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  • Jeremiah


Updated: Apr 8









River Steaming.—Arrival at Widdin—Jew.—Comfortless Khan.—Wretched appearance of Widdin.—Hussein Pasha.—M. Petronievitch.—Steam Balloon.

River steaming is, according to my notions, the best of all sorts of locomotion. Steam at sea makes you sick, and the voyage is generally over before you have gained your sea legs and your land appetite. In mail or stage you have no sickness and see the country, but you are squeezed sideways by helpless corpulence, and in front cooped into uneasiness by two pairs of egotistical knees and toes. As for locomotives, tunnels, cuts, and viaducts—this is not travelling to see the country, but arrival without seeing it. This eighth wonder of the world, so admirably adapted for business, is the despair of picturesque tourists, as well as post-horse, chaise, and gig letters. Our cathedral towns, instead of being distinguished from afar by their cloud-capt towers, are only recognizable at their respective stations by the pyramids of gooseberry tarts and ham sandwiches being at one place at the lower, and at another at the upper, end of an apartment marked "refreshment room." Now in river steaming you walk the deck, if the weather and the scenery be good; if the reverse, you lounge below; read, write, or play; and then the meals are arranged with Germanic ingenuity for killing time and the digestive organs.

On the second day the boat arrived at Widdin, and the agent of the steam packet company, an old Jew, came on board. I stepped across the plank and accompanied him to a large white house opposite the landing-place. On entering, I saw a group of Israel's children in the midst of a deadly combat of sale and purchase, bawling at the top of their voices in most villainous Castilian; all were filthy and shabbily dressed. The agent having mentioned who I was to the group, a broad-lipped young man with a German mütze surmounting his oriental costume, stepped forward with a confident air, and in a thick guttural voice addressed me in an unknown tongue. I looked about for an answer, when the agent told me in Turkish that he spoke English.

Jew. "You English gentleman, sir, and not know English."

Author. "I have to apologize for not recognizing the accents of my native country."

Jew. "Bring goods wid you, sir?"

Author. "No, I am not a merchant. Pray can you get me a lodging?"

Jew. "Get you as mush room you like, sir."

Author. "Have you been in England?"

Jew. "Been in London, Amsterdam, and Hamburgh."

We now arrived at the wide folding gates of the khan, which to be sure had abundance of space for travellers, but the misery and filth of every apartment disgusted me. One had broken windows, another a broken floor, a third was covered with half an inch of dust, and the weather outside was cold and rainy; so I shrugged up my shoulders and asked to be conducted to another khan. There I was somewhat better off, for I got into a new room leading out of a café where the charcoal burned freely and warmed the apartment. When the room was washed out I thought myself fortunate, so dreary and deserted had the other khan appeared to me.

I now took a walk through the bazaars, but found the place altogether miserable, being somewhat less village-like than Roustchouk. Lying so nicely on the bank of the Danube, which here makes such beautiful curves, and marked on the map with capital letters, it ought (such was my notion) to be a place having at least one well-built and well-stocked bazaar, a handsome seraglio, and some good-looking mosques. Nothing of the sort. The Konak or palace of the Pasha is an old barrack. The seraglio of the famous Passavan Oglou is in ruins, and the only decent looking house in the place is the new office of the Steam Navigation Company, which is on the Danube.

Being Ramadan, I could not see the pasha during the day; but in the evening, M. Petronievitch, [1] the exiled leader of the Servian National party, introduced me to Hussein Pasha, the once terrible destroyer of the Janissaries. This celebrated character appeared to be verging on eighty, and, afflicted with gout, was sitting in the corner of the divan at his ease, in the old Turkish ample costume. The white beard, the dress of the pasha, the rich but faded carpet which covered the floor, the roof of elaborate but dingy wooden arabesque, were all in perfect keeping, and the dubious light of two thick wax candles rising two or three feet from the floor, but seemed to bring out the picture, which carried me back, a generation at least, to the pashas of the old school. Hussein smoked a narghilé of dark red Bohemian cut crystal. M. Petronievitch and myself were supplied with pipes which were more profusely mounted with diamonds, than any I had ever before smoked; for Hussein Pasha is beyond all comparison the wealthiest man in the Ottoman empire.

After talking over the last news from Constantinople, he asked me what I thought of the projected steam balloon, which, from its being of a marvellous nature, appears to have caused a great deal of talk among the Turks. I expressed little faith in its success; on which he ordered an attendant to bring him a drawing of a locomotive balloon steered by flags and all sorts of fancies. "Will not this revolutionize the globe?" said the pasha; to which I replied, "C'est le premier pas qui coûte; there is no doubt of an aërial voyage to India if they get over the first quarter of a mile."*

I returned to sup with M. Petronievitch at his house, and we had a great deal of conversation relative to the history, laws, manners, customs, and politics of Servia; but as I subsequently obtained accurate notions of that country by personal observation, it is not necessary on the present occasion to return to our conversation.

*Hussein Pasha has since retired from Widdin, where he made the greater part of his fortune, for he was engaged in immense agricultural and commercial speculations; he was succeeded by Mustapha Nourri Pasha, formerly private secretary to Sultan Mahommud, who has also made a large fortune, as merchant and ship-owner.

[1] Tran. note: Avram Petronijević, secretary to Knez Miloš Obrenović, multiple times the Serbian representative (ćehaja) with the Sublime Porte, diplomat, Minister of Foreign Affairs and longest-serving Prime Minister of Serbia in a single mandate (1844-1852), as well as a prominent member of the Ustavobranitelji (Defenders of the Constitution) group, which sought to limit the powers of the Knez. Spoke German, Greek, Romanian, Italian, Turkish and French.

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