CARTAS DE FIM DE SEMANA
"I have been of late much engaged, or rather bewildered, in Oriental history, particularly that of the Jews, since the destruction of their temple, and their dispersion by Titus; but the confusion and uncertainty of the whole, and the monstrous extravagances and falsehoods of the greatest part of it, disgusted me extremely. Their Talmud, their Mischna, their Targums, and other traditions and writings of their Rabbins and Doctors, who were most of them Cabalists, are really more extravagant and absurd, if possible, than all that you have read in Comte de Gabalis; and indeed most of his stuff is taken from them. Take this sample of their nonsense, which is transmitted in the writings of one of their most considerable Rabbins: "One Abas Saul, a man of ten feet high, was digging a grave, and happened to find the eye of Goliah, in which he thought proper to bury himself, and so he did, all but his head, which the Giant's eye was unfortunately not quite deep enough to receive." This, I assure you, is the most modest lie of ten thousand. I have also read the Turkish history which, excepting the religious part, is not fabulous, though very possibly not true. For the Turks, having no notion of letters and being, even by their religion, forbid the use of them, except for reading and transcribing the Koran, they have no historians of their own, nor any authentic records nor memorials for other historians to work upon; so that what histories we have of that country are written by foreigners; as Platina, Sir Paul Rycaut, Prince Cantimer, etc., or else snatches only of particular and short periods, by some who happened to reside there at those times; such as Busbequius, whom I have just finished. I like him, as far as he goes, much the best of any of them: but then his account is, properly, only an account of his own Embassy, from the Emperor Charles the Fifth to Solyman the Magnificent. However,there he gives, episodically, the best account I know of the customs and manners of the Turks, and of the nature of that government, which is a most extraordinary one. For, despotic as it always seems, and sometimes is, it is in truth a military republic, and the real power resides in the Janissaries; who sometimes order their Sultan to strangle his Vizir, and sometimes the Vizir to depose or strangle his Sultan, according as they happen to be angry at the one or the other. I own I am glad that the capital strangler should, in his turn, be strangle-able, and now and then strangled; for I know of no brute so fierce, nor no criminal so guilty, as the creature called a Sovereign, whether King, Sultan, or Sophy, who thinks himself, either by divine or human right, vested with an absolute power of destroying his fellow-creatures; or who, without inquiring into his right, lawlessly exerts that power. The most excusable of all those human monsters are the Turks, whose religion teaches them inevitable fatalism. A propos of the Turks, my Loyola, I pretend, is superior to your Sultan. Perhaps you think this impossible, and wonder who this Loyola is. Know then, that I have had a Barbet brought me from France, so exactly like the Sultan that he has been mistaken for him several times; only his snout is shorter, and his ears longer than the Sultan's. He has also the acquired knowledge of the Sultan; and I am apt to think that he studied under the same master at Paris. His habit and his white band show him to be an ecclesiastic; and his begging, which he does very earnestly, proves him to be of a mendicant order; which, added to his flattery and insinuation, make him supposed to be a Jesuit, and have acquired him the name of Loyola. I must not omit too, that when he breaks wind he smells exactly like the Sultan..."
Lord Chesterfield Letters to his son on the fine art of becoming a man of the world and a gentleman, letter CLXXXIX, Bath, October 19, 1753