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LIFE IN THE EAST.
BY M. J. QUIN, ESQ., AUTHOR OF A STEAM-VOYAGE DOWN
THE DANUBE," &c.
REVERTING to the subject of veils, concerning which I have had numerous queries to answer to my fair friends since the appearance of my first article, I forgot to mention the odd appearance of a Druse lady whom I chanced to see one day passing through the bazaars in Constantinople. In all other respects she was vested like her Turkish companion; but her head-dress did certainly, to my eyes at least, present a most extraordinary spectacle. Fixed on a small green velvet cushion, which was made fast on the top of her head near the forehead, stood out a silver tube, trumpet-shaped, the wider part next the cushion, and slightly bent forward, as if in imitation of the fabulous unicorn. Over this tube, some twenty inches long, the surface decorated with various figures and hieroglyphics, supposed to import some mystical meaning, was thrown a large square of white muslin, which descended both before and behind a little below the waist. I understand that a certain degree of religious importance is attached to the direction in which this tube bends from the perpendicular line. An inclination forward denotes the orthodox Druse, whereas an inclination to the right or to the left betrays at once the schismatic!
The Druses are frequently met with on Mount Lebanon. abstain from animal food, but they impose no other restraint upon the appetite; they utter no prayer and pay no tithe, relying upon the constant protection of their God, whom they denominate Hamsa, and whom they believe to have sojourned on earth for eight years about four centuries after Mahomet; they read the Koran, and also the Old and New Testament-but to these writings they apply a system of chronology which is entirely their own and replete with mystery. Hamsa has appeared on earth at seven different periods, according to their doctrine, since his first descent. He is not to be visible again until the Turkish heresy shall be on the eve of extinction, when the Druse system shall rise up in its place, and flourish over the whole world. They preserve amongst them the Pythagorean faith in the transmigration of souls.
My researches have not enabled me to ascertain the differences between the sects of this religion which are denoted by the inclination of the silver tube to the right or to the left. It is extremely probable, according to all that I could gather from the most learned of their commentators, that there are no variances at all between the doctrines of the respective parties, but that because one pretty leader of the fashions chose to point the tube forward, another turned it to the right, and then another to the left-and yet numerous and vehement have been the controversies raised amongst the Druses upon these points! Have not differences just as immaterial occasionally clouded the modes of worship known to much more civilized communities ?
It is a remarkable fact that, until within these last ten or fifteen years, the dress of the Turks has been almost identically the same as that, which has prevailed over a considerable portion of Asia from the earliest times of which we have any record. Since the destruction of the Janissaries, who would appear to have been the embodied repreDec.-VOL. LI. NO. CCIV.
sentatives of antiquity in a moral as well as habilimental point of view, the Sultan, however, has caused many alterations to be made in the costume of his subjects, especially of those employed in the army and navy and public establishments, which bring them almost entirely within the pale of western Europe. I saw several Turkish gentlemen at Constantinople in frock-coats, cloth trowsers, Wellington boots, and round hats. The long beard of the olden time has also gone very much out of fashion; the moustache and a slight patch of hair on the chin being substituted for the venerable emblem of the patriarchs.
It was always the custom to wear a small cap of silk or cloth under the turban; but the turban is fast disappearing, and a cap is displayed in its place, made of felt, and dyed a bright red. A tassel of blue silk is inserted in the crown and hangs a little below the edge of the cap, which in every other respect resembles the European hat, except that it wants the rim or leaf. These caps have been hitherto manufactured principally at Tunis, where the best dye for them is to be found. There seems to be no reason why they should not be manufactured also in England. Our chemistry will not long be at fault in supplying as good a colour as that of Tunis. Ample markets would be obtained for them not only at Constantinople, but at Smyrna and Trebizond.
I may observe, en passant, that these red caps have also been recently worn, with great effect, by English ladies at dinner. A small gold band round the edge sets them off to advantage. I first saw this innovation accomplished at Corfu by a lady of consummate taste; and I thought it remarkably becoming.
The turban is fast disappearing, not only at Constantinople, but also throughout the dominions of the Egyptian viceroy. It is scarcely any longer to be seen at Cairo. For the primitive Oriental dress, in all its perfection of splendour and amplitude, we must now go on to Jerusalem, Aleppo, or Damascus.
Many persons have thought that the custom of putting aside the shoes or sandals, and washing the feet on entering a sacred place, is exclusively Mahometan. It is, in fact, as ancient in the East as at least the scene of the "burning bush."-"Come not nigh hither," said the voice of the Most High to Moses, "(until) you put off the shoes from thy feet; for the place whereon thou standest is holy ground." The same custom prevailed, which is also continued by Mussulmans, of taking off the sandals and washing the feet on entering a private house. When the three angels appeared to Abraham, while seated in the noon-tide at the door of his tent in the vale of Mamre, he said-"Let a little water, I pray you, be fetched, and wash your feet, and rest yourselves under the tree." Highly ornamented as were some of the sandals, (to which I have already alluded,) exposed for sale in the bazaars of Constantinople, I doubt if any of them were more brilliant than those worn by Judith when she captivated Holofernes.
The assertion may be startling, but it is nevertheless the fact, that the passion of jealousy is infinitely more excitable amongst the females of the West than amongst those of the East. If an Englishman, for instance, talk to his wife of the admiration which he feels for another woman, he runs a chance of being an immediate actor in a "scene," commencing with a volley of reproaches, and followed by various interludes of tears, hysterics, sal-volatile, and visits from the doctor-if not
with other mementos of his imprudence, which would not a little astonish a vassal of the Grand Seignor. Egad! it does not matter at all whence the said admiration springs. Suppose it be called forth by the brilliant wit, the poetical genius, the musical talent, the overpowering beauty of the "other dear charmer"-qualities, all of which may be highly appreciated by a wedded man without the slightest diminution of his attachment to her who has the first claim and the highest right to his affection-his case is still the same. He might as well almost perpetrate bigamy, and render himself at once liable to indictment and transportation.
The reason, however, of all this is plain enough. Here, one man may have only one wife, whereas in the East he may have as many as his fortune will enable him to support. Our ladies will be astonished to hear that in the harem jealousy amongst its inmates, however numerous they may be, is very little known. The fact is, that their affections are seldom concerned in the relation which they hold to their common lord and master. There is, moreover, a scale of subordination established amongst them which puts rivalry out of the question. In Turkey, properly speaking, as in England, one man has but one wifelaw and usage, however, sanction the presence in his harem of several concubines, or odaliques, a phrase which is not used there as implying the slightest taint upon moral character, or as leading to any loss of the position which the fair one had previously enjoyed in society.
It is unquestionable that in the earliest ages of the inhabited earth concubinage was not of frequent occurrence. Lamech, a descendant of Cain, and who belonged to the fifth generation of men, is said to be the first who took to himself two wives. Abraham appears to have been the next who followed this example, which was imitated to a scandalous excess in the days of Solomon. Ever since that period it has continued to be the practice in most of the Oriental nations. Nevertheless, it is generally understood, that the inmates of the harem are subject to the mistress of the family-that is, the principal wife, whose nuptials have been celebrated according to the established rites. They are at the same time treated with every respect as a secondary order of wives-very seldom, unless in cases of criminality, with the indignities inflicted on a slave. The children of the principal wife usually inherit their father's fortune in preference to the children of the odaliques. In the harem she takes the upper seat on the sofa, directs the economy of the women's apartments, and even when her consort forgets her charms for those of another, her title to supremacy still remains unaltered; she sits, too, on the same sofa with her husband, although at its extreme edge, while the odaliques sit, their feet folded under them, upon cushions spread on the carpet. When she first appears among the latter in the morning, it is the usage that they should bend down and kiss the hem of her garment.
A Circassian girl is brought to Constantinople by her parents. At an early age she is sold by them to some Turkish family, where, in the capacity of a slave, she is treated with the utmost kindness. She is seen by a male visitor-a relative, perhaps, or friend of the family,-attracts his notice, he likes her appearance, purchases her for some eight or ten thousand piastres, and constitutes her his odalique: if he continue to like her, and she become the mother of a male child, he probably will
make her his wife, unless he be already engaged. This is very generally the history of those Circassian females who may be said to emigrate to Constantinople, with the view of improving their fortunes. The tales we hear of Circassian slaves, and of the circumstances attending the traffic by which they become the property of Turkish noblemen, are, in nine cases out ten, mere fiction-certainly grossly exaggerated if they represent such transactions as attended with cruelty. The change is generally for the better so far as the daughter is concerned. Even when she enters a harem where a wife already presides, she has her own private apartment, her attendants, her personal establishment, in fact, and possesses every privilege necessary to her happiness, according to the ideas of happiness which exist in that country.
The greatest luxury in which a Turkish lady indulges, often to an excess injurious to health, is the bath. One of these indispensable appendages of a Turkish toilet was connected with my chamber at Therapia, while I was enjoying the hospitality of Lord Ponsonby. It was a circular apartment, domed, lined with marble, and having every convenience for ablutions in hot or cold water, either of the whole frame, or the feet, or the hands. The general bath-room of a family is, of course, upon a more extensive scale; and if the family be of the higher class, the bath establishment exhibits their taste for magnificence in every possible way.
But it is the public female bath which a Turkish woman most loves to frequent. This may be said to be the " Almack's" of Constantinople -the true terrestrial paradise of those ladies who have any fancy (and who of them has not?) for talking at their ease of the peccadilloes of their neighbours, of the marriages on the tapis, of the additions made, or about to be made, to the harem of such a Pasha, of the elevation of one favourite amongst the officers of state, of the expected degradation of another, of all the various symptoms, from the slightest whisper of failing influence to its positive decline, in the case of a minister fated to be soon displaced by a more fortunate adventurer. Here are discussed the features of every new Circassian debutante: her figure, her taste in dress, her chances of being a wife or only an odalique. And then the “hubbub wild" that goes on in all circles concerning bracelets, and necklaces, and ear-rings, and armlets, and wreaths of pearl and diamonds for the hair, and brocades of the newest patterns, and the handsome Greek young men who serve in the shops of Pera and Galata!-it is said by those initiated in these scenes, that we have nothing in England like the conversational riot that may be witnessed on such occasions.
As Circassia is famed for the loveliness of its women, so is Greece still renowned, as it always has been, for the beauty, literally speaking, the beauty of its male youths. Amongst them the race of Ganymede has not yet become extinct. They monopolize all the lustre of the eyes, the fine alabaster smoothness of forehead, the ivoried array of teeth, the oval outline of face, the roseate delicacy of complexion, which ought to have belonged to the feminine population of their country. Even the voice of a Greek youth is softer than that of his sister. Lord Byron's praises of the "Maid of Athens," and Moore's portraits of Grecian Chloes and Mainunas, have led many of their fair admirers to suppose that every second woman you meet in Attica, the Morea, or the islands, must be endowed with the charms of a Helen or a Hebe. The "Maid
of Athens" was, in point of fact, as fat and as ungraceful in her appearance as "the Guiccoli," which is saying quite enough. The voices of the Greek women are generally as hoarse as that of their crows; and their unstayed busts, their homely figures, their pallid, or rather swarthy countenances, and their clumsy feet, would induce a stranger to suppose that they were so many Scythian boors in female attire.
The Periote haberdashers have in consequence won so many hearts of late out of the harems, from which many of the old restraints have been removed, that the Sultan is said to have issued a decree directing no men to be employed in the shops under the age of thirty-five or forty. He might have made it thirty, for before that period the comeliness of the Grecian face is utterly decayed. It shrivels like a piece of dried parchment, the fire languishes in the eye, the teeth disappear, and the Apollo of twenty becomes as ugly as Thersites.
But to return to the bath. You pass from the street into a small court, leading to a spacious hall, flagged with white marble. Two galleries, the lower one raised about three feet from the ground, run round this apartment: they are supported by pillars, and divided into boxes, which are furnished with mattresses, carpets, and cushions in profusion. A column of water bursts from a pile of marble in the middle of the hall, and dispenses around it a glittering shower which falls into a basin beneath with a soothing murmur; sofas are placed round the basin for those who, after the toils and talk of the bath are over, choose to indulge in fairy dreams, and in that light sleep which obeys the invocation of the nightingale.
The presiding goddess of this temple-that is, in the language of men, the proprictress or her representative-may be seen enthroned near the entrance, arrayed in a turban, a straight dress of flowered cotton, girt round the waist with a Cachemire shawl, her chemisette of silk gauze richly trimmed, her gold snuff-box (for ornament if not for use) beside her, her splendid amber-mouthed pipe, if not serving its office, resting against a cushion, and her hands engaged in winding silk from an ebony distaff, or working some piece of embroidery, or stringing pearls, or perhaps doing nothing at all; while her tongue takes as loud a part in the general tumult as that of any of her visitors. At her feet is squatted a negro slave girl, the ready minister of her various mandates to all parts of the establishment.
Miss Pardoe is in ecstacy while describing the scene which she witnessed at one of these public baths. In some of the boxes the ladies had returned from the bathing-chamber, and were reclining luxuriously upon their sofas, rolled from head to foot in fine white linen, their long hair falling about their shoulders, which their slaves were drying, combing, perfuming, and plaiting with a rapture-giving diligence. Others, just come in to bathe, were suffering their attendants to remove their cloaks and veils and under-dresses, recognising their acquaintances, and falling in very rapidly with the chorus of merry sounds going on around them with all the ease in the world, just as if they had been thinking of nothing else the whole morning.
The visitor, stripped of her usual garments, her hair loosened, her person covered with a linen wrapper, steps across the hall to a door which opens into the "cooling room. This said "cooling" room is, however, filled with hot air, which, to a novice, is not a little oppressive.