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The Knickerbocker, or New-York Monthly Magazine, June 1844 Volume 23, Number 6   By:

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T H E K N I C K E R B O C K E R.

VOL. XXIII. JUNE, 1844. NO. 6.

THE PLAGUE AT CONSTANTINOPLE.

BY AN EYE WITNESS.

In 1837 I was a resident in Galata, one of the faubourgs of Constantinople, sufficiently near the scenes of death caused by the ravages of the plague to be thoroughly acquainted with them, and yet to be separated from the Turkish part of the population of that immense city. It is not material to the present sketch to dwell upon the subject of my previous life, or the causes which had induced me to visit the capital of the East at such a period of mortality; and I will therefore only add, that circumstances of a peculiarly painful nature obliged me to locate myself in Galata, where there were none to sympathize in my feelings, or any one with whom I could even exchange more than a word of conversation. I saw none but the widowed owner of the house in which I had a chamber, her daughter Aleukâ, and Petraki, her little son.

While the epidemic raged, we four endeavored to keep up a rigid quarantine. Each recommended to the other the strictest observance of our mutual agreement not to receive any thing from without doors, except the necessaries of life; and whenever we left the house, which was to be as seldom as possible, not to come in contact with any one. Whenever I went out I invariably wore an oil cloth cloak, and by the aid of my cane prevented the dogs of the streets, which are there so numerous, from rubbing against me. If I visited any one, which I seldom did, I always sat on a bench or chair to prevent conveying or receiving contagion; and before even entering the house, I always underwent the preparation of being smoked in a box, which during the prevalence of the plague is placed near its entrance for that purpose. These boxes were some eight feet high by three square, the platform on which the feet rested elevated about a foot above the earth, so as to admit under it a dish containing the ingredients of the prophylactic, and a hole in the door to let the face out during the smoking of the clothes and body. We procured our daily supply of provisions from a Bak kal , a retail grocer, whose shop was directly under our front window; an itinerant Ekmekjer , or bread man, brought our bread to the door; our vegetables were procured from a gardener close by, and our water we drew from a cistern under the house: in fine, our food was either smoked or saturated before we touched it, and every possible precaution observed to cut our little family off from the dreadful scourge, 'the pestilence which walketh in darkness and the destruction which wasteth at noon day.' The mother and daughter throughout the day spun silk, knitted woolen suits, or embroidered kerchiefs for head dresses, called in Romaic fakiolee , and even to a late hour of the night they frequently continued the same employment, until the plague prevented the sale of their handiwork, and their materials were all used up. All day long they would sit upon the sofa of their little apartment, facing the street, and while their hands toiled for a subsistence, the widow's daughter hummed a plaintive air, or occasionally broke the silence by conversing with her mother. The son was yet too young to be of assistance to his desolate mother and sister, and except when he said his letters to them, spent the day in idleness. As to my own employment, the dull period of time passed with them was a blank in my existence; and yet, such is the influence of past penury and pain, that I now recall them with pleasure.

The weather was generally very warm, and south west breezes over the sea of Marmora prevailed. From our highest windows we could observe sluggish seamen lounging on the decks of their vessels in the port, afraid to land amid the pestilence. Here and there a vessel strove against the current of the Bosphorus to gain an anchorage; or would slowly float down that stream into the open sea, on its way to healthier and happier Europe. The starving dogs at nightfall would howl dismally, bewailing the loss of the benevolent hands from which they usually received their food; the gulls and cormorants floated languidly over our dwelling, overpowered by the heat; and the dead silence, which in the afternoon and evenings prevailed, made a most melancholy and affecting impression on my mind... Continue reading book >>




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