Sunday, July 17, 2005

Three Algerines in 18th-Century London

Part of Boswell's London Journal entry for July 18, 1763:

At the head of St. James's Street I observed three Turks staring about in a strange manner. I spoke a little of English, French, and Latin to them, neither of which they understood a word of. They showed me a pass from a captain of a ship declaring that they were Algerines who had been taken by the Spaniards and made slaves. That they made their escape, got to Lisbon, and from thence were brought to England. I carried them with me to a French house, where I got a man who spoke a little Spanish to one of them, and learnt that they wanted to see the Ambassador from Tripoli, who though not from the same division of territory, is yet under the Grand Signior, as they are. I accordingly went with him to the Ambassador's house, where I found a Turk who could speak English and interpret what they said; and he told me that they had landed that morning and had already been with the Ambassador begging that he would get liberty for them to go in an English ship to their own country; that he was to get them liberty from the Lords of the Admiralty; and that he had ordered them victuals. I gave them half a crown. They were very thankful, and my Turkish friend who spoke English said, "GOD reward you. The same God make the Turk that make the Christian. But the English have the tender heart. The Turk have not the tender heart."

I was anxious to have my poor strangers taken care of, and I begged that they might sleep in the house with the Ambassador. The landlady, a hard-hearted shrew, opposed this vehemently. "Indeed," said she, "I would not suffer one of 'em to sleep in my beds. Who knows what vermin and nastiness they may have brought with them? To be sure I may allow them to sleep on the floor, as they do in their own country; but for my beds, Sir, as I'm a Christian, I could not let them sleep in a bed of mine." Her Christian argument was truly conclusive. Abandoned wretch! to make the religion of the Prince of Peace, the religion which so warmly inculcates universal charity, a cloak for thy unfeeling barbarity! However, I was glad to have it fixed that they should sleep under a roof; and I begged my friend to take care that they lay comfortably.

From Boswell's London Journal 1762-1763, Pottle, ed. McGraw-Hill (New York: 1950) 307-308.

Good for Boswell. As for the landlady -- alas, things never change. It's interesting to get a little glimpse of English attitudes toward foreigners in the eighteenth century, though.

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