Translator, journalist, novelist, story writer, magazine witer, actor also known as; teletype writer, he is one who mentions the coincidences in his life perfectly, one who prioritizes social benefits as he writes and displays his art, the valuable Ahmet Mithat Efendi…
Born to a middle class tradesman father, he started working as tradesman at a very young age and soon became the source of information and knowledge building bridges between the east and the west as a result of coincidences. We will talk about Ahmet Mithat of “40 hourse power engine teletype writer” due to his writing power, who wrote over two hundred articles and stories other than the ones on the magazines and newspapers published by “First teacher” aka Cenapp Sahabettin. We will talk of the benefits brought to our literary world by the versatile story writer, novelist, journalist, magazine writer, play writer and interpreter who provided our literary world with long years of services and many literary work, man of the people Ahmet Mithat Efendi…
FROM APPRENTICESHIP TO MASTERY
In 1844… A son is born to middle class material tradesman Hadji Suleyman Aga in Tophane. They name him Ahmet and when he is only 6-7 years-old, his father places him as apprentice to one of the herbalists in the Spice Bazaar, as the fmily was short of money. There are such coincidences in this hard working boy’s life that his story is summarized by induction rather than deduction. A summary of his childhood years: lost his father at 12 years-old, went to Vidin with his brother, where he worked as state -officer. His brother died soon after and Ahmet was left to care for the family of 15. He does not dread, or give-up but overcomes all difficulty working hard for the family’s living. The people he met throughout his life seemed to conduct minor touches of major affect for his life …
In 1871 Ahmet returns to his home in Istanbul to take over the responsibility of the family upon his brother’s death and becomes first pen of Ceride-i Askeriye (Military magazine). Taking the first step towards his way of living he hopes to pursue, he places a primitive printer and a closet to place the parts into his home in Tahtakale. This is considered to be among the private ventures of the time. Some of the books of the Letaif-i Rivayat series (Rumor has it) were prepared, printed and bound here to be delivered to bookstores and tobacco parlors, which were the distributors of the day. Soon the business grows and requires bigger space so first an office in Camli (Glassed) Inn in Asmaalti, Eminonu is rented later to be moved to a bigger flat on Bab-i Ali Avenue. Ahmet Mithat is offered to do the printing of the Trade Calender (Takvim-i Ticaret) published in Turkish and French as well as asked to do the Turkish content. Ahmet Mithat took on the Turkish content preparation and printing at once but also employed a typesetter who knews French. With this effort the print house began to publish French newspapers. He moved his print house to Hazzopulo Inn in Beyoglu within a year’s time. Adding Greek letter collection to his stock with the bank loan to upgrade and re-new his printer to be able to print in Greek. There he printed the following magazines: Devir, Bedir andDagarcik. However Dagarcik was closed down due to some articles with
materialistic ideas and Ahmet Mithat was exiled along with the Juene Turks although he had no connection to them at all. Once his exile was over he continued to work as journalist, novelist and publisher. He began to publish one of the longest lived newspapers of the Turkish press Tercuman-i Hakikat(1878). Ahmet Mithat Efendi who refused to accept poverty and difficult conditions all the while seeing them as means to improve his strength and fighting power died in December 1912 at the Darussafaka school where he lectured as honorary teacher.
While working as apprentice at the herbalist, their neighboring store owner Fiaci Ibrahim Efendi taught him to read-write and the Quran in exchange for sweeping his store.
As he was receiving education when living with his brother he was noticed by Mithat Pasha Governor of Nish and started to work as clerk in Ruscuk and the Pasha personally added the name Mithat as his second name.
While he was working as clerk he met Sakir Bey, Head of Immigrants Commission (also known as soldier, poet, and philosopher) who invited him over to his house. The group of guests enjoys music, poetry and chat about theatre, Ahmet Mithat is offered a couch to spend the night at the library of his host. As a matter of fact this offer opened him a door to a brand new world. As a result of three to four months of stay at the library not only did he read so many books but he also translated La Mariage Forcé by Moliere. He later got assigned to ships sailing the Danube as chest trustee, treasurer, traveling clerk positions with the support of Commissionaire Sakir: Ahmet Mithat soon began to work at the City Agricultural Administration Office as Clerk and latr became journalist reporter for the Danube Newspaper. Journalism which entered among his line of work at 25 years-old would be part of his life then on.
Mithat Pasha assigned to Bagdad took Ahmet Mithat with him on duty. Apart from his duty as clerk he was also put in charge of setting the print house as the Editor and columnist of Zevra newspaper. During a conversation amongst friends Ahmet Mithat
met Osman Hamdi Bey, his two year senior, an artist, archeologist and curator who spent twelve years in Europe, with better conditions compared to Ahmet Hamdi. Upon realizing Ahmet Hamdi’s thirst for knowledge Osman Hamdi Beynsaid: “If you wish
to improve your knowledge I can suggest a few books for you to read, if you invest in these books you can deepen your knowledge on the topics and then you can become a part of the business.” Osman Hamdi Bey to whom Ahmet Mithat was grateful all his life named the books which Ahmet Hamdi read.
While Osman Hamdi Bey helped Ahmet Mithat to turn his face towards the west another mentor for him in terms of deepening his knowledge of Islam was Muhammed Feyzi ez-Zuhafi who was famous for his knowledge of the Islamic laws and served at the Bagdad Provincial Office of the Mufti.
Muhammed Bakir Can Muattar, was actually the person with whom Ahmet Mithat experienced and developed his passion to learn and discuss. The coincidental meeting with the Arabic, Persian, English, Hebrew, Indian speaker half deranged, half philosophical with a dervish style was known to be a walking library. That was the person who advised Ahmet Mithat that in order to understand the Quran right, he needed to read the Old and New Testaments of the Bible as well. This was the man that had an important role in Ahmet Mithat’s vision of worldly life, preventing his plunging into bigotry and develop a criticizing opinion for everything.
Sense of Responsibility
Ahmet Mithat who was keen to learn and motivated to work took a mission to deliver what he learned to others and wrote to inform the public. He gave great importance to the following issues: woman rights, national sentiments, traditions and mores.
Who is art for?
Ahmet Mithat Efendi’s language is far from pompous, decorated words but more sincere, plain and close to everyday language of the people. For him art is not for the sake of art but for the sake of the people, as he mainly wrote informative things. Arrogance was among things he could not stand in any form.
Western Science, Eastern Ethics
Ahmet Mithat was among the very important figures of the Ottoman Reform period and Westernization movement. A man of the people who took on to himself to inform the public. While some of the enlightened people during the Westernization movement during the Ottoman Reforms were totally pro westernization, some were totally against tit. Ahmet Mithat was in a way the balancing element. The most suitable synthesis he came up with was “Western Science, work and discipline: Eastern ethics, virtue and religion.” Ahmet Mithat’s approach was neither being eastern nor western. The man he aimed to be and deliver was one who had all the virtue and traditions of the Ottoman and Islam life, although living like a westerner.
Ahmet Mithat Efendi’s Achievements and Sacrifices
Mansion in Beykoz
Farm in Akbaba village
Used the first artificial incubator in Turkey
Used the modern bee hive.
Delivered Sirmakes water to the city to be bottled and sold.
Gave drama classed to neighborhood youth at his mansion
Charitable work for the needy and orphans
Helped orphan young girls to get married
The advice and vision by Sakir Bey: “Here is a room for you with books in it. Go wherever you wish in the day, come here at night. Suffering in the stewards room is beneath you. If you want to write, stop writing title deeds, write stories, compile, and translate! Your keenness to write and translate is obvious. You will be of fame and name if you do so.”
The unknowns of Ahmet Mithat Efendi He had state duties on different times without losing his touch in writing and printing; he was manager of Takviiri-i Vekayi and Head of publishing house, Chairman and council member to Meclis-i Umur-i Sihhiye (Public health board), World history, religions history, philosophical history lecturer for Darülfunun, Medresetülvaizîn, Darülmuallimat.
Life in exile in the Rhodes
During his three year exile in Rhodes Island in 1873, he wrote his first novel along with some school books, he sent his columns for Kirkambar magazine from exile. He taught children in Rhodes, which gave him the idea to start a school of his own. He came back to Istanbul upon the pardon by Sultan Murad V. (1876).
He has a long list of work, starting from 16-20 sheets of booklets to thousand page epistles, pocket books to double columned xx-large books adding to a total of two hundred books (novel, Story, play, history, geography, philosophy, religion, military and etiquette etc.).
By: Burçak Öksüz Doğan
*This article was published in the July-August issue of Marmara Life.