Brève présentation de la littérature turque, extraite de Charles Wells, The literature of the Turks, a turkish chrestomathy, publié en 1891.
"Seek knowledge even in China."
Words of Mahomet.
IT will be seen from the words of Mahomet I quote above that it is a great mistake to suppose that the religion of the Turks has prevented them from cultivating learning and literature. Mahomet also said... " It is permitted to the Moslems to possess all sciences;" and again, in another place, he asserted that "Wisdom came from poetry" (Inne min-esshiri h ikmetun), and that " There are treasure chambers 'neath the Throne of God, and the keys are the tongues of poets." ("Lillahi Kunuz taht il arshi mefatihu elsinet es shwara.") Most Europeans being unable to read Turkish books, and scarcely anything from their literature having been translated into European languages, it has been somewhat rashly presumed that they possess no literature, and some unscrupulous writers have not hesitated to represent the Turks as illiterate barbarians. This is very far from being the case. The Turks possessed a literature even before the conquest of Constantinople, and they have always had the greatest respect for learning and admiration for literature, and in no country, perhaps, in the world have literary men been so favoured by Royalty or so munificently rewarded. Numerous Sultans did not think it beneath their dignity to become authors themselves, and they delighted especially in the society of poets, historians, and other literati. Even the Conqueror of Constantinople, Mahomet II., was a poet himself, and be patronised literature not only in his own wide dominions but even in other lands. He is said to have pensioned thirty Turkish poets, and to have sent a thousand ducats a year to the Indian K-hoja'-i-Jihan and the Persian Jami. Many of his vezirs were poets. Two universities were founded by him, that of Ayia Sofia and the Muhammedié. Over the public library, which he also built, was written this motto: " The study of all sciences is a divine precept for all True Believers." Mahomet II. did not destroy the library of the Greek Emperors. He was himself acquainted with the Greek and Arabic languages and literature, and delighted in reading the exploits of Alexander the Great, Scipio, Hannibal, and Julius Caesar. He had several European works translated into Turkish. During the reign of the first Sultans many Greek and Latin works were translated into Turkish. A translation of Plutarch was made by order of Mahomet II, the Conqueror, and the commentaries of Caesar were circulated amongst the Turks in the reign of Suleyman the Magnificent. Aristotle and Euclid are also to be found in Turkish, and it is natural to suppose that many other great classical productions were translated into Turkish, although copies of them are not now to be seen. Historical, astronomical and poetical works are still extant, although rare. which were produced by the Turks before they conquered Constantinople. There is a history of the Turks written by Ahmed-Ben-Yahya, which was produced in the reign of Orkhan. I venture, therefore, to slightly alter the words of Mahomet, and to say to the English public, and especially students of Turkish: "Seek knowledge even in Turkey! "Few people know that the idea of inoculation came from Turkey, from which country Lady Montague introduced it into England. It is possible, therefore, that we may learn something more from the Turks-fresh facts connected with European history, their customs, and their opinions of ourselves, if we take the trouble to peruse their literature ; and it must not be supposed that the love of literature and the production of it in Turkey are things of the past only. One of the greatest of modern Turkish writers, Kemal Bey, who only died last year, says: "A people without a literature are like a man without a tongue;" and he has himself produced poems, novels and dramas, which are quite on a level with similar works in European countries. His description of London, from which I give an extract hereafter, is very clever and interesting, as showing us what impression our great capital makes on an intelligent Oriental.
The Turks possess numerous works on history, geography, astronomy, and scientific subjects, but they particularly excel in history. Sa'd-ud-D' , who lived more than three hundred years ago wrote a history of the Turks called "Taj-ut-Tevarikh," "The Crown of Histories," which is considered one of the finest specimens of Turkish prose, and made him immortal. The book is remarkably well written. and the facts in it are related with a truthfulness and boldness which are very surprising when one considers the age and the country he lived in. He was the tutor of Murad III., and he had such influence over that monarch that it is reported that Queen Elizabeth of England sent him presents to induce him to prevail on his sovereign to send a fleet to help the English against Philip of Spain, when the latter was preparing the Armada. Sa'dud-Din was one of the few men who not only could write history but make history. He accompanied Sultan Mahomet III. in his campaign in Hungary, and the great victory the Turks gained at the battle of Keresztes was due in great part to the courage and firmness of Sa'd-ud-Din who prevented the Sultan from flying. when the battle at first seemed lost. He exhorted his master to remain. telling him in the words of the Koran
that "Patience brings victory and joy succeeds to sorrow," and the sequel proved him to be right.
Another great historian whose writings are well worthy of perusal is Naïma. He was one of the Imperial historiographers who continued the history of Turkey after Sa'd-ud-Din. His works were printed at Constantinople as long ago as 1734 A.D., and consist of two folio volumes. His style is not so ornate as that of Sa'd-ud-Din but it is clear and elegant. It throws great light on the history of Europe in connexion with Turkey and it is amusing and instructive sometimes to hear events in European history related by a Turk from a Turkish point of view. His account of the conquest of Crete by the Osmanlis possesses a peculiar interest at the present moment, and I have consequently given rather copious extracts from that, from which it will be seen that the Turks took the island from the Venetians, and that the population were not very loth to receive the Turks as their masters., as the Turkish Generalissimo treated non-combatants with a certain amount of wise clemency and forbade wanton destruction of life and property. This, and other such facts in the history, may probably be depended on, as the author did not write for Europeans, and never imagined that his words would be trans. lated into English or any other European language. The history of Turkey was continued by Rashid Effendi and Chelebi Zadé. This work also forms two large folio volumes. Amongst other curious and instructive things which it contains is a journal kept by a Turkish ambassador who was specially sent to the Court of France in 1720 A.D. It is very quaint and entertaining, as we see from it how European manners and customs really strike a Mahommedan. He was particularly struck with the respect the men in France had for ladies, and their politeness to them. "The French women," he says, "go where they please and do what they like. France is a real paradise for women, for there they live free from all care, and get everything which they can possibly desire."
Another great writer was the celebrated Haji Khalifé, the author of the "History of the Naval Wars of the Turks," in which he depicts in glowing colours the naval achievements of the Turks in the reign of Suleyman the Magnificent. The details he gives respecting the Turkish Lord High Admiral, Khaïr-ud-Din, or Barbarossa, and the Genoese Admiral, Andria Doria, are very valuable. He wrote many other important works on history and geography.
The Turks always were, and still are, very much addicted to writing poetry, for which they have an extraordinary love and admiration. High and low amongst them have cultivated poetry. The Sultans, themselves, were often poets. Indeed, from Murad II. to Murad IV., inclusive, there was an unbroken succession of PoetSultans. Verses by all these twelve monarchs are still extant, and they were not the only Sultans who indulged in verse. It may, therefore, justly be said that the Ottoman Sultans have been the most poetical royal family in the world. The learned von Hammer gives translated extracts in German from more than two thousand Turkish versifiers; but all of these can scarcely be called poets. The Turks have, however, produced some really good poets, amongst whom we may mention Baki, Mesihi, Nejati, Fouzouli, Misri, Kemal Pasha Zadé in ancient times, and lzzet Molla, the father of the celebrated Ali Pasha (Prime Minister of Turkey), Ziya Pasha, and Kemal Bey in recent times. Abd-ul-Hak Hamid Bey, at present First Secretar at the Ottoman Embassy in London, is also a well-known modern poet of great promise. Turkish poetry is open to the objection that it is not very original, as it is almost always an imitation of Persian poetry ; and most Turkish poets indulge in such extravagant metaphors and similes that their works, if translated into English at all closely, would be distasteful to most of us. They have, however, sometimes pretty and quaint ideas cleverly expressed, as in the case of Mesihi's Ode to the Spring, which I have translated. Probably our poetry appears to them rather tame and insipid, so different are oriental and western taste.
In the same way Turkish music is not agreeable to most European ears, and cultivated Turks have frankly confessed to me that they could not appreciate our operas, until they became accustomed to them by long residence in Europe. Although Turkish music is distasteful to the ears of most Europeans, it is sweet to the Turks, and that it is capable of exciting deep feeling is proved by the incident which led to the introduction of music amongst the Osmanlis. The Turks of Constantinople wore without the art of music, it is asserted on good authority,* before 1047 Anno Hegirae, when Murad IV. captured Bagdad. This cruel tyrant ordered that thirty thousand Persians should be slaughtered before his eyes. Before the massacre was over, Shah-Kouli, a famous Persian musician, managed to present himself before the Sultan, singing to the harp. His music so touched the hard heart of Murad that he burst into tears. and stopped the massacre. Murad took him and four other musicians back with him. to Constantinople, where they introduced the science of music. There are even some few works on music written in Turkish. but they are rare. One, entitled "Tarif-i-ilm-i-Musiki," was written by Prince Cantimir, and dedicated to Sultan Ahmed III. It is said to have been once very much in use, but nowadays scarcely a copy can be found. The Turks are indebted to Cantimir for musical notes. which were first applied to Turkish airs by him. Afterwards, however, the Turks again returned to composing and executing everything by memory, according to their old custom.
With regard to fiction, the most famous book is a collection of tales called the "Kirk Vezir." (The Forty Vezirs). It is a sort of Turkish "Arabian Nights," but neither so good nor so voluminous. Some of the stories are curious and quaint, and valuable as illustrations of Oriental manners and customs. The style is clear and simple, and therefore the book is very suitable for students of Turkish, and especially beginners. An abridgment of it, published by the French Government, has hitherto been the only Turkish Reading-book for the use of Europeans, but it is so full of errors in spelling that it is embarrassing and misleading for a learner. The "Kirk Vezir" is still popular in Turkey, and printed copies now are numerous in Constantinople, several editions of it having been printed. The orthography in these modern editions has been corrected, and in this form the book is very serviceable for students of Turkish, especially as it contains much colloquial Turkish. Hence I have given long extracts from it with these improvements.
During the present generation a number of novels on the European model, written by Turks acquainted with the French or English language and literature have appeared, some of which are very creditable. Amongst these I may mention "Jezmi," and the "Adventures of Ali Bey," by Kemal Bey, and Islitiyak, by Mehemet Tevfik, published last year, which one might imagine had been written by Alexander Dumas. Numerous translations of French romances, such as the "Mysteries of Paris," have been published, and the "Merchant of Venice" and "Othello" have been turned into Turkish. Dramatic literature was quite unknown amongst the Turks until recently, but now there are several Turkish melodramas and comedies. The best drama we have seen is one called "Vatn" (The Fatherland), founded on the heroic defence of Silistria by the Turks, a very good subject for a dramatic author. lki Chaoush ("The Two Sergeants"), by Mehemet Hilmi, is also good. These plays, although good reading, are intended for the stage, there having been now for some years a Turkish theatre at Stamboul. These modern books of fiction., and these entirely novel dramatic productions, are not only a sign that the Turks have not declined as regards their literary ability, but a decided proof of advancement.