of my undisciplined imagination made me abandon the path of public studies I had entered upon, and induced me to continue my studies by myself. The friendly reader will ask what was the object of this self-education. Indeed I myself did not then know. "Nulla dies sine linea" ("No day without a line") was the maxim ever present in my mind, and even when I was devoting from eight to ten hours daily to teaching, I contrived to make such good use of the remaining time as considerably to improve in my own studies.

LITERARY STUDIES.The pleasures of general literature had now taken the place of the dry and monotonous memorizing of different languages of former years. I drew to my heart's content from the rich and varied fountain of the mental products of nearly all the European nations. The bards of Albion, the troubadours of Servia, the minstrels of Spain and the inspired poets of Italy; Lomonosoff, Pushkin, Tegnér, Andersen, Ochlenschlaeger, nearly all the muses of the present age and of the past ages beguiled my hours of leisure. I always read out loud, and frequently noted down in writing on the margin of the pages I read my feelings whenever any passage happened to strike my imagination.

Owing to this habit of loud reading and the violent gestures with which I would often accompany it, the plain people who were about me often thought me wrong in the mind; and upon one occasion this conviction had so grown upon them that I actually lost my position as a teacher, on that account. But what cared I for the small criticisms of these people, so long as my mind was peopled with Tasso's struggle before Jerusalem, Cid's valiant deeds, and Byron's heroes and heroines? Yet, I must confess, no scenes had such a charm for me as those acting in the land of the rising sun, Asia—which then seemed to me so very far away—with her gorgeously brilliant robe, richly covered with pearls and gems, constantly floating before my eyes. How could it be otherwise with one who, in his youth, had read "The Arabian Nights," and who, as in my case, was by birth and education half an Asiatic himself.

I knew Asia as the land of the most fantastic adventures, as the home of the most fabulous successes; and, having led an adventurous life at an age when I was a child still, and being already in pursuit of some great good fortune, my first yearnings after distant lands pointed already to Asia.

In order to be enabled soon to gratify this longing, I thought it necessary to make myself, in the first place, familiar with the languages of Asia; and I began at once with the Turkish language. The Ural-Altaic dialect gave me less trouble than it would have given most Occidental people owing to its affinity with the Magyar language. I found it all the more difficult to master its strange characters without a teacher or any direction. For whole days I went on drawing the letters with a stick on the sand, until I became, at length, familiar with the value of the diacritical points, that is, the distinguishing marks indispensable to a correct pronunciation of the letters and words. In this way I steadily improved. I was in want of a dictionary, but I could not afford to pay the high price asked for it, a "Bianchi" costing then nearly forty florins; and as I was compelled to trace the meaning of the single words through the labyrinth of the Turkish text by the aid of a so-called literal translation, "Wickerhauser's Chrestomathy," it did happen to me that after I had got through with the study of a bulky volume, I found out that I had been doing it all in a wrong way, and was obliged to do it all over again. Such bitter disappointments occurred to me more than once in the course of my autodidactic career; but what labour or task will ever restrain the ardour of youth or damp its enthusiasm?



LINGUISTIC STUDIES.I had now reached my twentieth year, and I was richly rewarded for all the pains I had taken when I was able for the first time to read and understand, without the aid of a dictionary, a short Turkish poem. It was not, indeed, the contents of the Oriental muse, quite inaccessible as yet for me, which kindled my enthusiasm, but rather the fruits, the sweet fruits of my labours, which afforded me such abundant satisfaction, and acted as an incentive spurring me to press forward into the field of Oriental science. All my musings, endeavours, thoughts and feelings tended towards the Land of the East, which was beckoning to me in its halo of splendour. My spirit had been haunting ever so long its fairy fields, and, sooner or later, my body was sure to follow it. For one who had still to struggle for his daily bread, in his European home, it required considerable boldness to think of a journey to the East, a land many hundred miles away. I will not deny that even the boldest flights of youthful enthusiasm, and the all-powerful desire of getting to know strange countries and customs, had to halt at the stumbling-block raised by poverty, and that luring fancy kept dazzling my eyes for many a day before I seriously set to work to carry out my cherished scheme. But a firm resolve with me is almost always like the avalanche which is being precipitated from the lofty summits of the Alps—beginning with but an insignificant ball of snow set in motion by a favourable breeze, but soon swelling into a tremendous mass which carries before it every impediment, crushing and driving before it with irresistible force everything standing in its way. Such was the impulse which I received through the patronage of Baron Joseph Eötvös, known in Europe as a writer of high merit. This generous countryman of mine was not a man of wealth, but his influence procured me a free passage to the Black Sea. He gave me also a modest obolus and some old clothes. My knapsack, bursting with books, was soon buckled on, and I embarked in a steamer for Galacz, from which place I was to go to Constantinople, the immediate object of my journey.

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Who can describe the feelings of a young man, barely twenty-two years old, who up to this day had been buffeted about by fortune, finding himself all of a sudden hastening towards the goal of his most cherished wishes, with (say) fifteen Austrian florins in his pocket, and about to enter upon a life full of uncertainty, in a distant region, amongst a strange people, who were rude and savage, and were beginning only then to seek a closer acquaintanceship with the nations of the West? My soul was agitated alternately by feelings of fear and hope, of curiosity and pain. Nobody accompanied me to the landing-place to see me off, nobody was there waiting for me, no warm presence of a friendly hand nor a mother's loving kiss cheered me on in the journey on which I was to start.

I had, thus, reason enough to feel somewhat depressed; nor could I entirely shake off this feeling; but I had no sooner come on deck, and begun to mix with the people, forming the national kaleidoscope one is always sure to meet on a voyage along the Lower Danube, and got an opportunity of conversing in Servian, Italian, Turkish and other languages of which I had had hitherto only a theoretical knowledge, than every vestige of my former downheartedness gradually vanished. I was now in my element. Add to this that I soon became the object of general admiration owing to the fluency of my conversation in different languages; the crowd being always sure to stand in a sort of awe of every polyglot. They formed a ring around me, trying to guess at my nationality, and received rather sceptically my statement that I had never been abroad.

I was, of course, very much amused at the gaping crowd, but I managed to derive some more solid advantages from the manifestation of the good opinion which my fellow travellers entertained for me; for, when the dinner-bell was rung, and I preferred to remain behind on the deck with a perturbed expression of countenance, some enthusiastic disciple of Mercury was sure to get hold of the so-called youthful prodigy and pay him his meal.

In the absence of such well-disposed stomachic patrons, I would lounge about in the neighbourhood of the kitchen of the ship, the masters of which are for the most part Italians. A few stanzas from Petrarca or Tasso sufficed to attract the attention of the cuoco (cook). A conversation in pure Tuscan soon followed, and the upshot was a well-filled plate of maccaroni or risotto, capped by a piece of boiled or roasted meat. "Mille grazie, signore" (a thousand thanks, sir), meant that I would come in the evening, to claim a continuation of the favour shown me. The good Italian would shove his barrett of linen on one side, give a short laugh, and proved by his answer, "Come whenever you like," that the seed of my linguistic experiments had not fallen on a barren soil.



My constant good-humour and happy disposition were of great help to me in all my straits, and, assisted by my tongue, were the means of procuring for me many a thing upon occasions when the attempts of others would have proved fruitless. AT GALACZ.In this manner I reached Galacz, a dirty, miserable place at this day even, but at that time much more so. During my voyage on the Lower Danube, the shore on the right-hand side, with its Turkish towns and Turkish population, entirely absorbed my attention. To me every turbaned traveller, adorned with a long beard, upon entering the ship became a novel and interesting page meant for my particular study, and, at the same time, a never failing object of pleasurable excitement.

When the sun was setting, and the truly faithful sat, or rather knelt down for prayer in the abject attitude peculiar to them on those occasions, I followed with my eyes every one of their movements with the most feverish and breathless attention; watching intensely the very motion of their lips, as they were uttering Arabic words, unintelligible even to them; and not until after they were done did I again breathe freely.

The interest which I so plainly showed could not escape the notice of the fanatic Moslem. We then lived in the era of the Hungarian refugees. Some hundreds of my countrymen made believe that they had been converted to Islam. A popular belief had got abroad that the whole Magyar people would acknowledge Mohammed as their prophet, and whenever a Mohammedan came across a Madjarli, the fire of the missionary was blazing fiercely in his heart.

Such an interest, or a kindred one, must have entered into the friendship shown to me during my voyage to Galacz by some Turks from Widdin, Rustchuk and Silistria. In this supposition of mine I may possibly be mistaken, and it is quite as likely that their sympathies were excited by the deep national feeling, which then manifested itself everywhere in the Ottoman empire, in favour of the Magyars, who had been defeated by the Russians. This state of affairs, at all events, was of excellent service to me, not only during this passage, but during my entire stay in Turkey.

I was drawn by curiosity towards the half-Asiatic Turks, my fellow travellers, and these very men were the first to introduce me into the Oriental world. I need not say that, after having been with them for a day or two, I improved in my Turkish, to such an extent, that at Galacz I was already able to serve a countryman of mine as an interpreter.

The Oriental, and, I may say, the Mohammedan element was decidedly preponderating amongst the passengers, in whose company I went from Galacz to Constantinople. The reader will not be surprised to learn that I was booked for the cheapest place on the ship, namely, the deck, and that, even for that place, I often paid only half fare. I placed my meagre knapsack near the luggage of the Turks, who were sitting apart from the others, and most of whom were on their pilgrimage to Mecca; I was impatiently looking out to catch a glimpse of the long-hoped-for sea, which I had never seen before.

He who has got his first impressions of the sea, through the reading of Byron's aquatic scenes, Camoen's "Lusiade," or Tegnér's "Legend of Frithjof," will be overcome by feelings of no common order in finding himself, for the first time in his life, on the boundless watery expanse, especially of the Euxine—gliding along its bosom and being rocked by its waves.

At an hour's distance from the mouths of the Sulina, I gazed, in a reverie, at the awful grandeur of the sea, not in the least disturbed by the deep guttural sounds and savage groans which came from the sea-sick people around me.

Father Poseidon had done no manner of harm to my health. I had rather reason to complain of an unusually keen appetite; the excessive chilliness of the evenings, too—we were then in the month of April—cooled my blood more than I thought it desirable. I began to shake with the cold, in spite of a surplus carpet, placed at my disposal for a covering by the kind care of a Turk; and after having feasted my eyes on the bright, star-covered sky for a considerable time, I fell, at length, asleep.

A STORM AT SEA.I was suddenly and rudely roused from my dreams towards midnight by peals of thunder and flashes of lightning, accompanied by a violent shower. I had been all day long wishing for a storm; I own my wish was gratified at night in such a thorough manner as fully to satisfy my romantic disposition.

How my heart throbbed upon seeing the ship dance up and down the towering, mountain-like waves, like a nimble gazelle! The creaking of beams, the howling of the wind, with which the shouts of despair from the passengers were mingling, the everlasting appeals to Allah, which resounded everywhere, could not destroy the halo of poetry with which I surrounded a scene, otherwise commonplace enough. Only after getting soaking wet with the chilly rain did I shift my place.

I got up and tried to keep myself warm by taking a walk, but the chaos of legs stretched out, of travelling-bags, bundles, firearms and turbans which were littering the ground rendered the walk well-nigh impracticable. I longingly looked at the open space close by the deck, reserved for the promenading of first-class passengers, where I observed, in the darkness of the night a man hurrying to and fro. I had at first thoughts of entering into a conversation with him; but, my courage to do so failing me, I hit upon another expedient to attract his attention. I commenced declaiming, in the midst of the violent storm, one of the epic poems I knew by heart. My choice fell on Voltaire's Henriade—

"Je chante ce héros qui régna sur la France
Et par droit de conquête et par droit de naissance!"1

[1] I sing of the hero who reigned in France, by right of conquest and by right of birth.

And having roared out, with a good will, into the darkness of the night, several verses, I had the satisfaction of seeing the much-envied first-class passenger stop, near a crowd of Turks, in a listening attitude; and after a while he joined me and began a conversation with me.

With Voltaire, acting as master of ceremonies, questions about rank and nationality seemed to be out of place. I discovered next morning that the figure, wrapped in the shadows of night, belonged to a gentleman, a Belgian by birth, a diplomat by his calling, who was going to Constantinople in the capacity of a Secretary of Legation. If the gentleman felt some surprise at the rage of declamation prompting a person wet to the skin to recite verses at night, his astonishment increased considerably upon seeing me next morning in broad daylight shabbily attired. He, nevertheless, seemed to have formed no mean opinion of me; he asked me to come and see him in Pera, and promised me his protection to the extent of his power.

We were favoured by the fairest weather from Varna to Constantinople, and nothing more charming could be imagined than this our voyage. The sailing through the most delightful sea road of the world, vulgarly called the Bosphorus, is apt to affect the dullest spirit, and roused—it is needless to say—the utmost enthusiasm in me. But upon looking about me, and seeing before me the dense forest of masts and flags in the Golden Horn, I fancied I was placed, as it were, in the very centre of the world; and as my fellow passengers were dropping away, one by one, all hurrying in different directions to the shore, a feeling of my forlornness burst upon me. My spirits were damped and I felt anxious and ill at ease.



PENNILESS IN PERA.Of the fifteen florins I had brought with me from Pesth, I had left just enough to pay my fare on the boat which took me to the shore. I now set my foot on Turkish ground, if not with a light heart, certainly with a very light purse, and sauntered pretty recklessly up the narrow street leading to the heights of Pera.

With a spirit less adventurous and at a more sensible age than mine, I should have asked myself: "Where will you sleep to-night, what will you eat—and, altogether, what will you begin to do?" But I never put these questions to myself—I was blind in my enthusiasm. I was quietly stopping to look at some signs, covered with Turkish inscriptions, and was busy deciphering them, when a stranger, a Hungarian, whose curiosity had been roused by the long ribbon which floated from my Hungarian hat, stepped up to me. He inquired in Italian about my nationality and my place of destination, and upon learning that I was a Hungarian he, as a countryman and a political refugee, of course, immediately addressed me in Hungarian, much to the delight of both of us.

Mr. Püspöki had been an honest mechanic in his own country; he was earning a living in Turkey by being, in turn, an officer of the line, a sutler during the Crimean war, an accounting clerk on board of a ship, and, finally, when I met him, a cook. He was occupying a small, poverty-stricken room, on the ground floor, in the dirty quarter of the town which lies in the rear of the walls of the palace of the English Embassy; its modest furniture consisting solely of a mattress, running along the wall, which he shared with me, like a brother.

I shall never forget my first night on this couch. My hospitable countryman had been fast asleep for some time, whilst I, unable to close my eyes, was still pondering over the strange beginning of life in Turkey. I became, all of a sudden, aware that now one, and again the other, of my boots were moving about, by themselves.

"Friend," I said, first in a whisper, and gradually raising my voice, "I think they are carrying away my boots."

He only muttered something unintelligible in reply. I repeated my remark, and the good man finally exclaimed with some ill-humour:

"Do sleep! It is nothing but rats playing."

A very amusing game, indeed, I thought, provided they do not chew up my boots; and I turned to sleep again.

I spent about three days in that miserable hole. I soon extended my acquaintance with my countrymen, and obtained, through them, permission to live in one of the rooms occupied by the "Magyar Club," which was at that time already nearly deserted. At this place I met with fewer frolicsome animals, but the skipping animals were all the more numerous; and one evening, when, suffering from the chilliness of the night, I ventured to ask the secretary of the club to give me something to cover myself with, that worthy gentleman took the tricolour off the flagstaff, and handed it to me, apostrophizing me in the following touching manner:

"Friend! this flag has fired the hearts of many in their heroic flights, it was itself once full of fire; wrap yourself up in it, dream of glorious battlefields, and maybe it will keep you warm too."

And, oddly enough, I wrapped the old rag around me, shivered yet for a little while, and then fell into a sound sleep.

Several days had passed in this manner. Day by day the circle of my acquaintances was increasing, and all of them were particularly struck with the varied knowledge I exhibited in the matter of languages, and my being able to speak fluently and read easily the language of the country, without having lived in Turkey, was to them a subject of special wonder.

A TEACHER OF LANGUAGES.To give instruction in the languages used in the country, with a view to earning my daily bread, suggested itself as the most natural thing. Written advertisements of my desire were distributed, and the first lesson I was to give was, oddly enough, in Danish.

Mr. Hübsch, a noble-minded gentleman of culture, whom I shall always remember with pleasure, had been for some time back in search of a Danish master, and was really glad to meet me; indeed, he made such rapid progress as to be able, in the course of a few months, to read, under my direction, Andersen's "Spilleman" and "Berlingske Tidninger."

Beginning with this odd lesson, I soon obtained other engagements as a teacher, which I should never have hoped to obtain. The all-promising advertisements did not fail to produce their effects; and one day, when I happened to be at the book-shop of Mr. S., a young Turk, whose large retinue showed him to be a man of means, came in and inquired after the Madjarli, whose name he had seen in the shop-window—and whom he wished to engage as a "Khodja," or teacher of the French language.

The young Bey was, as I had afterwards occasion to learn, a "Miraskhor," that is, a person who has just come into possession of a rich inheritance, and is trying to acquire the external attributes suitable to his wealth. In Turkey, at that time, these attributes were as follows: (1) a suit of the finest broadcloth, after the latest cut and fashion; (2) tight patent leather shoes; (3) a small, jaunty fez, rakishly worn on one side of the head, and, as a matter of course, gloves, too; (4) an easy, graceful step, accompanied by a fashionable carriage of the arms and hands; and (5) French conversation. European tradesmen had provided him with the first four ingredients for the make-up of a Turkish gentleman, and I was to furnish him with the fifth. TEACHING A TURK.I was, accordingly, engaged on the spot as his teacher, the remuneration stipulated for being ten piastres for one hour's lesson daily, besides my expenses of going to his house and returning, as our dandy was living at some distance in Skutari.

This lesson procured me the opportunity of gaining admission for the first time into a genuine Turkish house. I arrived every day punctually at the appointed hour, but generally found my pupil, who had just roused himself from his slumbers, still suffering from the effects of last night's debauch, and scarcely able to lift his heavy eyelids; nor did I discover in him the slightest disposition to acquire the language of the Gauls. It took him an entire month to master the alphabet.

I usually found my pupil in the company of a venerable mollah, who fairly shuddered whenever the sounds of a language of the Giaours reached his ears, for the father of my pupil was a notoriously pious Mussulman, and the walls of the room in which we sat had only re-echoed until now the canting recitals of the Koran, the sacred hymns, and other prayers.

I often heard the mollah muttering in his beard, "This is the way in which the spirit of infidelity is being smuggled into our houses."

I need not say that the instruction I imparted was highly profitable to myself. We did at first some French, but later on we glided from the French lesson into explanatory sketches of European life and European ideas. I told the Bey of our social, political, and scientific institutions, decking them out, as a matter of course, in their brightest colours, for the European, during his first stay in the East, is always looking back with fondness to the West he has just left, and the very things he used to condemn look to him charming at a distance.

My information was almost always received with approval and admiration. Turkey had just seen a good specimen of Europe in her Anglo-French allies who had come to her assistance against the Russians; the Turks were, therefore, eager to learn all the particulars having reference to the Western land, and if the descriptions of these excited now and then their envy, roused them to disapproval or called out their conceit, they were always listened to, and that with pleasure.

At the close of the lesson a well-prepared and abundant breakfast was always brought in, and I must own that from the very first the cooking of the better classes in Constantinople had enlisted my gastronomic partiality. It frequently happened, too, that we started immediately after breakfast for a ride on horseback, my pupil making his calls in my company; in short, I passed a considerable portion of the day in the society of Turks, and I used to return to Pera, that is, to European life, in the evening only.

My permanent stay amongst Turks dates, however, from the time when, at the recommendation of a countryman of mine, I was invited by Hussein Daim Pasha, general of a division, to enter his house as the teacher of his son, Hassan Bey.

I removed my quarters from Pera to the charmingly situated row of houses at Fyndykly; there I got a separate room, and enjoyed for the first time the amenities of Oriental quiet and Turkish comfort. The life in a strictly Mohammedan part of the town, in the vicinity of a mosque, from whose slender minaret the Ezan resounded with gloomy melancholy, affecting my ears with its weird-like sounds; the grand prospect from my window taking in the sea near by, with its thousand crafts, and the magnificent Beshikash palace; and the dignified and patriarchal air which pervaded the whole house—were all things which had the charm of novelty for me, and which I can never forget.

The figure of the major domo (Vekilkhardj), a gray-bearded Anatolian, however, has perhaps made the deepest impression upon my memory. The good man was particularly indulgent towards me upon all occasions when I happened to sin against the strictly Oriental customs; he took great pains to teach me how to sit decorously, that is, with crossed legs; he taught me to carry my head and to use my hands with propriety, and how I should yawn, sneeze, and so forth. His attention embraced the merest trifles.

"You are, for the first time, in a large city; you have just entered polite society," he benignly said, "and you must learn everything."

Of course the old man looked upon me as a person coming from the land of "black infidelity," a land to which, in his opinion, decency, good manners, and morals were utter strangers, and he seemed to think that a stranger hailing from those parts needed to be educated quite as much as a Turkish peasant from the neighbourhood of Kharput and Diarbekir.

HUSSEIN DAIM PASHA.The pasha himself, my chief, was a much more interesting personage. It was he who afterwards became known as the leader of the celebrated Kuleili conspiracy, a conspiracy whose object was nothing less than the removal of Sultan Abdul Medjid and of all his grandees; the conspirators flattering themselves with the belief that all the causes of the decay of Turkey would be thereby extirpated, and that, with one stroke, the old and infirm Ottoman Empire could be restored to its ancient power.

I was an inmate of his house at the time when this notorious conspiracy was being hatched and the plans for its consummation formed. AHMED EFFENDI.A mollah from Bagdad, by the name of Ahmed Effendi, a man of rare mental gifts, immense reading, ascetic life, and boundless fanaticism was the life and soul of the whole conspiracy. He had taken part in the whole of the Crimean war as a Gazi (a warrior for religion), bareheaded and barefooted, and clad in a garb whose austere simplicity recalled the primitive ages of Islam. His sword never left his lean loins, nor his lance the firm grasp of his clenched fist, either by day or by night, except when he said his prayers, five times a day. Through the snow, in the storm, in the thickest of the fight on the battlefield, during toilsome marches, everywhere could be discovered the ghost-like form of this zealot, his fiery eyes scattering flames, and always at the head of the division, under the command of my chief.

It was quite natural that such a man should please Hussein Daim Pasha. The acquaintance begun in the camp, had here grown into a sort of relationship by consanguinity; for the lean mollah, who was walking about barefoot in Constantinople, had the privilege of crossing even the threshold of the harem, where, under the protection of the sacredness of Turkish family life, unwelcome listeners could be most conveniently got rid of. There was something in the appearance of Ahmed Effendi which terrified me at first, and only, later, upon my allowing myself to be called by my pasha, for the sake of intimacy, Reshid (the brave, the discreet), came this terrible man near me, with some show of friendliness; he probably concluding, from my having adopted this name, that I was very near being converted to Islam. A very false inference! But I did not destroy the hopes of the zealot, gaining thereby his good-will, and getting him to give me instruction in Persian.

Ahmed Effendi allowed me even to visit him in his cell in the yard of the mosque. And oh! how interesting were those hours which I spent, sitting at his feet, with other youths who were eager to learn! It seemed as if I had got hold of a fairy key unlocking, to my dazzled eyes in one moment, the whole of Mohammedan Asia.

Ahmed Effendi had an astonishing, almost supernatural memory; he was a thorough Arabic and Persian scholar, and knew a whole series of classics by heart. I had only to begin with a line from Khakani Nizami or Djami, in Spiegel's Persian Chrestomathy, and he would at once continue to recite the whole piece to the end. Indeed he would have been able to go on with his declamation for hours.