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The Life of Lord Byron By John Galt Characters: 9922

Updated: 2017-11-30 00:05


Audience appointed with Ali Pasha-Description of the Vizier's Person-An Audience of the Vizier of the Morea

The progress of no other poet's mind can be to clearly traced to personal experience as that of Byron's. The minute details in the Pilgrimage of Childe Harold are the observations of an actual traveller. Had they been given in prose, they could not have been less imbued with fiction. From this fidelity they possess a value equal to the excellence of the poetry, and ensure for themselves an interest as lasting as it is intense. When the manners and customs of the inhabitants shall have been changed by time and the vicissitudes of society, the scenery and the mountains will bear testimony to the accuracy of Lord Byron's descriptions.

The day after the travellers' arrival at Tepellené was fixed by the Vizier for their first audience; and about noon, the time appointed, an officer of the palace with a white wand announced to them that his highness was ready to receive them, and accordingly they proceeded from their own apartment, accompanied by the secretary of the Vizier, and attended by their own dragoman. The usher of the white rod led the way, and conducted them through a suite of meanly-furnished apartments to the presence chamber. Ali when they entered was standing, a courtesy of marked distinction from a Turk. As they advanced towards him, he seated himself, and requested them to sit near him. The room was spacious and handsomely fitted up, surrounded by that species of continued sofa which the upholsterers call a divan, covered with richly-embroidered velvet; in the middle of the floor was a large marble basin, in which a fountain was playing.

In marble-paved pavilion, where a spring

Of living water from the centre rose,

Whose bubbling did a genial freshness fling,

And soft voluptuous couches breathed repose,

ALI reclined; a man of war and woes.

Yet in his lineaments ye cannot trace,

While Gentleness her milder radiance throws

Along that aged, venerable face,

The deeds that lurk beneath and stain him with disgrace.

It is not that yon hoary, lengthening beard,

Ill suits the passions that belong to youth;

Love conquers age-so Hafiz hath averr'd:

So sings the Teian, and he sings in sooth-

But crimes that scorn the tender voice of Ruth,

Beseeming all men ill, but most the man

In years, have mark'd him with a tiger's tooth;

Blood follows blood, and through their mortal span,

In bloodier acts conclude those who with blood began.

When this was written Ali Pasha was still living; but the prediction which it implies was soon after verified, and he closed his stern and energetic life with a catastrophe worthy of its guilt and bravery. He voluntarily perished by firing a powder-magazine, when surrounded, beyond all chance of escape, by the troops of the Sultan his master, whose authority he had long contemned.

Mr Hobhouse describes him at this audience as a short fat man, about five feet five inches in height; with a very pleasing face, fair and round; and blue fair eyes, not settled into a Turkish gravity. His beard was long and hoary, and such a one as any other Turk would have been proud of; nevertheless, he, who was more occupied in attending to his guests than himself, neither gazed at it, smelt it, nor stroked it, according to the custom of his countrymen, when they seek to fill up the pauses in conversation. He was not dressed with the usual magnificence of dignitaries of his degree, except that his high turban, composed of many small rolls, was of golden muslin, and his yataghan studded with diamonds.

He was civil and urbane in the entertainment of his guests, and requested them to consider themselves as his children. It was on this occasion he told Lord Byron, that he discovered his noble blood by the smallness of his hands and ears: a remark which has become proverbial, and is acknowledged not to be without truth in the evidence of pedigree.

The ceremonies on such visits are similar all over Turkey, among personages of the same rank; and as Lord Byron has not described in verse the details of what took place with him, it will not be altogether obtrusive here to recapitulate what happened to myself during a visit to Velhi Pasha, the son of Ali: he was then Vizier of the Morea, and residing at Tripolizza.

In the afternoon, about four o'clock, I set out for the seraglio with Dr Teriano, the Vizier's physician, and the Vizier's Italian secretary. The gate of the palace was not unlike the entrance to some of the closes in Edinburgh, and the court within reminded me of Smithfield, in London; but it was not surrounded by such lofty buildings, nor in any degree of comparison so well constructed. We ascended a ruinous staircase, which led to an open gallery, where three or four hundred of the Vizier's Albanian guards were lounging. In an antechamber, which opened from the gallery, a number of of

ficers were smoking, and in the middle, on the floor, two old Turks were seriously engaged at chess.

My name being sent in to the Vizier, a guard of ceremony was called, and after they had arranged themselves in the presence chamber, I was admitted. The doctor and the secretary having, in the meantime, taken off their shoes, accompanied me in to act as interpreters.

The presence chamber was about forty feet square, showy and handsome: round the walls were placed sofas, which, from being covered with scarlet, reminded me of the woolsacks in the House of Lords. In the farthest corner of the room, elevated on a crimson velvet cushion, sat the Vizier, wrapped in a superb pelisse: on his head was a vast turban, in his belt a dagger, incrusted with jewels, and on the little finger of his right hand he wore a solitaire as large as the knob on the stopper of a vinegar-cruet, and which was said to have cost two thousand five hundred pounds sterling. In his left hand he held a string of small coral beads, a comboloio which he twisted backwards and forwards during the greater part of the visit. On the sofa beside him lay a pair of richly-ornamented London-made pistols. At some distance, on the same sofa, but not on a cushion, sat Memet, the Pasha of Napoli Romania, whose son was contracted in marriage to the Vizier's daughter. On the floor, at the foot of this pasha, and opposite to the Vizier, a secretary was writing despatches. These were the only persons in the room who had the honour of being seated; for, according to the etiquette of this viceregal court, those who received the Vizier's pay were not allowed to sit down in his presence.

On my entrance, his highness motioned to me to sit beside him, and through the medium of the interpreters began with some commonplace courtly insignificancies, as a prelude to more interesting conversation. In his manners I found him free and affable, with a considerable tincture of humour and drollery. Among other questions, he inquired if I had a wife: and being answered in the negative, he replied to me himself in Italian, that I was a happy man, for he found his very troublesome: considering their probable number, this was not unlikely. Pipes and coffee were in the mean-time served. The pipe presented to the Vizier was at least twelve feet long; the mouth-piece was formed of a single block of amber, about the size of an ordinary cucumber, and fastened to the shaft by a broad hoop of gold, decorated with jewels. While the pipes and coffee were distributing, a musical clock, which stood in a niche, began to play, and continued doing so until this ceremony was over. The coffee was literally a drop of dregs in a very small china cup, placed in a golden socket. His highness was served with his coffee by Pasha Bey, his generalissimo, a giant, with the tall crown of a dun-coloured beaver-hat on his head. In returning the cup to him, the Vizier elegantly eructed in his face. After the regale of the pipes and coffee, the attendants withdrew, and his highness began a kind of political discussion, in which, though making use of an interpreter, he managed to convey his questions with delicacy and address.

On my rising to retire, his highness informed me, with more polite condescension than a Christian of a thousandth part of his authority would have done, that during my stay at Tripolizza horses were at my command, and guards who would accompany me to any part of the country I might choose to visit.

Next morning, he sent a complimentary message, importing, that he had ordered dinner to be prepared at the doctor's for me and two of his officers. The two officers were lively fellows; one of them in particular seemed to have acquired, by instinct, a large share of the ease and politeness of Christendom. The dinner surpassed all count and reckoning, dish followed dish, till I began to fancy that the cook either expected I would honour his highness's entertainment as C?sar did the supper of Cicero, or supposed that the party were not finite beings. During the course of this amazing service, the principal singers and musicians of the seraglio arrived, and sung and played several pieces of very sweet Turkish music. Among others was a song composed by the late unfortunate Sultan Selim, the air of which was pleasingly simple and pathetic. I had heard of the Sultan's poetry before, a small collection of which has been printed. It is said to be interesting and tender, consisting chiefly of little sonnets, written after he was deposed; in which he contrasts the tranquillity of his retirement with the perils and anxieties of his former grandeur. After the songs, the servants of the officers, who were Albanians, danced a Macedonian reel, in which they exhibited several furious specimens of Highland agility. The officers then took their leave, and I went to bed, equally gratified by the hospitality of the Vizier and the incidents of the entertainment.

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