Mr. Thayer to Mr. Seward

No. 32.]

Sir: Abdul Aziz, Sultan of Turkey, yesterday afternoon left this port, having made a sojourn in Egypt of eleven days.

From the conquest until now, a period of nearly three centuries and a half, no Sultan has visited Egypt. On the 13th of April, in the year 1517, Selim the First gained the battle at Cairo, which resulted in the death of the Soldan Touman Bey, last national sovereign of the country. Since then it has been an important though almost independent province of the Ottoman empire.

For many years superstition or etiquette has required the Sultan never to leave Constantinople. Abdul Aziz, however, is endowed with an activity of mind which has broken through this restriction, and hence this voyage which is to include a visit to other parts of his dominions. He is determined to know something personally of the regions he governs, and does not like to be the puppet of ministers and European advisers. According to the statements of those who are intimate with him, he is deeply sensible of his defects of education which certainly must seem in striking contrast with the more European training of the ruling family in Egypt. He is reported to say, “I have been brought up among eunuchs and women; what can I know of my kingdom? Give me men to serve me who can lead me right.”

His Majesty’s fleet of five steamers arrived in the evening of the 6th instant. A hundred and one guns were fired to welcome his coming, and the palaces of the government were most sumptuously fitted up for the reception of himself and suite. Magnificent illuminations by the government and by private citizens were made. The Viceroy alone expended in illuminating Alexandria and Cairo, on the entrance of the Sultan, not less than $100,000.

On the morning of the 8th instant the consular corps were received by his Majesty at the Bas-el-Tine palace, in Alexandria, with a very imposing military show. As they were ranged in the hall of reception, Kamil Bey, the chamberlain, first entered, then Fuad Pacha, minister of war, then Halem Pacha, uncle of the Viceroy, and then the Viceroy himself. All of them were attired in gorgeous uniform.

Finally, the Sultan entered, a man of apparently thirty-five, of medium size, simply clad in black, his dress consisting of a loose sack coat, and trowsers of European pattern, wearing nothing peculiarly oriental except the ordinary red tarbouck on his head, the sabre of honor, and on his breast a massive and brilliant decoration of diamonds. On the little finger of his right hand sparkled a very large ruby, a favorite stone with the Turks.

His Majesty’s features are sharp, nose prominent and aquiline, and the lower part of his face covered with a well-trimmed black beard. His eyes are large, dark and restless, playing about like lightning everywhere but on the countenances of those who are before him. This is a part of the sublime porte etiquette; and when the Viceroy presented each of the consuls general, the august sovereign, while making the slightest possible inclination of his body, kept his glances either directly over the heads of his new acquaintances, or else turned them sideways towards a corner of the ceiling. In like manner, when driving in his carriage through the streets, he apparently takes no notice of the crowds who are gazing on him.

After the formal presentation, the Russian consul general, as dean of the consular corps, pronounced a short address of congratulation, which was translated to the Sultan in Turkish by Fuad Pacha. His Majesty not being [Page 1206] able to speak any but his native tongue, or perhaps following official etiquette, replied as follows, through the medium of the interpreter:

“I feel a lively satisfaction in seeing assembled about me the honorable agents of the friendly and allied powers. I have come to Egypt for the sole purpose of giving to the Viceroy a new proof of my good will and of my special affection, and of seeing this so important part of my empire. All my efforts look to the development of the happiness and well being of all classes of my subjects throughout my dominions, and to the strengthening of the ties which unite us to Europe. I have also the conviction that the Viceroy marches equally in the same direction, and that following in the footsteps of that illustrious man of our nation, his grandfather, he will be able to maintain and perfect his work.”

His Majesty then walked out of the room, followed by the Viceroy, who soon returned and had a less stately interview with the consular corps. On several occasions the Sultan rode around the public square, the streets between the sidewalks being entirely cleared. He sat alone in an open carriage drawn by four horses, and escorted by his excellently mounted guard of a hundred spahis or zouaves and the Viceroy’s chain-armored cavalry. Next in order were carriages containing the chief eunuch, a black man in charge of his Majesty’s two little sons, the late Sultan’s three sons, one of whom, by the rule of succession, is heir apparent to the throne, and the ministers and pachas of Egypt and Turkey, the whole closing with a cavalcade of soldiers and policemen.

For some reason which has not been officially explained, the Arab women and children were forbidden, by proclamation made by public criers, to appear in the street when the Sultan came out, under penalty of imprisonment and hard labor. It is said that in this country the women are more outspoken and noisy than the men, and that they are the only people who loudly criticise political affairs. His Majesty, in part, atoned for this treatment of females by presenting the mother of the Viceroy with the decoration of the Order of Osmanieh—an honor seldom, if ever, accorded to a woman.

While in Cairo the Sultan occupied the citadel, the Shauba palace and gardens of Halem Pacha being placed at the disposal of his ministers. During a hot hampseen wind he passed a day at the pyramids of Gizeh, not ascending, but walking and riding on horseback around them, and examining the Sphynx and the ancient tombs in their neighborhood. He also visited Suez, where he could cross the Red sea to the desert of Arabia. Wherever he went, his curiosity was awake and fully exercised, as if this were his first experience of the outer world. The contrast of such energy with the languid indifference of his predecessor is a subject of common remark.

The Sultan on his departure carried off two steamers loaded with varieties of Egyptian animals, useful or curious, such as cows, sheep, four-horned goats, giraffes, gazelles, foxes, monkeys, flamingoes and paroquets. He also exported eighty saises or Egyptian grooms, men who run like winged Mercuries before the carriages of their masters, and whose picturesque attire and graceful swiftness form a noticeable feature in the street life of Cairo.

Not long before going away his Majesty took from his breast the decoration of the Osmanieh and gave it, with the sabre of honor, to the Viceroy in token of his special appreciation. His visit has produced a highly favorable effect among all classes. Comporting himself with the courteous discretion of a well-bred guest, he has respected the sensibilities of his host, the hereditary ruler of the country, and sedulously avoided any needless assumption of official superiority. It is believed that his inspection of the achievements of the progressive wisdom of modern Egypt, with which he has expressed [Page 1207] great satisfaction, will result in improving the administration of the entire Ottoman empire.

During his sojourn, Abdul Aziz afforded a signal proof of liberality in bestowing honorary decorations on each of the chief dignitaries, not only of the Mohammedan faith, but of the various Christian sects in Egypt. He has also distributed thirty thousand dollars in gifts among the hospitals established here by European Christians.

I am, sir, very respectfully, your obedient servant,


Hon. William H. Seward, Secretary of State, Washington, D. C.