« PreviousContinue »
Gloucester, kerseys of Hampshire and York, tin of Cornwall, lead-to mention only the principal articles and returned home bringing in exchange the silks of Persia and Syria, the mohairs of Angora, the cottons and cotton yarn of Smyrna, besides many other commodities of less value. In the time of James I the trade with Turkey was described as one of the most profitable to the nation, and it grew still more important during the earlier part of Charles I's reign. It received a check from the Civil Wars, which distracted Englishmen at home and threw into confusion their factories' abroad, but it recovered under the Commonwealth, attaining the height of its prosperity in the years that followed the Restoration.
From the statements of contemporary writers, and even more authoritatively from the Company's own books, preserved at the Public Record Office, it is easy to trace the stages of this growth. But the best criterion is supplied by the figures of exports-especially of woollen goods, the staple commodity of England. According to an official account, in the six years 1666-1671 the total of cloths exported to the Levant amounted to 82,032 pieces; in the next six years (1672–1677) it rose to 120,451; and in a petition to Parliament dated March 27, 1678, the Merchants boasted that they had advanced the consumption of broad-cloth in Turkey from 14,000 or 15,000 to 24,000 or 25,000 pieces a year. After that date exportation fell below the annual average of 20,000 pieces; but it must be noted that now the cloths were one-fourth more in length than formerly and one-third more in value. Translated into terms of money, all the exports to Turkey in the middle of Charles II's reign represented over half a million pounds a year-a very considerable sum at a time when the whole of England's export trade was estimated at little more than two millions.
The gains accruing to the persons engaged in this trade are less easy to compute. It is said that the ordinary returns of the Levant Company at the beginning of the 17th century were three to one
on the investments; but, if such a golden age ever existed, it did not last long. Towards the end of the century a Turkey Merchant was content with a profit of between 12 and 20 per cent. on his capital. However that may be, it is beyond doubt that Englishmen trading with Turkey in those days, if their own faults did not prevent them, were almost certain to grow rich. The name of Turkey Merchant was the most highly honoured in the City of London; and the opulence of the principals was amply shared by their factors in the Levant. Of these there were some twenty-five or thirty resident in each of the chief Levantine centres, Constantinople, Smyrna, Aleppo, where they made themselves conspicuous by their luxury in dress and diet, by their boundless hospitality, and by their intemperance. Hunting, hawking, and coursing took up much of their leisure, and the rest was too often wasted in drink, gambling, and debauchery. Most of them were youths of good family, and they carried to Turkey the habits of life to which they were used at home; only they found in Turkey larger opportunities for self-indulgence.
Such was the sunny side of life in the Levant. But it had another side. Fires and earthquakes frequently destroyed the houses and warehouses of our merchants; and the Plague visited them at short intervals, carrying off thousands of Turks, Greeks, Jews, and Armenians, and bringing commerce to a standstill. When the hideous
a scourge made its appearance, the English, like other Frank residents, either fled into the open country or shut themselves up in their town-houses, and for three or four months lived in strict isolation from the outside world. Ships also kept at a safe distance from the infected cities; neither were the crews allowed to go ashore nor landsmen to come on board, and cargoes had to wait until the disease had run its course. Yet all these afflictions were hardly so terrible as the tyranny of the Turk. In theory the Franks who dwelt in the Sultan's dominions were safeguarded against oppression by their Capitulations; but in practice they were almost as much exposed to the insolence, cruelty, and rapacity of his officials as the native rayahs. The Capitulations were regarded merely as concessions which the Grand Signor had made out of his kindness and might revoke at his pleasure. In vain, therefore, did the victims appeal to those Privileges, unless they had secured the favour of the tribunal beforehand by bakshish.
It would not be difficult to fill a volume with the extortions and the outrages to which our factories, under
one pretext or another, were constantly subjected. Again and again we read of merchants thrown into dungeons, of ambassadors affronted, of consuls assaulted, of dragomans drubbed or even hanged. The tale of horrors reached its climax in the Grand Vizirate of Kara Mustafa (1676–1683). As greed rather than malice was the mainspring of this ferocious pasha's iniquity, the English, who were the wealthiest foreigners in his power, attracted his special attention. Some of them were loaded with chains and threatened with torture till they paid the sums demanded from them; the widow and children of a rich merchant who died at Smyrna were stripped of their inheritance; the ambassador, Sir John Finch, was refused audience until he paid 6000 dollars; the Capitulations were taken away from him and restored only on payment of 18,000 dollars; a claim was raised for the restoration by him of an immense fortune of which a Genoese pirate had despoiled the Governor of Tunis while travelling in an English ship. While this last case dragged on, Sir John barely escaped imprisonment. His successor, Lord Chandos, managed at first to have that claim dropped, and the money paid for the Capitulations refunded; but soon afterwards Kara Mustafa atoned for his momentary weakness by squeezing out of the ambassador 55,000 dollars on another claim connected with customs-duties. Lord Chandos was forced to yield by the fear of the Seven Towers and of utter ruin for all the English settlements in the Levant.
It must be confessed that our countrymen's indiscretion or misconduct sometimes supplied the Turks with an excuse for their depredations. It should also be noted that oppression was not equally severe at all times; it had its ups and downs like an intermittent
$ fever, the intensity of the evil varying with the character of the men in office. Normally, the English bore with patience wrongs and insults which they had not the means of resenting. It was only when terrorism was pushed to extremes that they thought of breaking off relations with Turkey. But, though the suggestion was made more than once, it was never acted upon, except with regard to Egypt, whence our traders and consuls were driven, in the time of the Commonwealth, by the intolerable brutality of the local authorities.
The circumstances in Egypt were peculiar. Distance from the seat of authority and the frequent changes of governors (to which the Porte had recourse for fear of revolt) exposed English traders to exceptional harshness; nor was that all. Besides the direct commerce from England, we had some eight or ten ships engaged in carrying foreign goods from Italy to Egypt and vice versâ. By these voyages the English not only reaped the profit of carriage but also made 20 or 25 per cent. by lending money on the security of the cargoes. The Pashas of Egypt, however, often forced these ships to carry the Grand Signor's rice, sugar, and coffee to
, Constantinople at ruinous freights. Unable to resist pressure, the ship-masters sometimes compensated themselves by running away with the Grand Signor's goods. Apart from such incidents, which cost the Levant Company dear, imports had to pay a duty of 25 per cent. at Alexandria and 10 per cent. more before they reached Cairo; so that it was cheaper to furnish the Egyptian market by land from Aleppo. For all these reasons, our merchants were not unwilling to relinquish Egypt; but they clung to the rest of the Ottoman Empire tenaciously. The truth is that the Levant trade, despite all the hardships which attended it, was too lucrative to be abandoned.
This success was due, first, to the excellence of our manufactures, particularly of our woollen goods; secondly, to the capacity of our well-armed ships and the efficiency of our skilful and courageous seamen; thirdly, to organisation. The shrewd business men who constituted the Levant Company left nothing to chance. Everything was legislated for. To prevent a glut in the Turkish market and consequent depreciation of their commodities, they carefully regulated the quantity and the season of the annual shippings. As the Company was not a joint-stock company, but a society of merchants each trading on his own account, ruinous competition among its members was avoided by fixing the prices at which English goods were to be sold and Turkish goods bought. In order to obviate bad debts and lawsuits in a country where justice was so capricious, selling on credit was forbidden. The ambassador and consuls, who received their appointments from the Company,
were instructed to see that these and all other rules laid down from time to time were duly observed, and to impose specific penalties for their infraction. On the other hand, lest ambassadors and consuls should abuse their powers, they were obliged, in all matters of moment, particularly money matters, to act in consultation with the elected representatives of the Nation, and on emergency with the whole Nation. These assemblies carried on in the East the parliamentary traditions dear to Englishmen at home, and, though they often reproduced, in miniature, the struggle between the monarchical and the democratical principles of government which agitated England at that period, on the whole served the purpose for which they were devised.
It may be doubted, however, if our own internal strength would have been enough to secure us such success, had it not been aided by the weakness of foreign competition. Holland, the most formidable of England's commercial rivals in the 17th century, made a very poor figure in the Near East. Until 1612 the Dutch traded with the Sultan's dominions under the French or the English flag; and even after that date, though they had at times a representative of their own at Constantinople, at Aleppo they lived under the English Consul's protection; and at Smyrna, their consul being an insignificant Greek, they often had recourse to the English Consul for advice and assistance. From 1660, it is true, the Dutch factories began to assume greater prominence, but the two wars of 1664-6 and 1672-4 impeded their progress to the advantage of ours. As to France, down to 1660 her shipping and her industries were still in their infancy. We supplied the French, not only with our own cloths and kerseys, but also, in part, with the silks and cottons of Turkey; and, having few or no wares to send in exchange, they bought the rest of their imports in the Levant for cash. French enterprise was further handicapped by lack of organisation, by numerous abuses, and by violent friction between the Govern. ments of Paris and Constantinople. So unpopular had France become, after the death of Henry IV, that her ambassadors were treated worse than those of any Christian Power not actually at war with the Sultan. Her merchants were made to pay a customs-duty of