On September 28th, 1730, a rebellion burst forth in Stambul against Sultan Achmed III., whose cowardly hesitation to take the field against the advancing hosts of the victorious Persians had revolted both the army and the people. The rebellion began in the camp of the Janissaries, and the ringleader was one Halil Patrona, a poor Albanian sailor-man, who after plying for a time the trade of a petty huckster had been compelled, by crime or accident, to seek a refuge among the mercenary soldiery of the Empire. The rebellion was unexpectedly, amazingly successful. The Sultan, after vainly sacrificing his chief councillors to the fury of the mob, was himself dethroned by Halil, and Mahmud I. appointed Sultan in his stead. For the next six weeks the ex-costermonger held the destiny of the Ottoman Empire in his hands till, on November 25th, he and his chief associates were treacherously assassinated in full Divan by the secret command, and actually in the presence of, the very monarch whom he had drawn from obscurity to set upon the throne.
This dramatic event is the historical basis of Jokai’s famous story, “A Feher Rozsa,” now translated into English for the first time. No doubt the genial Hungarian romancer has idealised the rough, outspoken, masterful rebel-chief, Halil Patrona, into a great patriot-statesman, a martyr for justice and honour; yet, on the other hand, he has certainly preserved the salient features of Halil’s character and, so far as I am competent to verify his authorities, has not been untrue to history though, as I opine, depending too much on the now somewhat obsolete narrative of Hammer-Purgstall ("Geschichte des osmanischen Reichs"). Almost incredible as they seem to us sober Westerns, such incidents as the tame surrender of Achmed III., the elevation of the lowliest demagogues to the highest positions in the realm, and the curious and characteristically oriental episode of the tulip-pots, are absolute facts. Naturally Jokai’s splendid fancy has gorgeously embellished the plain narrative of the Turkish chroniclers. Such a subject as Halil’s strange career must irresistibly have appealed to an author who is nothing if not vivid and romantic, and ever delights in startling contrasts. On the other hand, the unique episode of Guel-Bejaze, “The White Rose,” and her terrible experiences in the Seraglio are largely, if not entirely, of Jokai’s own invention, and worthy, as told by him, of a place in The Thousand and One Nights.
Finally—a bibliographical note.
Originally “A Feher Rozsa,” under the title of “Halil Patrona,” formed the first part of “A Janicsarok vegnapjai,” a novel first published at Pest in three volumes in 1854. The two tales are, however, quite distinct, and have, since then, as a matter of fact, frequently been published separately. The second part of “A Janicsarok vegnapjai” was translated by me from the Hungarian original, some years ago, under the title of “The Lion of Janina,” and published by Messrs. Jarrold and Sons as one of their “Jokai” Series in 1898. The striking favour with which that story was then received justifies my hope that its counterpart, which I have re-named “Halil the Pedlar,” from its chief character, may be equally fortunate.