( Originally Published Mid 1800's )
November 19, 1865.
DEAR MOTHER, — I will just begin a letter now, though I do not know whence or when I can send it to you. It will seem a little like talking to you to be writing it, at any rate. I am here in Smyrna, and just now especially full of the trip I made yesterday to Ephesus. So I will begin with that. They have a railway to within three miles, and we took the train early in the morning to Ayasoluk, a miserable little Turkish village, whose only interest is an old ruined castle, and the remains of a mosque which is built on the site of the church where St. John the Evangelist preached, and under which he is said to be buried. We cannot, of course, be sure of it, but it seems by no means unlikely ; and I chose, as I stood there, to believe it true. Then we rode on horseback across a broad plain, where the great city once stood, and where now there is not a trace of life save here and there a poor Turk straggling about in the lazy way of this wretched people. We came finally to a pass between two hills, and here the ruins began. We had only two hours to examine them, and many of the sites are doubtful. The great Temple of Diana is altogether gone ; but the one thing most certain of all, about which there can be no doubt, is the theatre where the great meeting was held, in the Book of Acts, and where Paul tried to go in to the people. There it is, a vast amphitheatre in the side of the hill, in ruins of course, but as clearly and evidently the theatre as it was the day he saw it. Then there is the market-place where Demetrius ad-dressed the craftsmen ; and they point out also the School of Tyrannus, where Paul taught.
They show you also the tomb of Mary Magdalene, but this is uncertain. The theatre is the one certain building which is referred to in the Bible story. Many of the ruins of other buildings, temples, race-courses, gymnasia, etc., are very beautiful, and the situation of the old city must have been charming. Was not this worth seeing? Even coming a good way for ? And now to tell you how we came here. Our steamer left Constantinople last Monday afternoon, sailed down the Sea of Marmora, through the Dardanelles, past the plain of Troy, where you see the whole scene of the old war, and the funeral mounds still standing on the shore, by the islands of Lemnos, Imbros, and Tenedos, keeping inside of them. The sea was very rough, and we were at last obliged to come to anchor in a little bay between Mitylene and the mainland. (St. Paul stopped at Mitylene, you know.) Here we had to stay thirty-six hours, waiting for smoother weather. We went ashore and roamed about, but there was not much to see, —Turks, and their huts and camels and donkeys.
We sailed on Thursday morning again, and Friday morning landed here at Smyrna. I wish you could see this town ; it is the strangest mixture in the world. Turks, Greeks, and Armenians, in their strange costumes, fill the little dirty streets. The bazaars are full of cross-legged merchants praising their wares in all sorts of gibberish : Persian carpets, shawls, slippers, with figs, fruits, and spices, all of the East, Eastern. Every now and then a long caravan of camels laden with bales goes winding through, just arrived from Persia, with its wild-looking drivers shouting and screaming to make way for them. This morning, we went to the English chapel, which is at the English consulate, and heard a sermon from the old chaplain who has been here for thirty years. This afternoon, to the Armenian church, where there was a strange sort of service going on in their native language. The strangest services I have seen were those of the howling dervishes and the whirling dervishes in Constantinople. They are a kind of order of Mohammedans ; the former make all their worship consist in working themselves up into frenzy by roaring and screaming ; the latter, by whirling round and round their church till they are dizzy. I saw both, and shall never see anything more curious in the way of religious service. In Constantinople, I went all over the great Mosque of St. Sophia, the greatest of mosques, originally built for a Christian church, and still having many crosses and other Christian symbols uneffaced upon its walls. It is very curious and impressive, and very sacred among the Mohammedans. Here, and in all their sacred buildings, you have to take off your shoes and enter in stocking-feet.
We live oddly here. Our fare everywhere is a mixture of French and Turkish diet, and as unlike home as you can conceive. On board boat we rise about eight, and find a cup of coffee waiting in the cabin.
That is all till ten, when we have a full meal, fish, meat, pastry, fruit, and wine. Then at five or six a dinner of about the same, and in the evening tea, so you see we do not suffer. Traveling here in the East is very slow and very expensive ; but now that I am here, I had better do it thoroughly, and it is all interesting. We were two days behind time in reaching this place, and shall be slow in getting to Beyrout. The AEgean is the most uncertain sea in the world, but I shall certainly spend Christmas at Bethlehem, and Thanksgiving probably at Damascus. I am quite well off for company with Dr. Leeds and Mr. Appleton, who joined us at Constantinople. I am perfectly well and am having a splendid time.