Come and listen to my story about a man named Bey, A rich Persian man who went to France...ey. He met with the king, made some deals and went home; and now I'm gonna tell you about it....um....what rhymes with 'home', but means 'here'?
My apologies to Flatt and Scruggs. (you know, Lester Flatt....Earl Scruggs? musicians? wrote 'The Ballad of Jed Clampet'? theme to the Beverly Hillbillies? Foggy Mountain Breakdown?)
Whatever. Just pay attention here. Because, I'm going to play a game with you. How many of you remember this game? For me, it was called 'The Telephone Game', but I know others call it something different. It's where someone whispers a sentence into someones ear, and that person whispers it to the next person, who whispers it to the next person, and so on, and so on, and so on. Then, the last person repeats what they were told, and the first person states what the actual sentence was.
No matter what you call the game, that's what we're playing today. Except, you don;t get to play. And, well.....neither do I, really. What I get to do, though, is tell you about one of the best examples of the telephone game effect from history.
That's right, I'm going to tell you two stories. And, the two stories are actually the same story. Except, one is the truth, and one is the result of the story being passed from person to person, until finally, it was published in a book as fact.
Let's begin, shall we? This is the story of the man pictured above. At least, historians think that's him. He was a muslim, and back when he lived, muslims didn't allow their portraits to be painted, as it was against their religion. (idolatry, you know). His name was Mohammed Reza Bey. (some say Beg)
Bey was a high ranking member of the staff of the Persian governor to the Erivan Province. (today's Armenia). He was selected by Shah Hussein to be his official envoy to the royal court of King Louis XIV, and he arrived in Paris in February of 1715.
As was the custom for the Persians at the time, he travelled in grand style. And upon being presented to the king, he showered him with gifts from the Shah. In return, the king gave many gifts to Bey to take back to Persia with him.
For six months, Bey and Louis discussed things of mutual interest. Things like trade agreements, treaties of friendship, and even the possibility of combined military action against the Ottoman empire. The talks with the king were slow, though. Louis was sick. So, Bey spent a lot of time entertaining himself in Paris. And, how exactly did a Persian ambassador entertain himself in 18th century Paris? The same way everyone else did: with wine, women and song!
Finally, in August of 1715, all their business was completed. Bey left Paris and headed back to make his report to the Shah. As a direct result of Bey's trip, Persia opened up a permanent mission in Marseilles.
And that's the end of story #1. A fairly boring story. Let's fast forward to 1866. That's where story #2 made it's debut in book form. The book was titled 'Humbugs of the World', and it's author was P. T. Barnum. Barnum was well known back then, and chances are, you know who he is today.
Before you say, 'Well, if Barnum published it, we know it wasn't true.'. And, you're right. But, in this case, Barnum didn't know he was tricking the suckers. He thought he was relating a true story. In fact, in the 150 years since Bey left Paris, the story of his visit was passed on from person to person. Just like the telephone game. Here's the story of Beys visit, as Barnum knew it.
In February of 1715, Mohammed Reza Bey made a grand entrance into Paris with a couple of servants and presented himself at the palace at Versailles. After speaking with palace functionaries, he was led into the presence of king Louis XIV where he presented documents from the Shah of Persia naming him as the ambassador to the king.
Bey was presented with a multitude of gifts from the king to take back to the shah. Bey begged for the kings forgiveness as he had no gifts in return. The ship carrying the gifts to the king had been delayed during a stop in Holland. Bey said the ship was expected to catch up shortly, and the king would then be showered with the gifts sent by the shah.
Being the envoy of the shah of the grand Persian empire, Bey was treated like royalty in Paris. France had ambitions, and Persia was the empire to side with if those ambitions were to be fulfilled. As a result, everywhere Bey went, he was showered with gifts. Jewels, gold, fine artwork, anything of incredible value people could come up with, so he could take the treasures back to the shah and win his favor.
Bey, and his two servants, enjoyed the splendors of Paris, and of the palace. They wanted for nothing. And, that included the favors of the many women of the court. Persians were exotic, and even the servants were seen as desirable by the female courtiers. (some of the male ones, as well).
After a couple of weeks, Bey again made apologies to the king for not having any gifts. He didn't understand where the ship was, and he informed the king that he had sent one of his servants to the port in Holland to discover what had happened. If all went well, it would be just a short time before the gifts arrived.
While they waited, negotiations were held, and treaties were signed.
After a couple of weeks, the servant Bey had sent, returned. He bore dire news. The original ship had sailed the day after Bey had left, but it never showed up at the destination. There had been a severe storm, and it was feared the ship was lost.
Bey was visibly distressed. He had accepted all these gifts, partaken in the unfettered hospitality of his host, and now had nothing to give in return. The servant, seeing his masters distress, informed him that he had taken it upon himself to contact the local Persian merchants in Holland, and explained to them the predicament. Knowing the honor of the Persian empire was at stake, and also knowing they would be greatly rewarded by the shah, the merchants were loading a second ship with gifts, and it would be arriving in port within a week.
The king, knowing the lost gifts weren't Beys fault was gracious. He said that the friendship between France and Persia was strong enough to survive a lost ship of gifts, and that whatever the merchants could improvise would be good enough for the king.
Bey expressed immense gratitude. He stated that the benevolence of the French king was beyond all measure, and surely, France would make the perfect ally for Persia. He also said that, given the circumstances, the shah would be most willing to give over a port city in the Persian Gulf to France in return for their generosity.
This elicited a second round of gifts to the Persian ambassador. This time, the gifts included the kings personal favorite set of diamonds from the royal jewels.
Banquets were held, and parties were thrown. Bey and his servants were treated with renewed welcomes, and more gifts from the nobles.
And, true to the servants word, three days later, Bey went to the king and informed him that the gifts had arrived. They were being held in a warehouse and Bey and his servants would spend the next day going through the gifts, sorting them, and then return the day after to present them to the king. The king was overjoyed.
The next day, preparations were made in the palace to receive the lavish gifts from the Persian ambassador. A banquet more splendid than any thrown so far was prepared. All the nobility of Paris was invited.
Finally, on the morning of the day the gifts were to be delivered, Louis and his entire court were anxiously awaiting Bey. And they waited. And waited. And waited. Finally, the king sent someone to check on Bey and see if there was something wrong.
The person returned to say that Bey, and his servants were gone. He tried to find which warehouse the gifts had been delivered to, but could find no one who knew anything about it.
The search was on.
It seems that, very early in the morning on the day when Bey was supposedly sorting his gifts, three men, with many horses packed with luggage, left town about sunrise. The three men fit the description of Bey and his servants.
Men were sent to catch Bey, but he, nor his men, were ever seen again. The king sent a formal protest to the shah complaining about the ambassador he sent, and how he made off in the night with all the gifts intended for the shah. The shah replied that he had no idea what the king was talking about. He had sent no ambassador, and knew no one named Mohammed Reza Bey.
You have to admit, this second version was a lot better than the first, right? But, by the time Barnum heard the story, everyone thought the second version was the true one.
We know from historical documents, however, that the first version is the truth. So, how did the second version come to be?
It appears that not everyone was enamored with Bey. Louis Phelypeaux, comte de Pontchartrain, didn't like him. He started spreading rumors about Bey. Rumors like, Bey borrowed much money and paid none back, how he fathered several children, how he would take favors from women when they weren't offered.
Salacious stories will always prevail over the truth. As time went on and as people retold the story, it evolved into the version that Barnum published 150 years after the fact. And, at the time, everyone knew it to be the truth. Because everyone said it was.
TL;DR - Don't believe everything you hear. While some people won't purposely lie to you, they may spin the truth to make it more enticing. I try not to do that in my oddities posts. But, I can't spend all my time doing research, so sometimes, an incorrect tidbit may slip through. I don't do it intentionally, though.
So, next time someone leans over and says, 'You know what I heard about the new guy?', take it with a grain of salt.
Although, if the second story was true.....that would be a pair of gigantic brass cajones!