Kidnapped by Brigands
Abridged from The Spirit of the East first published in 2 vols. in 1839
Son of a Scottish aristocrat, Urquhart fought for the Greeks in the War of Independence as a naval officer, and was seriously injured. In 1831 he was appointed to a mission to Constantinople, to determine the border between the new kingdom of Greece and the Ottoman Empire, and in 1835 as secretary of the embassy at Constantinople. During the course of these years he adopted the lifestyle of an Ottoman pasha, even setting himself up with a harem for a time, and had to be recalled. His account of his time in Greece may lie at the “creative” end of the spectrum of travel writing, but is nonetheless very entertaining.
“We had left the fountain about fifteen minutes, and I was fifty paces ahead, winding round the side of a steep and wooded hill, in a narrow path ... when I was arrested by a loud shriek,
followed by sounds that boded no good. I saw through the trees the crowding of men, white fustanells and arms! Whether or not escape was practicable, it did not enter into my mind to enquire; resistance was out of the question; but, in the confidence which extensive practice among these men had given me, I felt only incensed at the outrage, and reckoned on instant submission. I therefore turned and galloped towards them. I was certainly led into another train of reflection, when I saw a couple turn at me, holding their muskets levelled. I held up my hands, unarmed, (I was unarmed, except a pair of horse pistols in my holsters,) but they made a rush on both sides, vociferating imprecations, and distorting their faces into the most hideous and exasperating grimaces ... The next thing I recollect was a blow on the back, as I was raised on my knees, which is generally preparatory to the act of decollation... I leaped up, and stood prepared with a stout stick to do what might be practicable, to prevent myself from being bound... One of the party ... turned to me with the cord. I offered him my breast to strike. His yatagan was in an instant bare.. I told them ... that I was perfectly resolved not to move a step, unless not only relieved from all insult, but treated with respect: “nor will I stir from this spot,” I continued, “unless that man,” pointing to one who seemed the chief, “whose countenance I will trust, gives me his word that the wretch who has insulted me shall not be allowed to approach me while I remain unarmed.”
Review:'Urquhart has been suspected by critics of touching up the facts so that he comes out of things rather well... True or not, Urquhart knows how to tell a good story.' Jonathan Carr in Athens News