TURKS OF THE TOWN AND TURKS OF THE COUNTRY.
A Parisian education - Debut at Constantinople - A veteran - Town
Turks classified - Family life - Rustic integrity - The roue sent to Coventry
- Confession of fault - Education - The priest and the school-master -
Energy - Ballads - Intellectual evenings - A theft rebuked.
ANY one who has been at an embassy ball at Paris must have noticed the young gentleman with a red fez, who appears to be concentrating all his attention on his feet, which are enclosed in the shiniest of varnished boots, in which they exhibit, either by the fault of Nature or the taste of the wearer, a miniature resemblance to the hoof of an ox; this personage is the ne plus ultra of Turkish elegance, young Turkey in its brightest blossom.
His future destiny is to be a Pasha, to govern, to re-organize the old state of Turkish affairs - in short, to patch the political small clothes of his country; and to fit himself for this task he is sent to study in Paris, which he does by assiduously attending a course of lectures at the Cafe Anglais and the Bal Valentino. [Thanks to the present influence of France in this country, twenty young Turks are to be found undergoing a process of civilization in Paris, for one who is in England; those who come to our country usually acquire a more useful and solid education, but their number is so small that they produce but little effect upon the state of Turkey.]
In Paris he is only ridiculous, at Constantinople he is unbearable; point out to him the architectural beauties of the Ottoman capital, and he shrugs his shoulders, twists up the ends of an invisible moustache, glances with a satisfied air at the gorgeous pattern of his trousers, looks at his habitual confidants, his boots, and answers with that languid drawl affected by Turks and Russians who have seen the world, “Do you think so? As for me, I hate Constantinople, it is such a barbarian city."
He admires above everything Regent Street or the Boulevards, and if you ask him to look at the Soulimanie, he goes into extasies over the Bourse.
If he has the luck to be the son of a Pasha in favour, he is to be found every day in the anti-chamber of some great personage, where he is much looked up to for his knowledge and correct imitation of French life and manners; if he is not so fortunate in the accident of birth, he nevertheless manages to pass his days in the anti-chamber of somebody or other of influence, for this is the only system in Turkey which opens the official career, and a steady six months of it in the Conac of a great man is worth more than half-a-dozen campaigns and a score of wounds.
Any day in passing through the dirty but picturesque streets of Stamboul, you may see some grey old veteran whose face is seamed with scars; it was he who defended the ditch of Varna in '28, it was he who was first to swim the Danube to obtain the boats necessary for the passage of the river opposite Oltenitza; he has served his country and his sovereign loyally and bravely, but he has been seen in no anti-chambers save the battle-fields which lead to the presence of the Minister Death, and so when he passes our young friend he salutes respectfully. The boy of nineteen has gained the rank of Colonel by the favour of a Vizier, and the soldier has gained by his campaigns some wounds, a medal, and a captain's pension, about five pounds a year.
We have described this jeunesse doree of Turkey because it unfortunately exercises a baneful influence upon the country: whilst the young men of birth become governors, pashas, aides-de-camp, or secretaries, those of less distinguished family accept inferior employments in the house hold of some official of rank as clerk, boot-cleaner, pipe bearer, &c., and from this eagerness for this kind of life arises one of Turkey's great misfortunes, for every high functionary is surrounded by a dense cloud of underlings who form a fog penetrable by the humble suitor only with the aid of that key of the East, Bakshish, and who are a part of the parasitism whose rust clogs the wheels of the governmental machinery of Turkey.
When we treat of political parties, we shall devote greater space to those gentlemen who are either in power, or aspire to it; at present we confine ourselves to comparing the town Turk with the country Turk, or peasant.
Besides the underlings, or servants of the Pasha (and of these perhaps the larger proportion are Rayahs, who are by their nature better fitted for submission than the Turk), the inhabitants of the towns are generally Beys, Pashas out of office, and a few Turks whose property chiefly consists in houses; then come the shopkeepers and retired officers, and finally the labourers and artizans, the latter class being of course the most numerous; among the two first, with the exception of the Turks of the old school (as those are called who have not giving up the turban for the fez), reigns that demoralization and looseness of conduct which Europe has inconsiderately learnt to couple with the generic name of Turk.
In all lands, towns are the birthplace of vice, but in Turkey the distinction between town and country in this respect is more strongly marked than elsewhere, and for this fact a reason may perhaps be found in the almost universally Greek origin of the towns, and the consequent inheritance of those traditions of immorality bequeathed by the Lower Empire.
The Turk of the towns, from his contact with Greek and other quasi-Europeans, is usually slightly infected with such Western civilization as is to be met with in the East; he may occasionally be seen in varnished boots at the theatre, and drinks wine and spirits freely; but this specimen of the Orient must not be mistaken for one of its pearls.
But it is not the fault of the Turks as a nation that such exceptions exist; if you, an Osmanli, send your son to acquire European polish and civilization amongst the moral sewers of Paris, what can you expect? No doubt there are young Englishmen and Frenchmen who have run the same race, and who have yet turned out worthy members of society; but with the Turkish youth it is different; on his return to his country he does not re-enter the family he has quitted, but is sent off to govern and re-organize a province, where, forgetting the homely morals of his native land, he remembers only the brilliant “life" he led abroad, begins to believe that the mire which he loved was really the pure spring of civilization, and sneers at the embassy ball which bored him, while he thinks with delight of the Closerie des Lilas or the Chateau des Fleurs. Well would it be for Turkey if the journey to Paris cost fourteen hundred instead of fourteen pounds!
Such imperfect and debased fragments of in imported civilization, and the stain of a contact with Greek morality, distinguish all classes of the Turks of the towns, even including the labourers, from those of the country; even yet, however, there is a wide difference between them and the Christians, for you may still trust to the word of the former (though they are not the best of the Osmanli race), to that of the latter but seldom, unless indeed it be to his advantage to keep it.
To understand the Turks you must have lived with and amongst them, a thing which is impossible in towns, where Turkish inner life - with the exception of that led by the “civilized" among them, with whom you may easily fraternize by the aid of a glass of spirits, and who in your company are less Turkish than you are yourself - is invisible and inappreciable by the European tourist, the greater part of it being passed within the precincts of the harem or home, and their social meetings (of men only) being almost impossible of access to the unturbaned stranger, although they will otherwise extend to him the fullest measure of hospitality.
In the country, especially where the peasants are poor and their village remote from a town, little by little you may succeed in gaining their confidence, and seeing them as they really are; and gradually you begin to understand their manners, their customs, and their family affection; from all of which you may evolve an idea, more or correct, of the inner life of the Turks of the towns..
To make a sketch of these manners and customs in this chapter is superfluous, but we must say once for all that the morals of the Turks as a race are as pure as those of any class in Europe; the harem is not what you imagine it to be from steel engravings and chromo-lithographs. but is just as much a “home" as your own. It is only wealthy tax-farmers, and Pashas who have made their fortunes, who people their harems with Odalisques; that of a genuine Turk encloses a family as much loved, and sentiments of relationship as strong and as well developed, as will be found in tiny English mansion or cottage, notwithstanding that the enemies of Turkey never cease repeating that this country can never have a great future because family ties are unknown - an assertion which is not an error, but a wilful calutility. We are by no means going to advocate polygamy, [For arguments in favour of this system we refer the curious reader to those of Napoleon, as quoted in Montholon's Memoirs; not having the book here we are unable to specify the page where they may be found, but as far as we recollect, it is in the Chapter upon the War in Egypt.] but we must repeat that the purest family love exists in the harem as much as in any household of Europe.
Another common. mistake is to represent Turkish women as obese beings, whose beauty is estimated by the number of stones of fat which compose it, whose occupation of stuffing themselves with sweetmeats from morning till night is interrupted only by the torture of a Nubian slave or two, and whose sole education is a love of jewels, dress, and luxury.
The Turkish girl, till her fifteenth year, goes to the village school (Mekteb), and though it may be that the Hodja cannot teach her many accomplishments, and that she is ignorant of the favourite air from Offenbach's latest opera as given by the French Dramatic Company at Constantinople, she at least learns to read and write; and in the same school where the boys are taught to become honest men, she learns to be an holiest woman and a good mother of a family.
The Turk has far more respect for his wife than the Rayah shows to the female of his species, whom he constantly thrashes and forces to do work only fitted for men; the Turk acts with a certain feeling of delicacy, and does not compel his wife either to labour in the fields or to do the hard work of the household, and she is consequently generally occupied in the care of her family and such other essentially feminine employments as embroidery and cookery, in both of which arts she excels.
It is amongst the mountains and the forests that we find the true Turk, of pure morals, simple habits, and upright character; the corruption of the towns may have soiled some of the Turks who inhabit them, rendering even the most honest suspicious, and in a manner denationalizing the Osmanli exposed to its influence, but its pestilential breath does not infest the pure air of the Turkish villages. Perhaps the voice of the Imam from the white minaret, as live times a day he summons the faithful to prayer, drives away the Evil Spirit to seek refuge in a Rayah village amongst the Tukhans, those shrines dedicated to him.
If a young Turk going to the town meets there a friend who belongs to the civilized class, he may perhaps be led astray by bad example; but as he returns to his quiet hamlet its very tranquillity and repose seems to rebuke his fault, and to cause a profound for those pleasures of the town which degrade body and soul by an indulgence in liquors forbidden by the Prophet; even were it not so, the stern regard of the Imam and the Hodja are mute reproaches which act as a cheek upon those who are inclined to develope tastes, which, though tolerated in the towns, are stigmatized in the forest.
A Turk of the towns who has acquired the vice of drinking, or upon whose character there is a stain, is no longer received as a brother by the Turks of the villages; they give him the hospitality he claims, for shelter, fire, bread, and water may be denied to none; but their hearts are not open to him: "There is bread, eat; there is fire, warm thyself; there is a rug, sleep." But on his arrival the old men are silent, the young men quit the oda, [The mussafir odasi, or guests’ apartment.] the children do not group around the stranger, and as soon as the civilized Turk is served he remains alone in a sort of moral quarantine. This hospitality is irksome to him, and he soon learns to make his halting-places in the Rayah villages where he is sure of finding congenial boon-companions to drink with him, and to listen to stories which would shock the ears of the country Turk - but are the delight of the Papas and the Tukhanji.
The country Turks are sober in the extreme, and alcoholic liquors are not allowed to be sold in their villages; we have never seen a Turk of this class tipsy, and it is probably to this abstinence as well as their extreme personal cleanliness that they owe their great longevity; a Mussulman of eighty years old is much more frequently met with than a Rayah of fifty-five, and is infinitely more vigorous and active within a circumference of a few leagues, in this neighbourhood alone we know of nearly a dozen centenarians.
The peasants are usually, and with very rare exceptions, of unimpeachable honesty, their word is sacredly observed, their manners are simple and patriarchal, and from a tolerably wide experience we believe them to be far superior, in point of general morality, to the corresponding class of any part of Europe.
This great superiority is chiefly owing to the presence in their villages of the two deputies of the Ulema, the Hodja, and Imam, [These two offices are sometimes united in the same person.] to the respect felt for them by the people, and to the religious and moral instruction which they bestow upon the young, as well is the censorship which they exercise over the morality of the adults.
History and tradition have also their salutary effects; one Turk will say to another, “Thy ancestor Kara Hassan would not have acted thus," and as Said has none of that false shame so common in the West, which makes a man ashamed of confessing that he is in the wrong, he says, “Thou art right, Mechmet; I have acted badly, forgive me;" and by this frank apology he does not lose either the esteem or respect of his friends and acquaintances - on the contrary, they say of him, "Said is a doghrou adam (a straightforward, upright man ) who is ashamed of having done wrong, and admits his fault bravely and openly."
This is a kind of courage which is very rare in Europe.
Duelling is unknown amongst the Turks, perhaps because they are all brave, and in their opinion mere courage does not make wrong, right; but another cause of its absence is undoubtedly the extreme and delicate sense of justice which reigns amongst them: - Mourad offends Hassan, who tells him of it openly, and Mourad asks pardon and endeavours to make reparation; should he refuse to do so it is he, and not Hassan, who is dishonoured, for the whole village gives its verdict, and if he persists in refusing reparation he is put under the ban of public censure, and his life becomes so unbearable that he is forced to give in or to quit the village.
A point little known in England is the good education possessed by the Turkish peasants in general; thanks to the excellent schools which exist in all their villages, at least half of the population are able both to read and to write a language which requires five or six times more study than any one of the European family of tongues; in Turkish there are fourteen different kinds of writing, and if a man wishes to put his knowledge to a profitable use he must be able to decipher at least four or five out of the number - a fact which proves that the primary education of the Turk is not a very easy matter. There are few Turks who cannot read the Koran, and many are well acquainted with arithmetic as far as the rule of three, besides having a fair knowledge of geography and the history of their country; they are often familiar with the writings of the Ottoman poets, historians, and philosophers, their greatest pleasure being to read aloud or to listen to tales of old times.
The greatest benefit conferred by the Hodja is the religious instruction in the precepts of the Koran, which inculcates a severe practical morality, and renders the Turk susceptible of a civilization, which, though it might differ in some points from our own, would be based upon the same foundation of social morality and absolute respect for the rights of property.
It must not be thought from what we have said that the Mussulmans are in any way priest-ridden: the Imam, in spite of his office as interpreter of the Koran, is not considered as a sacred personage; both he and the Hodja are respected for their superior learning, and the example of good conduct which they set, rather than as ministers of religion, and an Imain of bad character would be speedily expelled from his village. These two functionaries, of whom the one represents religion and the other education, are, usually poor, as they do not tax their villages after the manner of the Greek Papas; their respective offices do not prevent them labouring in the fields or elsewhere, but they exact no forced help from their neighbours, and though sometimes a young man will help an old Imam to plough or sow his fields, it is old age that he assists not the priesthood.
It is to this influence that Turkey owes the high moral character of her Osmanli population, and from it she may hope one day to introduce a reasonable civilization into the country. This adaptability of the Turk for civilization is discussed elsewhere, but we take this opportunity of remarking that the extreme religious fanaticism, which is so inseparably connected in the ideas of Europe with the Mussulman race, does not exist at all, at least in those provinces which we have studied. If the Turk despises the Rayahs, it is not because they are Christians, for he considers the religion of Christ as next best to his own, but on account of their character and morals; and in this he is right, for the most sensitive Rayahphile, after a year's residence amongst the professors of the Greek rite, will hardly be able to deny that in all points, even that of Christianity, the Eastern Christian is far inferior to the follower of Mahomet. The Turk, far from refusing, asks for civilization, but he demands that it shall not be created by sapping the foundations of his creed and his nationality, and will not accept such a system as begins by informing him that he is an ignorant brute, that his religion is infamous, that his nationality is a delusion, and which urges him to renounce his belief, his traditions, and his memories of the past, that he may the better copy the Greek merchant or the young Turk with his fresh coating of bad French polish. Such a mockery of civilization, such a whited sepulchre as this, the Turk rejects with horror, and it is for this reason that the reformers of the present day have as yet done nothing but entangle and destroy all they touch, and that, whilst they follow the system on which they seem bent, they will attain to no other result so long as the heart of the noble Turkish peasant is in the right place.
The Turk works hard, and, contrary to the general idea, is extremely active and supple as well as powerful; the conventional Turk, stretched upon a divan and yawning between innumerable cups of coffee and countless chibouques, is as unknown in the Balkan as the conventional Rayah, passive, pious, and patriotic. The Turk of eighty years labours to make up for the time taken from him by his military service; whilst the Rayah, morally and physically degraded and idle, lies dead drunk upon a dung-heap in front of the Tukhan. Such is the photograph of the two races, as opposed to the fancy sketches of Europe.
To see a Turk work is a real pleasure, for he seems as if he liked his labour, and as he walks at the tail of his plough he sings an “Aman," [The generic name of most Turkish songs: “Aman, Aman!” is the general refrain of their ballads, like the old Spanish “Aydemi," with which it is identical in meaning.] which relates the deeds of Selim II or some other Ottoman hero; as he wields with his brown but delicately shaped hands a huge axe, heavy the mace of Coeur-de-Lion, you almost fancy that you see Roland cleaving the black cow down to the chine; what a difference between him and the Rayah, who scratches up his fields like a hen, and handles his axe as if all his fingers were blistered!
Even the amusements of the Turk are hard work, for they generally consist in shooting, and he reposes from his labour by a walk of forty miles over mountain and ravine in search of game. When evening comes on, the young men sit around the elders, who read aloud, relate the history and deeds of by-gone heroes, or discuss the questions of the day, political or social, in a manner far more profound than the occupants of an English country tap-room, whilst by listening to them the youths form their minds and their opinions. Sometimes athletic games and gymnastics (of which they are very fond), occupy their leisure hours, but there is no drinking and no quarrelling; what a difference between these sober and quiet recreations and the drunken orgies and obscene dances by which the 183 days and 365 evenings of idleness of the Rayah are occupied!
The Turk has his faults, but who has not? He is honest, sober, industrious, would recoil with distrust from a fraud or a cheat, and would never steal a sum of money or an ox; but he will in his youth become a Balkan Chelibi, and he cannot resist the temptation to possess himself of his neighbour's hound.
His natural activity and courage urge him to the adventurous life of a gentleman of the forest, but, like the Scotch freebooter of old, never will the Turkish brigand stain his conscience by an act of cowardly violence or by a crime which he considers dishonourable; he robs, but he retains his sentiment of honour intact. Although a sportsman by nature, or perhaps because he is so, he does not consider that he is doing a dishonourable thing by taking a hound belonging to some one else, but the older Turks are not of the same opinion, as the following anecdote will show.
Some time since a young Turk stole a hound from us in the forest and in broad daylight: we had an idea as to the identity of the robber, and sent a servant to his village to complain to the elders; they summoned the offender, and told him that he had dishonoured the village; he replied, "I took the dog in broad daylight;" but the old men answered him, "You stole it." The young man, with tears in his eyes, gave up the hound, and his shame at being thus reproached was so great that he enlisted in order to leave the village.
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