Memoirs of the Baron de Tott; by TOTT, François, Baron…

TOTT, François, Baron de (1733-1793).

Memoirs of the Baron de Tott; On The Turks and The Tartars. Translated From The French, By An English Gentleman At Paris, Under The Immediate Inspection Of The Baron. In three volumes. Vol. I [-III]. Dublin, L. White, J. Cash and R. Marchbank, 1785.

First Dublin Edition. Three volumes, 12mo (165 x 110 mm), pp. [xxii], [i], 250; [iv], 255; [ii], [3]-356, [14] index, with the half-title to the second volume only, in contemporary polished calf, spines with raised bands, ruled and numbered in gilt, red morocco labels lettered in gilt, slightly worn at extremities with a little surface abrasion to the boards, with the contemporary ownership inscription of Richard Chearnley on the title-page of each volume.

An attractive copy of this fascinating political memoir in which the Hungarian born diplomat, François de Tott, explores the intricacies of eighteenth century Ottoman despotism from the viewpoint of Western diplomacy. A huge success at the time of publication, this eyewitness account fed the public’s insatiable fascination with the ‘Oriental other’ and challenged the insouciance of Western government. The memoirs follow the Turkish state’s metamorphosis from an agrarian society to a military power, a transformation overseen by Tott, who was highly involved in these military reforms.
A military engineer as well as a diplomat, Tott began writing his memoirs in 1767, the year he became the French consul to the Crimean Tatar Khan. Tott was the most influential of the many self-appointed Western ‘cultural mediators’ that flooded to Istanbul as part of the clan interventionniste in the late eighteenth century. Many Europeans acted as agents or double agents during the conflict, Tott included. His explicit mission was to relay information on the French Trading posts, whilst in secret his task was to encourage the Ottomans to go to war with Russia over Poland. It is clear that Tott felt a sympathy towards the Ottomans, so much so that Voltaire described him as the ‘protector of Moustapha and the Koran’. Nonetheless, Tott was popular among the French as his memoirs were both informative and very entertaining. He had initally travelled east to defend the Dardanelles but he remained to teach the Ottomans how to use artillery and his involvement was crucial in the country’s militarisation.
A nineteenth century biographer, J.C.F Hoefer credits him with ‘dispelling with exactitude, and often with impartiality, the European Myths of the Ottoman empire’. These memoirs were the first eye witness account to be published on the Ottomans, and the conflict over ideology and governance that Tott explores was not only fascinating to the French populus, but also contradictory to the staunch ‘studied ignorance’ of European government. At the time, William Pitt the Younger remained seemingly unbothered by the events of the Ottoman empire despite the despotism that had enveloped it, mainly because of the decline in the Levant trade and the pro-Russian party that resided there.
‘Tott abhorred what he described as the stupidity and cupidity of the Ottoman officer corps, and was contemputous of the quality of the rank and file... Tott’s Memoirs were a phenomenal success partly because such adventures suited the tasetes of a rapidly expanding reading public in Europe. They cap a century of fictional fascination with the East’ (Virginia Aksan, ‘Breaking the Spell of the Baron de Tott: Reframing the Question of Military Reform in the Ottoman Empire, 1760-1830’, in The International History Reform, Vol. 24, no. 2, June 2002, pp. 253-277).
First published by the Robinsons in London in 1785 with a second London edition in the following year (see ESTC t121379 and t110203).

ESTC t131597 at BL, Cambridge, NLI, Oxford, Bristol, Cleveland, New York Historical Society and Washington University.

Keywords: Travel
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