Page images

one of which is occupied by the lord of the house with his Cynthia of the hour. The other rooms are given up to what is here called the family. Women, children, guests of the female sex, slaves of the master or mistress, compose the population of the harem. In the East there are no beds properly so called, nor rooms specially devoted to rest Large trunks contain during the day the piles of mattresses, cushions, and carpets. At night, each inhabitant of the harem takes out what she wants in the shape of bed-furniture, which she lays down in any odd corner. When one room is full, the late comers establish themselves in the others, and those who cannot find shelter elsewhere go to the corridor on the staircase. Nothing is so unpleasant to European eyes as to see these ladies rise in the morning with their clothes all crumpled and hair dishevelled. The principal object of a Turkish husband being to have the largest number of children possible, all his domestic life is subordinate to

consideration. a woman remain childless two or three years she is straightway dismissed; her husband substitutes for her a more fruitful companion. No one pays any attention to the grief and jealousy of the deserted fair one; but we are bound to add that if, instead of weeping and lamenting, she thinks proper to get rid of her rival in any way, no one will trouble about the fate of the latter. Hence, there are no creatures more degraded than Turkish women of the middle class, and their character is betrayed by their faces. It is difficult to pronounce as to their beauty, for their cheeks, lips, eyebrows, and eyelids are disfigured by thick layers of paint applied without taste or stint ; their shape is ruined by the ridiculous cut of their clothes, and they conceal their hair under a piece of goat-skin painted dark orange. The expression of their face evinces at once stupidity, coarse sensuality, hypocrisy, and harshness. There is not the slightest trace of religious or moral principles. Their children occupy


weary them at the same time ; they care for them as the stepping-stone by which to gain their husband's favour, but any idea of maternal duty is strange to them ; the proof of this is found in the frequency of miscarriages, which these women bring on without concealment, whenever the birth of a child does not meet their views. Here is a case in point:

About a fortnight before my departure for Angora (writes the princess) the chief of a brotherhood of dervishes, established in a small town not far from my residence, came to ask me for medicine for his daughter, who was attacked by certain weaknesses which appeared to me so many symptoms of grossesse. I expressed my opinion to the venerable personage, who replied with a graceful smile that his daughter did not wish to have a child. “ Whether she wish it or no," I replied, " she will have to put up with it.” “Impossible, my dear lady, said the old man; "her husband has gone to join the army, and my daughter is quite determined not to have any children before his return.” I immediately told the dervish I did not understand him. The old gentleman appeared embarrassed, and while scratching his ear, began some explanation; when one of my people, who was present to act as interpreter if required, said angrily, to the old man, “Did I not tell you to be quiet about such matters to my mistress ? the Christians of the West will not lend themselves to such arrangements, and you will gain nothing.” These words having enlightened me, I assured the old gentleman he was wasting his time, and that he might as well ask me for poison ; but I had the greatest difficulty in getting rid of him. He continually returned to his great argument, that his son-in-law had joined the army, and, besides, that his daughter's resolution was known and approved by her husband. Fortunately

for him, and perhaps for myself, the excellent father did not understand the remarks I made; so he quitted me after giving me his blessing, assuring me of his tender friendship, and begging me to reflect over the matter he had asked of me. Such transactions occur daily, and do not offend anybody's conscience.

If the mothers do not experience any true tenderness for their children, the latter care very little for it. The boys regard their mothers as servants; they give them orders, reproach them for their indolence and ugliness, and do not always confine themselves to words. As for modesty, that virgin charm of early youth, it exists neither for the children nor those who surround them; all these women dress and undress before their youngest sons, and the most improper remarks are made in their presence. The children despise their mothers; and this life in common, which causes them to lose the respect for their parents, is a sad preparation. The rivalry for power agitating the mother is a source of animosity, envy, malice, pride, and anger for the children. “My mother is more beautiful—more rich-younger-she was born at Stamboul !" Such are the boasts of these children when they wish to humiliate those they call their brothers.

The family of the Constantinopolitan Turk who associates with Franks or has visited Europe does not offer the same repulsive instance of immorality and naïve turpitude ; but, with only very few exceptions, the silk and brocade too often conceal a hideous skeleton. The ladies in the first-class harems do not wear their tumbled dress for a week or a month. Each morning, on quitting their sumptuous couches, they doff their garments and put on fresh ones. Their robes, their trousers, and their scarfs are of Lyons manufacture, and though only the refuse is sent to the East, it produces a very brilliant effect when surrounding the magnificent form of a Georgian or Circassian. But now a word about the fair denizens, of whom the princess gives a very different account from that hitherto accepted :

A word here about the two races that represent to our inexperienced imagination the prototype of feminine beauty, Tall, strong, of good shape, with a brilliant complexion, masses of black and glistening hair, a noble and massive brow, an aquiline nose, immense widely-opened black eyes, vermilion lips, modelled like those of the Greek statues of the best age, pearly teeth, a rounded chin, and a perfect facial colour-such is the Georgian woman. I really admire the women of this race; then, when I have admired them sufficiently, I turn my head and look at them no more, for I am certain to find them, whenever I please, exactly as I left them, without a smile more or less, without the slightest variation of face. If a child be born to them or die, whether their lord adore or detest them, whether their rival triumph or is banished, the faces of the Georgian women never give a sign. Only years can produce an alteration in this face of marble. The Circassian woman has neither the same advantages nor the same defects. She is a northern beauty, reminding me of the blonde and sentimental girls of Germany; but the resemblance does not extend beyond the exterior. The Circassians are generally blondes : their complexion is deliciously fresh, their eyes are blue, grey, or green, and their features, though delicate and graceful, are irregular. While the Georgian is stupid and hanghty, the Circassian is false and crafty. The one is capable of deceiving her lord, the other of causing him to die of ennui.

The most revolting feature connected with Turkish domestic institutions is the miniature harem of sons of great houses. These children, lads of nine to twelve years of age, possess little slaves of their own age, or nearly so, with whom they parody the manners of their fathers.

[ocr errors][ocr errors]

These young victims here pass a horrible apprenticeship to the life that is reserved for them, for nothing is more cruel than a badly educated child, and the brutal depravity of a debauched old man is found at the other extremity of life. Our authoress assures us that she has seen these embryo pashas beat, kick, scratch, and maltreat a whole flock of little girls, who hardly dared to cry, while the young tiger licked his lips and smiled a peculiar smile. Strange to say, though, the natural Turk is a very different animal, and this cruel child will probably become a very respectable man when he attains the age when he can play his part without too much exertion. With these preliminary remarks we are sufficiently au fait to the subject to accompany Madame la Princesse into the harem of Mustuk Bey, Prince of the Mountains of the Giaour.

The hierarchy is always respected in the harems, and though Mustuk Bey might be a Sardanapalus, and might be deeply in love with some other one of his wives, he could only hold his levees in the room of the first wife (in date). She was a curious object, according to the princess's account, and bore a striking resemblance to a retired tight-rope dancer. This sultana had been very beautiful, and the beauty had not entirely disappeared : her complexion offered a curious mixture of sunburn and a series of layers of paint, beneath which the original skin was not visible. Her large sea-green eyes looked like reservoirs placed below the lachry. mal gland to receive the torrents destined to pour from them. Her mouth, large and well modelled, displayed teeth still admirably white, but too far apart, and her gums were unhealthily red. She apparently disdained the goat-skin covering for the head, and wore her own hair, dyed of an orange red. Her dress was carefully arranged, and formed a striking contrast with that of her children, who were dressed like little beggars. As long as her husband was present she seemed as timid as a newly-married bride, covering her face with her veil or her hand, or anything within reach, and only replying in monosyllables. She turned her nose to the wall, and suppressed little nervous bursts of laughter: she seemed ready to cry at any moment; in short, performed all the manæuvres by which Eastern husbands are so flattered. The bey soon quitted the room, and then the lady talked without reserve, and began making pertinent inquiries about Frankish manners and customs, which caused the princess to suspect she was not so stupid as her husband made her out to be. The conversation was interrupted, however, by the entrance of the bey's three other wives : two of them appeared to be sisters, and had a swarm of children at their heels: the third deserves a more detailed description :

Behind these two women a face remained humbly in the shade, on which my eyes were at once fixed, and remained so, in spite of the manæuvres executed by the other sultanas to distract my attention. I never remember to have seen so beautiful a face. This woman wore a long trailing robe of red satin, open at the breast, which was lightly veiled by a chemise of silk gauze, with wide sleeves hanging below the elbow. Her head-dress was that of the Turcomans, and to form an idea of it you must imagine a complication, an infinite multiplicity of turbans placed one above the other, and rising to an inaccessible height. There were in it red scarfs rolled six or seven times around, and forming a tower after the fashion of the goddess Cybele: handkerchiefs of all colours crossing the scarfs, rising or descending without any settled purpose, and forming quaint arabesques ; yards of fine muslin enveloping with their

transparent whiteness a part of the scaffolding, carefully framing in the brow, and falling in rich and light folds along the cheeks, round the neck, and on the chest. Chains of gold, or small sequins run on a string, or again, diamond pins, were visible between the folds, and gave them a certain stability which it would have been unreasonable to demand of such slight stuff. Little feet that seemed chiselled out of marble appeared and disappeared under the long satin robe, while arms and hands, such as I had never seen before, shook an infinite number of bracelets and rings, whose weight could not be trifling. All this formed an ensemble at once strange and graceful, but all disappeared suddenly after noticing the face of the wearer. It was so singularly beautiful that I despair of being able to describe it, for how could I give a person who has not contemplated it an idea of such a charming chef d'ouvre of nature, such a ravishing mixture of grace and timidity ?

The princess noticed that this lovely lady was not accompanied by her children, and soon turned to ask why she had not brought them?' She made no reply, but the others told her, with evident satisfaction, that she had none. The princess returned to the charge, and presumed that the fair Turcoman's children were dead ; but the three harpies shouted, with a loud burst of laughter," that she never had any." The tears rolled down the unhappy girl's cheeks, for nothing is so spurned, despised, and desolate as a barren woman in the East. It is doubtlessly mournful to have children and lose them, but others may come to take their place. Besides, a mother who has lost her children is not the less a great lady: her social and domestic position remains the same ; she is respected, admired, perhaps loved ; she has no cause to blush. But not to give birth to children is a true misfortune, one of the greatest that can happen to a woman ; let her be beautiful, let her be charming, let her be adoredeven if she have brought her husband the money he is squandering, if imperial blood run in her veins and her husband be only a porter-so soon as her sterility is established, an Oriental woman is ruined without redemption. Better for her to die than live the life of humiliation, insult, and neglect that awaits her.

During the whole period of the princess's stay in the harem, she could not induce the poor girl to reply to a single question; nor was it till she was on the point of leaving that she came up to her and said, “ Lady, remain yet a while, for I love you greatly." The princess hardly knew ho to account for her reserve, whether to ascribe it to timidity or stupidity; but she evidently rather inclines to the latter, and from the opinion she was compelled to form of Turkish women from her intercourse with them, we can hardly blame her. On returning to the bey, the princess paid him some florid compliments, after the fashion of the country, on the beauty of his wives, more especially distinguishing the Turcoman lady; but he, too, in his turn, condemned her by saying, in a confidential tone,

“ She has no children." Our self-appointed task is ended; for, after leaving the mountains of the Giaour, Madame la Princesse entered Christian society, and we obtain no more revelations of harem life. To those of our readers, however, who would like to know more of her travels—how she was cheated by consuls, how she lay sick of a fever, how she fell among thieves, how she visited Jericho beyond Jordan—in short, how she went through the stereotyped experiences of all travellers in the East—we can only say, Procure the book for yourselves, and take our word that the time devoted to its perusal will not be thrown away.




Jam verò videtis, nihil esse Morti tam simile, quàm Somnum.

CICERO, de Senectute, XXII.
By him lay heavy Sleepe, the cosin of Death,
Flat on the ground, and still as any stone,
A very corpse, save yielding forth a breath.

For next to Death is Sleepe to be compared;
Therefore his house is unto his annext.

SPENSER: Faerie Queene, II. 7, 25.
thou soft natural death! that art joint twin
To sweetest slumber!

JOHN WEBSTER: The White Devil.
Come, Sommus, with thy potent charms,
And seize this captive in thy arms. ...
All are alike, who live by breath,
In thee, and in thy brother Death.

PhilonAX LOVEKIN: Andronicus (1661).
How wonderful is Death,
Death and his brother Sleep!
One, pale as yonder waning moon,
With lips of lurid blue;
The other, rosy as the morn
When, throned on ocean's wave,
It blushes o'er the world :
Yet both so passing wonderful !

SHELLEY: Queen Mab.
It was a dream.
But who conducted me? That gentle Power
Gentle as Death, Death's brother.

LANDOR: Last Fruit off an Old Tree.
Though Death should grimly stalk into the house,
And stand beside the slumber of a child,
Think you that gazing on its mimic self,
Sleep, beautiful and wondrous, in the crib,
His owlish eyes would not wing suddenly,
Through cycles of decay, back to the time
When he was one with Sleep, and passing fair;
Think you he would not sigh, “Sleep on, sleep on!
Thou copy and thou counterfeit of me,
And teach the world that I was beautiful.”

WALTER R. CASSELS: Llewellyn. WAEN the first man first fell on sleep (using that phrase in a natural not spiritual sense), he is supposed by Milton to have confusedly identified the sensation with that of dissolution itself. Death indeed was then VOL. XLIII.

2 M

« PreviousContinue »