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FROM A WORK ENTITLED
SHABEENY'S ACCOUNT OF TIMBUCTOO,
By J. G. Jackson.
ALI BEY (EL ABASSI).*
THIS extraordinary character visited Marocco about the year 1805 to 1806. He pretended to be a native of Aleppo, called in Arabic Hellebee, and was known by the name of Seed Hellebee, which signifies "the gentleman of Aleppo." Europeans, as well as himself, since his return to Europe, have converted this name into Ali Bey, of the family of the Abassides. This gentleman possessed abilities of no ordinary degree : he was supplied with money in abundance by the Spanish government. He had not been long at Mogodor, when his munificence began to excite the suspicion of the governor, as well as the admiration and applause of the populace. Adopting the costume of the country, he professed himself to be a Muselman; and as a pretext for not speaking the Arabic language †, he pretended that he had gone from Aleppo, the place of his nativity, to England when very young, and had forgotten it. He had, as he declared, considerable property in the Bank of England. Being desirous of collecting all the information possible respecting the country, he procured two young Spanish renegado musicians, who played on the guitar, and sung Arabic airs and songs, with which he affected to be highly delighted: these musicians, however, served his purpose in another way; for, being apprehensive of creating suspicion by direct inquiries, he prevailed on these renegadoes to procure the information he desired, by giving them from time to time
* Author of the Travels under that name.
+He afterwards learned the Arabic language, and, I believe, spoke it tolerably well when he quitted this country and proceeded to Mekka.
several questions to which they procured direct answers, as reported by the natives.
One day he gave a féte champetre at (L'arsa Sultan), the Sultan's garden *, situated near a very picturesque rivulet, and contiguous to springs of excellent water, which, being collected in a large tank, was conveyed by an aqueduct, which extended the length of the garden, to immerge or irrigate the various beds of flowers and plants. On his return home, as he was crossing the river near the village of Diabet, a Shelluh shot a large fish as it was passing the shallows.
Hellebee, or Seed Ali Bey, admired the dexterity of the Shelluh (who, from his quickness, was nicknamed Deib, i. e. the fox), and desired him to take the fish to his house at Mogodor, which he accordingly did, and received from Ali Bey's secretary a handful of dollars. This Shelluh was a keen sportsman, and seldom or never missed his shot: he generally accompanied me in my shooting excursions, and he told me this circumstance himself, adding, that Ali Bey was such a liberal man, that where any other gentleman gave a dollar, he gave a handful. It was in this manner that Ali Bey purchased his popularity.
The governor of Mogodor, Alkaid Muhamed ben Abdsaddock, now began to suspect, not only the faith of this soi-disant Muhamedan, but that he had some design unavowed; and desirous of ascertaining to what nation of Christendom he belonged, the governor engaged Monsieur Depras, a respectable French merchant of Mogodor, who understood several languages, to ascertain if he was a Frenchman, and if not, who and what he was. The governor, in order to enable M. Depras to converse with Ali Bey, invited them both to tea: this introduction being effected, the next day, Depras called on Ali Bey, and conversed with him during an hour in the French language, which he spoke so well,
This garden is in the province of Haha, about five miles S. S. E. of Mogodor, and belongs to the European Commerce, to whom it was presented by the late Emperor Seedi Muhamed ben Abdallah.
that the former thought there was no doubt of his being a Frenchman. But soon after this, the Spanish Consul was announced, and being introduced, Seed Ali Bey changed his discourse to Spanish, which he also spoke so correctly, that Depras now altered his opinion, and conceiving him to be a Spaniard, took his leave. He then reported to the governor what he had seen and heard, that he spoke French and Spanish so fluently, that he really did not know whether he was a Frenchman or a Spaniard.
Ali Bey continued to live in a most sumptuous and costly style, and afterwards resolved to visit Marocco. On his journey thither, he was particularly inquisitive respecting the population, produce, names and residencies of the (sheiks) chiefs of Haha and Shedma, through which provinces he passed. On his arrival at Marocco, he still continued his magnificent establishment and sumptuous mode of living; distributing money to the people bountifully, on the most trifling occasions, which mode of conduct procured him universal popularity among the lower orders. This soon excited the suspicions of Alkaid Bushta, the governor of Marocco, who ingenuously informed him, that such liberality was fit only for a Christian country, and that he was mistaken if he flattered himself that it would be tolerated at Marocco, and actually desired him to adopt a different and a more parsimonious system, if he wished to be quiet; alleging, that his munificence exceeded that of his Imperial Majesty, which was highly indecorous; but afterwards finding little attention was paid to his injunction, he published a decree throughout the city, that any one that should be found asking for, or receiving money from Ali Bey, should have a severe bastinado. After residing some time at Marocco, he expressed a desire to visit the Atlas mountains, which appear a few miles east of Marocco, but which are, in fact, a whole day's journey; their immense size and height making them to appear so much nearer than they really are. Ali Bey, apprehending the hostility of Alkaid Bushta, procured an imperial order to visit the Atlas; but Bushta
opposed it, and would not, he said, permit him, he being governor of Marocco, without having himself directly from the Emperor a permission for that purpose. He then represented to the Emperor the impolicy of allowing him to go and examine that country; and the imperial order was immediately countermanded.
People now began to imagine that he was an agent of Bonaparte; and their suspicion that he was a Christian spread far and near. It was discovered also that he had corns on his feet, excrescences unknown to Muselmen, whose shoes are made tight over the instep, and loose over the toes, so that the latter being unconfined and at liberty, they never have corns.
Notwithstanding all these suspicions, the courtesy and suavity of the manners of Ali Bey had such influence on the imperial mind, that Muley Soliman gave him a beautiful garden to reside in, wherein there was a (kôba) pavilion. Ali Bey finding his influence considerable, erected with architectural taste several edifices, suited, as he thought, to the imperial gusto, in which he succeeded so well, that his Imperial Majesty, when he returned the next year to Marocco, resided almost exclusively in one of the pavilions which he had erected.
The splendour of the imperial favour did not, however, continue long; for Ali Bey began now to be suspected by the Emperor himself, and it was bruited that his renegadoes had acted treacherously towards him.
Ali Bey's knowledge of astronomy was peculiarly gratifying to the Emperor. He could not altogether withdraw from him his attention. The Emperor urged him to take unto himself a wife, and become an useful member of society; but Ali objected, alleging various motives for refusing. He was however at length prevailed on to comply with the imperial injunction, and the Emperor gave him a young girl to marry. It was anticipated that his new wife was a political one, and would betray him to be an uncircumcised dog. The wife, however, became extremely attached to him, and no information could be procured from her to favour the
plot that had been laid for him. Various suspicions having increased respecting him, the Emperor finally resolved that he should quit his territory; and an order was issued that himself, his wife, and slaves should be escorted to the port of L'Araich, and there embark for Europe. When the military guard, however, had reached the port of L'Araich, the boat being ready, Ali Bey was desired to embark, when, not suspecting any stratagem, the boatmen pushed off, leaving his disconsolate wife on the beach, bewailing his abrupt departure. The lady appeared deeply affected with this sudden and unexpected separation; and jumping out of the litter, tore her dishevelled hair, and distributed it to the winds, and with loud shrieks, which pierced the air, demonstrated to him how sorely she lamented his premature departure, and violent separation. His principal slave was sold, by order of the Emperor's minister, to Seed Abdel'mjeed Buhellel, a merchant of Fas, who was lately in London, and the money was given to his wife.
During his residence at Fas, he predicted an eclipse, and, having foretold to the people of that city, that it would happen at such a time, they waited for the event with considerable curiosity. Now his knowledge of futurity had spread abroad with demonstrations of amazement; the eclipse happened precisely at the time he had predicted, which established his fame as an (alem min alem), a man wiser than the wise.
During the latter part of his residence in West Barbary, a report prevailed that Bonaparte was preparing an immense army to invade and subjugate the country. Ali Bey was not only suspected to be his secret agent, but some persons were even ridiculous enough to declare that he was Bonaparte himself in disguise; and accordingly he was denominated Parte, for they would not add Bona, as that word signifies good, in the lingua franca of Barbary, and Bonaparte they said was not good, but a devil incarnate; so they called him Parte. Last year I met in London the Moor who had purchased Ali Bey's slave, and he told me that his son by the before-mentioned wife lives at Fas; that he is a very amiable and