WOMEN, AND DOMESTIC ECONOMY.
Distribution of apartments in Turkish families.- Subjection of the women;- and their privileges.- Marriage.- Polygamy and divorce.- Reciprocal duties of the husband and wife.- Domestic arrangements.- Household establishment of the women.- House furniture, and mode of life.- Amusements,- occupations,- and character of the Turkish women.- Primary motives for the seclusion of women.- Inquiry as to its effects in promoting marriages,- in enforcing the observance of the conjugal duties,- in influencing the public character.- Persons and dress of the women.- Harems of Turkish gentlemen,- and grandees.- Imperial harem.- Titles and degrees of precedency among the ladies.- Domestics and guards of honour.- State of the women.- Princesses of the blood.- The slave-market.- Public women.- Eunuchs.Distribution of apartments in Turkish families.
226 The Turks, in their families, allot certain apartments to the women, which they distinguish by the name of harem, a word signifying a sacred retreat, a place of privacy and security, from which all men are excluded except the master of the family. Access 227 is interdicted even to the nearest male relations of the woman, except at seasons of public, or on occasions of private, rejoicing, when the father and father-in-law, the brothers, and the uncles are admitted to offer their congratulations in a short and ceremonious visit1. The women in Turkey are thus strictly confined to the society of their own sex, and the very few males whom the law allows them to see with impunity. The apartments of the men are called selamlik, or apartments for the reception of visitors2.
1"Fratribus quidem earum videndi facultas permittitur: at maritorum fratribus non item." (Busbeq. Epist. iii, p.121.) "Les plus proches parens, tels que les frères, les oncles, les beaux-pères, n'y sont reçus qu'a certaines époques de l'année, c'est-à-dire, dans les deux fêtes de beyram, et à l'occasion des noces, des couches, et de la circoncision des enfans." (Tab. Gén. t.iv, p.318.)
2The word harem signifies not only the women's apartments, but also the female part of a Turkish family taken collectively.Subjection of the women;
The European, familiarized with the idea of the natural equality of the sexes, looks with pity on the situation of the women throughout the Turkish empire, and almost the whole continent of Asia. Instead of being those associates of man by whom his affections are softened and his manners are refined, he sees them converted into the 228 merest instruments of his will or of his appetites. Controlled in all their inclinations, restrained in all their actions, watched over with indelicate observance, and forcibly constrained to regulate their life and behaviour so as to obtain the partial, and fugitive favour of an imperious, and perhaps a detested master; exposed to insult and caprice, to the torment of jealousy, or the hopelessness of ungratified desire; in some instances, torn from their parents, from the guardians of their infancy and the companions of their youth, cut off from hopes innocently but imprudently indulged, exposed to sale like the inferior classes of animals, and fluctuating, according to the caprice of their lord, between the situation of his servant or his mistress. In the most favourable point of view, the situation of the woman appears little to be envied: her husband, though constant in his affection, and dear to her from motives of gratitude and duty, is her only male acquaintance; and he must of necessity be frequently absent. She cannot be seen abroad with him, nor he remain constantly at home with her; his occupations or his amusements will draw him from the listless and unvaried scene of the harem; while 229 his wife, without any knowledge of literature or the arts, has no relief but in the duties of her household and family. The care of her person, more than personal comfort requires, must be irksome, since, however adorned, it can excite no other passion than envy in female bosoms.
To an European lady, duties so exercised must appear painful, and such pleasures insipid. To drink coffee and eat sweetmeats, to play at chess and view the ludicrous movements of a puppet-show, to perform ablutions and repeat set forms of prayer, would augment, instead of dissipating, the wearisomeness of existence; and yet, from the earliest period of history, the women of Asia have submitted, without a murmur, to these rigorous institutions; and the same, or nearly the same system was established in Athens and in Rome, and subsisted until the degeneracy of manners and the progress of luxury had tarnished the glory, and sapped the foundations of these illustrious republics.and their privileges.
It in an incontrovertible truth, that western Europe owes its high refinement to the liberty of women, and their consequent influence on public manners. But I by no means think, that the happiness of Asia would be 230 increased, or its virtue improved, by such an adoption of European customs. Nay I even suspect, that, if so important a change could be effected, the women themselves would find it only a small cause of congratulation. It must not be supposed, that the Turkish women are confined to their houses: on the contrary, women of all ranks indulge themselves in frequent parties abroad, on foot, in boats, or in carriages. At every public exhibition, at which women can with any propriety appear, they form the most numerous part of the spectators, and always occupy the most advantageous situation3.
3"The ladies go in coaches to see the camp as eagerly as ours did to that of Hyde-park." (Lady M. W. Montagu's letters, v. ii, p. 181.) The manners of the Orientals are so strict in every thing which regards the women that no information on this subject can be obtained by inquiries. It must be by experience and observation alone, that the historian can hope to obtain a glimpse of the Turkish economy. I would not advise the traveller to repeat the bold experiment of Mr. Gell, and explore, at an unseasonable hour and with some little infringement of the laws of hospitality, the secrets of the harem. The imitation of Ranger should I think be confined to our theatres: but, unless the observer possess something of the "quidlibet audendi" of Europeans, will be liable to fall into the same errors as D'Ohsson, who, born a rayah, and educated in slavish principles, could never dare to fix his eyes upon a Turkish woman, or to divest himself of respect for the cudgel, the symbol of Turkish authority. "Women of a certain rank," he says (t. iv, p. 321), "seldom appear in public: they even consider it as derogatory to their dignity to go abroad, unless they are obliged to do so by some indispensable necessity. One seldom meets any Turkish women in the streets, except those of the inferior classes, and they are always closely veiled, observing the strictest circumspection, and never speaking to any person, even their nearest relations if they should chance to meet them. It would be the height of indecency in a man to stop and gaze at them; and if he should so far forget himself as to utter an equivocal expression, or take the least liberty, nothing could save him from the pursuit of the city-guards, or the resentment of the people, who would beat him to death as a just punishment for his temerity."231 If the women are deprived of the society of the men, they suffer no more than the men do from want of intercourse with them. The married women are mistresses of all the domestic arrangements, are perfectly uncontrolled in the selection of their female acquaintance, and in the choice of suitable amusements. The possessions of the wife, whether originally her own or the gift of her husband, are sacredly preserved as her exclusive property, and can upon no account be reclaimed by the husband, or be confiscated to the state, though the whole of his fortune, and even his life, be doomed to forfeiture4. Instances have even occurred where 232 the husband, by making over a great part of his property to his wife in order to secure it from the grasp of power, has become dependent upon her for his very subsistence. The wife may bequeath by will the whole of her property, however acquired, without any restraint or limitation. In case of her dying intestate, the law allots a certain proportion of her estate to the surviving husband, and regulates the disposal of the remainder among the relations of the deceased.
4"Upon the whole," says Lady M. W. Montagu (v. ii, p. 124), "I look upon the Turkish women as the only free people in the empire: the very divan pays respect to them, and the grand signor himself, when a pasha is executed, never violates the privileges of the harem (or women's apartments), which remains unsearched, and entire to the widow. They are queens of their slaves, whom the husband has no permission so much as to look upon, except it be an old woman or two that his lady chooses:"-"neither have they much to apprehend from the resentment of their husbands, those ladies that are rich having all the money in their own hands."
If the wife have never been gratified with the assiduities and adulation of courtship and gallantry, she is however recompensed by the respect and attentions of her children; for from the sovereign to the lowest subject, the name of mother is never mentioned but with reverence, and the warmest affection is evinced in the discharge of the final duties.
233 The duty of children towards their parents is acknowledged and inculcated both by the precepts of the koran, and the example of Mahomet. In his early infancy the prophet was deprived of his father, his mother, and his grandfather; but one of the few miracles which he performed, was the calling of his mother Emineh from the tomb, in order that she might believe in his mission, and be no longer excluded from the enjoyment of paradise5. "The decree of Mahomet," says Gibbon, "that, in the sale of captives, the mothers should never be separated from their children, may suspend or moderate the censure of the historian6."
5See Tab.Gén. t.i, p. 199.
6See Rom. hist. v.ix, p. 323.Marriage.
Marriage is considered by the Turks merely as a civil contract. It derives its validity from the authority and registration of the cadi, or the magistrate of the district before whom it is solemnized, not however by the parties themselves, as neither the bride, nor any female, attends at the ceremony: the deed is executed by proxies, and signed by witnesses, who are usually the nearest relations of the two families, the imam of the 234 parish, and a few friends of the parties. The presence of the imam, or priest, is essential in no other respect; though, in order to give additional solemnity to the ceremony, he is generally employed to pronounce a nuptial benediction on the new married couple. The contract of marriage, which is drawn up with due formality, contains a stipulation of the dowery to be settled on the wife, in the event of her surviving her husband or being repudiated by him; but to which she forfeits her claim by soliciting a divorce. The contract also contains an account of the marriage portion and other property belonging to the wife, which, in case of her death or separation, must be restored or accounted for agreeably to the inventory. Marriage differs from concubinage only in this stipulation of a dowery, or settlement: and the privilege which it confers on the woman, is only the establishment of her exclusive claim the caresses of her husband on the evening of djumm 'a guiun. If this duty be complied with, his irregularity at other times is not legally a ground of complaint7. The 235 children of the bondwoman and the free are equally legitimate8. In addition to marriage and concubinage, there is another peculiar mode of cohabitation in Turkey, which is seldom practised: this is called kapin, and is a contract obligatory on the parties for a limited time, fixing the period of their union and the conditions of their separation, and recognizing the duties to be performed by the father towards the children.
7Djumm 'a guiun is the name of the day which commences at sunset on Thursday, and ends at the same hour on Friday. "Una nox singulis hebdomadibus diei Veneris apud eos festi, (?)xori reservatur, qua sine querela defraudare eam maritus non potest; cæteræ noctes ejus arbitrii sunt." (Busbeq. Epist. iii, p. 122.) Dr. Johnson's Irene, who proposed, when she should be queen, to restore the splendour of the cities, rebuild the palaces, and even authorize the public exercise of the religion, of the Greeks, was not aware of the very limited portion of authority to be conferred upon her by her marriage with the sultan.
8"There are many among the Turks," says D'Ohsson (t. iv, p. 343), "who prefer the society of their female slaves to the restraints of matrimony. In Europe these women are improperly termed concubines, since their connexion with their masters is permitted, and their children are no less legitimate than those of the wife." I know not whether the circumstances mentioned by D'Ohsson will be considered as sufficient to remove all slur or reproach from the character of these ladies, and I cannot suppose, that he attaches the same ideas to his words as Europeans usually do, when he asserts (p. 346), that "to live with a mistress is an irregularity unknown among Mahometans."Polygamy
Polygamy and divorce are authorized by the law of Mahomet; but the Turks, without much speculative reasoning on the subject, 236 seldom resort in practice to institutions so injurious to the interests of society. In instances of polygamy all the wives are either purchased slaves or women of an inferior condition to the husband, and they rank in estimation according to the number, or the sex, of their children; but if a man have married a woman of equal rank with himself, she constantly retains her dignity; and if she admit of rivals, which is frequently guarded against by the marriage contract, they either have a separate and interior establishment in the same harem, or live with her as her servants9.
9"Lorsque le harem est composé de plusieurs femmes, chacune a sa table particulière, attendu que, dans l'économie domestique, tout est absolument distinct et séparé entre elles. Cet ordre étoit nécessaire pour éviter les tristes effets de la jalousie et de la rivalité. Il est peu d'exemples que deux femmes vivent ensemble." (Tab. Gén. t. iv, p. 31.)and divorce.
Divorces seldom take place; incompatibility of temper is the less felt as the parties do not from custom live much together. The usual, and only allowable, cause for divorce in our country would meet with severer reprobation in Turkey, and the marriage would be dissolved by the death of the party offending10. The husband who inflicts the
10"Si invenirem hominem aliquem cum mea uxore, certe occiderim cum gladio absque ulla misericordia.-Id cum relatum fuisset legato Dei Mahumeto, dixit, cur admiramini de zelotypia Saad? Ego sum magis zelotypus quam Saad, et Deus majorem zelotypiam habet quam ego." (Maracci, p. 66.)237 punishment of instant death on his inconstant wife, is not only held innocent by the law, but may even found his claim to the inheritance of her property on the murder which himself has committed. Mercy and forgiveness are, however, recommended by the example of the prophet. His favourite wife Aïsché or Ayesha (between whose age and that of Mahomet there was indeed a disparity of forty years) inconsiderably stepped from the litter in which she usually followed her husband in his military expeditions, and absented herself for a moment in a neighbouring wood. Neither the venerable character of her husband, nor the purity of her own intentions could preserve her conduct from calumny. The prophet divorced her on his return to Medina, but after a few days, re-admitted her to his embraces, on being assured of her innocence by a divine revelation, ayeth. The heretical Persians still persist in traducing her reputation; but the Turks religiously reject the insinuation, that her fond husband was only duped into the disbelief of her infidelity.
238 Sterility, which entails more disgrace amoung the Turks than with us, is the chief cause of divorces. The wife too, if she have cause to complain either of neglect of conjugal duties, or of the want of the necessaries of life, or of the commission or apprehension of violence, may appeal to the law and obtain a divorce11. The husband who has formally a repudiated his wife, cannot take her 239 again until she have been remarried and again divorced12. The law not only justifies whatever means a woman may adopt to preserve herself from shame or injury, but even commands her to employ poison, if it be necessary, in order to protect her honour from violence. The same privilege is extended to the wife, who, after having been separated from her husband by the ceremony of divorce, finds herself compelled to resist his usurpation of the privileges which he has renounced.
11"In causis quibus divortium mulieribus permissum hæ continentur: si mariti debitis eas alimentis fraudent; item si præter naturæ præscriptum (quod nefas Turcis familiare) eis abuti conentur. Tunc ad judicem profectæ se non posse diutius maritum manere testantur: judice causam quærente, nihil respondent, sed exutum pede calceum invertunt. Id judici abominandæ veneris indicium est." (Busbeq. Epist. iii, p. 122.) The censure contained in this passage, which I believe to be false at least to be much exaggerated, is considerably extenuated the explanation which the Chevalier d'Arvieux gives of the method adopted by women to announce to the magistrate dislike of their husbands, or their dissatisfaction with his conduct. Baron Busbeck's authority is of less weight, as he derived his information chiefly from his interpreters; whereas the Chevalier d'Arvieux was intimately acquainted both with the language and the manners of the Turks. "Lorsque les femmes ne sont pas contentes de leurs maris, et qu'elles demandent la dissolution de leur marriage, elles vest trouver le cadi l'audience tenant; elles déchaussent un de leurs souliers, et le renversent le dessus dessous, pour marquer ce qu'elles n'oseroient dire. Le cadi envoye aussitôt chercher le mari, it entend les raisons de part et d'autre, et si la femme persiste à demander la dissolution du marriage, il la condamne à perdre sa dot, rompt le contrat de marriage, et lui permet de chercher un autre mari." (Memoires, t. i, p. 449.)
12See in the memoirs of the chevalier d'Arvieux (t.i, p. 453), a curious and well-authenticated instance of the enforcement of this law, with its peculiar conditions and extraordinary ceremonies.Reciprocal duties of the husband and wife.
Mahomet himself, a man of warm imagination, disposed to enthusiasm which necessarily heightens the passions, and naturally a lover of women, did not deprive them of their due rank and honour, either in civil society, or in the delights of paradise. The koran expressly declares, that in the future distribution of rewards and punishments God make no distinction of sexes; but the prophet does not insult the modesty of women by unveiling to their imagination a paradise of sensual bliss. The dangerous secret 240 was left to be divulged in modern times, and the grave Montesquieu has exhibited, in his description of the female elysium, all the aids and instruments of luxury. A meadow of lively verdure, enamelled with beautiful flowers, first receives the victim who has escaped from an earthly harem; a rivulet meanders through the midst, the birds warble in the surrounding groves, and a superb palace, placed in a magnificent garden, terminates the prospect, and contains within its walls the company of celestial youths whose occupation through eternity is only to contribute to her amusement13.
13Lettres Persannes, lettre cxli. "Je vous demande grace, leur disoit Zuléma, car je vois bien que vour êtes gens à n'en demander jamais."
Mahomet, knowing the influence of women over men, exhorted his followers not to marry unconverted polytheists14; but he provided for the connubial happiness of the female believers by impressing on the husband the sanctity of the conjugal embrace, and the sin of neglecting it. The man is reminded of the necessity of performing this sacred 241 duty by the comparison which is drawn between it and our daily and necessary occupations. "Your wives," says the writer of the koran, "are as your garments;" garments not to be laid aside even in the month of ramazan, the season of fasting and penitence: and, in another passage, "your wives are your tillage, labour therein for the good of your souls15." The wives are enjoined to honour their husbands; but the husband is instructed to return the honour, diminished however by one degree, a gradation not very easily to be ascertained. The harsh measure of divorce is recommended to be tempered by the gentlest mode of execution, and to be softened by benefits and presents. Whatever has been given to the wives they retain; and after waiting the legal period of four months, or a longer period of convention during which their maintenance is provided 242 for, they are at liberty to seek for a more sedulous, or less capricious, partner.
14Mussulmans are strictly prohibited from forming alliances with idolaters. The faithful may marry Jewish or Christian women, and their children must be Mussulmans; but the female believer is forbidden to unite herself with an infidel.
15"Voilà des préceptes qui rendent la vie d'un véritable Musulman bien laborieuse. Celui qui a les quatre femmes établies par la loi et seulement autant de concubines, ou d'esclaves, ne doit-il pas être accablé de tant de vêtemens?" (Lett. Pers. lettre cxiv.) "Non è cosa, che non tentino pel fomite alla libidine, valendosi fuor di misura d'ogni rimedio violento, che à quell' intento non giova; e pregiudica alla salute." (Marsigli, stato milit. dell' imp. Ottom. t. i, p 37.)Domestic arrangements.
Hume supposes, that the Asiatic manners are destructive of social intercourse, and that no one dares introduce a friend to his house or table, lest he should bring home a rival; but in this he is mistaken. The household establishments are separate and unconnected; and the Turk, like Hume's epicurean, quits the conversation of his friends and the pleasures of the table for the company of his wife or mistress, in a distinct suite of apartments.Household establishment of the women.
An incorrect and humiliating idea is conveyed, though perhaps unintentionally, of the Turkish harem, by the assertion, that "females among the Turks lead a gregarious life, and are associated together in small apartments16." A numerous harem can however be collected only in the palaces of the richest and greatest of the Turks, and whatever privations, in other respects, the women may suffer, they are certainly not huddled together as a flock; nor penned up in small apartments.
16Dallaway, Constant. ancient and modern, p. 107.House furniture, and mode of life.
In a Turkish house there are no chambers exclusively appropriated as bed rooms: the 243 usual of sleeping is on a light mattress, which is spread on the sopha or in the middle of the chamber, and sometimes in the gallery, according to the season of the year and the temperature of the weather. Neither men nor women lie down completely undressed, but have night-dresses, resembling, except in the inferior quality of the materials, the under-clothes which they wear in the day. The bed-furniture, which in its greatest perfection consists but of a quilted coverlet, a sheet, and a pillow, is laid up during the day in a closet or press, with which every chamber is provided. Every room in a Turkish house serves for every purpose; and the furniture, in all, differs only in fineness of quality or richness of ornament. The sopha extends round three sides of the chamber on a frame raised a few inches from the floor. The minder, or mattresses, as well as the cushions, are stuffed with wool, and smaller cushions for the more distinguished guests are filled with cotton. The macat, or covering, is of woollen or silk stuff, bordered with a deep fringe, and the cushions are of velvet, or of gold and silver tissue. The floor is covered, according to the season, with carpets or Egyptian matting, 244 except a small part near the entrance, where the papuches, or slippers, are put off. The use of chairs and tables is almost unknown.
The dinner is served up on a large circular tray of copper, tinned, which is placed on a low stool, at a corner of the sopha, and the guests sit round it cross-legged, the youngest or least honourable sitting on cushions placed on the floor. The service is conducted with great simplicity. The dishes are brought to table singly, and succeed each other, sometimes to the number of twenty or thirty, with such celerity as to allow little time for selection or indulgence. Instead of a table cloth a long napkin is spread over the knees of the guests. The chief of the family serves himself with the fingers of his right hand, and invites the company to follow his example. They make no use of plates, nor even of knives and forks. Mahomet severely inveighs against luxury or expense in the table furniture. "Verily," he says, "the fire of hell will roar like the lowings of a camel in the bellies of those who eat and drink from vessels of gold or silver17."
17See Tab. Gén. t.iv, p. 103.
245 In the ladies apartments the tanndur usually occupies the corner of the sopha during the winter months, and besides being used for warmth, answers all the purposes of a table and a toilette. The tanndur is in the form of a table, of the height of two or three feet, with a bottom on which is placed a chafing dish of earthenware or copper, containing a small quantity of hot ashes. The company sit around it, with their legs under the carpet or quilted coverlet which is thrown over it. D'Ohsson supposes, that European ladies would willingly adopt it, and would experience less inconvenience from the moderate heat of the tanndur than from the brisk action of the chimney-fire. Olivier, who was at Pera in the year 1794 when the French were separated from "la bonne société," describes the abuses of this utensil in the families of the interior Greeks and Franks. I believe, that this singular invention is peculiar to Constantinople and its neighbourhood, as the use of it does not extend beyond the sea-coast of Asia Minor, nor to the northward beyond the Danube. Its heat, which is confined under the coverlets, is moderate and agreeable; but being unequally diffused, and directed chiefly to the legs and feet, besides injuriously 246 affecting those parts, disposes the body more easily to catch cold. In most houses there is no chimney except in the kitchen. Persons of rank or property easily brave the severity of the winter in their spacious apartments, wrapt up in the most costly and comfortable furs: sometimes a chafing dish, called mangal, is placed in the centre of the chamber; but the use of the tanndur is general in the boudoirs of the harem18.
18See Lady M. W. Montagu's letters, v.ii, p. 219. Tab. Gén. t.iv, p. 175. Olivier's travels, v.i, p. 149.Amusements,
Smoking is an universal custom in the Turkish harem, but Lady Mary Wortley Montagu prudently excludes so disgustinging a particular from her portrait of the Turkish ladies. I cannot assert from experience, that the most offensive consequence of this custom is corrected by the chewing of mastic, which, it is supposed, whitens and preserves the teeth, and by stimulating the salival glands, assists digestion. Coffee and confections, which in Turkey are delicious, are taken as elegant and necessary refreshments, and are always presented to visitors. Sherbet and perfumes are more ceremoniously 247 introduced, as denoting greater respect19.
19Dr. Dallaway visited the palace of Bey-han Sultan on the European shore of the Bosphorus, "where," he says (p. 140), "a confection of exquisite flavour was offered, called the conserve of rubies, as well from the richness of the other ingredients, as that pounded rubies were a part of the composition. So capricious are their preparations in the confectionary art." The fact, since Dr. Dallaway asserts it, cannot be called in question; but we must surely admire the dura ilia of the delicate sultana. D'Ohsson (Tab. Gén. t. iv, p. 78) mentions a similar composition, djewahir-madjouny, electuary of precious stones: but I am so incredulous as to suppose, that both these gentlemen have been misled by a sounding name. I indeed discover, from she writings of the Christian historians of the Ottoman empire, that pounded diamonds have sometimes been made use of by the sultans; for it is related, that Selim the First administered a dose of this confection to his father, by the hands of a Jewish physician whose head he immediately caused to be cut off, and so efficacious was this preparation in the confectionary art that Bajazet died on the road before he could reach Demotica, the place of his banishment. (See D'Herbelot, bibliothéque Orientate, p. 801.)occupations,
The more elegant occupations of the harem are working in embroidery, and superintending the education of young ladies, who are taught to express themselves with the greatest purity and correctness of language, to read, and to write a neat and legible hand. These qualifications are indispensable to the education of a lady of fashion; and singing, dancing and music, are also considered as polite 248 accomplishments. Whether their dances be of the same character as those of the professed actresses, I cannot pretend to determine: they certainly are not all so, and I should think they rather resemble the romaika, or choral dances of the Greek women20.
20The account here given differs considerably from that of the Chevalier D'Ohsson (See Tab. Gén. t. iv, p. 333). But as I have it from persons engaged to give lessons to young ladies in the empress-dowager's palace, I think there can be no reason to doubt the veracity of it.and character of the Turkish women.
Such are the studies and qualifications of young ladies of the superior ranks, whose leisure and fortune enable them to acquire those elegant arts which constitute the distinguishing characteristics of polished society, or render them delightful companions in retirement. They are also most carefully instructed in the decorum of manners and every thing belonging to the dignity of their rank in life, as well as in those arts which add poignancy to their personal attractions. The amiable character of their sex is not perverted by their institutions: and if their soft and voluptuous caresses excite desire, the flame is cherished and refined by their native delicacy, their gentleness, their modesty, and engaging sensibility. They are 249 endeared to their husbands by the exercise of all the conjugal and parental duties, and the charm which they diffuse over every circumstance and change of life. Can we refuse them the virtues of compassion and humanity, when Denon tells us, that, during the insurrection at Cairo, an old lady in the neighbourhood, in spite of national resentment and religious prejudices, offered her harem to a number of Frenchmen as an asylum against the fury of the populace21? Or can any thing more excite our admiration of the Turkish women than the heroic behaviour of those survived the storming of Oczakow? It was on the festival of Saint Nicholas in the month of December, in a winter unusually severe, that about four hundred Turkish women were put under the superintendance of Mr. Eton, and huddled together under tents, though it froze exceedingly hard, and they suffered dreadfully from cold and nakedness. "I observed," says Mr. Eton, "that there remained a perfect silence among them: not one woman weeping or lamenting, at least loudly, though every one perhaps had lost a parent, a child, or a husband22."
21Denon, voyage dans la basse et la haute Egypte, t. i, p. 205.
22See Survey of the Turkish empire, p. 120. Prince Potemkin, according to Mr. Eton (p. 118), was a very humane man: but has Mr. Eton himself a correct idea of humanity, when he tells us, that this humane man "might have taken the fortress on the first of July, but purposely protracted the siege, though he saw his own troops perishing from the excess of the cold?" (Pref. p. xiii.) "As I spoke Turkish," says Mr. Eton, "I had the of that post, and the superintendance of the women that night." Here is a strong and positive assertion, on the accuracy of which must depend our confidence in Mr. Eton's qualifications, and our belief in the general correctness of his statements. Now Mr. Eton relates, that, when the Russian officers came to distribute the prisoners in different parts, some Turks objected to the separation of friends and relations, but several of the women said to the Turks, let them do as they will, they are our masters now. "In the two first words," says Mr. Eton (p. 118), "they pressed the same notion of their superiority as the men had done, but the remainder of the sentence is not uncharacteristic of Turkish women in general." What Mr. Eton really means by this sly insinuation, he alone can explain. I shall confine myself to a philological remark. The Turkish verbs are not conjugated, as ours, by means of auxiliaries: the two first words are no more expressed in Turkish, in the phrase "let them do," than they are in Latin. Etsinler is the third person plural of the imperative of the verb etmek (to do): and I think it would puzzle Mr. Eton to point out in which of the three component syllables of this word he was able to detect that expression of superiority, at which himself and the humane Russians were so much offended.Primary motives for the seclusion of women.
250 In the early state of Turkish society, while the men were employed in the labours of the field or the exercise of the chace, the women were devoted exclusively to domestic occupations. The same habits of separation continued, when their modes of life, in other 251 respects, were changed: and the precepts of their new religion defined with rigour the duties to be observed by either sex. But the precautions used in Turkey to conceal the women from the public view, whether the custom originated with themselves or was adopted from other nations, are less to be attributed to jealousy and suspicion than to respect for the persons, and reverence for the modesty, of women; and they are perhaps to be considered as an homage to female beauty, which the Turks think that no man can behold with physical indifference, or with mental purity. In their houses the women are screened from intrusive curiosity; and their dress, when abroad, without any pretensions to elegance, muffles their bodies, and seems purposely designed for concealment. The thin covering of muslin which veils only a part of their faces, leaves them, however, perfectly free to observe the persons of the men. If jealousy dictated such a disguise, it could not more effectually have defeated its own purposes: for the spirit of intrigue could scarcely suggest a more happy expedient to elude vigilance, and to deceive, without alarming, suspicion. The means of preventing indiscretion by watching over the 252 conduct of the women must necessarily be limited to the idle, or the rich; so that, if there be equal virtue in Turkey as in Christendom, there is at least equal merit.Inquiry as to its effects in promoting marriages,
In a general survey of the Turkish empire, there are perhaps as few unmarried persons of either sex as in other countries; so the seclusion of women does not appear to operate as an impediment to matrimony: for though ambitious men defer their domestic establishments till they have advanced or secured their fortunes, yet the husbandman, the artisan and the tradesman, generally contract marriage as a preliminary to their settling themselves in business. Indeed it would not be allowed to an unmarried man, or which is considered as the same thing, to a person who has no woman in his family, to keep a house and an independent establishment in Constantinople. The evil then extends no further than to restrain girls from general conversation, and to confine the attention of wives to their conjugal duties. It cannot by any means be complained of as a hardship upon the women, or as a favour to the other sex.in enforcing the observance of the conjugal duties,
"The morality of Turkish women," says Lady Mary Wortley Montagu, "is as with 253 us, and they do not commit one crime the less for not being Christians:" but intrigues, except among the indigent who are not overlooked by servants or duennas, are attended with obstacles not easily surmounted23. Some authors mention the bath as a rendezvous of lovers, but I do not hesitate to assert, that no assignation was ever made at a public bath24. Others mention Jewesses and Armenian women as the conductors of intrigues, and they allege, that correspondence is carried on between the lovers by means of the flowers of a nosegay. Such means are indeed possible, and so are a thousand others, which have been, and no doubt 254 are, daily resorted to in Constantinople, as in every populous and luxurious capital.
23"On voit gu'il est presque impossible aux femmes de manquer aux lois de la décence et de la pudeur, si naturelles d'ailleurs à leur sexe - Toutes les croisées de leurs appartemens qui donneat au-dehors ou sur la cour de la maison, sont garnies de ce qu'on appelle ailleurs si improprement des jalousies. Veulent-elles aller au bain public, voir leurs parentes, faire des emplettes, ou se promener, elles sont toujours accompagnées des autres dames de la maison, suivies de leurs esclaves et gardées par des eunuques, ou par des domestiques spécialement préposés pour cet objet. Excepté celles qui sont avancées en âge, aucune ne peut aller à la mosquée: d'accord avec les mœurs, la loi les en dispense." (Tab. Gén. t. iv, p. 320.)
24This mistake, I apprehend, may be traced to a defective quotation from Busbequius, who says (Epist. iii, p. 123), " mulieres inter se amant, conciliatrices vero nefariorum amorum sunt (?)alneæ."
If a Christian be detected in a criminal intercourse with a Turkish woman, he is obliged not only to marry her, but to espouse her religion, otherwise he is irremissibly condemned to death25. The only intrigue with a foreigner ever mentioned to me on undoubted authority, and with circumstances analogous to Turkish customs, was with an English officer, employed in the Turkish service at Ruschiuk on the Danube during the last Russian war; and nothing could be more simple than its contrivance. The lady, who knew no language but the Turkish, came to the house of the officer, whose knowledge of the language did not facilitate communication between them: the exposure of a beautiful face explained the motive of her visit. Their intimacy was detected: the gentleman sought protection from Sir Robert Murray Keith, who was 255 then negociating the peace at Sistove, and the lady, as he afterwards heard, justified her conduct, or at least was pardoned by her husband.
25Lord Sandwich says (p.158), that "their measures for procuring opportunities of frequent interviews are always so well laid that a discovery is next to impossible." But, as his lordship candidly confesses, that he does not speak from his own experience, his testimony only authorizes a suspicion, that a secret so well kept has no foundation in reality.in influencing the public character.
It cannot be denied, that the severity of the Turkish institutions must be productive of incorrectness of taste and irregularity of conduct in both sexes26. Whether these partial inconveniences are overbalanced by more general advantages, it would be a matter of great difficulty and delicacy to decide. The great corrective of public depravity is domestic manners, and if the women be too scrupulously, yet they are effectually, removed from the chief seductions to irregularity. The interior of their houses is pure and untainted with vice and obscenity. Domestic virtue is honoured with public approbation, 256 and misconduct is censured with unrelenting severity.
26"Cum vero vulgus mulierum promiscuis sui sexus balneis utatur, eo plures, cum servæ tum liberæ, aggregantur; in quibus puellæ multæ sunt eximia forma, ex diversis orbis regionibus variis casibus collectæ, quæ cum nudæ ut in balneis reliquarum oculis exponantur, miros in quibusdam excitant amores, nihilo minores quam quibus apud nos adolescentium animos virgines commovent." (Busbeq. Epist. iii, p. 122.) "Quod de mulieribus, idem et de pueris sentiunt, quorum amoribus, si qua alia gens, præcipue Turcæ indulgent." (Georgii Dousæ iter Constant. ap. Gronovium, t. vi, p. 3350.)
We are told, that pleasure is the chief duty of Turkish wives: and it may be true of the wives of the voluptuous; yet even these show at least so much reverence to their children and their families as to conceal from observation the working of the passions, and sacrifice so little duty that few mothers neglect the care of their infants27. Those who have observed them in their families, acknowledge, that their highest pleasures are the caresses of an infant whom they nourish with their milk. Mahomet himself is never more amiable than when he enforces this pleasing duty. "The kiss given by an infant to its mother equals in sweetness that which we shall imprint on the threshold of paradise." The harem is indeed susceptible of voluptuousness. Lady M.W. Montagu has described it with accuracy, though not without enthusiasm28; but the 257 president Montesquieu has heightened its enjoyments with all the glow of a heated imagination29. We must however acknowledge, 258 that its pleasures admit of degrees; or we must doubt the bold assertion of De Tott, that "Turkish women contribute but little to the pleasures of their possessor, whom the harem inspires only with disgust30." Mr. Eton asserts, that "the husband regards his wives only as the instruments of his pleasures, and seeks their society with no other view." But can the heart of the Turk be supposed to deviate so far from the usual course of human nature as not to be susceptible of the endearments of which marriage is the source? With whatever view, or under the influence of whatever passion, he may have formed his harem, the various affections must have their turn: the husband, the father, and the friend, must succeed to the lover, and from these social affections must spring, in due order, the high and noble passions which Mr. Eton justly attributes to the influence of female society, but of which he denies the existence in the Turkish nation.
27"Toutes les mères, en général, sans en excepter les sultanes, nourissent eller-mêmes leurs enfans." (Tab. Gén. t. iv, p. 331.)
28See a description of Lady Mary's visit to Fatima, in her letter written from Adrianople to the Countess of Mar (v. ii, p. 168). "I could not help thinking I had been sometime in Mahomet's paradise, so much was I charmed with what I had seen."
29See Lettres Persannes, lettre iii.- "Zachi à Usbek." "J'errois d'appartemens en appartemens, te cherchant toujours, et ne te trouvant jamais; mais rencontrant par-tout un cruel souvenir de ma félicité passée. Tantôt je me voyois en ce lieu où, pour la premiere fois de ma vie, je te reçus dans mes bras; tantôt dans celui où tu décidas cette fameuse querelle entre tes femmes. Chacune de nous se prétendoit supérieure aux autres en beauté: nous nous présentâmes devant toi, après avoir épuisé tout ce que l'imagination peut fournir de parures et d'ornemens: tu vis avec plaisir les miracles de notre art; tu admiras jusqu'où nous avoit emportées l'ardeur de te plaire. Mais tu fis bientôt céder ces charmes empruntés à des graces plus naturelles; tu détruisis tout notre ouvrage: il fallut nous dépouiller de ces ornemens, qui t'étoient devenus incommodes; il fallut parôitre à ta vue dans la simplicité de la nature. Je comptai pour rien la pudeur; je ne j(?)ensai qu'à ma gloire. Heureux Usbek! que de charmes furent étalés à tes yeux! Nous te vimes long-temps errer d'enchantemensen enchantemens; ton ame incertaine demeura long-temps sans sefixer; ehaque grace nouvelle te demandoit un tribut: nous fûmes en un moment toutes couvertes de tes baisers: tu portas tes curieux regards dans les lieux les plus secrets; tu nous fis passer, en un instant, dans mille situations différentes; toujours de nouveaux commandemens, et une obéissance toujours nouvelle. Je te l'avoue, Usbek, une passion encore plus vive que l'ambition me fit souhaiter de te plaire. Je me vis insensiblement devenir la maitresse de ton cœur: tu me pris, tu me quittas; tu revins à moi, et je sus te retenir: le triomphe fut tout pour moi, et le désespoir pour mes rivales: il nous sembla que nous fussions seuls dans le monde; tout ce qui nous entouroit ne fut plus digne de nous occuper. Plût au ciel que mes rivales eussent eu le courage de rester témoins de toutes les marques d'amour que je reçus de toi! Si elles avoient bien vu mes transports, elles auroient senti la différence qu'il y a de mon amour au leur; elles auroient vu que, si elles pouvoient disputer avec moi de charmes, elles ne pouvoient pas disputer de sensibilité."
30See Memoirs, preliminary discourse, p. xxiii.
259 "The women," it is rashly asserted, "cannot be desirable companions to the man, because they have no cultivation of mind, and are stupid and solitary31." But the education of women of every rank is, at least, suitable to the manners of that particular state of society in which they move, and leaves them no inferiority with respect to their husbands. We do wrong to expect among women of the lower classes much useful or ornamental knowledge; but though the fleeting images of daily occurrences alone occupy their reflection, yet their domestic and family concerns are discussed with no less interest by their husbands than by themselves. "It must be confessed," says the Chevalier d'Ohsson, "that the way of life of the Mahometan women, estimable as it makes them in the eyes of their husbands and dear to their families, deprives them, however, of the means of acquiring those qualifications which heighten the personal and mental attractions. But notwithstanding the few advantages which they derive from education, nature abundantly compensates for the neglect. The Turkish women seem to inherit 260 acuteness of discernment, and delicacy of taste and judgment. Their deportment and manners are graceful and amiable, their conversation chaste and unaffected. I have occasionally met with ladies of quality at the hotels of the ministers or magistrates, and I have admired the purity of their language, their easy elocution, the refinement of their thoughts, the nobleness of their style, and the grace which accompanied their words actions32."
31See Survey of the Turkish empire, p. 242.
32See Tableau Général, t. iv, p. 337.Persons and dress of the women. The Turkish women are beautiful, though their beauty is of a different character from that of women in the northern climates of Europe. Their dress, when abroad, is little calculated to expose to advantage the elegant proportions of shape, which when young they possess, but from various circumstances in their manner of living, do not so generally preserve as the women of the other parts of Europe.
De Tott seems to deny them beauty. He went unexpectedly into the apartment of Madame de Tott, when she was receiving a visit from some Turkish ladies. "The outcry was general; but only those who were 261 old hurried themselves to cover their faces: he, however, thought it great vanity in the young ones to make no more haste. They are exposed, he says, in their hot baths to all the inconveniences of a forced perspiration, so frequently repeated as to destroy the freshness of the complexion and the grace of the features, even before they are marriageable33."
33See Memoirs, p. 45, and preliminary discourse, p. 27.
It has been the peculiar fate of the Turkish ladies to be described by writers who were under the influence of prejudice or partiality. Lord Sandwich says, "we may venture to affirm" (and it is rather a bold assertion, as it is founded on the opinion of other people), "that a person who had ever experienced an intrigue with a Turkish woman, would have no further taste for the ladies of any other country, whom he would find in every particular so much their inferiors. The cleanliness and sweetness of their bodies, their advantageous dress, which seems made purposely to inspire the warmest desires, the tenderness of their expressions, their words and actions, which seem enough to declare the unfeigned sentiments of their hearts, their grace, air and beauty, are sufficient to 262 captivate the most unconquerable breast; while their sincerity and unequalled constancy are capable of fixing their lover's affections34."
34See Voyage round the Mediterranean in the years 1738 and 1739, p. 158. I think there may be detected in Lord Sandwich's writings, notwithstanding his declaration to the contrary, a lurking desire of insinuating, that his knowledge of the Turkish women was not derived merely from hearsay information.
I prefer Lady M. W. Montage's description of them to that of other travellers, as however highly it may be coloured, it is the only one certainly drawn from life. "They walked about with the same majestic grace which Milton describes our general mother with. There were many amongst them as exactly proportioned as ever any goddess was drawn by the pencil of a Guido or a Titian, and most of their skins shimingly white, only adorned by their beautiful hair, divided into many tresses, hanging on their shoulders, braided either with pearl or ribbons, perfectly representing the figures of the graces. I was here convinced of the truth of a reflection I have often made, that, if it were the fashion to go naked, the face would be hardly observed35."
35See Lady M. W. Montagu's letters, v. ii, p. 94. The personal beauty of the Turks of both sexes was a subject of commendation with the Persian writers, even while the Turks dwelt on the northern frontier or their empire. There is the following passage in the poem of Ferdusi, who wrote, at the end of the tenth, and the beginning of the eleventh, century, the war of Afrasiab and Khosru, or Cyrus. "With them are many Turkish girls, all with their faces veiled; all with their bodies taper as a cypress, and locks black as musk; all with cheeks full of roses, with eyes full of sleep; all with lips sweet as wine, and fragrant as rose-water. If we go near to that bower we may take several of those lovely nymphs, and bring them to the noble Cyrus." (See Jones's works, v. ii, p. 316.)263
Restricted as the women are to a partial intercourse with people of either sex, it is not to be expected, that the fashion of dress is subject to such continual variations as in the Christian part of Europe: and, as the taste of the country is less refined than with us, the women have not yet learned to substitute neatness for magnificence. Their dresses are made of the richest stuffs of India and Cachemire, which, being too costly to be frequently changed, and incapable of being washed, continue in use for a much longer period than they can possibly preserve the freshness which delicacy requires. Another indispensable article of elegant dress in all seasons is fur; but an animal substance, which is in a state of continual decay, however it may display the riches of the wearer, 264 is ill-calculated to convey an idea of delicacy.Harems of Turkish gentlemen,
The harems of private gentlemen have been frequently visited by European physicians, and from none of their descriptions do they appear to be the scenes of vice and debauchery. Few men wish to avail themselves of the licence, which the law allows, of increasing the number of their wives; and the slaves, in general, are not the mistresses of the husband, but the servants or companions of the wife. The right of the master or mistress is mildly exercised in Turkey, and slavery is perhaps the readiest road to honours and preferments: the European prejudices with respect to birth are unknown or disregarded, and the male or female slave is frequently incorporated with the family by marriage with the son or daughter of the master.and grandees.
The harem, in the palaces of the emperor and the great officers of state, is guarded by eunuchs, black, and deformed, whether from nature, or the effect of the mutilation. Though I do not pretend to have obtained particular information as to the jurisdiction of the interior of the imperial harem, yet I may venture to assert, that these eunuchs, so formidably 265 represented by Montesquieu, officiate only as guards of honour: they neither perform menial offices, nor are they employed about the persons of the ladies: much are they invested with command; nor do they consider, that they are especially appointed to watch over the virtue of the women36.
36"It may be perceived in this relation, that the eunuchs were more under the command of the sultana than disposed to contradict her. These beings are in Turkey only an article of luxury, and scarcely met with, but in the seraglio of the grand signor and those of the sultanas." (De Tott, v. i, p. 77.) A passage in Lady M. W. Montagu's letters seems to contradict this opinion. But though the fact cannot be doubted, the inference to be drawn from it should be exactly the reverse. Speaking of Hafité Sultan, her Ladyship says, "She has no black eunuchs for her guard, her husband being obliged to respect her as a queen, and not to inquire at all into what is done in her apartments."Imperial harem.
No part of the Turkish institutions or establishments has so strongly excited the curiosity of foreigners as the harem of the seraglio, concerning which, as no foreigner be admitted under any pretence whatever, no direct information can be obtained37; nor indeed information of any kind, except 266 what may be learned by means of ladies, who, having themselves constituted part of the imperial harem, have been afterwards married to the great officers of the court. D'Ohsson learned, and has communicated, some interesting particulars, which he expressly acknowledges to have derived from this source38. Lady Mary Wortley Montagu conversed on the subject with the widow of Sultan Mustafa. Other writers have conjectured, and in general have presented to their readers a gloomy and disgusting picture.
37"Quant au sérail, il est impossible d'y pénétrer: aucune Européenne, aucune ambassadrice ne peut se flatter d'avoir réussi dans ses tentatives à cet égard." (Tab. Gén. t. iv, 328.)
38"Je dois les détails qui concernent les sultanes, les cadinns, et it harem impérial, aux filles esclaves du sérail. On sait que plusieurs d'entre elles peuvent obtenir leur liberté aprês quelques années de service; qu'alors elles quittent le palais impérial pour être données en marriage à des officiers de la cour, qui les recherchent toujours avec cet intérêt qu'inspire l'espoir de s'avancer par leur crédit et leurs sollicitations auprês des sultanes et des dames dont alles sons les créatures. C'est par ces officiers, et par les femmes Chrétiennes, qui ont la facilité de se méhager un accés libre auprés d'elles du moment qu'elles sont hors du sérail, que j'ai rectifié les idées fausses et erronées dont je me nourissois moi-même sur tout ce qui concerne les sultanes, les dames, et le harem du grand seigneur." (Tab. Gén, discours préliminaire, p. ix.)
Lady Mary has been accused by almost every subsequent writer (and with the greatest acrimony by those whose writings are 267 most strikingly contrasted with her elegant compositions39) of having asserted the untruth, that she had been admitted into the harem of the seraglio. I willingly take this opportunity of declaring, from my own knowledge of Turkey and its various inhabitants, that, as her Ladyship's letters excel all other descriptions in the graceful simplicity of their style, so her account of the Turkish manners, in that higher circle in which she surveyed them, is wonderfully correct. I might indeed challenge her detractors to point out any passage of her writings from Turkey which could not satisfactorily be proved to be true; but I confine myself to the refutation of that censure which is connected with the present subject, the harem in the imperial palace. "I have taken care," says her Ladyship, "to see as 268 much of the seraglio as is to be seen;" upon which the late editor of her letters observes in a note, that "it is evident Lady M. W. Montagu did not mean to assert, that she had seen the interior of the seraglio at Constantinople. She had certainly seen that at Adrianople," he says, "in which circumstance the error has originated." I have, however, perused the letters with attention, and I do not find it insinuated in any passage of them, that she had seen the interior either of the imperial harems. It is true, that she dined at Adrianople with the grand vizir's lady, and afterwards visited Fatima, the wife of the kiahya-bey, or minister of the interior. But it is evident, that neither of these ladies lived in the seraglio: and indeed, in her last letter from Adrianople, she says, "the seraglio does not seem a very magnificent palace: but the gardens are very large, plentifully supplied with water, and full of trees, which is all I know of them, having never been in them." These expressions certainly imply, that she had not even seen all that was to he seen of this palace. At Constantinople Lady Mary went to see the Sultana Hafité, who had been compelled by an absolute order to leave the seraglio fifteen 269 years before her Ladyship's acquaintance with her. It was therefore from conversation with these ladies, and not from an actual visit to the seraglio, that she collected her information respecting certain customs of the imperial harem40.
39De Tott (preliminary discourse, p. xv) questions the authenticity of Lady Mary's letters: he calls them "the pretended letters of Lady Montagu."- "They were entertaining," he says (p.161), "and this was all the author desired, and the public is never severe on the errors by which it is amused." Even Mr. Eton presumes to accuse her Ladyship of an inattention to truth and accuracy. "I am sensible," he says (preface, p. iv), "that I may be accused of treating the Turks too severely, and particularly by those who admire Lady Wortley Montagu's elegant descriptions, and similar productions of a warm imagination,"
40See Lady M. W. Montagu's letters, v. ii, p. 188, 246.
Dr. Pouqueville was introduced, by means of a German who was employed to keep in order the gardens of the seraglio, into that part of the harem called the summer apartments, at the time when they were not occupied, as the ladies were removed to one of the emperor's country seats on the shore of the Bosphorus. "An event unheard of before," says Dr. Pouqueville in the pride of his heart, "that a traveller had penetrated into the interior of the grand signor's palace, and even into his harem41." But the doctor is mistaken, for M. de la Motraye, more than a century ago, went even further into the harem than he appears to have done42.
41See Voyages en Morée, &c. t.ii, p. 238, note.
42See Voyages du Sieur de la Motraye, t. i, p. 220. Dr. Pouqueville indeed supports his assertion with no better authority than that of his friend the German gardener, who himself had been but a few months in the grand signor's service. "Notre introducteur nous assura que nous étions les seuls Européens qui y eussent jusqu'à ce jour pénétré." (Voyages, t. ii, p.260.)270 Both of them describe, and no doubt with accuracy, the topography of the seraglio; its buildings, and the apartments into which they were admitted. But Dr. Pouqueville had read the letters of Lady M. W. Montagu, and firmly believed, from his respect for her authority, that he should meet with walls incrusted with emeralds and sapphires, with parterres enamelled with variegated flowers, in short with all the wonders of enchantment. The labours of his German friend corresponded, however, so little with his preconceived ideas, that the mere sight of the melancholy garden dissipated the illusion. "I cursed the woman from my heart," says the ill-mannerly disciple of Esculapius. And why did he so? Why does he offend the ears of Majesty (for his travels are dedicated to the Emperor Napoleon) with such coarse and ungentlemanly expressions; with language which writers in the happier days of French literature would have disowned, which Lewis the Fourteenth would have spurned? Truly, because our illustrious countrywoman, in her description of a lady's boudoir, does not exactly convey the idea of a garden in the sultan's palace.
271 The passage which has provoked the angry invective of Dr. Pouqueville against Lady Mary, is the following, from her letter to the Countess of Mar. "What would you say, if I told you, that I had been in a harem where the winter apartment was wainscoted with inlaid work of mother-of-pearl, ivory of different colours, and olive wood, exactly like the little boxes you have seen brought out of this country; and in whose rooms designed for summer the walls are all crusted with japan china, the roofs gilt, and the floors spread with the finest Persian carpets? yet there is nothing more true: such is the palace of my lovely friend, the fair Fatima, whom I was acquainted with at Adrianople43." Now I aver, from what I myself have frequently seen, that there is no exaggeration in this description. But Lady Mary's reputation for veracity shall not depend on my assertion only: an acknowledgment of the consistency of her descriptions with truth might easily be extorted even from her detractors. D'Ohsson, however, with whom imagination is dormant, is alone sufficient to silence calumny, and to confirm the accuracy of her Ladyship's observations. 272 "In the harems of the opulent," he says, "there is a great display of luxury and ornament; in each of them there are generally three or four chambers, the cielings and wainscotings of which are of olive or walnut-tree wood decorated with carved work, or the walls are incrusted with mother-of-pearl, ivory, or porcelain of China or Japan44."
43See Lady M. W. Montagu's letters, v. ii, p. 234.
44Tableau Général, t. iv, p. 173. Dr. Dallaway, in describing the palace of Bey-han Sultan, says very justly, that "simplicity or science of ornament is not understood by them; for all that they attempt is brilliancy produced by a quantity of colours and gilding." (Constant. ancient and modern, p. 139.)- Motraye, in describing the apartments of the harem, where he accompanied a watch-maker, as his assistant, who was employed to regulate the clocks, says, that the eunuch who received them at the entrance of the harem, conducted them into a hall, which appeared to be the chief and most agreeable apartment in the palace. "Cette salle est incrustée de porcelaines fines; et le lambris doré et azuré qui orne le fond d'une coupole qui régne audessus, est des plus riches, aussi bien que celui de tout le plafond. Une fontaine artificielle et jaillissante, dont le bassin est d'un précieux marbre verd qui m'a paru serpentin ou jaspe, s'élevoit directement au milieu, sous le dôme."- "Nous traversâmes diverses belles salles, et chambres, foulant aux pieds les riches tapis de Perse étendus presque par tout, et en assez grand nombre pour nous fair juger du reste. Je me trouvai la tête si pleine de sophas, de précieux plafonds, de meubles superbes, en un mot, d'une si grande confusion de matériaux magnifiques, mais irréguliérement disposés, au moins selon notre goût, qu'il seroit difficile d'en donner une idée claire." (Voyages, t. i, p. 220, 222.) Even Dr. Pouqueville confesses himself to have been agreeably surprised with the elegance and beauty of the keosk, or pavillion of the grand signor: the richness of the gilding, the decorations, and the furniture, were all deserving of admiration; and the prospect from it was delightful. So that, from the concurring testimony of all the travellers who have written on the subject, it appears, that Lady Mary's description of Fatima's apartments might apply, and certainly without exaggeration, to the imperial harem.
273 Dr. Pouqueville, by the censure which he has thus unjustly cast on Lady Mary Wortley Montagu, seems to challenge a comparison between his own and her Ladyship's observations on the Turkish harems. But they appear to have viewed similar objects under the influence of such different feelings that scarcely any common features of resemblance can be discovered in their representations. On approaching the gate which opened to the winter apartments of the grand signor's ladies, the doctor's curiosity was strongly excited by the desire of discovering something of this retreat, which none but the sultan and his black eunuchs are permitted to explore: it was then, that an idea occurred to him with so much force "that there are no dangers," he says, " to which he should not willingly have exposed himself, if he could have hoped by braving them to obtain a sight"- of what? Of the women no doubt; for a Frenchman, in such a situation, 274 could have thought of nothing else. Alas! no. The doctor's wishes extended no further than to obtain a sight of the mouldy remains of the library of the Eastern emperors. He was at length conducted to the apartment of the female slaves: the massy key of the iron gate through which he entered, and the grating noise of the door turning on its hinges, astonished him for a moment: the idea of a black eunuch armed with his dagger, and the hundred deaths which he would have inflicted, occurred indeed, bat did not damp the doctor's ardour, for he recollected, that all the eunuchs had followed the sultan to his country palace. "I felt a lively emotion of sorrow," says Dr. Pouqueville, "when I reflected on the deplorable condition of these unfortunate girls; for I found, on calculating the dimensions of the apartment, that there was space sufficient for upwards of three hundred and fifty beds, and I thought of the mephitical exhalations with which the air of the chamber must be contaminated45." Was ever man before occupied with such thoughts in such a situation? Caro dottore, lascia le donne e studie(?) la mattamatica46.
45See Voyages en Morée, &c. t. ii, p. 249, 251, 256.
46See Confessions de Jean-Jaques Rousseau, liv. vii.Titles and degrees of precedency among the ladies.
275 It is known, that the grand signor, from an indeterminate number of female slaves, selects his favourites, who are distinguished by the title of cadinn and by some authors are limited to seven47. The mother of a boy is called hasseky, unless the boy die, in 276 which event she descends to her former rank. The cadinns, or wives, of a deceased or deposed sultan are all removed from the imperial harem to the eski serai, a palace in the middle of the city built by Mahomet the Second; except the validé sultan, or dowager empress, the mother of the reigning sultan, who has her liberty, a palace, and revenues to support a suitable establishment. But the hassekies, or those who have a son living, are treated with marked respect, as, in the natural order of events, they may become validé. The title of sultan, though from courtesy it may be given to the hassekies, is, strictly speaking, appropriated to the empress dowager, and the sons and daughters of the imperial family48. All the other ladies of the seraglio are comprehended under the general name of odaliks, or slaves of the household.
47"Neither the Greeks, the Armenians, nor even the Jews, are, any more than the Turks, subjected to a natural slavery. The despotism of the sultan cannot seize the person of any young girl, whatever desires she may have excited in his breast. Though there may still be found among the Grecian women as beautiful forms as those which served as models to Praxiteles, no example of such an outrage is furnished by the Turkish annals." (De Tott, preliminary discourse, p. 28.) De Tott's assertion is confirmed by all that we know of the Turks from their past history and from actual observation (for it is unnecessary to contradict a ridiculous story, unsupported by the testimony of Turkish historians, and resting on the authority of Mr. Eton, p. 177, of the seizure of the mufti's daughter by Sultan Ibrahim; and as the extract of the letter printed at Paris in 1527, and said to be written from Constantinople, contains an affirmation of the contrary practice being so prevalent in Turkey that all female children were placed from their birth at the disposal of the sultan, it shows, that the custom of communicating fictitious information, in letters dated from the banks of the Elbe, the Maine, or the Danube, is not an invention of the modern French. I subjoin a passage from the letter itself (which, because of its antiquity, may be presumed by some to deserve more credit than I am inclined to allow to it) in order to demonstrate the certainty of its being fabricated by a person only half acquainted with the subject of which he treats. "Javoye une fort belle fille laquelle ma este prinse depuis demy an en ca et mise au timbre des aultres concubines je ne la reverray jamais mauldicte soit l'heure que je l'engendray jamais."
48The title of sultan precedes the name of a prince, as Sultan Selim, and follows that of a princess, as Aïsché Sultan. In common discourse the word sultan, with a pronoun affixed, is applied to any person, as sultanem, my Lord or Sir: but when used absolutely, it signifies only the emperor.Domestics and guards of honour.
The kislar aga, chief of the black eunuchs, is one of the greatest personages of the empire49. lndependently of his authority in 277 the harem he has the superintendance of all the imperial mosques, and is charged with the general administration of all the pious foundations belonging to them. The hazné vekili, or keeper of the privy purse, is next in rank to the kislar aga and succeeds to his post on a vacancy: the inferior black eunuchs are said to amount to about three or four hundred; and Olivier asserts, that they are "malicious and peevish, tormented by their impotence, cursing their nullity, and endeavouring to thwart the female slaves entrusted to their charge50." It has been said by Lady M. W. Montagu, and repeated by subsequent writers, that the preference of the sultan is always officially communicated to the female slaves by the kislar aga; but I doubt the accuracy of her Ladyship's information, for, although some ceremony may be observed on the first admission of a lady to the honour of the imperial bed, it is improbable, that the sultan should use more deliberation than any of his subjects: like them he acts according to the impulse of the moment, and may occasionally express his sovereign will by throwing 278 a handkerchief or by sending an eunuch as his emissary, and sometimes, like Homer's Jupiter, may be surprised into unpremeditated dalliance51.
49The sultan, in an official paper of the greatest solemnity, calls the kislar agasi "the most illustrious of the officers who approach his august person, and worthy of the confidence of monarchs and of sovereigns." (Tab. Gén. t.iii, p. 308.)
50Olivier's travels, v. i, p. 28.
51Cantemir, though better acquainted with the Turkish customs than any other historian, and quoting, in general, only from good authorities, has, however, adopted, rather too easily, the popular errors respecting the secrets of the harem. "If sultan loves any of the women more than the rest, he can set the crown upon her head, and she is thenceforward called hasseki sultana. The other concubines of the sultan cannot have access to him, unless they are sent for, but the hasseki may go into the sultan without being sent for." (p. 297, note 36.) "The sultan is forbidden by the laws of the seraglio, to lie with any of the women kept there without his mother's content. Every day, during the feast of baïram, the sultana mother presents a beautiful virgin, well educated, richly dressed, and adorned with precious stones, for her son's use. And, though the vizir and the other pashas send, among other things, young virgins for presents to the emperor, he never touches any one of them, unless she is brought to him by his mother. If the sultan has a mind to choose a concubine unknown to his mother, he may indeed do it without opposition; but he is considered as acting contrary to the rules of the seraglio, and against his mother's honour." (p. 296, note 36.)
The white eunuchs are employed without the harem, and have the charge of the gates of the seraglio, but they neither approach the women, nor arrive at offices more honourable or lucrative than the superintendance of the education of the pages. The chief of the white eunuchs is called capu agasi.State of the women.
279 From the gloominess of the exterior, some authors have conjectured and lamented the misery of the beautiful prisoners, "condemned not only to long privations, to know of love only what is to excite in them desires; but even deprived of opening their hearts in the bosom of friendship.52" For my own part I confess, that I prefer the livelier picture drawn by Marmontel, and notwithstanding some inaccuracy in costume, I enjoy greater satisfaction in contemplating the grave and magnificent Soliman sipping tea with his sprightly French mistress than in surveying the sombre productions of equally fanciful pencils53.
52See Olivier's travels, v. i, p. 29.
53The marriage of Sultan Soliman with his slave "à nez retroussé," which is the subject of one of Marmontel's contes moraux, has some real foundation in history; and the other incidents of the fable are justified by tradition. We learn from Busbequius, that Roxalana, having borne a son to the emperor, availed herself of the law which enfranchizes the mother of a mussulman, and refused her further favours to her lover, except on condition of his marrying her. The ceremony had gone into disuse, ever since the captive sultan Bajazet had been insulted by the ignominious treatment of his wife in the camp of Timour (or Tamerlane). Cantemir accounts for the title of padishah being given at the pone to the king of France, though it is given to no other Christian prince, by the following story, which he received from the Turks. "A grand-daughter of the king of France, having vowed a pilgrimage to Jerusalem, was taken near Cyprus by Turkish pirates and presented to Soliman. On account of her birth and beauty she was placed among the most beloved concubines, and so powerfully attracted the sultan's affection by her French airs and love verses, that she had an absolute influence over him, and managed all affairs as she thought proper." (p.206, note 77.)
280 But though we cannot penetrate into the secrets of the imperial palace, we may learn with accuracy from Lady Mary the state of the harems of other great personages of the empire. She visited the wives of the grand vizir and the minister of the interior, whose harems would undoubtedly be modelled upon the same plan as that of the seraglio; but she heard no expression of discontent or dissatisfaction, no complaint of tyranny or restriction, no regret, that the delights of love were imperfectly understood. She afterwards visited Hafité, widow of Sultan Mustafa, remarried by order of the reigning emperor to Bekir Effendi, secretary of state. Lady Mary's description of the sultana's establishment, of her dress, of her attendants, and the elegance of the entertainment, is such as she herself apprehends will appear to have received many embellishments from her hand, and will look too like the Arabian tales: yet the sultana herself was insensible to any pleasure but recollection of the imperial harem. "She never mentioned the sultan without tears in her 281 eyes. My past happiness, said she (and there was no affectation in these words), appears a dream to me; yet I cannot forget, that I was beloved by the greatest and most lovely of mankind."
The odaliks, or ladies of the household, are by no means condemned to a state of hopeless, or interminable, virginity. They are sought in marriage by the officers of state, by the governors of provinces, by the courtiers, and by all who are stimulated by ambition to aspire at preferment, or who seek security under the patronage of the cadinns and sultanas; for from the recesses of the harem, the ladies influence public affairs, nominate to places and favours, and avert or direct punishments54.
54Dr. Pouqueville, from surveying an empty bed chamber, has ventured to assert, that he had examined into all the details of the wretched life of the ladies of the seraglio. He found a few rags in the corner of a closet, and he demonstrates from them, that there can be no magnificence in the dress of the odaliks(?). The furniture had been removed to other apartments, and thence he concludes, that their furniture must be mean, and that their tables are ill-served. He observed nothing remarkable in the flooring, the walls, or the cieling, and thence proceeds to show, that when the rooms are lighted up in the evening, a few scattered tapers of yellow wax, on high candlesticks, give a faint light, whose refection only adds to the gloom of darkness. (See Voyages en Morée, &c. t, ii, p. 253.) If this mode of reasoning be legitimate, there seems no possibility of preventing Dr. Pouqueville from drawing any conclusion from any premises.
282 This assembly of beautiful women (form as such we may venture to describe it, since none but virgins of consummate beauty are esteemed worthy of being admitted into the imperial harem) is composed of slaves "as far fetched," says Rycaut, "as the Turk commands, or the wandering Tartar makes his excursions," and chiefly from Georgia and Circassia. Peyssonnel indeed asserts, that Circassians alone have the honour of sharing the imperial bed, from which the Georgians are rigorously excluded, ever since a sultan, about a century ago, when "at length morn and cold indifference came," fastidiously took offence at some unguarded expressions which fell from his Georgian mistress, and declared with an oath, that no girl from that country should ever again be received into his bed or that of his successors. But lovers perjuries are the jest of heaven55, and if venial under any circumstances, must be peculiarly so in the present 283 instance; for Chardin, who travelled through the country, affirms, that the Georgians are the handsomest race of people not only in the East, but even in the world: he never saw an ugly face in persons of either sex, but many, on the contrary, that were angelical. Nature has endowed the Georgian women with peculiar graces: they are tall and finely shaped; their features and complexion, their slender waists and graceful carriage, are indescribably beautiful. "I aver," says Chardin, "that it is impossible to see them without loving them." Nothing indeed can be more ridiculous than Peyssonnel's story56, and it may be dismissed among the numberless absurdities which are related concerning the ceremonies and usages of the imperial harem; the custom of creeping in at the bed's foot, 284 the intrigues and jealousies of the ladies, their mutual poisonings, stranglings and drownings, the precedency established among them by the kislar agasi, their visits of ceremony, the incessant homage of their subordinate companions, and the supine happiness, which travellers, who have never spoken to a Turkish woman, affirm to be all that they are qualified to experience57.
55The exclamation of Mademoiselle de l'Enclos, "Ah, le beau billet qu'a De la Chartres!" gives, I am afraid, the just measure of the compunction which is usually felt upon such occasions.
56The Circassian girl, according to Peyssonnel, entailed upon her nation the privilege of keeping up the Ottoman race by the delicacy of her reply to the sultan's inquiries. He asked if it was almost day, and she answered, that "she perceived the approach of Aurora, for already the morning zephyr wantoned in her hair." But this pretty allusion to pagan mythology must have been unintelligible to the sultan. Besides I may affirm from my own experience, that during the summer season (when it is not unusual at Constantinople for persons to sleep, as the sultan appears to have done, with the windows open) the morning breeze does not begin till several hours after sunrise.
57"On imprime tous les jours cent sottises semblables sur les coutumes des Orientaux, et pour un voyageur comme Chardin, que de voyageurs comme Paul Lucas." (Voltaire, hist. de Charles xii, préface.)Princesses of the blood.
When the princesses of the imperial family are married to pashas or courtiers, the celebration of the nuptials is performed in a public manner. The property and dowery of the sultana, in clothes, jewels, furniture, slaves, and eunuchs, are exhibited to the view of the populace in a pompous and ceremonious procession through the streets of the capital, and a magnificent entertainment is given by the bridegroom to the principal guests, the ministers and great officers of state. The honour thus conferred, and sometimes even forced, upon a subject, does not, much augment his credit; for a connexion with the family of the sultan is no security 285 against disgrace or even capital punishment. It is purchased, however, by many important sacrifices: the household of the sultana must be supported, in a manner suitable to her dignity, at the expense of her husband, who is compelled to repudiate his former wires, and is forbidden to contract any other matrimonial engagement. The lady's power in her family extends over every thing, except the lives of her male children, whose preservation, from their consanguinity with the sultan, might perhaps derange the order of succession and disturb the public tranquillity58. On this slender foundation of fact the credulity or the ingenuity of travellers has raised a superstructure of more than Oriental extravagance. They relate, with imposing gravity, how the ceremony of betrothing is performed by the delivery into the hands of the bridegroom of a diamond-hilted dagger, and a letter addressed by the sultan to the princess, who is ordered to receive 286 "the man for her pleasure and the dagger for her revenge." They describe, as accurately as though they had been eye-witnesses of the scene, how the princess sits reclining on her sopha, while the lover makes his approaches; how he falters with awe and reverence when he avows at her feet the violence of his passion and the object of his hopes; how the princess rises with disdain and seizes the dagger, which she lifts to punish the slave for his rashness, but sheaths it again in dutiful submission to the will of his highness59. Curiosity does not stop at inquiry into the ceremonies of courtship and matrimony. The husband, as it is confidently asserted, is not, even then, permitted to consummate his marriage without a written order from the hand of the grand signor60, and certain it is, that the lady, with becoming modesty, retires first to the chamber prepared for her in the most superb style eastern embellishment, and is followed by her obsequious lord, who is fain to creep in at the bottom of the bed, and put an end both to etiquette and conjecture. The sultanas 287 do not accompany their husbands to their governments in the provinces; but we are assured, that absence and distance do not make them deviate from the strictest fidelity to their imperial mistresses, and that, if they be guilty of any breach of contract, they are privately strangled upon the least complaint of their consorts to the sultan. A tame compliance with these hard conditions appears, however, to an imperial wife only an equivocal proof of constancy: the power of self-denial in the husband is put to a severer test by her indulgent caprice; for we are assured by a gentleman who drank coffee in her palace, and must consequently have known the fact, that when a pasha, who had married a sultana, was remanded to his government, the princess selected twenty-five of the most beautiful girls of her suite whom she presented to him, in order, as it may be supposed, to preserve, by their united attractions, his conjugal affection in vigour and purity.
58See Mignot, hist. Ottom. t. i, p. 484; t. ii, p. 367; t.iii, p. 79 Tab. Gén. t. i, p. 286. A third reason, which is adduced by the Ottomans themselves, is to relieve the state from charge of supporting a numerous family of princes. The Abassides, according to an estimate made in the year 201 of the hegira (A. C. 816) by order of the caliph Abd'ullah the Third, amounted to thirty-three thousand persons of both sexes.
59See Constant. ancient and modern, p. 141.
60See Voyage round the Mediterranean in the years 1738(?) and 1739, p. 211.The slave market.
For the gratification of the faithful, a market of female slaves, avrat bazar, is established in the capital61. Formerly not only 288 Mahometans, but even Jews and Christians might purchase women for domestic purposes or worldly pleasure; and Sandys says, that the custom (being prohibited only by our religion) was general among the Franks. The frail virtue of the western Christians is, however, at the present day powerfully supported by the temporal authority of the civil magistrate, and the Custom of lying alone, which was almost discarded in Sandys's time, is less rare among them than it appears to have been formerly62. All, except Turks, are now not only excluded from the stave-market, but are prohibited from retaining slaves.
61A Turkish ambassador at a foreign court was once asked, how they made love in his country? We do not make love, he replied, we purchase it ready made.
62See Sandys's travels, p. 85.
The slave-market is a quadrangle, surrounded by a covered gallery, and ranges of small and separate apartments. It has said, that the practices of the owners towards their slaves are repugnant to humanity decency; but it is more reasonable to suppose, that the avarice of the slave-merchant would induce him to observe a very different conduct, and more agreeable to his interest. I once made a voyage in a Turkish vessel, 289 in which a slave-merchant had also taken his passage with two females, and his treatment of them was such that, if I had been ignorant of his motive, I should have admired his humanity. At another time, in travelling by land, I passed a day in a khan on the borders of the Danube, in which a considerable number of female slaves were lodged, and I observed, that they were waited upon by their owners with all the assiduity of domestics.
The manner of purchasing slaves is described in the plain and unaffected narrative of a German merchant, which, as I have been able to ascertain its general authenticity, may be relied upon as correct in this particular. He arrived at Kaffa, in the Crimea, which was formerly the principal mart of slaves, and hearing, that an Armenian had a Georgian and two Circassian girls to dispose of, he feigned an intention of purchasing them, in order to gratify his curiosity, and to ascertain the mode of conducting such bargains. The girls were introduced to him one after another. A Circassian maiden, eighteen years old, was the first who presented herself: she was well dressed, and her face was covered with a veil. She 290 advanced towards the German, bowed down and kissed his hand: by order of her master she walked backwards and forwards in the chamber to show her shape and the easiness of her gait and carriage: her foot was small, and her gesture agreeable. When she took off her veil, she displayed a bust of the most attractive beauty. She rubbed her cheeks with a wet napkin, to prove, that she had not used art to heighten her complexion, and she opened her inviting lips, to show a regular set of teeth of pearly whiteness. The German was permitted to feel her pulse, that he might be convinced of the good state of her health and constitution. She was then ordered to retire while the merchants deliberated upon the bargain. The price of this beautiful girl was four thousand piastres63.
634,000 piastres were at that time equal to 4,500 florins of Vienna. See Voyage de Nicholas Ernest Kleeman, fait dans les années 1768, 1769, et 1770. A Neufchatel, 1780, 141, 143. Olivier examined the slave-market in virtue of a firman, or special order from the porte. Dr. Pouqueville, in the eagerness of investigation, rushed in and was pushed out again by one of the guards. The short interval between the doctor's intrusion and his ejection was however sufficient, with the aid of an active imagination, to enable him to observe and to describe the building which surrounds the quadrangle, and the portico or gallery, under which the slaves are exposed for sale in wet weather, seated on a bench placed against the wall of their apartments. The women were divided into small parties or lots of fifteen each, seated on mats, cross-legged, in the middle of the quadrangle: their robes, which were made of a coarse white woollen cloth, announced their sad condition; but they seemed scarcely affected by it, for they were laughing and indulging in the most vehement loquacity. As the rays of the sun were beginning to dart upon the open part of the quadrangle, their keepers were driving them under the portico, where they still continued singing with great gayety. There were three or four hundred of them; but Dr. Pouqueville, though he remarked, that some of them had flaxen hair and blue eyes, yet found none of them deserving the high reputation of the Georgians and Circassians: they were for the most part corpulent women (femmes), and their complexion was of a dead white. The Turkish purchasers examined them merely to ascertain their qualities as animals, they selected the sleekest and best conditioned from the different groups, and besides handling them and examining their make and size, subjected their mouths, their teeth, and whatever chiefly engages attention, to a critical scrutiny. The doctor was preparing to follow, if not to imitate, the purchasers; but the poignard, the oaths, and the menaces of the guard checked his curiosity, and, on being turned out, his steps conducted him naturally to pay his tribute of admiration to the mosque of Sancta Sophia! (See Voyages en Morée, &c. v.ii, p. 112)Public women.
291 Women who give themselves up to debauchery from mercenary motives, are sometimes treated with severity by the officers of police, and sometimes with cruelty by their jealous or satiated paramours64. "It will 292 hardly be believed," says D'Ohsson, "that forty Mahometan women of this description are not to be found in all the city of Constantinople65:" nor indeed ought it to be believed, for I have met with a greater number in the course of a single day, nor is their conduct so reserved but that they may easily be distinguished from other women in the public streets by their gait and gesture. The Turkish police is severe without being exact. There are instances of such a venial crime having been punished by tieing up the unfortunate woman in a sack and throwing her into the sea66.
64I have frequently heard, during my residence in Pera, of atrocities such as Lady M. W. Montagu mentions (v. iii, p. 7). "About two months ago, there was found at day break, not very far from my house, the bleeding body of a young woman naked, only wrapped in a coarse sheet, with two wounds of a knife, in her side and another in her breast.- Very little inquiry was made about the murderer, and the corpse was privately buried without noise."
65 Tableau Général, t. iv, p. 348.
66Busbequius, however, justly remarks (Epist. iii, p. 123), "Turcæ in occulta flagitia non valde inquirunt, ne locum aperiant calumniæ: manifestaria et comperta graviter puniunt."Eunuchs.
The situation of the guardians of women in Turkey has been justly observed to be the most pitiable that can be imagined. Separated from themselves, exposed to all the force of the passions, surrounded with every 293 object which can excite desire, and humbled and irritated with the unceasing reflection on their own insignificance67. Montesquieu, indeed, heightens their distress by unveiling to them every charm, and insults their weakness by trusting to their hands, in the most minute detail, the office of preparing pleasures for the tyrant who has annihilated their own. It would indeed be a needless aggravation of their unhappiness, to compel them to live with young and beautiful women, to 294 banish the female servants from the ,i>harem, and to trust to their awkward hands the dressing and undressing, the bathing, the perfuming, and the adorning of every object of their master's affections. What a ridiculous picture is presented of the imperial harem, if we allow ourselves to suppose, on the one hand, the eunuchs teazing the women in order to please their master, vexing them from malice and peevishness, and the sentiment of their own nullity68, and, on the other hand, the ladies racking their invention to revenge themselves on the eunuchs, disturbing their repose and breaking their sleep with trifling messages and capricious orders, condemning them to the vilest and most degrading offices, and obliging them to perform a wearisome penance for their severity behind the door of their chamber: both parties mutually insulting, and mutually fearing, each other; careful only to observe the strict line of duty, traced out for both, the least infringement of which subjects the one to corporal chastisement, and authorizes the other to inflict it, and 295 punish disobedience by a whipping69. Common sense will not allow us to admit the existence of so childish an establishment; and it would be useless to exercise conjecture on the insipid relation of the eunuchs to the women: yet if the presence of woman be so painful to them, how are we to account for the conduct of the kislar aga, who, seemingly in mockery of our shallow reasoning, has chosen, as a relaxation from the fatigues of the imperial harem, an establishment of the same nature for private and domestic amusement? I would not be thought guilty of the profaneness of prying into the mysteries of the nuptial chamber, or revealing, in unhallowed expressions, its pure and uncontaminated 296 delights; but in relating the following anecdote of the kislar aga, I pay but a just tribute to that innate principle of virility which "smiles at the drawn dagger, and defies its point." A lady, in his harem, was indisposed from excess of affection, and a Tuscan gentleman, surgeon to the grand signor, was sent for and consulted on the occasion. On making his report to the kislar aga, he repeated, like an experienced courtier, the endearing expressions which the lady had uttered: the eunuch was enraptured, and interrupted the relation by exclaiming in his childish treble, kouzoum, djyerim, djanem, expressions equivalent to my life, my soul, my dear lambkin; and kissed the lady in imagination with all the rapture of real passion.
67I leave to the judgment of the reader the credibility of the following accounts, which indeed are corroborated by the general opinion of the Franks in Constantinople, founded on I know not what authority. "Qui potentiores sunt, et frequens habent gynæcium ejus custodiæ eunuchos apponunt, non modo testibus captos, sed toto cole: alioqui simplicibus eunuchis se parum tuto mulieres suas putant committere, quod eis superest quo delectari possint, quamvis ad generandum non sint pares." (Busbeq. Epist.iii, p. 122.) "Et deuez scauoir qu' au tëps passé auoient de coustume, quand on chastroit les eunuches leur oster seulemët les genitoires: mais Sulthan Mehemet, duquel auons parlé dessus, veit vn iour vn cheual chastré saillir vne iument, et dit qu'il estoit bië fol de se fier à ses eunuches qui estoient de la garde de ses femmes et pages, car ils pourroient bien faire comme celuy cheual, et doresnauant ordonna qu' on leur tranchast tout entierement le membre auec les genitoires, ce qu'on fait iusques à ceste heure. Et est si grade la douleur qu' ont ces pauures miserables et malheureux enfans chrestiens quand ils paruiennent à tel martire que si ce n'est aucun de bonne complexion et forte nature tout le demourant en meurt." (Rigaud, généalogie du grand Turc, p. 25.)
68See Olivier's travels, v. i, p. 114.
69See Montesquieu's lettres Persannes, lettres ii, ix, cxlviii, cliii, clvii. In the second letter is described the ordinary authority of the eunuchs: in the ninth letter the chief eunuch bewails the horrors, the inconveniences, the dangers, and the privileges, of his situation: here he complains of the whipping which he received at the instigation of one of the favourites. "Le jour que je fus fouetté si indignement autour du sérail, qu'avois-je fait ?" In the 148th, and the 153rd letters he is invested by his master (a private gentleman) with extraordinary authority, and the power of life and death. But the most ludicrous exertion of his authority is in the 157th letter. "Zachi à Usbek."- " O ciel! un barbare m'a outragée jusques dans la maniére de me punir! Il m'a infligé ce châtiment qui commence par alarmer la pudeur; ce châtiment qui met dans l'humiliation extrême; ce châtiment qui ramène, pour ainsi dire, à l'enfance."
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