The History of Ottoman Literature has yet to be written. So far no serious work has been published, whether in Turkish or in any foreign language, that attempts to give a comprehensive view of the whole field. Such books as have appeared up till now deal, like the present, with one side only, namely, Poetry. The reason why Ottoman prose has been thus neglected lies probably in the fact that until within the last half-century nearly all Turkish writing that was wholly or mainly literary or artistic in intention took the form of verse. Prose was as a rule reserved for practical and utilitarian purposes. Moreover, those few prose works that were artistic in aim, such as the Humíyún-Náme and the later Khamsa-i Nergisí, were invariably elaborated upon the lines that at the time prevailed in poetry. Such works were of course not in metre; but this apart, their authors sought the same ends as did the poets, and sought to attain these by the same means. The merits and demerits of such writings therefore are practically the same as those of the contemporary poetry. The History of Ottoman Poetry is thus nearly equivalent to the History of Ottoman Literature. All the same, an account of the work done by the Ottomans in prose ought to be available; and to supply such an account is among the hopes of the present writer.

Within recent years there have appeared in Turkish a few monographs dealing with individual poets, also some newspaper and magazine articles which survey briefly and without detail the whole field of literature. These, though often valuable and suggestive, are of necessity quite inadequate. The only serious attempt yet made at the systematic study of any branch of this literature is that made more than half a century ago by Baron von Hammer-Purgstall in his wellknown ‘History of the Ottoman Poetic Art.’1 But the monumental work so called hardly answers to its name; it is less a history of Ottoman poetry than a dictionary of Ottoman poets. There exist in Turkish a number of works called Tezkires, that is, ‘Memoirs of the Poets,’ which give the lives of poets who flourished at certain periods, together with specimens of their work. Von Hammer’s great book is not much more than a translation of these Tezkires, with the entries arranged in approximate chronological order. He makes but little attempt to trace the development of the poetry, to point out the various forces by which it has been affected, or to distinguish the relative positions of even the greatest poets, whether as regards the merit of their actual achievement, the nature of their indebtedness to their predecessors, or the measure of the influence they exerted over their contemporaries and successors.

The work therefore can scarcely be correctly described as a History. None the less, notwithstanding numerous errors, many of them almost inevitable in a first attempt, it is of the greatest value as a book of reference. If evidence of the critical faculty be somewhat to seek, we find on the other hand almost every detail that can be gleaned from the Tezkires and other Turkish authorities. Every poet, every versifier, of whom Von Hammer could find any mention, however slight, is entered in his pages. Thus although the last of his four volumes was published as long ago as 1838, he has two thousand two hundred entries, each dealing with a different poet.1 His book is therefore likely to remain for many a year to come, what it has been since the day of its publication, the sheet-anchor of all whose pursuits lead them to the study of Ottoman literature.

In the present work no attempt is made to rival Von Hammer; my object is to supplement his labours, not to supersede them. In order to do the latter, not a History of Ottoman Poetry, but a more accurate and more complete Biographical Dictionary of the Ottoman Poets, would be required. The student who possesses this work will not be able to dispense with Von Hammer’s; of the latter’s two thousand two hundred poets, probably barely a tenth will appear in these pages. My object is rather to bring into prominence that aspect of the subject which has been left comparatively unnoticed by my talented and industrious precursor; I have endeavoured to trace the successive phases through which Ottoman poetry has passed, to discover the influences which have brought these about, and in this way to present as it were a panorama of the rise and progress of this poetry.

My chief purpose, however, in writing this book is not to supply Orientalists with a sketch of the development of Ottoman poetry, but to place within reach of English readers some account of a literature which has as yet been hardly touched upon by any writer in our language. Concerning the Arabic and Persian literatures a certain amount is now known; but regarding that of Turkey there is still blank ignorance, an ignorance which not unfrequently leads to the somewhat inconsequent conclusion that ‘the Turks have no literature.’ As it is my hope and my endeavour to do something towards removing this ignorance, I have addressed myself in the first place to the average English reader who is wholly innocent of any Oriental learning. I have therefore explained many things, in the notes and elsewhere, which, had I been writing exclusively for scholars, I should have left unnoticed, as being perfectly familiar to everyone interested in any Muhammedan literature.

Of the many difficulties which beset the path of one who undertakes a work like the present, not the least is that of procuring the necessary materials. These for the most part still remain in manuscript; and to get together all the books it would be desirable to have, is a practically impossible task. And so, although after several years of search I have succeeded in forming a collection which, when supplemented by the volumes bearing on the subject preserved in the British Museum, has placed within my reach nearly all the more necessary of such books, there still remains a number which I have been unable to consult, and access to which would have allowed me to make my work somewhat more complete.

The scheme of this History is in Six Books, the first of which is Introductory, while each of the others deals with one of the Five Periods into which I have divided the story of Ottoman poetry. Of these Six Books, the First and Second are contained in the present Volume.1

In order to assist the reader in realising, so far as this is possible without a knowledge of the language, what Ottoman poetry is actually like, I have in most cases supplemented the account of a poet’s works by one or more translated extracts. The end I had in view would not have been attained by a prose translation, or even by a versified rendering of the usual sort from which every trace of the external form of the original has vanished. That end was to be attained only by a translation in which this form should be reproduced. Moreover, such reproduction is, in my opinion, one of the essentials of a satisfactory translation. As the late Mr. J. A: Symonds most truly says, –a good translation should resemble a plaster-cast, the English being plaque upon the original, so as to reproduce its exact form, although it cannot convey the effects of bronze or marble which belong to the material of the work of art.’1 The principle thus laid down is practically the same as that enunciated and observed with signal success by Mr. John Payne in his admirable and scholarly translations of The Thousand and One Nights and the Quatrains of Omar-i Khayyám. Applied to the translation of Oriental poetry, it involves the preservation of the exterior form of the verse by following the movement of the rhyme, retaining, when possible, the identity in number of the syllables in each line; and suggesting the rhythm by the fall of the accent. These then are the practical rules by which I have been guided so far as the form of the translations is concerned. But while I have been thus respectful of the external structure, I have not allowed my care for this to prejudice the sense of the poem. I have throughout striven to be as literal as possible, omitting nothing of importance, and carefully guarding against the introduction of metaphors or similes for which the original gives no warrant. In this way I hope to have succeeded in presenting in these translations a series of photographs of Ottoman poetry, and it is only as such that I offer them to the reader’s notice.

The critic who seeks to appraise the literary works of a foreign people will do well to bear in mind his own inevitable limitations. However learned he may be, and however scholarly the knowledge he may possess of the language in question, he must yet in some respects stand at a disadvantage beside the native school-child. A word or a phrase often suggests, over and above its dictionary-meaning, a world of associations instinctively perceived by every native, but which for the foreigner have no existence. And it is not unfrequently in the happy employment of such suggestive word or phrase that the chief merit of a literary passage lies. But while points such as this, or more subtle still, constitute something of the charm of literature in all languages, and should, if duly considered, tend everywhere to give the foreign critic pause, Ottoman poetry, owing to the extreme artificiality which characterised it till within the last few decades, contains a far less proportion than is usual of this intimate quality. For this poetry is so hedged in on every side by hard and fast rules, that there would almost seem to have been a deliberate conspiracy to block every avenue against spontaneity and individuality. The success of a poet was held to be determined in no small measure by the skill he displayed in dancing among many glasses without overturning anyone of them. And here at any rate the foreign critic stands on an equal footing with the Ottoman. The rules of the game can be learned equally well by anyone, Turk or foreigner, who. chooses to take the necessary trouble; and once they are mastered, it is easy enough to see whether they have been observed.

Still this is only one side of the matter; there is another and far more vital: did those poets, with all their verbal jugglery and intellectual gymnastic, give true and adequate expression to the spirit of their world? The answer to this question is the verdict of their success or failure. And surely those for whom they wrote, those who lived in the same world and breathed the same moral and intellectual atmosphere, are the best qualified to give this answer. I have therefore, whenever these have been obtainable, given prominence to the opinions of the Ottoman critics on the Ottoman poets, more especially when poet and critic have been contemporary or nearly so. At the same time I have not refrained from expressing my own views, even when these are at variance with the opinions of the Turkish authorities. In such cases the reader must not take my conclusions as advanced with any pretension to finality; they are presented, as indeed are all the critical observations I have ventured to make, simply as the impressions of a foreign student who has tried to understand the works of the Ottoman poets and to enter into sympathy with them.

It remains for me gratefully to acknowledge the assistance I have received in my work. I here tender my sincere thanks to all who have in any way helped me, more especially to my friends Cherkesh-Sheykhi-záde Khalíl Khálid Efendi and Professor Muhammed Barakat-ulláh, the latter of whom has with the utmost kindness placed at my disposal the stores of his great erudition.

E. J. W. GIBB.

15, Chepstow Villas, London, W.

May, 1900.

1‘Geschichte der Osmanischen Dichtkunst,’ by Hammer-Purgstall, 4 vols., Pesth, 1836–8.

1In a very few instances the same poet has been entered more than once, owing to some confusion in the authorities.

1A list of the works consulted in the preparation of the History, together with indices to the notes, etc., will be printed in the final volume.

On the completion of the History I hope to issue a supplementary volume containing the texts of all the poems translated in the work. In the meantime the first line of the text of every translated passage will be found in an Appendix to the volume in which the translation occurs.

1‘Wine, Women, and Song,’ p. 38.



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