Moorish Character - Form of Devotion - Meals - Revenue - Poll-tax on the Jews - Royal Carriages - Ostrich-riding - Public Schools - Watch-dogs.


The established religion of the Moors is Mahometan. Formerly, as well as at present, women were considered by the Moors as the mere objects of sensuality, and only esteemed while in full bloom. At the age of thirty, or at most forty, they were looked upon as an inferior order of beings, and doomed to the most abject and insupportable slavery: indeed, the latter circumstance still exists, though considerably mitigated. No wonder then that the doctrine of Mahomet should be cordially embraced by a people with whose inclinations it so exactly coincided. But that part only was adopted, which indulged them in the gratification of their wishes; that which imposed restraint was renounced, or only nominally acceded to. And fortunate it certainly is for the security of the neighbouring countries that they did so; as, when formerly they were inured from infancy to all the hardships of a warlike life, and possessed much skill in war, they were undoubtedly very formidable; but since their conversion to Mahometanism, they have gradually become inactive, and their natural passion for war and conquest has changed to absolute effeminacy. The illiterate system of the Moors has also completely shut the door against the arts and sciences, and all knowledge of the value of a free and secure commerce. Yet, notwithstanding this people are no longer either in appearance or reality those fierce barbarians they once were, nor can their actions in point of valour bear any comparison with those of their ancestors, like them they retain a most inveterate antipathy to all Christians; and a propensity towards cruelty, revenge, rapine, and murder, still continues to form one of the most prominent features of their character. However, under the comparatively mild government of the present Emperor, their behaviour towards Christians has visibly undergone a favourable change, which would almost persuade some to indulge a hope of the entire annihilation of their aversion; but I am sorry to add, that I am not so sanguine, as from accurate observation I have been led to conclude, that nothing but an immense length of time can overcome their habitual prejudices and constitutional inclinations.

The male inhabitants of these states are obliged to attend their places of public worship four times in the course of twenty-four hours. The first prayer begins about half an hour before sun-rising, and is so regulated that they may, just as the sun rises, finish eight adorations. They pray again at noon, at sun-set, and at midnight: they are very fervent in their devotions, and always turn their faces towards the east: they fast three times in a year; the first time thirty days, the next nine, and the last seven: during these fasts they abstain from beans, garlic, and some other pulse and vegetables. They call the Almighty, God of Gods, and Lord of Lords; and they all believe that the souls of wicked men will be punished till a certain period, when they will be received to mercy.

In the morning, after prayer, they drink strong tea, which they prefer to coffee. At eleven o'clock they, go to dinner, which consists of fruits, sweetmeats, and their favourite cous-ca-sou, piled up in a large wooden bowl. Their chief meal is after their return from evening prayer. They eat cakes made of fine wheaten flour; and as they consider it a crime to cut bread or meat of any kind after it is dressed, these cakes are made so thin that they may be easily broken with the hands; and their meat, which is generally mutton or fowls, is so prepared that they can without difficulty separate it from the bones with their fingers. They sit cross-legged upon cushions, and devour their food very greedily and without the least ceremony. Although sobriety is strictly enjoined by the Mahometan law, yet the Moorish inhabitants of the principal towns in Barbary make free with most excellent wines and spirits of their own manufacture.

The revenues of the Emperor have of late augmented prodigiously. He receives a tenth part of all the property of his Mahometan subjects; and he compels every Jew residing in his dominions to pay a poll-tax of six crowns annually. The number of Israelites subject to the Emperor of Morocco exceeds one hundred thousand. They are strictly guarded, and cruelly oppressed, and are not permitted to quit the states without a special leave from the Emperor, to obtain which they are obliged to pay down a large sum of money.

The authority of the Emperor is unlimited, as is that of his Governors, who possess a power of life and death. No rank nor condition of Moors is exempt from taxation, excepting the immediate princes of the blood, and the Xeriffes, which are the only degrees of nobility the Moors have. The Xeriffes are the descendants of their monarchs, and their titles are hereditary: but the title of Sheik is temporary; so that the respect paid to the Sheiks on account of their high situations expires with them.

Coaches, carriages, and palanquins are used only by the Emperor. I have seen some, both here and at Fez, which are really elegant; they are for the use of his ladies when they go to spend the day in any of the Imperial gardens. The Emperor has several very handsome chariots, in one of which he usually rides, drawn by six mules. The Moors ride on horseback, attended by a number of slaves or soldiers, according to their rank and wealth.

The princes of the blood and Xeriffes are not allowed to interfere in any political or public business, and are never consulted in state affairs. They are generally provided for, with sinecure places to support their rank, but many of these are too small to enable them to do so. The several Governors of provinces have each a large tract of land; and the tax collected from the venders and buyers in the weekly markets in their districts is also appropriated by them to defray the charges of their retinue and troops. From the vast crown lands in this country, the Emperor obtains sufficient for the expenses of the court, household, and great officers of state; from which circumstance, and what I have before said of his revenues, it is evident that his coffers must be most abundantly supplied, and his annual saving in ordinary cases very great. A detachment of troops from each province is sent every three months to collect the tributes, which are levied with the most unrelenting rigour. There are some vestiges of the Caliphate government still remaining; for in places where no military officer resides, the Mufti, or high-priest, is the fountain of all justice; he collects the tributes, and under him the Cadis or civil officers act in the same manner as our justices of the peace.

The general language of the country is Arabic; but in the inland countries, in the provinces of Suz, Tafilet, and Gessula, the ancient African language is still spoken. Those remote districts are now under the sovereignty of the Emperor of Morocco; but I am told they contain nothing particularly curious, except an immense number of pelicans and ostriches, the latter so strong as to be able to carry a man upon their backs. I one day saw a Moor riding in a court here upon one, which he had got from those parts, and tamed for. show.

The Moors write in the manner of the Hebrew language, from right to left; they are wonderfully expeditious in it, and their seals are very neat. Public schools have lately been established in all the towns and villages of these states; but, as the children are taught by their priests, a set of superstitious and fanatic people, no great benefit, to change or improve their manners, can accrue from such an institution.

I believe, in a former letter I told you that the peasantry reside in tents; I have however observed a few huts built of clay, but very few. In the centre of both the huts and tents, there is a hole dug in the ground, where they make a fire, with an outlet in the roof to vent the smoke. They generally burn wood, or a species of charcoal, in the preparation of which they contrive to deprive it of the baneful effects usually experienced from the use of it in England. They have mats spread round the fire, upon which they sit in the day, and sleep at night. They are so parsimonious, that they live the greater part of the year on fruit, vegetables, and fish, though they supply the markets with abundance of fowls (of which they rear immense numbers), butter, &c. &c. Their chief defence at night is their dogs; each tent is provided with one, and they are so vigilant, that they give instant notice of the approach of intruders; and when the alarm is communicated to the whole of them, it is scarcely possible to conceive the effect. The habit of the peasantry is the same both winter and summer, and consists of a thick garment (frequently old and tattered), a short capote, a greasy turban, and a pair of yellow slippers. They sometimes throw round them a coarse white haik, which also serves for a bed and covering in the night, as many of them lie upon the bare ground in the open air before their tents.

In my next I shall give you a short sketch of the produce of this fertile country.