Reference > Fiction > Nonfiction > Warner, et al., eds. > The Library

C.D. Warner, et al., comp.  The Library of the World’s Best Literature.
An Anthology in Thirty Volumes.  1917.
Hajji as a Quack
By James Justinian Morier (1780?–1849)
From ‘The Adventures of Hajji Baba’

AT length one morning Asker called me to him and said:—“Hajji my friend, you know how thankful I have always expressed myself for your kindness to me when we were prisoners together in the hands of the Turcomans, and now I will prove my gratitude. I have recommended you strongly to Mirza Ahmak, the king’s Hakîm bashi, or chief physician, who is in want of a servant; and I make no doubt that if you give him satisfaction, he will teach you his art, and put you in the way of making your fortune. You have only to present yourself before him, saying that you come from me, and he will immediately assign you an employment.”  1
  I had no turn for the practice of physic, and recollecting the story which had been related to me by the dervish, I held the profession in contempt: but my case was desperate; I had spent my last dînar, and therefore I had nothing left me but to accept of the doctor’s place. Accordingly, the next morning I proceeded to his house, which was situated in the neighborhood of the palace; and as I entered a dull, neglected court-yard, I there found several sick persons, some squatted against the wall, others supported by their friends, and others again with bottles in their hands, waiting the moment when the physician should leave the women’s apartments to transact business in public. I proceeded to an open window, where those who were not privileged to enter the room stood, and there I took my station until I should be called in. Within the room were several persons, who came to pay their court to the doctor (for every man who is an officer of the court has his levee); and from remarking them I learnt how necessary it was, in order to advance in life, to make much of everything, even the dog or the cat if they came in my way, of him who can have access to the ear of men in power. I made my reflections upon the miseries I had already undergone, and was calculating how long it would take me to go through a course of cringing and flattery to be entitled to the same sorts of attention myself, when I perceived, by the bows of those near me, that the doctor had seated himself at the window, and that the business of the day had commenced.  2
  The Hakîm was an old man, with an eye sunk deep into his head, high cheek-bones, and a scanty beard. He had a considerable bend in his back; and his usual attitude, when seated, was that of a projecting chin, his head reclining back between his shoulders, and his hands resting on his girdle, whilst his elbows formed two triangles on each side of his body. He made short snappish questions, gave little hums at the answers, and seemed to be thinking of anything but the subject before him. When he heard the account of the ailments of those who had come to consult him, and had said a few words to his little circle of parasites, he looked at me; and after I had told him that I was the person of whom the poet had spoken, he fixed his little sharp eyes upon me for a second or two, and then desired me to wait, for that he wished to speak to me in private. Accordingly, he soon after got up and went out of the room; and I was called upon to attend him in a small separate court, closely walled on all sides, except on the one where was situated the khelwet, or private room, in which the doctor was seated.  3
  As soon as I appeared, the doctor invited me into the room, and requested me to be seated; which I did with all the humility which it is the etiquette for an inferior to show towards his superior, for so great an honor.  4
  He informed me that the poet had spoken very favorably of me, and had said that I was a person to be depended upon, particularly on account of my discretion and prudence; that I had seen a great deal of life; that I was fertile in expedients; and that if any business in which circumspection and secrecy were necessary was intrusted to me, I should conduct it with all the ability required. I bowed repeatedly as he spoke, and kept my hands respectfully before me, covered with the border of my sleeve, whilst I took care that my feet were also completely hid. He then continued, and said:—“I have occasion for a person of your description precisely at this moment, and as I put great confidence in the recommendation of my friend Asker, it is my intention to make use of your good offices; and if you succeed according to my expectations, you may rest assured that it will be well for you, and that I shall not remain unmindful of your services.”  5
  Then requesting me to approach nearer to him, and in a low and confidential tone of voice, he said, looking over his shoulders as if afraid of being overheard:—  6
  “Hajji, you must know that an ambassador from the Franks is lately arrived at this court, in whose suite there is a doctor. This infidel has already acquired considerable reputation here. He treats his patients in a manner quite new to us, and has arrived with a chest full of medicines, of which we do not even know the names. He pretends to the knowledge of a great many things of which we have never yet heard in Persia. He makes no distinction between hot and cold diseases, and hot and cold remedies, as Galenus and Avicenna have ordained, but gives mercury by way of a cooling medicine; stabs the belly with a sharp instrument for wind in the stomach; and what is worse than all, pretends to do away with the small-pox altogether, by infusing into our nature a certain extract of cow, a discovery which one of their philosophers has lately made. Now this will never do, Hajji. The small-pox has always been a comfortable source of revenue to me; I cannot afford to lose it because an infidel chooses to come here and treat us like cattle. We cannot allow him to take the bread out of our mouths. But the reason why I particularly want your help proceeds from the following cause. The grand vizier was taken ill, two days ago, of a strange uneasiness, after having eaten more than his usual quantity of raw lettuce and cucumber, steeped in vinegar and sugar. This came to the Frank ambassador’s ears, who in fact was present at the eating of the lettuce; and he immediately sent his doctor to him, with a request that he might be permitted to administer relief. The grand vizier and the ambassador, it seems, had not been upon good terms for some time, because the latter was very urgent that some demand of a political nature might be conceded to him, which the vizier, out of consideration for the interests of Persia, was obliged to deny; and therefore, thinking that this might be a good opportunity of conciliating the infidel, and of coming to a compromise, he agreed to accept of the doctor’s services. Had I been apprised of the circumstance in time, I should easily have managed to put a stop to the proceeding; but the doctor did not lose an instant in administering his medicine, which, I hear, only consisted of one little white and tasteless pill. From all accounts, and as ill luck would have it, the effect it has produced is something quite marvelous. The grand vizier has received such relief that he can talk of nothing else; he says that ‘he felt the pill drawing the damp from the very tips of his fingers’; and that now he has discovered in himself such newness of strength and energy that he laughs at his old age, and even talks of making up the complement of wives permitted to him by our blessed Prophet. But the mischief has not stopped here: the fame of this medicine, and of the Frank doctor, has gone throughout the court; and the first thing which the King talked of at the selam (the audience) this morning was of its miraculous properties. He called upon the grand vizier to repeat to him all that he had before said upon the subject; and as he talked of the wonders that it had produced upon his person, a general murmur of applause and admiration was heard throughout the assembly. His Majesty then turned to me and requested me to explain the reason why such great effects should proceed from so small a cause; when I was obliged to answer, stooping as low as I could to hide my confusion, and kissing the earth:—‘I am your sacrifice: O King of kings, I have not yet seen the drug which the infidel doctor has given to your Majesty’s servant, the grand vizier; but as soon as I have, I will inform your Majesty of what it consists. In the mean while, your humble slave beseeches the Centre of the Universe to recollect that the principal agent, on this occasion, must be an evil spirit, an enemy to the true faith, since he is an instrument in the hands of an infidel,—of one who calls our holy Prophet a cheat, and who disowns the all-powerful decrees of predestination.’  7
  “Having said this, in order to shake his growing reputation, I retired in deep cogitation how I might get at the secrets of the infidel, and particularly inquire into the nature of his prescription, which has performed such miracles; and you are come most opportunely to my assistance. You must immediately become acquainted with him: and I shall leave it to your address to pick his brain and worm his knowledge out of him; but as I wish to procure a specimen of the very medicine which he administered to the grand vizier, being obliged to give an account of it to-morrow to the Shah, you must begin your services to me by eating much of lettuce and raw cucumber, and of making yourself as sick to the full as his Highness the vizier. You may then apply to the Frank, who will doubtless give you a duplicate of the celebrated pill, which you will deliver over to me.”  8
  “But,” said I, who had rather taken fright of this extraordinary proposal, “how shall I present myself before a man whom I do not know? Besides, such marvelous stories are related of the Europeans, that I should be puzzled in what manner to behave. Pray give me some instructions how to act.”  9
  “Their manners and customs are totally different from ours, that is true,” replied Mirza Ahmak: “and you may form some idea of them, when I tell you that instead of shaving their heads and letting their beards grow, as we do, they do the very contrary; for not a vestige of hair is to be seen on their chins, and their hair is as thick on their heads as if they had made a vow never to cut it off: then they sit on little platforms, whilst we squat on the ground; they take up their food with claws made of iron, whilst we use our fingers; they are always walking about, we keep seated; they wear tight clothes, we loose ones; they write from left to right, we from right to left; they never pray, we five times a day; in short, there is no end to what might be related of them: but most certain it is, that they are the most filthy people on the earth, for they hold nothing to be unclean; they eat all sorts of animals, from a pig to a tortoise, without the least scruple, and that without first cutting their throats; they will dissect a dead body without requiring any purification after it.”  10
  “And is it true,” said I, “that they are so irascible, that if perchance their word is doubted, and they are called liars, they will fight on such an occasion till they die?”  11
  “That is also said of them,” answered the doctor; “but the case has not happened to me yet: however, I must warn you of one thing,—which is, that if they happen to admire anything that you possess, you must not say to them, as you would to one of us, ‘It is a present to you, it is your property,’ lest they should take you at your word and keep it, which you know would be inconvenient, and not what you intended; but you must endeavor as much as possible to speak what you think, for that is what they like.”  12
  “But then, if such is the case,” said I, “do not you think that the Frank doctor will find me out with a lie in my mouth,—pretending to be sick when I am well, asking medicine from him for myself when I want it for another?”  13
  “No, no,” said the Mirza: “you are to be sick, really sick, you know, and then it will be no lie. Go, Hajji my friend,” said he, putting his arm round my neck: “go, eat your cucumbers immediately, and let me have the pill by this evening.” And then coaxing me, and preventing me from making any further objections to his unexpected request, he gently pushed me out of the room; and I left him, scarcely knowing whether to laugh or to cry at the new posture which my affairs had taken. To sicken without any stipulated reward was what I could not consent to do, so I retraced my steps with a determination of making a bargain with my patron: but when I got to the room, he was no longer there, having apparently retreated into his harem; and therefore I was obliged to proceed on my errand.  14
  I inquired my way to the ambassador’s house, and actually set off with the intention of putting the doctor’s wishes into execution, and getting, if possible, a writhing disorder on the road; but upon more mature reflection I recollected that a stomach-ache was not a marketable commodity, which might be purchased at a moment’s notice; for although lettuce and cucumber might disagree with an old grand vizier, yet it was a hundred to one but they would find an easy digestion in a young person like me. However, I determined to obtain the pill by stratagem, if I could not procure it in a more direct manner. I considered that if I feigned to be ill, the doctor would very probably detect me, and turn me out of his house for a cheat; so I preferred the easier mode of passing myself off for one of the servants of the royal harem, and then making out some story by which I might attain my end. I accordingly stepped into one of the old-clothes shops in the bazaar, and hired a cloak for myself such as the scribes wear; and then substituting a roll of paper in my girdle instead of a dagger, I flattered myself that I might pass for something more than a common servant.  15
  I soon found out where the ambassador dwelt. Bearing in mind all that Mirza Ahmak had told me, I rather approached the door of the doctor’s residence with fear and hesitation. I found the avenues to it crowded with poor women bearing infants in their arms, who, I was told, came to receive the new-fashioned preservative against the small-pox. This, it was supposed for political reasons, the Franks were anxious to promote; and as the doctor performed the operation gratis, he had no lack of patients,—particularly of the poorer sort, who could not approach a Persian doctor without a present or a good fee in their hand.  16
  On entering, I found a man seated in the middle of the room, near an elevated wooden platform, upon which were piled boxes, books, and a variety of instruments and utensils, the uses of which were unknown to me. He was in dress and appearance the most extraordinary-looking infidel I had ever seen. His chin and upper lip were without the vestige of a hair upon them, as like a eunuch as possible. He kept his head most disrespectfully uncovered, and wore a tight bandage round his neck, with other contrivances on the sides of his cheeks, as if he were anxious to conceal some wound or disease. His clothes were fitted so tight to his body, and his outward coat in particular was cut off at such sharp angles, that it was evident cloth was a scarce and dear commodity in his country. The lower part of his dress was particularly improper; and he kept his boots on in his room, without any consideration for the carpet he was treading upon, which struck me as a custom subversive of all decorum.  17
  I found that he talked our language; for as soon as he saw me, he asked me how I did, and then immediately remarked that it was a fine day, which was so self-evident a truth that I immediately agreed to it. I then thought it necessary to make him some fine speeches, and flattered him to the best of my abilities, informing him of the great reputation he had already acquired in Persia; that Locman was a fool when compared to one of his wisdom; and that as for his contemporaries, the Persian physicians, they were not fit to handle his pestle for him. To all this he said nothing. I then told him that the King himself, having heard of the wonderful effects of his medicine upon the person of his grand vizier, had ordered his historian to insert the circumstance in the annals of the empire as one of the most extraordinary events of his reign; that a considerable sensation had been produced in his Majesty’s seraglio, for many of the ladies had immediately been taken ill, and were longing to make a trial of his skill; that the King’s favorite Georgian slave was in fact at this moment in great pain; that I had been deputed by the chief eunuch, owing to a special order from his Majesty, to procure medicine similar to that which the first minister had taken; and I concluded my speech by requesting the doctor immediately to furnish me with some.  18
  He seemed to ponder over what I had told him; and after reflecting a short time, said that it was not his custom to administer medicine to his patients without first seeing them, for by so doing he would probably do more harm than good; but that if he found that the slave was in want of his aid, he should be very happy to attend her.  19
  I answered to this, that as to seeing the face of the Georgian slave, that was totally out of the question; for no man ever was allowed that liberty in Persia, excepting her husband. In cases of extreme necessity, perhaps a doctor might be permitted to feel a woman’s pulse; but then it must be done when a veil covers the hand.  20
  To which the Frank replied: “In order to judge of my patient’s case I must not only feel the pulse, but see the tongue also.”  21
  “Looking at the tongue is totally new in Persia,” said I; “and I am sure you could never be indulged with such a sight in the seraglio without a special order from the King himself: a eunuch would rather cut out his own tongue first.”  22
  “Well, then,” said the doctor, “recollect that if I deliver my medicine to you, I do so without taking any responsibility upon myself for its effects; for if it does not cure, it may perhaps kill.”  23
  When I had assured him that no harm or prejudice could possibly accrue to him, he opened a large chest, which appeared to be full of drugs, and taking therefrom the smallest quantity of a certain white powder, he mixed it up with some bread into the form of pill, and putting it into paper gave it me, with proper directions how it should be administered. Seeing that he made no mystery of his knowledge, I began to question him upon the nature and properties of this particular medicine, and upon his practice in general. He answered me without any reserve; not like our Persian doctors, who only make a parade of fine words, and who adjust every ailment that comes before them to what they read in their Galen, their Hippocrates, and their Abou Avicenna.  24
  When I had learned all I could, I left him with great demonstration of friendship and thankfulness, and immediately returned to Mirza Ahmak, who doubtless was waiting for me with great impatience. Having divested myself of my borrowed cloak and resumed my own dress, I appeared before him with a face made up for the occasion; for I wished to make him believe that the lettuce and cucumbers had done their duty. At every word I pretended to receive a violent twitch; and acted my part so true to life, that the stern and inflexible nature of Mirza Ahmak himself was moved into somewhat like pity for me.  25
  “There! there!” said I, as I entered his apartment, “in the name of Allah take your prize:” and then pretending to be bent double, I made the most horrid grimaces, and uttered deep groans: “there! I have followed your orders, and now throw myself upon your generosity.” He endeavored to take the object of his search from me, but I kept it fast; and whilst I gave him to understand that I expected prompt reward, I made indications of an intention to swallow it, unless he actually gave me something in hand. So fearful was he of not being able to answer the King’s interrogatories concerning the pill, so anxious to get it into his possession, that he actually pressed a gold piece upon me. No lover could sue his mistress with more earnestness to grant him a favor than the doctor did me for my pill. I should very probably have continued the deceit a little longer, and have endeavored to extract another piece from him: but when I saw him preparing a dose of his own mixture to ease my pain, I thought it high time to finish; and pretending all of a sudden to have received relief, I gave up my prize.  26
  When once he had got possession, he looked at it with intense eagerness, and turned it over and over on his palm, without appearing one whit more advanced in his knowledge than before. At length, after permitting him fully to exhaust his conjectures, I told him that the Frank doctor had made no secret in saying that it was composed of jivch, or mercury. “Mercury, indeed!” exclaimed Mirza Ahmak, “just as if I did not know that. And so, because this infidel, this dog of an Isauvi, chooses to poison us with mercury, I am to lose my reputation, and my prescriptions (such as his father never even saw in a dream) are to be turned into ridicule. Who ever heard of mercury as a medicine? Mercury is cold, and lettuce and cucumber are cold also. You would not apply ice to dissolve ice? The ass does not know the first rudiments of his profession. No, Hajji, this will never do: we must not permit our beards to be laughed at in this manner.”  27
  He continued to inveigh for a considerable time against his rival; and would no doubt have continued to do so much longer, but he was stopped by a message from the King, who ordered him to repair forthwith to his presence. In the greatest trepidation he immediately put himself into his court dress, exchanged his common black lambskin cap for one wound about with a shawl, huddled on his red-cloth stockings, called for his horse, and taking the pill with him, went off in a great hurry, and full of the greatest apprehension at what might be the result of the audience.  28
  The doctor’s visit to the King had taken place late in the evening; and as soon as he returned from it he called for me. I found him apparently in great agitation, and full of anxiety. “Hajji,” said he, when I appeared, “come close to me;” and having sent every one else out of the room, he said in a whisper, “This infidel doctor must be disposed of somehow or other. What do you think has happened? The Shah has consulted him; he had him in private conference for an hour this morning, without my being apprised of it. His Majesty sent for me to tell me its result; and I perceive that the Frank has already gained great influence. It seems that the King gave him the history of his complaints,—of his debility, of his old asthma, and of his imperfect digestion,—but talked in raptures of the wretch’s sagacity and penetration: for merely by looking at the tongue and feeling the pulse, before the infidel was told what was the state of the case, he asked whether his Majesty did not use the hot-baths very frequently; whether, when he smoked, he did not immediately bring on a fit of coughing; and whether, in his food, he was not particularly addicted to pickles, sweetmeats, and rice swimming in butter? The King has given him three days to consider his case, to consult his books, and to gather the opinions of the Frank sages on subjects so important to the State of Persia, and to compose such a medicine as will entirely restore and renovate his constitution. The Centre of the Universe then asked my opinion, and requested me to speak boldly upon the natures and properties of Franks in general, and of their medicines. I did not lose this opportunity of giving utterance to my sentiments; so, after the usual preface to my speech, I said, ‘that as to their natures, the Shah, in his profound wisdom, must know that they were an unbelieving and an unclean race: for that they treated our Prophet as a cheat, and ate pork and drank wine without any scruple; that they were women in looks, and in manners bears; that they ought to be held in the greatest suspicion, for their ultimate object (see what they had done in India) was to take kingdoms, and to make Shahs and Nabobs their humble servants. As to their medicines,’ I exclaimed, ‘Heaven preserve your Majesty from them! they are just as treacherous in their effects as the Franks are in their politics: with what we give to procure death, they pretend to work their cures. Their principal ingredient is mercury’ (and here I produced my pill); ‘and they use their instruments and knives so freely, that I have heard it said they will cut off a man’s limbs to save his life.’ I then drew such a picture of the fatal effects likely to proceed from the foreign prescription, that I made the Shah promise that he would not take it without using every precaution that his prudence and wisdom might suggest. To this he consented; and as soon as the Frank shall have sent in the medicine which he is preparing, I shall be summoned to another interview. Now, Hajji,” added the doctor, “the Shah must not touch the infidel’s physic; for if perchance it were to do good, I am a lost man. Who will ever consult Mirza Ahmak again? No: we must avert the occurrence of such an event, even if I were obliged to take all his drugs myself.”  29
  We parted with mutual promises of doing everything in our power to thwart the infidel doctor; and three days after, Mirza Ahmak was again called before the King in order to inspect the promised ordonnance, and which consisted of a box of pills. He of course created all sorts of suspicions against their efficacy, threw out some dark hints about the danger of receiving any drug from the agent of a foreign power, and finally left the Shah in the determination of referring the case to his ministers. The next day, at the usual public audience, when the Shah was seated on his throne, and surrounded by his prime vizier, his lord high treasurer, his minister for the interior, his principal secretary of state, his lord chamberlain, his master of the horse, his principal master of the ceremonies, his doctor in chief, and many other of the great officers of his household,—addressing himself to his grand vizier, he stated the negotiations which he had entered into with the foreign physician, now resident at his court, for the restoration and the renovation of the royal person; that at the first conference, the said foreign physician, after a due inspection of the royal person, had reported that there existed several symptoms of debility; that at the second, after assuring the Shah that he had for three whole days employed himself in consulting his books and records, and gathering from them the opinions of his own country sages on the subject, he had combined the properties of the various drugs into one whole, which, if taken interiorly, would produce effects so wonderful that no talisman could come in competition with it. His Majesty then said that he had called into his councils his Hakîm bashi, or head physician, who, in his anxiety for the weal of the Persian monarchy, had deeply pondered over the ordonnances of the foreigner, and had set his face against them, owing to certain doubts and apprehensions that had crept into his mind, which consisted, first, whether it were politic to deliver over the internal administration of the royal person to foreign regulations and ordonnances; and second, whether in the remedy prescribed there might not exist such latent and destructive effects as would endanger, undermine, and finally overthrow that royal person and constitution which it was supposed to be intended to restore and renovate. “Under these circumstances,” said the Centre of the Universe, raising his voice at the time, “I have thought it advisable to pause before I proceeded in this business; and have resolved to lay the case before you, in order that you may, in your united wisdom, frame such an opinion as may be fitting to be placed before the King; and in order that you may go into the subject with a complete knowledge of the case, I have resolved, as a preparatory act, that each of you, in your own persons, shall partake of this medicine, in order that both you and I may judge of its various effects.”  30
  To this most gracious speech the grand vizier and all the courtiers made exclamations: “May the King live for ever! May the royal shadow never be less! We are happy not only to take physic, but to lay down our lives in your Majesty’s service! We are your sacrifice, your slaves! May God give the Shah health, and a victory over all his enemies!” Upon which the chief of the valets was ordered to bring the foreign physician’s box of pills from the harem, and delivered it to the Shah in a golden salver. His Majesty then ordered the Hakîm bashi to approach, and delivering the box to him, ordered him to go round to all present, beginning with the prime vizier, and then to every man according to his rank, administering to each a pill.  31
  This being done, the whole assembly took the prescribed gulp; after which ensued a general pause, during which the King looked carefully into each man’s face to mark the first effects of the medicine. When the wry faces had subsided, the conversation took a turn upon the affairs of Europe; upon which his Majesty asked a variety of questions, which were answered by the different persons present in the best manner they were able.  32
  The medicine now gradually began to show its effects. The lord high treasurer first—a large, coarse man, who to this moment had stood immovable, merely saying belli, belli, yes, yes, whenever his Majesty opened his mouth to speak—now appeared uneasy; for what he had swallowed had brought into action a store of old complaints which were before lying dormant. The eyes of all had been directed towards him, which had much increased his perturbed state; when the chief secretary of state, a tall, thin, lathy man, turned deadly pale, and began to stream from every pore. He was followed by the minister for the interior, whose unhappy looks seemed to supplicate a permission from his Majesty to quit his august presence. All the rest in succession were moved in various ways, except the prime vizier, a little old man, famous for a hard and unyielding nature, and who appeared to be laughing in his sleeve at the misery which his compeers in office were undergoing.  33
  As soon as the Shah perceived that the medicine had taken effect, he dismissed the assembly, ordering Mirza Ahmak, as soon as he could ascertain the history of each pill, to give him an official report of the whole transaction; and then retired into his harem.  34
  The crafty old doctor had now his rival within his power; of course he set the matter in such a light before the King that his Majesty was deterred from making the experiment of the foreign physician’s ordonnance, and it was forthwith consigned to oblivion. When he next saw me, and after he had made me acquainted with the preceding narrative, he could not restrain his joy and exultation. “We have conquered, friend Hajji,” would he say to me. “The infidel thought that we were fools; but we will teach him what Persians are. Whose dog is he, that he should aspire to so high an honor as prescribing for a king of kings? No: that is left to such men as I. What do we care about his new discoveries? As our fathers did, so are we contented to do. The prescription that cured our ancestors shall cure us; and what Locman and Abou Avicenna ordained, we may be satisfied to ordain after them.” He then dismissed me, to make fresh plans for destroying any influence or credit that the new physician might acquire, and for preserving his own consequence and reputation at court.  35

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