A Longfellow parody:
the Cork Constitution's reaction to
a letter sent to Turkey's Sultan Abdülmecid I

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Victorian Turkish Baths: their origin, development, and gradual decline

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1. The letter

In August 1856, after Dr Richard Barter and David Urquhart had built their first experimental Turkish bath at St Ann's Hydro, a group of Barter's patients wrote a letter to the Turkish Sultan Abdülmecid I. They sent it, together with a covering note from the Mayor of Cork, to Urquhart's erstwhile political supporter and close friend, Dr Julius Millingen, physician to the Sultan, asking him to pass the letters on to him. Later that year, the mayor's covering note was reproduced in the Free Press.

'SIR--The inhabitants of Cork, having learned the great benefits that accrue from the use of the Turkish Bath, are exceedingly anxious to imitate this practice of your empire. They are, however, in considerable embarrassment as to how they are to proceed, and understanding that in the neighbouring institution of Saint Anne's, an address has been adopted to your Majesty, they venture in like manner to approach your Majesty to solicit your patronage and aid.'

This was followed by the patients' letter.

'SIR--It cannot be unknown to your Majesty that the European nations live in ignorance of those means of cleanliness and enjoyment which are common to the subjects of your Majesty.

'Some persons, subjects of the Queen of England, being afflicted with diverse maladies, have in the place from whence these lines are addressed to your Majesty, been restored to the blessing of health without the aid of medicine through the use of water. Having had their attention turned in this direction, they have heard with gratification and surprise, of the admirable Baths of the Ottoman Empire; and the physician under whose care they are, Dr Barter, has been moved by a singular public spirit to attempt the transplantation of the Hammam to the soil of Ireland.

'This enterprise being almost beyond the means of a private individual, and, moreover, it being essential to the end that the imitation should be complete, and not spurious, his patients have had the thought of approaching your Majesty under the belief that you would be graciously pleased to encourage the attempt by the support of your august patronage, and further it by directing such counsels and such aid to be given as should render the imitation perfect.

'We are encouraged to venture on this appeal not only from knowing the generous nature which Providence has implanted in your breast for the happiness of your people and the admiration of mankind, but also because we belong principally to a country, Ireland, which in the hour of a fearful visitation experienced the effects of that munificence. And we trust that an attempt which brings so singularly into evidence the value of Turkish institutions and of Turkish character cannot be without claims on your paternal heart.

'With profound respect,
I remain, Sir,
Your Majesty's
Most humble and devoted Servant
R. BURKE, Chairman

2. The Longfellow parody

We do not know whether the sultan replied, or even if he actually received the letter, but the fact that it was sent, accompanied by a note from the mayor, inspired an unknown writer to commemorate the letter with a poem in the style of the American poet Henry Wadsworth Longfellow, author of the Song of Hiawatha. The parody was published in the Cork Constitution and the Evening Mail of 14 November 1856.

LONGFELLOW'S LAST

Would you ask me whence the letter,
In a style so free and easy
That was printed in the paper,
In the Constitution paper,
And directed to the Sultan,
To the great and powerful Sultan,
Ally of our Queen Victoria,
Ally of the Third Napoleon,
Reigning in the Towers of Stamboul,
Of the beauteous. peerless Stamboul,
Reigning over Asian Turkey,
And o'er European Turkey,
Reigning at the Golden Horn,
Reigning o'er the Moslem races—
Would you ask me whence this letter,
With its coolness, with its greenness,
With its singular petitions
And its stranger expectations?
I should answer, I should tell you,
From the sloping hills of Blarney,
Very verdant hills of Blarney,
Where the Doctor, Doctor Barter,
Keeps his mansion Hydropathic,
And with equal skill and kindness,
Tends his patients without number,
Cures all ills that flesh is heir to
With a douche of cold spring water.
Would you ask who wrote this letter,
In a style so free and easy?
I should answer, I should tell you,
It was written by some patients,
By some very hair-brained patients,
Whom the Doctor had not locked up,
But who needed to be locked up,
And deprived of pen and penknives,
And deprived of pen and paper.
Would you hear this strange epistle,
With its coolness, with its greenness,
I repeat it as I read it
In the columns of the paper,
Of the Constitution paper:—

"To the Sultan—Sir, you're learned
In the state of other nations,
You're aware of our uncleanness,
Of our want of soap and water,
Subjects of the Queen of England
We address you, and we tell you,
We've been diversely afflicted
With gout, ague, and lumbago;
You'll rejoice to hear we're better,
Better than we e'er expected,
Though we've never taken physic,
Never taken nauseous physic;
We are cured by water only.
We are cured by fresh cold water;
We have heard of Turkish Hummums,
And we've heard of Turkish Harems—
Both these blessings now we long for,
Long for 'Turkish institutions,'
But, as they're expensive pleasures,
And as we've but little money,
We appeal unto your feelings,
Your benign paternal feelings;
We implore that you will send us,
Send us free of all expenses,
Money to buy soap and water,
And fair Georgian slaves to wash us.
Thus in future Abdul Medjid,
Shall be called 'the Benefactor.'
Hist'ry will record your greatness,
Your benevolence and goodness,
And relate with grateful wonder
To the ears of future ages,
That you taught the Celtic races
How to wash their dirty faces!"
Such the burden of the letter,
Of the very flippant letter,
Written by the hair-brained patients,
Very crazy, hair-brained patients,
Of the worthy Doctor Barter,
Of the Hydropathic Doctor.

The original page includes one or more thumbnail images

Henry Wadsworth Longfellow

Sultan Abdülmecid I

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