Curiously, I still haven’t read the entirety of Alexander Kinglake’s 1844 book Eothen; or Traces of travel brought home from the East. But one particular passage — a fictional conversation between an English visitor and an Ottoman (Osmanli) pasha by means of a somewhat manic-depressive dragoman (an early form of travel guide and translator) — has always struck me as hilarious. Maybe one has to have spent time in the Middle East to fully appreciate it, but the flowery translator who occasionally turns sullen, the clash of cultures, the mutual misunderstanding, and the perils of relying upon translation — all of these seem to me spot on and very funny. So I’m sharing it with you:
Pasha. — The Englishman is welcome; most blessed among hours is this, the hour of his coming.
Dragoman (to the Traveller). — The Pasha pays you his compliments.
Traveller.— Give him my best compliments in return, and say I’m delighted to have the honour of seeing him.
Dragoman (to the Pasha). — His Lordship, this Englishman, Lord of London, Scorner of Ireland, Suppressor of France, has quitted his governments, and left his enemies to breathe for a moment, and has crossed the broad waters in strict disguise, with a small but eternally faithful retinue of followers, in order that he might look upon the bright countenance of the Pasha among Pashas — the Pasha of the everlasting Pashalik of Karagholookoldour.
Traveller (to his Dragoman). — What on earth have you been saying about London? The Pasha will be taking me for a mere Cockney. Have not I told you always to say, that I am from a branch of the family of Mudcombe Park, and that I am to be a magistrate for the county of Bedfordshire, only I’ve not qualified; and that I should have been a deputy-lieutenant, if it had not been for the extraordinary conduct of Lord Mountpromise; and that I was a candidate for Boughton-Soldborough at the last election, and that I should have won easy if my committee had not been bribed. I wish to heaven that if you do say anything about me, you’d tell the simple truth!
[Dragoman— is silent.]
Pasha. — What says the friendly Lord of London? is there aught that I can grant him within the Pashalik of Karagholookoldour?
Dragoman (growing sulky and literal). — This friendly Englishman — this branch of Mudcombe — this head purveyor of Boughton-Soldborough — this possible policeman of Bedfordshire — is recounting his achievements and the number of his titles.
Pasha. — The end of his honours is more distant than the ends of the earth, and the catalogue of his glorious deeds is brighter than the firmament of heaven !
Dragoman (to the Traveller). — The Pasha congratulates your Excellency.
Traveller. — About Boughton-Soldborough? The deuce he does! — but I want to get at his views in relation to the present state of the Ottoman empire. Tell him the Houses of Parliament have met, and that there has been a speech from the Throne pledging England to maintain the integrity of the Sultan’s dominions.
Dragoman (to the Pasha). — This branch of Mudcombe, this possible policeman of Bedfordshire, informs your Highness that in England the talking houses have met, and that the integrity of the Sultan’s dominions has been assured for ever and ever by a speech from the velvet chair.
Pasha. — Wonderful chair! Wonderful houses! — whirr! whirr! all by wheels; — whiz! whiz! all by steam! — wonderful chair! wonderful houses! wonderful people! — whirr! whirr! all by wheels! — whiz! whiz! all by steam!
Traveller (to the Dragoman). — What does the Pasha mean by that whizzing? he does not mean to say, does he, that our Government will ever abandon their pledges to the Sultan?
Dragoman. — No, your excellency, but he says the English talk by wheels and by steam.
Dragoman (recovering his temper and freedom of speech). — His Excellency, this Lord of Mudcombe, observes to your Highness, that whenever the Irish, or the French, or the Indians rebel against the English, whole armies of soldiers and brigades of artillery are dropped into a mighty chasm called Euston Square, and, in the biting of a cartridge, they rise up again in Manchester, or Dublin, or Paris, or Delhi, and utterly exterminate the enemies of England from the face of the earth.
Pasha. — I know it — I know all; the particulars have been faithfully related to me, and my mind comprehends locomotives. The armies of the English ride upon the vapours of boiling caldrons, and their horses are flaming coals! — whirr! whirr! all by wheels! — whiz! whiz! all by steam !
Traveller (to his Dragoman). — I wish to have the opinion of an unprejudiced Ottoman gentleman as to the prospects of our English commerce and manufactures; just ask the Pasha to give me his views on the subject.
Pasha (after having received the communication of the Dragoman). — The ships of the English swarm like flies; their printed calicoes cover the whole earth, and by the side of their swords the blades of Damascus are blades of grass. All India is but an item in the ledger-books of the merchants whose lumber-rooms are filled with ancient thrones! — whirr! whirr! all by wheels! — whizz! whizz! all by steam!
Dragoman. — The Pasha compliments the cutlery of England, and also the East India Company.
Traveller. — The Pasha’s right about the cutlery: I tried my scimitar with the common officers’ swords belonging to our fellows at Malta, and they cut it like the leaf of a novel. Well (to the Dragoman), tell the Pasha I am exceedingly gratified to find that he entertains such a high opinion of our manufacturing energy, but I should like him to know, though, that we have got something in England besides that. These foreigners are always fancying that we have nothing but ships and railways, and East India Companies; do just tell the Pasha that our rural districts deserve his attention, and that even within the last two hundred years there has been an evident improvement in the culture of the turnip; and if he does not take any interest about that, at all events you can explain that we have our virtues in the country — that we are a truth- telling people, and, like the Osmanlees, are faithful in the performance of our promises. Oh! and by-the-by, whilst you are about it, you may as well just say, at the end, that the British yeoman is still, thank God! the British yeoman.
Pasha (after hearing the Dragoman). — It is true, it is true: through all Feringhistan the English are foremost and best; for the Russians are drilled swine, and the Germans are sleeping babes, and the Italians are the servants of songs, and the French are the sons of newspapers, and the Greeks are the weavers of lies, but the English and the Osmanlees are brothers together in righteousness: for the Osmanlees believe in one only God, and cleave to the Koran, and destroy idols; so do the English worship one God, and abominate graven images, and tell the truth, and believe in a book; and though they drink the juice of the grape, yet to say that they worship their prophet as God, or to say that they are eaters of pork, these are lies — lies born of Greeks, and nursed by Jews.
Dragoman. — The Pasha compliments the English.
Traveller (rising). — Well, I’ve had enough of this. Tell the Pasha I am greatly obliged to him for his hospitality, and still more for his kindness in furnishing me with horses, and say that now I must be off.
Pasha (after hearing the Dragoman, and standing up on his divan). — Proud are the sires, and blessed are the dams of the horses, that shall carry his Excellency to the end of his prosperous journey. May the saddle beneath him glide down to the gates of the happy city like a boat swimming on the third river of Paradise! May he sleep the sleep of a child when his friends are around him ; and the while that his enemies are abroad may his eyes flame red through the darkness — more red than the eyes of ten tigers! — farewell!
Dragoman. — The Pasha wishes your Excellency a pleasant journey.
So ends the visit.
Posted from Las Vegas, Nevada