Eastward Ho! Diplomats, Travellers and Interpreters of the Middle East and beyond, 1600-1940

By Leiser, Gary | The Journal of the American Oriental Society, January-March 2015 | Go to article overview

Eastward Ho! Diplomats, Travellers and Interpreters of the Middle East and beyond, 1600-1940


Leiser, Gary, The Journal of the American Oriental Society


Eastward Ho! Diplomats, Travellers and Interpreters of the Middle East and Beyond, 1600-1940. By C. EDMUND BOSWORTH. London: EAST AND WEST PUBLISHING, 2012. Pp. xxvii + 2B0. 25 [pounds sterling].

Edmund Bosworth is well known for his many important, perceptive, and often pioneering studies of medieval Islamic history and culture. Less well known are his numerous contributions to the study of Europeans, mainly Britons, who went to the Middle East to conduct diplomacy, exploration, and research between the early seventeenth and the early twentieth centuries. Bosworth began his scholarly career, in fact, as a historian of Britain and Europe which gives special insight to these contributions. The present work brings together fifteen of his articles on this subject, of which thirteen were published between 1973 and 2011. These have been updated and revised where necessary.

The book begins with "Sir Thomas Glover, English Ambassador and Consul in Istanbul, 1606-11." Glover spent much of his early life in Istanbul in the service of the Levant Company, in the course of which he learned Turkish and other languages of the region, eventually becoming secretary to Ambassador Henry Lello. Glover succeeded Lello and combined the post of ambassador with that of consul for the Levant Company, which facilitated his own private trading. Nevertheless, he was a forceful protagonist of English interests against European rivals and did not hesitate to argue with Ottoman officials, including the Grand Vizier. He also collected antiquities for individuals and museums. A colorful character (the Turkish admiral called him "the Red Boar"), he preserved the body of his second wife in bran in the cellar of his house when she died of plague in 1608. There she remained until his recall in 1611 for overstepping his authority by espousing the cause of a pretender to the head of the Ottoman client-state of Moldavia. She was then laid to rest at a site under modern Taksim Square. Back in England he became the leading authority on all things Turkish and helped revise Richard Knolles's great work The Generali Historie of the Turks.

The second article is "George Strachan of the Mearns: Middle East Traveller and Pioneer Collector of Arabic and Persian Manuscripts." Strachan was a Scottish Catholic who because of his faith first sought a career in southern Europe where he studied Arabic, Persian, and Hebrew at various French universities. Interest in the Orient led him to Istanbul in 1613. After lodging some time at the house of the French ambassador, he went on to Aleppo and around 1615 made the bold decision to become the "personal physician" to a Bedouin chief in the Syrian Desert. In 1618 he was forced to flee the chief's camp to Baghdad. A year later he went to Isfahan and entered the employment of the English East India Company. In 1622 he boarded ship at Gombroon on the Persian Gulf for India and was never heard of again. Strachan did not leave an account of his travels, but he did collect Arabic, Turkish, and Persian manuscripts; those that survived are now chiefly in the Vatican Library and the National Library at Naples. They led G. Levi Della Vida to devote a monograph to Strachan.

In "The Prophet Vindicated: A Restoration Treatise on Islam and Muhammad," Bosworth recounts the life of Henry Stubbe (1632-76) and the composition and fate of his book, An Account of the Rise and Progress of Mahometanism, with the Life of Mahomet and a Vindication of Him and His Religion from the Calumnies of the Christians. The son of a clergyman, Stubbe graduated from Oxford and eventually became the Second Keeper at the Bodleian Library. He had been a supporter of Cromwell in Scotland and a strong critic of the clergy, universities, and other institutions. It was in this context that he wrote the aforesaid work, based on secondary works and translations. It was unusual for Stubbe's spirited defense of Muhammad and the Quran and a rational analysis of Islam. …

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