“Mr. Pepys and The Turk” is SPECHEL’s first inroad into publication. In line
with the mission embodied in its name, this book and subsequent publications
will be available in ebook and print-on-demand form, making it considerably
more accessible than if it were solely a physical object.
“Mr Pepys and Turk” tells of English popular notions of the “Turk” through
history, centring upon the diary entries of civil servant Samuel Pepys
(1633-1703) and the street ballads which he loved to collect. The author’s
fascination with this subject stems from his dual life as an academic/folk singer,
but also from having lived and worked most of his adult life in Hungary’s only
city with two domed mosques, a minaret and other Turkish remains. Hungary is
a country where the Turk gets bad press through incomplete and biased formal
education and popular conception, yet one of the most charming children’s
rhymes of which (included here in the author’s translation) features Mehmet the
Unlike Hungary, England was not invaded by the Turk, unless you count a very brief visit to the Cornish coast, the only surviving trace of which is England’s oldest public house called “The Turk’s Head”. Yet popular misconceptions abound in both cultures through various media, including a seventeenth-century English street ballad about a battle in Hungary between the European forces and the Ottoman Empire.
Here, then, is the “Turk”, not a historical man but a popular concept – lustful, terrible, but also poor and innocent as English popular notions fashion and refashion him through time and perspective.