The long Britanica article about Egypt, a section of which lists the many ways the Pasha improved not only the Egyptian army but many other aspects of the country’s government and economy, the following passage appears as a very long footnote. The editors then added the following footnote to that main note: “Edinburgh Review, vol. lix. p. 124, et seqq. We have great pleasure in acknowledging that, for the leading features of the character of Mehemmed Ali, as above delineated, we have been indebted to a very able article in this journal on the state and relations of the Turkish empire. We have merely filled up, as it were, the masterly sketch drawn by the reviewer.” — George P. Landow

Decorated initial M

ehemmed Ali is now in the sixty-third year of his age; he is rather short in stature, thick set, and inclined to embonpoint; his countenance is large, his forehead high, his nose aquiline, and his general expression indicative both of firmness and penetration; he bears himself with easy dignity, without the smallest approach to hauteur or reserve, and, for a Turk, is remarkably social and communicative; and his dress is usually plain, the only expense which he indulges in matters connected with personal decoration being lavished upon his arms, which are richly studded with diamonds. In a word, his appearance and demeanour immediately impress strangers with a conviction that he is no ordinary man; whilst his eager and inquisitive curiosity, continually on the alert in quest of information, shows that he has not only appreciated the importance of knowledge generally, but learned that it is the only solid basis of power. The following anecdotes of this remarkable person have been collected by Dr Russell, from the works of recent Egyptian travellers.

“On our arrival being announced,” says Dr Richardson, “we were immediately ushered into his presence, and found him sitting on the corner of the divan, surrounded by his officers and men, who were standing at a respectful distance. He received us sitting, but in the most gracious manner, and placed the Earl of Belmore and Mr Salt upon his left hand, and his lordship's two sons and my self at the top of the room on his right. The interpreter stood, as well as the officers and soldiers, who remained in the room during the whole time of the visit. He began the conversation by welcoming us to Cairo, and prayed that God might preserve us, and grant us prosperity. He then inquired of the noble traveller how long he had been from England, and what was the object of his journey to Egypt; to all which he received satisfactory answers. His highness next adverted to the prospect before him—the Nile, the grain covered fields, the pyramids of Djizeh, the bright sun, and the cloudless sky—and remarked, with a certain triumphant humour on his lip, that England offered no such prospect to the eye of the spectator. He was told that the scenery of England was very fine.

“How can that be,” he shortly rejoined, “seeing you are steeped in rain and fog three quarters of the year?” He next turned the conversation to Mr Leslie's elegant experiment; freezing water in the vacuum of an air-pump; which he had never seen, but admired prodigiously in description, and seemed to anticipate with great satisfaction a glass of lemonade and iced water for himself and friends, as the happiest result of the discovery. Talking of his lordship's intended voyage up the Nile, he politely offered to render every possible facility; cautioning him at the same time to keep a sharp look-out when among the Arabs, who, he believed, would not take anything from him or his party by violence, but would certainly steal if they found an opportunity of doing it without the risk of detection. He then related a number of anecdotes touching the petty larcenies of that most thievish race; some of which were by no means without contrivance or dexterity. But the one which seemed to amuse both himself and his friends the most, was that of a traveller, who, when eating his dinner, laid down his spoon to reach for a piece of bread, and by the time he brought back his hand the spoon was away; the knife and fork soon shared the same fate; and the unfortunate stranger was at length reduced to the sad necessity of tearing his meat, and lifting it with his fingers and thumb, like the Arabs themselves. Many persons were near, but no one saw the theft committed; and all search for the recovery of the property was in vain. We now took leave of the viceroy, leaving him in the greatest good humour; he said we might go everywhere, and see every thing we wished, and that he hoped to have the pleasure of seeing us again.”

In reference to the freezing experiment, we may mention, that Mehemmed Ali, very soon after the visit now described, obtained from England, through Mr Salt, the requisite apparatus. . The machine on its arrival was conveyed to his palace, and some Nile water was procured for the purpose. He hung over the whole operation with intense curiosity; and when, after several disappointments, a piece of real ice was produced, he took it eagerly in his hand, and danced round the room for joy like a child, and then ran into the harem to show it to his wives.

“No one has attempted to conceal that there is in the temper of Mehemmed Ali, intermingled with many good qualities, a deep tincture of barbarism and fierceness. Impatient of opposition, and even of delay, he occasionally gives himself up to the most violent bursts of passion; and in such moments there is hardly any cruelty which he will not perpetrate or command. For instance, some time ago he had ordered that the dollar should pass for a fixed number of piasters, and it was mentioned in his presence that the rate was not strictly followed. His highness expressed some doubt of the fact, when the head interpreter carelessly observed that a Jew broker, whom he named, had a few days before exchanged dollars for him at the rate asserted. ‘Let him be hanged immediately, exclaimed the pasha . . The interpreter, an old and favourite servant, threw himself at his sovereign's feet, deprecating his own folly, and imploring pardon for the wretched culprit. But all intercession was in vain ; the viceroy said his orders must not be disregarded, and the unfortunate Jew was instantly led to his death. We find proofs of a similar sally at Djidda, where he appeared to have used his own hands to inflict a punishment which he thought it inexpedient to remit. Hoseyn Aga, the agent for the East India Company, resident in that town, was, says a recent traveller, a remarkably fine-looking man, displaying an air of dignity mixed with hauteur; handsomely clad, too, though the heavy folds of his muslin turban were studiously drawn over his right eye to conceal the loss of it, for Mehemmed Ali one day in a fit of rage pulled it out. Yet these men are friends—great friends just at present, and will remain so as long as it may be convenient and agreeable to both parties to consider each other in that light. But the master of Egypt is not at all times so ferocious. For example, when Mrs Lushington was at Alexandria, intelligence was brought to him that a small fort at the entrance of the harbour had been taken possession of by certain Franks, and that the Turks belonging to it had been made prisoners. Some consternation prevailed among his people; but instead of being angry, he laughed heartily, and swearing by his own eyes—his favourite oath—that they must be English sailors, he directed his interpreter to write to their captain to order his men on board ship again. Upon inquiry it proved as the pasha had anticipated; the men had landed, got drunk, and crowned their liberty by seizing on the fort, and confining the unfortunate Turks, who, indolently smoking their pipes, never could have anticipated such an attack in time of profound peace.

He evinced equal self-command, and still more magnanimity, when he first heard of the event which destroyed his infant navy and humbled his power. We allude to the battle of Navarino. He had not finished the perusal of the unwelcome dispatches, when he desired a European consul to assure his country men and all the other Franks that they should not be molested, and that they might pursue their wonted occupations in perfect security. Among the ships lying in the harbour was the wreck of one of the pasha's own vessels. The captain had committed some crime which was represented by his crew to the viceroy, who ordered him immediately on shore to answer his accusers. Conscious of guilt, he pretended sickness, till a second message from the same quarter left him no alternative; and unable longer to shun his fate, he sent all his crew ashore, and calling to an old and faithful servant, the only person on board, he bade him jump out of the fort into the sea; at the same time, having loaded two pistols, he fired into the magazine, and blew up the ship and himself together. When the story was related to the pasha, he said, “These are Frank customs; this is dying like an Englishman.”

“There is something characteristic in the following notice by Sir Frederick Henniker, who remarks, that the pasha appeared to him to have a vulgar low-born face, but a commanding intelligent eye. “He received us in the court-yard, seated on a sofa, and wielding a pipe, dressed like a private individual, as Turks of real consequence generally are, excepting on gala days. The vice-consul and myself sat down on the sofa with him. Pipes are not offered except to equals; coffee served up, no sugar, even though the pasha himself has a manufactory of that article, the attendants ordered to withdraw ; no pride, no affectation, even though the pasha is an upstart. Remained nearly an hour discoursing on English horses, military force, the emerald-mines at Cossier, his son's victory over the Wahabis, and his expected triumphal entry.”—It is generally stated, that since Mehemmed Ali has felt himself secure in the pashalik he has ceased to be cruel.

Seldom now does he take away life, and never with torture; and if his subordinate officers were as well disposed as himself, the people, notwithstanding the oppressive taxes, would feel their property more secure. One instance of his prompt justice excited much astonishment; although a slower and more regular method would not, it is probable, in a nation so completely disor ganized, have produced an equal effect. A kiachief who had not been long accustomed to the government of the viceroy punished one of his own servants with death. He was called before Mehemmed, who asked him by what authority he had committed this outrage. He thought it enough to urge in his defence that the man was his own servant. True, retorted the pasha, but he was my subject; and, in the same breath, passed sentence that the culprit should be immediately beheaded,—an effectual warning to the rest of the grandees present. This act of severity has saved the lives of many of the Arabs, who, in former times, were sacrificed by their Turkish masters on the most trifling pretences. In short, Mehemmed is well spoken of by most European travellers, though in general they estimate his character by too high a standard—the principles and habits of their own countries.

There is only one author whose impression was rather unfavourable: “I sat in the divan,’ says he, “with my eyes fixed on him; I wanted to examine the countenance of a man who had realized in our day one of those scenes in history which, when we have perused it, always compels us to lay down the book and recover ourselves. There he sat—a quick eye, features common, nose bad, a grizzled beard, looking much more than fifty, and having the worn complexion of that period of life. They tell you he is not sanguinary ; men grow tired of shedding blood as well as of other pleasures; but if the cutting off a head would drop gold into his coffers, he would not be slow to give the signal. His laugh has nothing in it of nature; how can it have? I hear it now—a hard, sharp laugh, such as that with which strong heartless men would divide booty torn from the feeble. I leave him to his admirers.”—“In the usages of the table,” says Mr Carne, “he is still an Osmanlee; knives, forks, and other useful appendages, never make their appearance at his meals. About five years ago some English travellers were graciously received by him, and pressingly invited to dine. But not even in compliance with the taste of his guests would he depart from his own habits; for, wishing to show a noble lady particular attention, he took a large piece of meat in his hand, and politely placed it before her. Perfectly dismayed at the compliment, and the sight of the savoury morsel which rested on her plate, she turned to her companion, who was more used to oriental manners, and earnestly asked what she was to do. “Eat it to be sure,” was the reply. She looked at the pasha; his fine dark eye seemed to rest on her with a most kind and complacent expression ; and there was no help for it but to follow the excellent advice given her by her more experienced friend.’” (View of Ancient and Modern Egypt) , p. 358, et seqq). [VIII, 505-506n]

Related material


“Egypt.” The Encylopædia Britanica or Dictionary of Arts, Sciences, and General Literature. Edinburgh: Adam and Charles Black: 1842. VIII, 458-560. Hathi Trust Digital Library online version of a copy in the University of Chicago Library. Web. 13 August 2020.

View of Ancient and Modern Egypt, p. 358, et seqq.) * Edinburgh Review, vol. lix. p. 124, et seqq.

Last modified 14 August 2020