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Vambery, Armin

VAMBERY, ARMIN (1832- ), Hungarian Orientalist and traveller, was born of humble parentage at Duna-Szerdahely, a village on the island of Shiitt, in the Danube, on the 19th of March 1832. He was educated at the village school until the age of twelve, and owing to congenital lameness had to walk with crutches. At an early age he showed remarkable aptitude for acquiring languages, but straitened circumstances compelled him to earn his own living. After being for a short time apprentice to a ladies' tailor, he became tutor to an innkeeper's son. He next entered the untergymnasium of St Georgen, and proceeded thence to Pressburg. Meanwhile he supported himself by teaching on a very small scale, but his progress was such that at sixteen he had a good knowledge of Hungarian, Latin, French and German, and was rapidly acquiring English and the Scandinavian languages, and also Russian, Servian and other Slavonic tongues. At the age of twenty he had obtained sufficient knowledge of Turkish to lead him to go to Constantinople, where he set up as teacher of European languages, and shortly afterwards became a tutor in the house of Pasha Hussein Daim. Under the influence of his friend and instructor, the Mollah Ahmed Effendi, he became, nominally at least, a full Osmanli, and entering the Turkish service, was afterwards secretary to Fuad Pasha. After spending six years in Constantinople, where he published a Turkish-German Dictionary and various linguistic works, and where he acquired some twenty Oriental languages and dialects, he visited Teheran; and then, disguised as a dervish, joined a band of pilgrims from Mecca, and spent several months with them in rough and squalid travel through the deserts of Asia. He succeeded in maintaining his disguise, and on arriving at Khiva went safely through two audiences of the khan. Passing Bokhara, they reached Samarkand, where the emir, whose suspicions were aroused, kept him in audience for a full half-hour; but he stood the test so well that the emir was not only pleased with " Resid Effendi" (Vambery 's assumed name), but gave him handsome presents. He then reluctantly turned back by way of Herat, where he took leave of the dervishes, and returned with a caravan to Teheran, and subsequently, in March 1864, through Trebizond and Erzerum to Constantinople. By the advice of Prokesch-Osten and Eotvos, he paid a visit in the following June to London; there his daring adventures and linguistic triumphs made him the lion of the day. In the same year he published his Travels in Central Asia. In connexion with this work it must be remembered that Vambery could write down but a few furtive notes while with the dervishes, and dared not take a single sketch; but the weird scenes, with their misery and suffering, were so strongly impressed on his memory that his book is convincing by its simplicity, directness and evidence of heroic endurance. Vambery also called the attention of politicians to the movements of Russia in Central Asia, and aroused much general interest in that question. From London he went to Paris, and he notes in his Autobiography that the Parisians were much more interested in his strange manner of travelling than in the travels themselves. He had an interview with Napoleon III., who failed to impress him " as the great man which the world in general considers him." Returning to Hungary, he was appointed professor of Oriental languages in the university of Budapest: there he settled down, contributing largely to periodicals, and publishing a number of books, chiefly in German and Hungarian. His travels have been translated into many languages, and his Autobiography was written in English. Amongst the best known of his works, besides those alluded to, are Wanderings and Adventures in Persia (1867); Sketches of Central Asia (1868); History oj Bokhara (1873); Manners in Oriental Countries (1876); Primitive Civilization of the Turko-Tatar People (1879); Origin of the Magyars (1882); The Turkish People (1885); and Western Culture in Eastern Lands (1906).

Note - this article incorporates content from Encyclopaedia Britannica, Eleventh Edition, (1910-1911)

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