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Mark Twain > Innocents Abroad > Chapter XXXVIII

Innocents Abroad

Chapter XXXVIII


We returned to Constantinople, and after a day or two spent in exhausting
marches about the city and voyages up the Golden Horn in caiques, we
steamed away again. We passed through the Sea of Marmora and the
Dardanelles, and steered for a new land--a new one to us, at least--Asia.
We had as yet only acquired a bowing acquaintance with it, through
pleasure excursions to Scutari and the regions round about.

We passed between Lemnos and Mytilene, and saw them as we had seen Elba
and the Balearic Isles--mere bulky shapes, with the softening mists of
distance upon them--whales in a fog, as it were. Then we held our course
southward, and began to "read up" celebrated Smyrna.

At all hours of the day and night the sailors in the forecastle amused
themselves and aggravated us by burlesquing our visit to royalty. The
opening paragraph of our Address to the Emperor was framed as follows:

     "We are a handful of private citizens of America, traveling simply
     for recreation--and unostentatiously, as becomes our unofficial
     state--and, therefore, we have no excuse to tender for presenting
     ourselves before your Majesty, save the desire of offering our
     grateful acknowledgments to the lord of a realm, which, through good
     and through evil report, has been the steadfast friend of the land
     we love so well."

The third cook, crowned with a resplendent tin basin and wrapped royally
in a table-cloth mottled with grease-spots and coffee stains, and bearing
a sceptre that looked strangely like a belaying-pin, walked upon a
dilapidated carpet and perched himself on the capstan, careless of the
flying spray; his tarred and weather-beaten Chamberlains, Dukes and Lord
High Admirals surrounded him, arrayed in all the pomp that spare
tarpaulins and remnants of old sails could furnish. Then the visiting
"watch below," transformed into graceless ladies and uncouth pilgrims, by
rude travesties upon waterfalls, hoopskirts, white kid gloves and
swallow-tail coats, moved solemnly up the companion way, and bowing low,
began a system of complicated and extraordinary smiling which few
monarchs could look upon and live. Then the mock consul, a slush-
plastered deck-sweep, drew out a soiled fragment of paper and proceeded
to read, laboriously:

"To His Imperial Majesty, Alexander II., Emperor of Russia:

"We are a handful of private citizens of America, traveling simply for
recreation,--and unostentatiously, as becomes our unofficial state--and
therefore, we have no excuse to tender for presenting ourselves before
your Majesty--"

The Emperor--"Then what the devil did you come for?"

--"Save the desire of offering our grateful acknowledgments to the lord
of a realm which--"

The Emperor--" Oh, d--n the Address!--read it to the police.
Chamberlain, take these people over to my brother, the Grand Duke's, and
give them a square meal. Adieu! I am happy--I am gratified--I am
delighted--I am bored. Adieu, adieu--vamos the ranch! The First Groom
of the Palace will proceed to count the portable articles of value
belonging to the premises."

The farce then closed, to be repeated again with every change of the
watches, and embellished with new and still more extravagant inventions
of pomp and conversation.

At all times of the day and night the phraseology of that tiresome
address fell upon our ears. Grimy sailors came down out of the foretop
placidly announcing themselves as "a handful of private citizens of
America, traveling simply for recreation and unostentatiously," etc.; the
coal passers moved to their duties in the profound depths of the ship,
explaining the blackness of their faces and their uncouthness of dress,
with the reminder that they were "a handful of private citizens,
traveling simply for recreation," etc., and when the cry rang through the
vessel at midnight: "EIGHT BELLS!--LARBOARD WATCH, TURN OUT!" the
larboard watch came gaping and stretching out of their den, with the
everlasting formula: "Aye-aye, sir! We are a handful of private citizens
of America, traveling simply for recreation, and unostentatiously, as
becomes our unofficial state!"

As I was a member of the committee, and helped to frame the Address,
these sarcasms came home to me. I never heard a sailor proclaiming
himself as a handful of American citizens traveling for recreation, but I
wished he might trip and fall overboard, and so reduce his handful by one
individual, at least. I never was so tired of any one phrase as the
sailors made me of the opening sentence of the Address to the Emperor of
Russia.

This seaport of Smyrna, our first notable acquaintance in Asia, is a
closely packed city of one hundred and thirty thousand inhabitants, and,
like Constantinople, it has no outskirts. It is as closely packed at its
outer edges as it is in the centre, and then the habitations leave
suddenly off and the plain beyond seems houseless. It is just like any
other Oriental city. That is to say, its Moslem houses are heavy and
dark, and as comfortless as so many tombs; its streets are crooked,
rudely and roughly paved, and as narrow as an ordinary staircase; the
streets uniformly carry a man to any other place than the one he wants to
go to, and surprise him by landing him in the most unexpected localities;
business is chiefly carried on in great covered bazaars, celled like a
honeycomb with innumerable shops no larger than a common closet, and the
whole hive cut up into a maze of alleys about wide enough to accommodate
a laden camel, and well calculated to confuse a stranger and eventually
lose him; every where there is dirt, every where there are fleas, every
where there are lean, broken-hearted dogs; every alley is thronged with
people; wherever you look, your eye rests upon a wild masquerade of
extravagant costumes; the workshops are all open to the streets, and the
workmen visible; all manner of sounds assail the ear, and over them all
rings out the muezzin's cry from some tall minaret, calling the faithful
vagabonds to prayer; and superior to the call to prayer, the noises in
the streets, the interest of the costumes--superior to every thing, and
claiming the bulk of attention first, last, and all the time--is a
combination of Mohammedan stenches, to which the smell of even a Chinese
quarter would be as pleasant as the roasting odors of the fatted calf to
the nostrils of the returning Prodigal. Such is Oriental luxury--such is
Oriental splendor! We read about it all our days, but we comprehend it
not until we see it. Smyrna is a very old city. Its name occurs several
times in the Bible, one or two of the disciples of Christ visited it, and
here was located one of the original seven apocalyptic churches spoken of
in Revelations. These churches were symbolized in the Scriptures as
candlesticks, and on certain conditions there was a sort of implied
promise that Smyrna should be endowed with a "crown of life." She was to
"be faithful unto death"--those were the terms. She has not kept up her
faith straight along, but the pilgrims that wander hither consider that
she has come near enough to it to save her, and so they point to the fact
that Smyrna to-day wears her crown of life, and is a great city, with a
great commerce and full of energy, while the cities wherein were located
the other six churches, and to which no crown of life was promised, have
vanished from the earth. So Smyrna really still possesses her crown of
life, in a business point of view. Her career, for eighteen centuries,
has been a chequered one, and she has been under the rule of princes of
many creeds, yet there has been no season during all that time, as far as
we know, (and during such seasons as she was inhabited at all,) that she
has been without her little community of Christians "faithful unto
death." Hers was the only church against which no threats were implied
in the Revelations, and the only one which survived.

With Ephesus, forty miles from here, where was located another of the
seven churches, the case was different. The "candlestick" has been
removed from Ephesus. Her light has been put out. Pilgrims, always
prone to find prophecies in the Bible, and often where none exist, speak
cheerfully and complacently of poor, ruined Ephesus as the victim of
prophecy. And yet there is no sentence that promises, without due
qualification, the destruction of the city. The words are:

     "Remember, therefore, from whence thou art fallen, and repent, and
     do the first works; or else I will come unto thee quickly, and will
     remove thy candlestick out of his place, except thou repent."

That is all; the other verses are singularly complimentary to Ephesus.
The threat is qualified. There is no history to show that she did not
repent. But the cruelest habit the modern prophecy-savans have, is that
one of coolly and arbitrarily fitting the prophetic shirt on to the wrong
man. They do it without regard to rhyme or reason. Both the cases I
have just mentioned are instances in point. Those "prophecies" are
distinctly leveled at the "churches of Ephesus, Smyrna," etc., and yet
the pilgrims invariably make them refer to the cities instead. No crown
of life is promised to the town of Smyrna and its commerce, but to the
handful of Christians who formed its "church." If they were "faithful
unto death," they have their crown now--but no amount of faithfulness and
legal shrewdness combined could legitimately drag the city into a
participation in the promises of the prophecy. The stately language of
the Bible refers to a crown of life whose lustre will reflect the day-
beams of the endless ages of eternity, not the butterfly existence of a
city built by men's hands, which must pass to dust with the builders and
be forgotten even in the mere handful of centuries vouchsafed to the
solid world itself between its cradle and its grave.

The fashion of delving out fulfillments of prophecy where that prophecy
consists of mere "ifs," trenches upon the absurd. Suppose, a thousand
years from now, a malarious swamp builds itself up in the shallow harbor
of Smyrna, or something else kills the town; and suppose, also, that
within that time the swamp that has filled the renowned harbor of Ephesus
and rendered her ancient site deadly and uninhabitable to-day, becomes
hard and healthy ground; suppose the natural consequence ensues, to wit:
that Smyrna becomes a melancholy ruin, and Ephesus is rebuilt. What
would the prophecy-savans say? They would coolly skip over our age of
the world, and say: "Smyrna was not faithful unto death, and so her crown
of life was denied her; Ephesus repented, and lo! her candle-stick was
not removed. Behold these evidences! How wonderful is prophecy!"

Smyrna has been utterly destroyed six times. If her crown of life had
been an insurance policy, she would have had an opportunity to collect on
it the first time she fell. But she holds it on sufferance and by a
complimentary construction of language which does not refer to her.
Six different times, however, I suppose some infatuated prophecy-
enthusiast blundered along and said, to the infinite disgust of Smyrna
and the Smyrniotes: "In sooth, here is astounding fulfillment of
prophecy! Smyrna hath not been faithful unto death, and behold her crown
of life is vanished from her head. Verily, these things be astonishing!"

Such things have a bad influence. They provoke worldly men into using
light conversation concerning sacred subjects. Thick-headed commentators
upon the Bible, and stupid preachers and teachers, work more damage to
religion than sensible, cool-brained clergymen can fight away again, toil
as they may. It is not good judgment to fit a crown of life upon a city
which has been destroyed six times. That other class of wiseacres who
twist prophecy in such a manner as to make it promise the destruction and
desolation of the same city, use judgment just as bad, since the city is
in a very flourishing condition now, unhappily for them. These things
put arguments into the mouth of infidelity.

A portion of the city is pretty exclusively Turkish; the Jews have a
quarter to themselves; the Franks another quarter; so, also, with the
Armenians. The Armenians, of course, are Christians. Their houses are
large, clean, airy, handsomely paved with black and white squares of
marble, and in the centre of many of them is a square court, which has in
it a luxuriant flower-garden and a sparkling fountain; the doors of all
the rooms open on this. A very wide hall leads to the street door, and
in this the women sit, the most of the day. In the cool of the evening
they dress up in their best raiment and show themselves at the door.
They are all comely of countenance, and exceedingly neat and cleanly;
they look as if they were just out of a band-box. Some of the young
ladies--many of them, I may say--are even very beautiful; they average a
shade better than American girls--which treasonable words I pray may be
forgiven me. They are very sociable, and will smile back when a stranger
smiles at them, bow back when he bows, and talk back if he speaks to
them. No introduction is required. An hour's chat at the door with a
pretty girl one never saw before, is easily obtained, and is very
pleasant. I have tried it. I could not talk anything but English, and
the girl knew nothing but Greek, or Armenian, or some such barbarous
tongue, but we got along very well. I find that in cases like these, the
fact that you can not comprehend each other isn't much of a drawback.
In that Russia n town of Yalta I danced an astonishing sort of dance an
hour long, and one I had not heard of before, with a very pretty girl,
and we talked incessantly, and laughed exhaustingly, and neither one ever
knew what the other was driving at. But it was splendid. There were
twenty people in the set, and the dance was very lively and complicated.
It was complicated enough without me--with me it was more so. I threw in
a figure now and then that surprised those Russians. But I have never
ceased to think of that girl. I have written to her, but I can not
direct the epistle because her name is one of those nine-jointed Russian
affairs, and there are not letters enough in our alphabet to hold out.
I am not reckless enough to try to pronounce it when I am awake, but I
make a stagger at it in my dreams, and get up with the lockjaw in the
morning. I am fading. I do not take my meals now, with any sort of
regularity. Her dear name haunts me still in my dreams. It is awful on
teeth. It never comes out of my mouth but it fetches an old snag along
with it. And then the lockjaw closes down and nips off a couple of the
last syllables--but they taste good.

Coming through the Dardanelles, we saw camel trains on shore with the
glasses, but we were never close to one till we got to Smyrna. These
camels are very much larger than the scrawny specimens one sees in the
menagerie. They stride along these streets, in single file, a dozen in a
train, with heavy loads on their backs, and a fancy-looking negro in
Turkish costume, or an Arab, preceding them on a little donkey and
completely overshadowed and rendered insignificant by the huge beasts.
To see a camel train laden with the spices of Arabia and the rare fabrics
of Persia come marching through the narrow alleys of the bazaar, among
porters with their burdens, money-changers, lamp-merchants, Al-naschars
in the glassware business, portly cross-legged Turks smoking the famous
narghili; and the crowds drifting to and fro in the fanciful costumes of
the East, is a genuine revelation of the Orient. The picture lacks
nothing. It casts you back at once into your forgotten boyhood, and
again you dream over the wonders of the Arabian Nights; again your
companions are princes, your lord is the Caliph Haroun Al Raschid, and
your servants are terrific giants and genii that come with smoke and
lightning and thunder, and go as a storm goes when they depart!

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