In 1782, Mozart’s The Abduction from the Seraglio, showed a lovelorn European youth comically incapable of rescuing his girlfriend from the harem of an Ottoman official, who, however, generously allowed the lovers to go free. Turks could outfox Europeans in cunning and exceed them in generosity. Turkey was often cited as a model for Enlightenment Europe to follow in hygiene, education and charitable institutions, and generally in what a late seventeenth-century traveller praised as their ‘order … economy and the regulation of provisions’. Well-informed observers of Turkey commended the Ottomans for religious toleration, respect for laws, customs and property rights, and for benevolence toward minorities – the very virtues that some political philosophers of the Enlightenment thought that Europe lacked.
In England, respect for the Ottomans already had a long tradition. James Mather’s intricate and entertaining study of English merchants in the Empire – especially in Aleppo, Alexandria, and Constantinople from the sixteenth century to the nineteenth – is hugely helpful in making that tradition intelligible and explaining