three pairs of lovers with space

A VOYAGE INTO THE LEVANT BY HENRY BLOUNT

 

Henry Blount (1602-82), was a Hertfordshire gentleman who, setting out from Venice in May 1634, travelled for eleven months in the Balkans, Constantinople, Rhodes, Egypt and Italy. His book about this, A Voyage into the Levant, published in London in 1636, gained rapid recognition and caught the attention of the King, who knighted him after three years of consequent service.

By the standard of travellers of any epoch, Blount was temperamentally exceptionally well suited to discover and understand local customs. As he explained in the first two pages, he travelled with the stated objectives of gaining knowledge, believing this “advances best, in observing of people, whose institutions much differ from ours”, and to see for himself whether “the Turkish way appeare absolutely barbarous, as we are given to understand, or rather another kind of civilitie, different from ours, but no less pretending.” Moreover, he insisted on travelling without Christian company, believing this would be a liability in establishing rapports with the locals (p. 5).

Unburdened by the fashionable Puritanism of the day, he was also determined to present what he found objectively: “in treating of [Morall Customes], most men set downe what they should be, and use to regulate that by their own silly education, and received opinions guided by sublimities, and moralities imaginary; this I leave to Utopians who doating on their phantastique supposals, show their own capacitie, or hypocrisie, and no more.” (p. 61).

The text here is taken from the second edition, also published in London in 1636.

 

A Voyage into the Levant

In the summer of 1634, Blount accompanied the pasha Murath’s Ottoman army, heading towards the Polish frontier, on its twelve days march through the Ottoman Empire from “Taurunum”[1] in the province of Budin to “Sophya, the chiefe Citie of Bulgary” …

          Title page of the second edition, 1636

The several Courts of the Bashas were served in great state; each of them had three or fourscore Camels, besides sixe or seven score Carts, to carry the Baggage: and when the Basha himself tooke Horse, he had five or sixe Coaches, covered with Cloth of Gold, or rich tapestry, to carry his wives; some had with them twelve or sixteene; the least ten, who when they entred the Coach, there were men set on each side, holding up a rowe of tapestry, to cover them from being seene by the people, although they were after the Turkish manner muffled that nothing but the eye could appeare: beside these wives, each Basha hath as many, or likely more Catamites, which are their serious loves; for their Wives are used (as the Turkes themselves told me) but to dresse their meat, to Laundresse, and for reputation; The Boyes likely of twelve, or fourteen years old, some of them not above nine, or ten, are usually clad in Velvet, or Scarlet, with guilt Scymitars, and bravely mounted, with sumptuous furniture; to each of them a Souldier appointed, who walkes by his bridle, for his safetie: when they are all in order, there is excellent Sherbets given to any who will drinke: then the Basha takes Horse, before whom ride a dozen, or more, who wit ugly Drums, brasse Dishes, and wind instruments, noise along most of the Iourney: before all, there goe Officers, who pitch his Tent, where he shall dine or lodge: when meate is served up, especially at night, all the people give three Shoutes: These are their chiefe ceremonies I remember.

That which secured, and emboldned my enquiry and passage these twelve dayes March, was an accident the first night; which was thus: the Campe being pitch’d on the Shoare of Danubius, I went, (but timorously) to view the Service about Murath Bashaes Court, where one of his favourite Boyes espying mee to be a Stranger, gave mee a Cup of Sherbet; I in thanks, and to make friends in Court, presented him with a Pocket Looking Glasse, in a little Ivory Case, with a Combe; such as are sold at Westminster hall for foure or five shillings a piece: The youth much taken therewith, ran, and shewed it to the Bashaw, who presently sent for me, and making me sit, and drinke Cauphe[2] in his presence, called for one that spake Italian; then demanding of my condition, purpose, country, and many other particulars, it was my fortune to hit his humour so right, as at last, he asked if my Law did permit me to serve under them going against the Polacke who is a Christian; promising me with his hand upon his breast, that if I would, I should be inrolled of his Companies, furnished with a good Horse, and of other necessaries be provided with the rest of his Houshold; … [pp. 13-15]

 

In the ensuing autumn, Blount visited Cairo, where he visited a fine palace of which he said …

    Sir Henry Blount by Nicholas Dixon, 1660s

But that which to mee seemed more Magnificent than all this, was my entertainment: entring one of these Roomes, I saw at the upper end, amongst others sitting crosse-legg’d the Lord of the Palace, who beckoning me to come, I first put off my Shooes as the rest had done; then bowing often, with my hand upon my breast, came neere, where he making me sit downe, there attended ten or twelve handsome young Pages all clad in Scarlet, with crooked Daggers, and Scymitars richly gilt: foure of them with a sheete of Taffaty, and covered me; another held a golden Incense with rich perfume, wherewith being a little smoked they tooke all away; next came two with sweet water, and besprinkled me: after that, one brought a Porcelane dish of Cauphe, which when I had dranke, another served up a draught of excellent Sherbet: Then began discourse, …  [p. 42]

 

[1] Now Zenum in the Serbian city of Belgrade.

[2] Coffee, which alone, besides water, would Blount drink in later life. Judge Rumsey, whose letter to Blount appeared in the dedication, credited Blount with popularizing coffee in the country: “your discovery in your excellent Book of Travels, hath brought the use of the Turkes Physick, of Cophie in great request in England”.