Story type: Essay
It is falsely charged upon itself by this age, in its character of censor morum, that effeminacy in a practical sense lies either amongst its full-blown faults, or amongst its lurking tendencies. A rich, a polished, a refined age, may, by mere necessity of inference, be presumed to be a luxurious one; and the usual principle, by which moves the whole trivial philosophy which speculates upon the character of a particular age or a particular nation, is first of all to adopt some one central idea of its characteristics, and then without further effort to pursue its integration; that is, having assumed (or, suppose even having demonstrated) the existence of some great influential quality in excess sufficient to overthrow the apparent equilibrium demanded by the common standards of a just national character, the speculator then proceeds, as in a matter of acknowledged right, to push this predominant quality into all its consequences, and all its closest affinities. To give one illustration of such a case, now perhaps beginning to be forgotten: Somewhere about the year 1755, the once celebrated Dr. Brown, after other little attempts in literature and paradox, took up the conceit that England was ruined at her heart’s core by excess of luxury and sensual self-indulgence. He had persuaded himself that the ancient activities and energies of the country were sapped by long habits of indolence, and by a morbid plethora of enjoyment in every class. Courage, and the old fiery spirit of the people, had gone to wreck with the physical qualities which had sustained them. Even the faults of the public mind had given way under its new complexion of character; ambition and civil dissension were extinct. It was questionable whether a good hearty assault and battery, or a respectable knock-down blow, had been dealt by any man in London for one or two generations. The doctor carried his reveries so far, that he even satisfied himself and one or two friends (probably by looking into the parks at hours propitious to his hypothesis) that horses were seldom or ever used for riding; that, in fact, this accomplishment was too boisterous or too perilous for the gentle propensities of modern Britons; and that, by the best accounts, few men of rank or fashion were now seen on horseback. This pleasant collection of dreams did Doctor Brown solemnly propound to the English public, in two octavo volumes, under the title of “An Estimate of the Manners and Principles of the Times;” and the report of many who lived in those days assures us that for a brief period the book had a prodigious run. In some respects the doctor’s conceits might seem too startling and extravagant; but, to balance that, every nation has some pleasure in being heartily abused by one of its own number; and the English nation has always had a special delight in being alarmed, and in being clearly convinced that it is and ought to be on the brink of ruin. With such advantages in the worthy doctor’s favor, he might have kept the field until some newer extravaganza had made his own obsolete, had not one ugly turn in political affairs given so smashing a refutation to his practical conclusions, and called forth so sudden a rebound of public feeling in the very opposite direction, that a bomb- shell descending right through the whole impression of his book could not more summarily have laid a chancery “injunction” upon its further sale. This arose under the brilliant administration of the first Mr. Pitt: England was suddenly victorious in three quarters of the globe; land and sea echoed to the voice of her triumphs; and the poor Doctor Brown, in the midst of all this hubbub, cut his own throat with his own razor. Whether this dismal catastrophe were exactly due to his mortification as a baffled visionary, whose favorite conceit had suddenly exploded like a rocket into smoke and stench, is more than we know. But, at all events, the sole memorial of his hypothesis which now reminds the English reader that it ever existed is one solitary notice of good-humored satire pointed at it by Cowper.
[Footnote: “The Inestimable Estimate of Brown.” ]
And the possibility of such exceeding folly in a man otherwise of good sense and judgment, not depraved by any brain-fever or enthusiastic infatuation, is to be found in the vicious process of reasoning applied to such estimates; the doctor, having taken up one novel idea of the national character, proceeded afterwards by no tentative inquiries, or comparison with actual facts and phenomena of daily experience, but resolutely developed out of his one idea all that it appeared analytically to involve; and postulated audaciously as a solemn fact whatsoever could be exhibited in any possible connection with his one central principle, whether in the way of consequence or of affinity.
Pretty much upon this unhappy Brunonian mode of deducing our national character, it is a very plausible speculation, which has been and will again be chanted, that we, being a luxurious nation, must by force of good logical dependency be liable to many derivative taints and infirmities which ought of necessity to besiege the blood of nations in that predicament. All enterprise and spirit of adventure, all heroism and courting of danger for its own attractions, ought naturally to languish in a generation enervated by early habits of personal indulgence. Doubtless they ought; a priori, it seems strictly demonstrable that such consequences should follow. Upon the purest forms of inference in Barbara or Celarent, it can be shown satisfactorily that from all our tainted classes, a fortiori then from our most tainted classes–our men of fashion and of opulent fortunes–no description of animal can possibly arise but poltroons and faineans. In fact, pretty generally, under the known circumstances of our modern English education and of our social habits, we ought, in obedience to all the precognita of our position, to show ourselves rank cowards; yet, in spite of so much excellent logic, the facts are otherwise. No age has shown in its young patricians a more heroic disdain of sedentary ease; none in a martial support of liberty or national independence has so gayly volunteered upon services the most desperate, or shrunk less from martyrdom on the field of battle, whenever there was hope to invite their disinterested exertions, or grandeur enough in the cause to sustain them. Which of us forgets the gallant Mellish, the frank and the generous, who reconciled himself so gayly to the loss of a splendid fortune, and from the very bosom of luxury suddenly precipitated himself upon the hardships of Peninsular warfare? Which of us forgets the adventurous Lee of Lime, whom a princely estate could not detain in early youth from courting perils in Nubia and Abyssinia, nor (immediately upon his return) from almost wooing death as a volunteer aide-de-camp to the Duke of Wellington at Waterloo? So again of Colonel Evans, who, after losing a fine estate long held out to his hopes, five times over put himself at the head of forlorn hopes. Such cases are memorable, and were conspicuous at the time, from the lustre of wealth and high connections which surrounded the parties; but many thousand others, in which the sacrifices of personal ease were less noticeable from their narrower scale of splendor, had equal merit for the cheerfulness with which those sacrifices were made.
[Footnote: History of the Greek Revolution, by Thomas Gordon. ]
Here, again, in the person of the author before us, we have another instance of noble and disinterested heroism, which, from the magnitude of the sacrifices that it involved, must place him in the same class as the Mellishes and the Lees. This gallant Scotsman, who was born in 1788, or 1789, lost his father in early life. Inheriting from him a good estate in Aberdeenshire, and one more considerable in Jamaica, he found himself, at the close of a long minority, in the possession of a commanding fortune. Under the vigilant care of a sagacious mother, Mr. Gordon received the very amplest advantages of a finished education, studying first at the University of Aberdeen, and afterwards for two years at Oxford; whilst he had previously enjoyed as a boy the benefits of a private tutor from Oxford. Whatever might be the immediate result from this careful tuition, Mr. Gordon has since completed his own education in the most comprehensive manner, and has carried his accomplishments as a linguist to a point of rare excellence. Sweden and Portugal excepted, we understand that he has personally visited every country in Europe. He has travelled also in Asiatic Turkey, in Persia, and in Barbary. From this personal residence in foreign countries, we understand that Mr. Gordon has obtained an absolute mastery over certain modern languages, especially the French, the Italian, the modern Greek, and the Turkish.
[Footnote: Mr. Gordon is privately known to be the translator of the work written by a Turkish minister, “Tchebi Effendi” published in the Appendix to Wilkinson’s Wallachia, and frequently referred to by the Quarterly Review in its notices of Oriental affairs. ]
Not content, however, with this extensive education in a literary sense, Mr. Gordon thought proper to prepare himself for the part which he meditated in public life, by a second, or military education, in two separate services;–first, in the British, where he served in the Greys, and in the forty-third regiment; and subsequently, during the campaign of 1813, as a captain on the Russian staff.
Thus brilliantly accomplished for conferring lustre and benefit upon any cause which he might adopt amongst the many revolutionary movements then continually emerging in Southern Europe, he finally carried the whole weight of his great talents, prudence, and energy, together with the unlimited command of his purse, to the service of Greece in her heroic struggle with the Sultan. At what point his services and his countenance were appreciated by the ruling persons in Greece, will be best collected from the accompanying letter, translated from the original, in modern Greek, addressed to him by the provisional government of Greece, in 1822. It will be seen that this official document notices with great sorrow Mr. Gordon’s absence from Greece, and with some surprise, as a fact at that time unexplained and mysterious; but the simple explanation of this mystery was, that Mr. Gordon had been brought to the very brink of the grave by a contagious fever, at Tripolizza, and that his native air was found essential to his restoration. Subsequently, however, he returned, and rendered the most powerful services to Greece, until the war was brought to a close, as much almost by Turkish exhaustion, as by the armed interference of the three great conquerors of Navarino.
“The government of Greece to the SIGNOR GORDON, a man worthy of all admiration, and a friend of the Grecians, health and prosperity.
“It was not possible, most excellent sir, nor was it a thing endurable to the descendants of the Grecians, that they should be deprived any longer of those imprescriptible rights which belong to the inheritance of their birth–rights which a barbarian of a foreign soil, an anti- christian tyrant, issuing from the depths of Asia, seized upon with a robber’s hand, and, lawlessly trampling under foot, administered up to this time the affairs of Greece, after his own lust and will. Needs it was that we, sooner or later, shattering this iron and heavy sceptre, should recover, at the price of life itself (if that were found necessary), our patrimonial heritage, that thus our people might again be gathered to the family of free and self-legislating states. Moving, then, under such impulses, the people of Greece advanced with one heart, and perfect unanimity of council, against an oppressive despotism, putting their hands to an enterprise beset with difficulties, and hard indeed to be achieved, yet, in our present circumstances, if any one thing in this life, most indispensable. This, then, is the second year which we are passing since we have begun to move in this glorious contest, once again struggling, to all appearance, upon unequal terms, but grasping our enterprise with the right hand and the left, and with all our might stretching forward to the objects before us.
“It was the hope of Greece that, in these seasons of emergency, she would not fail of help and earnest resort of friends from the Christian nations throughout Europe. For it was agreeable neither to humanity nor to piety, that the rights of nations, liable to no grudges of malice or scruples of jealousy, should be surreptitiously and wickedly filched away, or mocked with outrage and insult; but that they should be settled firmly on those foundations which Nature herself has furnished in abundance to the condition of man in society. However, so it was, that Greece, cherishing these most reasonable expectations, met with most unmerited disappointments.
“But you, noble and generous Englishman, no sooner heard the trumpet of popular rights echoing melodiously from the summits of Taygetus, of Ida, of Pindus, and of Olympus, than, turning with listening ears to the sound, and immediately renouncing the delights of country, of family ties, and (what is above all) of domestic luxury and ease, and the happiness of your own fireside, you hurried to our assistance. But suddenly, and in contradiction to the universal hope of Greece, by leaving us, you have thrown us all into great perplexity and amazement, and that at a crisis when some were applying their minds to military pursuits, some to the establishment of a civil administration, others to other objects, but all alike were hurrying and exerting themselves wherever circumstances seemed to invite them.
“Meantime, the government of Greece having heard many idle rumors and unauthorized tales disseminated, but such as seemed neither in correspondence with their opinion of your own native nobility from rank and family, nor with what was due to the newly-instituted administration, have slighted and turned a deaf ear to them all, coming to this resolution–that, in absenting yourself from Greece, you are doubtless obeying some strong necessity; for that it is not possible nor credible of a man such as you displayed yourself to be whilst living amongst us, that he should mean to insult the wretched–least of all, to insult the unhappy and much-suffering people of Greece. Under these circumstances, both the deliberative and the executive bodies of the Grecian government, assembling separately, have come to a resolution, without one dissentient voice, to invite you back to Greece, in order that you may again take a share in the Grecian contest–a contest in itself glorious, and not alien from your character and pursuits. For the liberty of any one nation cannot be a matter altogether indifferent to the rest, but naturally it is a common and diffusive interest; and nothing can be more reasonable than that the Englishman and the Grecian, in such a cause, should make themselves yoke-fellows, and should participate as brothers in so holy a struggle. Therefore, the Grecian government hastens, by this present distinguished expression of its regard, to invite you to the soil of Greece, a soil united by such tender memorials with yourself; confident that you, preferring glorious poverty and the hard living of Greece to the luxury and indolence of an obscure seclusion, will hasten your return to Greece, agreeably to your native character, restoring to us our valued English connection. Farewell!
“The Vice-president of the Executive,
“The Chief-Secretary, Minister of Foreign Relations, NEGENZZ.”
Since then, having in 1817 connected himself in marriage with a beautiful young lady of Armenian Greek extraction, and having purchased land and built a house in Argos, Mr. Gordon may be considered in some sense as a Grecian citizen. Services in the field having now for some years been no longer called for, he has exchanged his patriotic sword for a patriotic pen–judging rightly that in no way so effectually can Greece be served at this time with Western Europe, as by recording faithfully the course of her revolution, tracing the difficulties which lay or which arose in her path, the heroism with which she surmounted them, and the multiplied errors by which she raised up others to herself. Mr. Gordon, of forty authors who have partially treated this theme, is the first who can be considered either impartial or comprehensive; and upon his authority, not seldom using his words, we shall now present to our readers the first continuous abstract of this most interesting and romantic war:
GREECE, in the largest extent of that term, having once belonged to the Byzantine empire, is included, by the misconception of hasty readers, in the great wreck of 1453. They take it for granted that, concurrently with Constantinople, and the districts adjacent, these provinces passed at that disastrous era into the hands of the Turkish conqueror; but this is an error. Parts of Greece, previously to that era, had been dismembered from the Eastern empire;–other parts did not, until long after it, share a common fate with the metropolis. Venice had a deep interest in the Morea; in that, and for that, she fought with various success for generations; and it was not until the year 1717, nearly three centuries from the establishment of the crescent in Europe, that “the banner of St. Mark, driven finally from the Morea and the Archipelago,” was henceforth exiled (as respected Greece) to the Ionian Islands.
In these contests, though Greece was the prize at issue, the children of Greece had no natural interest, whether the cross prevailed or the crescent; the same, for all substantial results, was the fate which awaited themselves. The Moslem might be the more intolerant by his maxims, and he might be harsher in his professions; but a slave is not the less a slave, though his master should happen to hold the same creed with himself; and towards a member of the Greek church one who looked westward to Rome for his religion was likely to be little less of a bigot than one who looked to Mecca. So that we are not surprised to find a Venetian rule of policy recommending, for the daily allowance of these Grecian slaves, “a little bread, and a liberal application of the cudgel”! Whichever yoke were established was sure to be hated; and, therefore, it was fortunate for the honor of the Christian name, that from the year 1717 the fears and the enmity of the Greeks were to be henceforward pointed exclusively towards Mahometan tyrants.
To be hated, however, sufficiently for resistance, a yoke must have been long and continuously felt. Fifty years might be necessary to season the Greeks with a knowledge of Turkish oppression; and less than two generations could hardly be supposed to have manured the whole territory with an adequate sense of the wrongs they were enduring, and the withering effects of such wrongs on the sources of public prosperity. Hatred, besides, without hope, is no root out of which an effective resistance can be expected to grow; and fifty years almost had elapsed before a great power had arisen in Europe, having in any capital circumstance a joint interest with Greece, or specially authorized, by visible right and power, to interfere as her protector. The semi-Asiatic power of Russia, from the era of the Czar Peter the Great, had arisen above the horizon with the sudden sweep and splendor of a meteor. The arch described by her ascent was as vast in compass as it was rapid; and, in all history, no political growth, not that of our own Indian empire, had travelled by accelerations of speed so terrifically marked. Not that even Russia could have really grown in strength according to the apparent scale of her progress. The strength was doubtless there, or much of it, before Peter and Catherine; but it was latent: there had been no such sudden growth as people fancied; but there had been a sudden evolution. Infinite resources had been silently accumulating from century to century; but, before the Czar Peter, no mind had come across them of power sufficient to reveal their situation, or to organize them for practical effects. In some nations, the manifestations of power are coincident with its growth; in others, from vicious institutions, a vast crystallization goes on for ages blindly and in silence, which the lamp of some meteoric mind is required to light up into brilliant display. Thus it had been in Russia; and hence, to the abused judgment of all Christendom, she had seemed to leap like Pallas from the brain of Jupiter–gorgeously endowed, and in panoply of civil array, for all purposes of national grandeur, at the fiat of one coarse barbarian. As the metropolitan home of the Greek church, she could not disown a maternal interest in the humblest of the Grecian tribes, holding the same faith with herself, and celebrating their worship by the same rites. This interest she could, at length, venture to express in a tone of sufficient emphasis; and Greece became aware that she could, about the very time when Turkish oppression had begun to unite its victims in aspirations for redemption, and had turned their eyes abroad in search of some great standard under whose shadow they could flock for momentary protection, or for future hope. What cabals were reared upon this condition of things by Russia, and what premature dreams of independence were encouraged throughout Greece in the reign of Catherine II., may be seen amply developed, in the once celebrated work of Mr. William Eton.
Another great circumstance of hope for Greece, coinciding with the dawn of her own earliest impetus in this direction, and travelling puri passu almost with the growth of her mightiest friend, was the advancing decay of her oppressor. The wane of the Turkish crescent had seemed to be in some secret connection of fatal sympathy with the growth of the Russian cross. Perhaps the reader will thank us for rehearsing the main steps by which the Ottoman power had flowed and ebbed. The foundations of this empire were laid in the thirteenth century, by Ortogrul, the chief of a Turkoman tribe, residing in tents not far from Doryleum, in Phrygia (a name so memorable in the early crusades), about the time when Jenghiz had overthrown the Seljukian dynasty. His son Osman first assumed the title of Sultan; and, in 1300, having reduced the city of Prusa, in Bithynia, he made it the capital of his dominions. The Sultans who succeeded him for some generations, all men of vigor, and availing themselves not less of the decrepitude which had by that time begun to palsy the Byzantine sceptre, than of the martial and religious fanaticism which distinguished their own followers, crossed the Hellespont, conquering Thrace and the countries up to the Danube. In 1453, the most eminent of these Sultans, Mahomet II., by storming Constantinople, put an end to the Roman empire; and before his death he placed the Ottoman power in Europe pretty nearly on that basis to which it had again fallen back by 1821. The long interval of time between these two dates involved a memorable flux and reflux of power, and an oscillation between two extremes of panic-striking grandeur, in the ascending scale (insomuch that the Turkish Sultan was supposed to be charged in the Apocalypse with the dissolution of the Christian thrones), and in the descending scale of paralytic dotage tempting its own instant ruin. In speculating on the causes of the extraordinary terror which the Turks once inspired, it is amusing, and illustrative of the revolutions worked by time, to find it imputed, in the first place, to superior discipline; for, if their discipline was imperfect, they had, however, a standing army of Janissaries, whilst the whole of Christian Europe was accustomed to fight merely summer campaigns with hasty and untrained levies; a second cause lay in their superior finances, for the Porte had a regular revenue, when the other powers of Europe relied upon the bounty of their vassals and clergy; and, thirdly, which is the most surprising feature of the whole statement, the Turks were so far ahead of others in the race of improvement, that to them belongs the credit of having first adopted the extensive use of gunpowder, and of having first brought battering- trains against fortified places. To his artillery and his musketry it was that Selim the Ferocious (grandson of that Sultan who took Constantinople) was indebted for his victories in Syria and Egypt. Under Solyman the Magnificent (the well-known contemporary of the Emperor Charles Y.) the crescent is supposed to have attained its utmost altitude; and already for fifty years the causes had been in silent progress which were to throw the preponderance into the Christian scale. In the reign of his son, Selim the Second, this crisis was already passed; and the battle of Lepanto, in 1571, which crippled the Turkish navy in a degree never wholly recovered, gave the first overt signal to Europe of a turn in the course of their prosperity. Still, as this blow did not equally affect the principal arm of their military service, and as the strength of the German empire was too much distracted by Christian rivalship, the prestige of the Turkish name continued almost unbroken until their bloody overthrow in 1664, at St. Gothard, by the imperial General Montecuculi. In 1673 they received another memorable defeat from Sobieski, on which occasion they lost twenty-five thousand men. In what degree, however, the Turkish Samson had been shorn of his original strength, was not yet made known to Europe by any adequate expression, before the great catastrophe of 1683. In that year, at the instigation of the haughty vizier, Kara Mustafa, the Turks had undertaken the siege of Vienna; and great was the alarm of the Christian world. But, on the 12th of September, their army of one hundred and fifty thousand men was totally dispersed by seventy thousand Poles and Germans, under John Sobieski–“He conquering through God, and God by him.”
[Footnote: See the sublime Sonnet of Chiabrora on this subject, as translated by Mr. Wordsworth. ]
Then followed the treaty of Carlovitz, which stripped the Porte of Hungary, the Ukraine, and other places; and “henceforth” says Mr. Gordon, “Europe ceased to dread the Turks; and began even to look upon their existence as a necessary element of the balance of power among its states.” Spite of their losses, however, during the first half of the eighteenth century, the Turks still maintained a respectable attitude against Christendom. But the wars of the Empress Catherine II., and the French invasion of Egypt, demonstrated that either their native vigor was exhausted and superannuated, or, at least, that the institutions were superannuated by which their resources had been so long administered. Accordingly, at the commencement of the present century, the Sultan Selim II. endeavored to reform the military discipline; but in the first collision with the prejudices of his people, and the interest of the Janissaries, he perished by sedition. Mustafa, who succeeded to the throne, in a few months met the same fate. But then (1808) succeeded a prince formed by nature for such struggles,–cool, vigorous, cruel, and intrepid. This was Mahmoud the Second. He perfectly understood the crisis, and determined to pursue the plans of his uncle Selim, even at the hazard of the same fate. Why was it that Turkish soldiers had been made ridiculous in arms, as often as they had met with French troops, who yet were so far from being the best in Christendom, that Egypt herself, and the beaten Turks, had seen them in turn uniformly routed by the British? Physically, the Turks were equal, at the very least, to the French. In what lay their inferiority? Simply in discipline, and in their artillery. And so long as their constitution and discipline continued what they had been, suited (that is) to centuries long past and gone, and to a condition of Christendom obsolete for ages, so long it seemed inevitable that the same disasters should follow the Turkish banners. And to this point, accordingly, the Sultan determined to address his earliest reforms. But caution was necessary; he waited and watched. He seized all opportunities of profiting by the calamities or the embarrassments of his potent neighbors. He put down all open revolt. He sapped the authority of all the great families in Asia Minor, whose hereditary influence could be a counterpoise to his own. Mecca and Medina, the holy cities of his religion, he brought again within the pale of his dominions. He augmented and fostered, as a counterbalancing force to the Janissaries, the corps of the Topjees or artillery-men. He amassed preparatory treasures. And, up to the year 1820, “his government,” says Mr. Gordon, “was highly unpopular; but it was strong, stern, and uniform; and he had certainly removed many impediments to the execution of his ulterior projects.”
Such was the situation of Turkey at the moment when her Grecian vassal prepared to trample on her yoke. In her European territories she reckoned, at the utmost, eight millions of subjects. But these, besides being more or less in a semi-barbarous condition, and scattered over a very wide surface of country, were so much divided by origin, by language, and religion, that, without the support of her Asiatic arm, she could not, according to the general opinion, have stood at all. The rapidity of her descent, it is true, had been arrested by the energy of her Sultans during the first twenty years of the nineteenth century. But for the last thirty of the eighteenth she had made a headlong progress downwards. So utterly, also, were the tables turned, that, whereas in the fifteenth century her chief superiority over Christendom had been in the three points of artillery, discipline, and fixed revenue, precisely in these three she had sunk into utter insignificance, whilst all Christendom had been continually improving. Selim and Mahmoud indeed had made effectual reforms in the corps of gunners, as we have said, and had raised it to the amount of sixty thousand men; so that at present they have respectable field-artillery, whereas previously they had only heavy battering-trains. But the defects in discipline cannot be remedied, so long as the want of a settled revenue obliges the Sultan to rely upon hurried levies from the provincial militias of police. Turkey, however, might be looked upon as still formidable for internal purposes, in the haughty and fanatical character of her Moslem subjects. And we may add, as a concluding circumstance of some interest, in this sketch of her modern condition, that pretty nearly the same European territories as were assigned to the eastern Roman empire at the time of its separation from the western,
[Footnote: “The vitals of the monarchy lay within that vast triangle circumscribed by the Danube, the Save, the Adriatic, Euxine, and Egean Seas, whose altitude may be computed at five hundred, and the length of its base at seven hundred geographical miles.”–GORDON. ]
were included within the frontier line of Turkey, on the first of January, 1821.
Precisely in this year commenced the Grecian revolution. Concurrently with the decay of her oppressor the Sultan, had been the prodigious growth of her patron the Czar. In what degree she looked up to that throne, and the intrigues which had been pursued with a view to that connection, may be seen (as we have already noticed) in Eton’s Turkey– a book which attracted a great deal of notice about thirty years ago. Meantime, besides this secret reliance on Russian countenance or aid, Greece had since that era received great encouragement to revolt from the successful experiment in that direction made by the Turkish province of Servia. In 1800, Czerni George came forward as the asserter of Servian independence, and drove the Ottomans out of that province. Personally he was not finally successful. But his example outlived him; and, after fifteen years’ struggle, Servia (says Mr. Gordon) offered “the unwonted spectacle of a brave and armed Christian nation living under its own laws in the heart of Turkey,” and retaining no memorial of its former servitude, but the payment of a slender and precarious tribute to the Sultan, with a verbal profession of allegiance to his sceptre. Appearances were thus saved to the pride of the haughty Moslem by barren concessions which cost no real sacrifice to the substantially victorious Servian.
Examples, however, are thrown away upon a people utterly degraded by long oppression. And the Greeks were pretty nearly in that condition. “It would, no doubt,” says Mr. Gordon, “be possible to cite a more cruel oppression than that of the Turks towards their Christian subjects, but none so fitted to break men’s spirit.” The Greeks, in fact (under which name are to be understood, not only those who speak Greek, but the Christian Albanians of Roumelia and the Morea, speaking a different language, but united with the Greeks in spiritual obedience to the same church), were, in the emphatic phrase of Mr. Gordon, “the slaves of slaves:” that is to say, not only were they liable to the universal tyranny of the despotic Divan, but “throughout the empire they were in the habitual intercourse of life subjected to vexations, affronts, and exactions, from Mahometans of every rank. Spoiled of their goods, insulted in their religion and domestic honor, they could rarely obtain justice. The slightest flash of courageous resentment brought down swift destruction on their heads; and cringing humility alone enabled them to live in ease, or even in safety.” Stooping under this iron yoke of humiliation, we have reason to wonder that the Greeks preserved sufficient nobility of mind to raise so much as their wishes in the direction of independence. In a condition of abasement, from which a simple act of apostasy was at once sufficient to raise them to honor and wealth, “and from the meanest serfs gathered them to the caste of oppressors,” we ought not to wonder that some of the Greeks should be mean, perfidious, and dissembling, but rather that any (as Mr. Gordon says) “had courage to adhere to their religion, and to eat the bread of affliction.” But noble aspirations are fortunately indestructible in human nature. And in Greece the lamp of independence of spirit had been partially kept alive by the existence of a native militia, to whom the Ottoman government, out of mere necessity, had committed the local defence. These were called Armatoles (or Gendarmerie); their available strength was reckoned by Pouqueville (for the year 1814) at ten thousand men; and, as they were a very effectual little host for maintaining, from age to age, the “true faith militant” of Greece, namely, that a temporary and a disturbed occupation of the best lands in the country did not constitute an absolute conquest on the part of the Moslems, most of whom flocked for security with their families into the stronger towns; and, as their own martial appearance, with arms in their hands, lent a very plausible countenance to their insinuations that they, the Christian Armatoles, were the true bona fide governors and possessors of the land under a Moslem Suzerain; and, as the general spirit of hatred to Turkish insolence was not merely maintained in their own local stations,
[Footnote: Originally, it seems, there were fourteen companies (or capitanerias) settled by imperial diplomas in the mountains of Olympus, Othryx, Pindus, and ita; and distinct appropriations were made by the Divan for their support. Within the Morea, the institution of the Armatoles was never tolerated; but there the same spirit was kept alive by tribes, such as the Mainatts, whose insurmountable advantages of natural position enabled them eternally to baffle the most powerful enemy. ]
but also propagated thence with activity to every part of Greece;–it may be interesting to hear Mr. Gordon’s account of their peculiar composition and habits.
“The Turks,” says he, “from the epoch of Mahommed the Second, did not (unless in Thessaly) generally settle there. Beyond Mount ita, although they seized the best lands, the Mussulman inhabitants were chiefly composed of the garrisons of towns with their families. Finding it impossible to keep in subjection with a small force so many rugged cantons, peopled by a poor and hardy race, and to hold in check the robbers of Albania, the Sultans embraced the same policy which has induced them to court the Greek hierarchy, and respect ecclesiastical property,–by enlisting in their service the armed bands that they could not destroy. When wronged or insulted, these Armatoles threw off their allegiance, infested the roads, and pillaged the country; while such of the peasants as were driven to despair by acts of oppression joined their standard; the term Armatole was then exchanged for that of Klefthis [Kleptes] or Thief, a profession esteemed highly honorable, when it was exercised sword in hand at the expense of the Moslems.
[Footnote: And apparently, we may add, when exercised at the expense of whomsoever at sea. The old Grecian instinct, which Thucydides states so frankly, under which all seafarers were dedicated to spoil as people who courted attack, seems never to have been fully rooted out from the little creeks and naval fastnesses of the Morea, and of some of the Egean islands. Not, perhaps, the mere spirit of wrong and aggression, but some old traditionary conceits and maxims, brought on the great crisis of piracy, which fell under no less terrors than of the triple thunders of the great allies. ]
Even in their quietest mood, these soldiers curbed Turkish tyranny; for, the captains and Christian primates of districts understanding each other, the former, by giving to some of their men a hint to desert and turn Klefts, could easily circumvent Mahometans who came on a mission disagreeable to the latter. The habits and manners of the Armatoles, living among forests and in mountain passes, were necessarily rude and simple: their magnificence consisted in adorning with silver their guns, pistols, and daggers; their amusements, in shooting at a mark, dancing, and singing the exploits of the most celebrated chiefs. Extraordinary activity, and endurance of hardships and fatigue, made them formidable light troops in their native fastnesses; wrapped in shaggy cloaks, they slept on the ground, defying the elements; and the pure mountain air gave them robust health. Such were the warriors that, in the very worst times, kept alive a remnant of Grecian spirit.”
But all these facts of history, or institutions of policy, nay, even the more violent appeals to the national pride in such memorable transactions as the expatriation of the illustrious Suliotes (as also of some eminent predatory chieftains from the Morea), were, after all, no more than indirect excitements of the insurrectionary spirit. If it were possible that any adequate occasion should arise for combining the Greeks in one great movement of resistance, such continued irritations must have the highest value, as keeping alive the national spirit, which must finally be relied on to improve it and to turn it to account; but it was not to be expected that any such local irritations could ever of themselves avail to create an occasion of sufficient magnitude for imposing silence on petty dissensions, and for organizing into any unity of effort a country so splintered and naturally cut into independent chambers as that of Greece. That task, transcending the strength (as might seem) of any real agencies or powers then existing in Greece, was assumed by a mysterious,
[Footnote: Epirus and Acarnania, etc., to the north-west; Roumelia, Thebes, Attica, to the east; the Morea, or Peloponnesus, to the south-west; and the islands so widely dispersed in the Egean, had from position a separate interest over and above their common interest as members of a Christian confederacy. And in the absence of some great representative society, there was no voice commanding enough to merge the local interest in the universal one of Greece. The original (or Philomuse society), which adopted literature for its ostensible object, as a mask to its political designs, expired at Munich in 1807; but not before it had founded a successor more directly political. Hence arose a confusion, under which many of the crowned heads in Europe were judged uncharitably as dissemblers or as traitors to their engagements. They had subscribed to the first society; but they reasonably held that this did not pledge them to another, which, though inheriting the secret purposes of the first, no longer masked or disavowed them. ]
and, in some sense, a fictitious society of corresponding members, styling itself the Heteria. A more astonishing case of mighty effects prepared and carried on to their accomplishment by small means, magnifying their own extent through great zeal and infinite concealment, and artifices the most subtle, is not to be found in history. The secret tribunal of the middle ages is not to be compared with it for the depth and expansion of its combinations, or for the impenetrability of its masque. Nor is there in the whole annals of man a manoeuvre so admirable as that, by which this society, silently effecting its own transfiguration, and recasting as in a crucible its own form, organs, and most essential functions, contrived, by mere force of seasonable silence, or by the very pomp of mystery, to carry over from the first or innoxious model of the Heteria, to its new organization, all those weighty names of kings or princes who would not have given their sanction to any association having political objects, however artfully veiled. The early history of the Heteria is shrouded in the same mystery as the whole course of its political movements. Some suppose that Alexander Maurocordato, ex-Hospodar of Wallachia, during his long exile in Russia, founded it for the promotion of education, about the beginning of the present century. Others ascribe it originally to Riga. At all events, its purposes were purely intellectual in its earliest form. In 1815, in consequence chiefly of the disappointment which the Greeks met with in their dearest hopes from the Congress of Vienna, the Heteria first assumed a political character under the secret influence of Count Capodistria, of Corfu, who, having entered the Russian service as mere private secretary to Admiral Tchitchagoff, in 1812, had, in a space of three years, insinuated himself into the favor of the Czar, so far as to have become his private secretary, and a cabinet minister of Russia. He, however, still masked his final objects under plans of literature and scientific improvement. In deep shades he organized a vast apparatus of agents and apostles; and then retired behind the curtain to watch or to direct the working of his blind machine. It is an evidence of some latent nobility in the Greek character, in the midst of that levity with which all Europe taxes it, that never, except once, were the secrets of the society betrayed; nor was there the least ground for jealousy offered either to the stupid Moslems, in the very centre of whom, and round about them, the conspiracy was daily advancing, or even to the rigorous police of Moscow, where the Heteria had its head-quarters. In the single instance of treachery which occurred, it happened that the Zantiote, who made the discovery to Ali Pacha on a motion of revenge, was himself too slenderly and too vaguely acquainted with the final purposes of the Heteria for effectual mischief, having been fortunately admitted only to its lowest degree of initiation; so that all passed off without injury to the cause, or even personally to any of its supporters. There were, in fact, five degrees in the Heteria. A candidate of the lowest class (styled Adelphoi, or brothers), after a minute examination of his past life and connections, and after taking a dreadful oath, under impressive circumstances, to be faithful in all respects to the society and his afflicted country, and even to assassinate his nearest and dearest relation, if detected in treachery, was instructed only in the general fact that a design was on foot to ameliorate the condition of Greece. The next degree of Systimenoi, or bachelors, who were selected with more anxious discrimination, were informed that this design was to move towards its object by means of a revolution. The third class, called Priests of Eleusis, were chosen from the aristocracy; and to them it was made known that this revolution was near at hand; and, also, that there were in the society higher ranks than their own. The fourth class was that of the prelates; and to this order, which never exceeded the number of one hundred and sixteen, and comprehended the leading men of the nation, the most unreserved information was given upon all the secrets of the Heteria; after which they were severally appointed to a particular district, as superintendent of its interests, and as manager of the whole correspondence on its concerns with the Grand Arch. This, the crowning order and key-stone of the society, was reputed to comprehend sixteen “mysterious and illustrious names,” amongst which were obscurely whispered those of the Czar, the Crown Prince of Bavaria and of Wurtemburg, of the Hospodar of Wallachia, of Count Capodistria, and some others. The orders of the Grand Arch were written in cipher, and bore a seal having in sixteen compartments the same number of initial letters. The revenue which it commanded must have been considerable; for the lowest member, on his noviciate, was expected to give at least fifty piastres (at this time about two pounds sterling); and those of the higher degrees gave from three hundred to one thousand each. The members communicated with each other, in mixed society, by masonic signs.
It cannot be denied that a secret society, with the grand and almost awful purposes of the Heteria, spite of some taint which it had received in its early stages from the spirit of German mummery, is fitted to fill the imagination, and to command homage from the coldest. Whispers circulating from mouth to mouth of some vast conspiracy mining subterraneously beneath the very feet of their accursed oppressors; whispers of a great deliverer at hand, whose mysterious Labarum, or mighty banner of the Cross, was already dimly descried through northern mists, and whose eagles were already scenting the carnage and “savor of death” from innumerable hosts of Moslems; whispers of a revolution which was again to call, as with the trumpet of resurrection, from the grave, the land of Timoleon and Epaminondas; such were the preludings, low and deep, to the tempestuous overture of revolt and patriotic battle which now ran through every nook of Greece, and caused every ear to tingle.
The knowledge that this mighty cause must be sowed in dishonor,– propagated, that is, in respect to the knowledge of its plans, by redoubled cringings to their brutal masters, in order to shield it from suspicion,–but that it would probably be reaped in honor; the belief that the poor Grecian, so abject and trampled under foot, would soon reappear amongst the nations who had a name, in something of his original beauty and power; these dim but elevating perceptions, and these anticipations, gave to every man the sense of an ennobling secret confided to his individual honor, and, at the same time, thrilled his heart with sympathetic joy, from approaching glories that were to prove a personal inheritance to his children. Over all Greece a sense of power, dim and vast, brooded for years; and a mighty phantom, under the mysterious name of Arch, in whose cloudy equipage were descried, gleaming at intervals, the crowns and sceptres of great potentates, sustained, whilst it agitated their hearts. London was one of the secret watchwords in their impenetrable cipher; Moscow was a countersign; Bavaria and Austria bore mysterious parts in the drama; and, though no sound was heard, nor voice given to the powers that were working, yet, as if by mere force of secret sympathy, all mankind who were worthy to participate in the enterprise seemed to be linked in brotherhood with Greece. These notions were, much of them, mere phantasms and delusions; but they were delusions of mighty efficacy for arming the hearts of this oppressed country against the terrors that must be faced; and for the whole of them Greece was indebted to the Heteria, and to its organized agency of apostles (as they were technically called), who compassed land and sea as pioneers for the coming crusade.
[Footnote: Considering how very much the contest did finally assume a religious character (even Franks being attached, not as friends of Greece, but simply as Christians), one cannot but wonder that this romantic term has not been applied to the Greek war in Western Europe. ]
By 1820 Greece was thoroughly inoculated with the spirit of resistance; all things were ready, so far, perhaps, as it was possible that they should ever be made ready under the eyes and scimitars of the enemy. Now came the question of time,–when was the revolt to begin? Some contend, says Mr. Gordon, that the Heteria should have waited for a century, by which time they suppose that the growth of means in favor of Greece would have concurred with a more than corresponding decay in her enemy. But, to say nothing of the extreme uncertainty which attends such remote speculation, and the utter impossibility of training men with no personal hopes to labor for the benefit of distant generations, there was one political argument against that course, which Mr. Gordon justly considers unanswerable. It is this: Turkey in Europe has been long tottering on its basis. Now, were the attempt delayed until Russia had displaced her and occupied her seat, Greece would then have received her liberty as a boon from the conqueror; and the construction would have been that she held it by sufferance, and under a Russian warrant. This argument is conclusive. But others there were who fancied that 1825 was the year at which all the preparations for a successful revolt could have been matured. Probably some gain in such a case would have been balanced against some loss. But it is not necessary to discuss that question. Accident, it was clear, might bring on the first hostile movement at any hour, when the minds of all men were prepared, let the means in other respects be as deficient as they might. Already, in 1820, circumstances made it evident that the outbreak of the insurrection could not long be delayed. And, accordingly, in the following year all Greece was in flames.
This affair of 1820 has a separate interest of its own, connected with the character of the very celebrated person to whom it chiefly relates; but we notice it chiefly as the real occasion, the momentary spark, which, alighting upon the combustibles, by this time accumulated everywhere in Greece, caused a general explosion of the long-hoarded insurrectionary fury. Ali Pacha, the far-famed vizier of Yannina, had long been hated profoundly by the Sultan, who in the same proportion loved and admired his treasures. However, he was persuaded to wait for his death, which could not (as it seemed) be far distant, rather than risk anything upon the chances of war. And in this prudent resolution he would have persevered, but for an affront which he could not overlook. An Albanian, named Ismael Pasho Bey, once a member of Ali’s household, had incurred his master’s deadly hatred; and, flying from his wrath to various places under various disguises, had at length taken refuge in Constantinople, and there sharpened the malice of Ali by attaching himself to his enemies. Ali was still further provoked by finding that Ismael had won the Sultan’s favor, and obtained an appointment in the palace. Mastered by his fury, Ali hired assassins to shoot his enemy in the very midst of Constantinople, and under the very eyes of imperial protection. The assassins failed, having only wounded him; they were arrested, and disclosed the name of their employer.
Here was an insult which could not be forgiven: Ali Pacha was declared a rebel and a traitor; and solemnly excommunicated by the head of the Mussulman law. The Pachas of Europe received orders to march against him; and a squadron was fitted out to attack him by sea.
In March, 1820, Ali became acquainted with these strong measures; which at first he endeavored to parry by artifice and bribery. But, finding that mode of proceeding absolutely without hope, he took the bold resolution of throwing himself, in utter defiance, upon the native energies of his own ferocious heart. Having, however, but small reliance on his Mahometan troops in a crisis of this magnitude, he applied for Christian succors, and set himself to court the Christians generally. As a first step, he restored the Armatoles–that very body whose suppression had been so favorite a measure of his policy, and pursued so long, so earnestly, and so injuriously to his credit amongst the Christian part of the population. It happened, at the first opening of the campaign, that the Christians were equally courted by the Sultan’s generalissimo, Solyman, the Pacha of Thessaly. For this, however, that Pacha was removed and decapitated; and a new leader was now appointed in the person of that very enemy, Ismael Pasho, whose attempted murder had brought the present storm upon Ali. Ismael was raised to the rank of Serasker (or generalissimo), and was also made Pacha of Yannina and Del vino. Three other armies, besides a fleet under the Captain Bey, advanced upon Ali’s territories simultaneously from different quarters. But at that time, in defiance of these formidable and overwhelming preparations, bets were strongly in Ali’s favor amongst all who were acquainted with his resources: for he had vast treasures, fortresses of great strength, inexhaustible supplies of artillery and ammunition, a country almost inaccessible, and fifteen thousand light troops, whom Mr. Gordon, upon personal knowledge, pronounces “excellent.”
Scarcely had the war commenced, when Ali was abandoned by almost the whole of his partisans, in mere hatred of his execrable cruelty and tyrannical government. To Ali, however, this defection brought no despondency; and with unabated courage he prepared to defend himself to the last, in three castles, with a garrison of three thousand men. That he might do so with entire effect, he began by destroying his own capital of Yannina, lest it should afford shelter to the enemy. Still his situation would have been most critical, but for the state of affairs in the enemy’s camp. The Serasker was attended by more than twenty other Pashas. But they were all at enmity with each other. One of them, and the bravest, was even poisoned by the Serasker. Provisions were running short, in consequence of their own dissensions. Winter was fast approaching; the cannonading had produced no conspicuous effect; and the soldiers were disbanding. In this situation, the Sultan’s lieutenants again saw the necessity of courting aid from the Christian population of the country. Ali, on his part, never scrupled to bid against them at any price; and at length, irritated by the ill-usage of the Turks on their first entrance, and disgusted with the obvious insincerity of their reluctant and momentary kindness, some of the bravest Christian tribes (especially the celebrated Suliotes) consented to take Ali’s bribes, forgot his past outrages and unnumbered perfidies, and, reading his sincerity in the extremity of his peril, these bravest of the brave ranged themselves amongst the Sultan’s enemies. During the winter they gained some splendid successes; other alienated friends came back to Ali; and even some Mahometan Beys were persuaded to take up arms in his behalf. Upon the whole, the Turkish Divan was very seriously alarmed; and so much so, that it superseded the Serasker Ismael, replacing him with the famous Kourshid Pacha, at that time viceroy of the Morea. And so ended the year 1820.
This state of affairs could not escape the attention of the vigilant Heteria. Here was Ali Pacha, hitherto regarded as an insurmountable obstacle in their path, absolutely compelled by circumstances to be their warmest friend. The Turks again, whom no circumstances could entirely disarm, were yet crippled for the time, and their whole attention preoccupied by another enemy, most alarming to their policy, and most tempting to their cupidity. Such an opportunity it seemed unpardonable to neglect. Accordingly, it was resolved to begin the insurrection. At its head was placed Prince Alexander Ypsilanti, a son of that Hospodar of Wallachia whose deposition by the Porte had produced the Russian war of 1806. This prince’s qualifications consisted in his high birth, in his connection with Russia (for he had risen to the rank of major-general in that service), and, finally (if such things can deserve a mention), in an agreeable person and manners. For all other and higher qualifications he was wholly below the situation and the urgency of the crisis. His first error was in the choice of his ground. For some reasons, which are not sufficiently explained,–possibly on account of his family connection with those provinces,–he chose to open the war in Moldavia and Wallachia. This resolution he took in spite of every warning, and the most intelligent expositions of the absolute necessity that, to be at all effectual, the first stand should be made in Greece. He thought otherwise; and, managing the campaign after his own ideas, he speedily involved himself in quarrels, and his army, through the perfidy of a considerable officer, in ruinous embarrassments. This unhappy campaign is circumstantially narrated by Mr. Gordon in his first book; but, as it never crossed the Danube, and had no connection with Greece except by its purposes, we shall simply rehearse the great outline of its course. The signal for insurrection was given in January, 1821; and Prince Ypsilanti took the field, by crossing the Pruth in March. Early in April he received a communication from the Emperor of Russia, which at once prostrated his hopes before an enemy was seen. He was formally disavowed by that prince, erased from his army-list, and severely reproached for his “folly and ingratitude,” in letters from two members of the Russian cabinet; and on the 9th of April this fact was publicly notified in Yassy, the capital of Moldavia, by the Russian consul-general. His army at this time consisted of three thousand men, which, however, was afterwards reinforced, but with no gunpowder except what was casually intercepted, and no lead except some that had been stripped from the roof of an ancient cathedral. On the 12th of May the Pacha of Ibrail opened the campaign. A few days after, the Turkish troops began to appear in considerable force; and on the 8th of June an alarm was suddenly given “that the white turbans were upon them.” In the engagement which followed, the insurgent army gave way; and, though their loss was much smaller than that of the Turks, yet, from the many blunders committed, the consequences were disastrous; and, had the Turks pursued, there would on that day have been an end of the insurrection. But far worse and more decisive was the subsequent disaster of the 17th. Ypsilanti had been again reinforced; and his advanced guard had surprised a Turkish detachment of cavalry in such a situation that their escape seemed impossible. Yet all was ruined by one officer of rank, who got drunk, and advanced with an air of bravado–followed, on a principle of honor, by a sacred battalion [hieros lochos], composed of five hundred Greek volunteers, of birth and education, the very elite of the insurgent infantry. The Turks gave themselves up for lost; but, happening to observe that this drunkard seemed unsupported by other parts of the army, they suddenly mounted, came down upon the noble young volunteers before they could even form in square; and nearly the whole, disdaining to fly, were cut to pieces on the ground. An officer of rank, and a brave man, appalled by this hideous disaster, the affair of a few moments, rode up to the spot, and did all he could to repair it. But the cowardly drunkard had fled at the first onset, with all his Arnauts; panic spread rapidly; and the whole force of five thousand men fled before eight hundred Turks, leaving four hundred men dead on the field, of whom three hundred and fifty belonged to the sacred battalion.
The Turks, occupied with gathering a trophy of heads, neglected to pursue. But the work was done. The defeated advance fell back upon the main body; and that same night the whole army, panic-struck, ashamed, and bewildered, commenced a precipitate retreat. From this moment Prince Ypsilanti thought only of saving himself. This purpose he effected in a few days, by retreating into Austria, from which territory he issued his final order of the day, taxing his army, in violent and unmeasured terms, with cowardice and disobedience. This was in a limited sense true; many distinctions, however, were called for in mere justice; and the capital defects, after all, were in himself. His plan was originally bad; and, had it been better, he was quite unequal to the execution of it. The results were unfortunate to all concerned in it. Ypsilanti himself was arrested by Austria, and thrown into the unwholesome prison of Mongatz, where, after languishing for six years, he perished miserably. Some of the subordinate officers prolonged the struggle in a guerilla style for some little time; but all were finally suppressed. Many were put to death; many escaped into neutral ground; and it is gratifying to add, that of two traitors amongst the higher officers, one was detected and despatched in a summary way of vengeance by his own associates; the other, for some unexplained reason, was beheaded by his Turkish friends at the very moment when he had put himself into their power, in fearless obedience to their own summons to come and receive his well-merited reward, and under an express assurance from the Pacha of Silistria that he was impatiently waiting to invest him with a pelisse of honor. Such faith is kept with traitors; such faith be ever kept with the betrayers of nations and their holiest hopes! Though in this instance the particular motives of the Porte are still buried in mystery.
Thus terminated the first rash enterprise, which resulted from the too tempting invitation held out in the rebellion then agitating Epirus, locking up, as it did, and neutralizing, so large a part of the disposable Turkish forces. To this we return. Kourshid Pacha quitted the Morea with a large body of troops, in the first days of January, 1821, and took the command of the army already before Yannina. But, with all his great numerical superiority to the enemy with whom he contended, and now enjoying undisturbed union in his own camp, he found it impossible to make his advances rapidly. Though in hostility to the Porte, and though now connected with Christian allies, Ali Pacha was yet nominally a Mahometan. Hence it had been found impossible as yet to give any color of an anti-Christian character to the war; and the native Mahometan chieftains had therefore no scruple in coalescing with the Christians of Epirus, and making joint cause with Ali. Gradually, from the inevitable vexations incident to the march and residence of a large army, the whole population became hostile to Kourshid; and their remembrance of Ali’s former oppressions, if not effaced, was yet suspended in the presence of a nuisance so immediate and so generally diffused; and most of the Epirots turned their arms against the Porte. The same feelings which governed them soon spread to the provinces of Etolia and Acarnania; or rather, perhaps, being previously ripe for revolt, these provinces resolved to avail themselves of the same occasion. Missolonghi now became the centre of rebellion; and Kourshid’s difficulties were daily augmenting. In July of this year (1821) these various insurgents, actively cooperating, defeated the Serasker in several actions, and compelled a Pacha to lay down his arms on the road between Yannina and Souli. It was even proposed by the gallant partisan, Mark Bozzaris, that all should unite to hem in the Serasker; but a wound, received in a skirmish, defeated this plan. In September following, however, the same Mark intercepted and routed Hassan Pacha in a defile on his march to Yannina; and in general the Turks were defeated everywhere except at the headquarters of the Serasker, and with losses in men enormously disproportioned to the occasions. This arose partly from the necessity under which they lay of attacking expert musketeers under cover of breastworks, and partly from their own precipitance and determination to carry everything by summary force; “whereas,” says Mr. Gordon, “a little patience would surely have caused them to succeed, and at least saved them much dishonor, and thousands of lives thrown away in mere wantonness.” But, in spite of all blunders, and every sort of failure elsewhere, the Serasker was still advancing slowly towards his main objects–the reduction of Ali Pacha. And by the end of October, on getting possession of an important part of Ali’s works, he announced to the Sultan that he should soon be able to send him the traitor’s head, for that he was already reduced to six hundred men. A little before this, however, the celebrated Maurocordato, with other persons of influence, had arrived at Missolonghi with the view of cementing a general union of Christian and Mahometan forces against the Turks. In this he was so far successful, that in November a combined attack was made upon Ismael, the old enemy of Ali, and three other Pachas, shut up in the town of Arta. This attack succeeded partially; but it was attempted at a moment dramatically critical, and with an effect ruinous to the whole campaign, as well as that particular attack. The assailing party, about thirty-four hundred men, were composed in the proportion of two Christians to one Mahometan. They had captured one half of the town; and, Mark Bozzaris having set this on fire to prevent plundering, the four Pachas were on the point of retreating under cover of the smoke. At that moment arrived a Mahometan of note, instigated by Kourshid, who was able to persuade those of his own faith that the Christians were not fighting with any sincere views of advantage to Ali, but with ulterior purposes hostile to Mahometanism itself. On this, the Christian division of the army found themselves obliged to retire without noise, in order to escape their own allies, now suddenly united with the four Pachas. Nor, perhaps, would even this have been effected, but for the precaution of Mark Bozzaris in taking hostages from two leading Mahometans. Thus failed the last diversion in favor of Ali Pacha, who was henceforward left to his own immediate resources. All the Mahometan tribes now ranged themselves on the side of Kourshid; and the winter of 1821-2 passed away without further disturbance in Epirus.
Meantime, during the absence of Kourshid Pacha from the Morea, the opportunity had not been lost for raising the insurrection in that important part of Greece. Kourshid had marched early in January, 1821; and already in February symptoms of the coming troubles appeared at Patrass, “the most flourishing and populous city of the Peloponnesus, the emporium of its trade, and residence of the foreign consuls and merchants.” Its population was about eighteen thousand, of which number two thirds were Christian. In March, when rumors had arrived of the insurrection beyond the Danube, under Alexander Ypsilanti, the fermentation became universal; and the Turks of Patrass hastily prepared for defence. By the twenty-fifth, the Greeks had purchased all the powder and lead which could be had; and about the second of April they raised the standard of the Cross. Two days after this, fighting began at Patrass. The town having been set on fire, “the Turkish castle threw shot and shells at random; the two parties fought amongst the ruins, and massacred each other without mercy; the only prisoners that were spared owed their lives to fanaticism; some Christian youths being circumcised by the Mollahs, and some Turkish boys baptized by the priests.”
“While the commencement of the war,” says Mr. Gordon, “was thus signalized by the ruin of a flourishing city, the insurrection gained ground with wonderful rapidity; and from mountain to mountain, and village to village, propagated itself to the furthest corner of the Peloponnesus. Everywhere the peasants flew to arms; and those Turks who resided in the open country or unfortified towns were either cut to pieces, or forced to fly into strongholds.” On the second of April, the flag of independence was hoisted in Achaia. On the ninth, a Grecian senate met at Calamata, in Messenia, having for its president Mavromichalis, Prince or Bey of Maina, a rugged territory in the ancient Sparta, famous for its hardy race of robbers and pirates.
[Footnote: These Mainates have been supposed to be of Sclavonian origin; but Mr. Gordon, upon the authority of the Emperor Constantine Porphyrogenitos, asserts that they are of pure Laconian blood, and became Christians in the reign of that emperor’s grandfather, Basil the Macedonian. They are, and over have been, robbers by profession; robbers by land, pirates by sea; for which last branch of their mixed occupation they enjoy singular advantages in their position at the point of junction between the Ionian and Egean seas. To illustrate their condition of perpetual warfare, Mr. Gordon mentions that there were very lately individuals who had lived for twenty years in towers, not daring to stir out lest their neighbors should shoot them. They were supplied with bread and cartridges by their wives; for the persons of women are sacred in Maina. Two other good features in their character are their hospitality and their indisposition to bloodshed. They are in fact gentle thieves–the Robin Hoods of Greece. ]
On the sixth of April, the insurrection had spread to the narrow territory of Megaris, situated to the north of the isthmus. The Albanian population of this country, amounting to about ten thousand, and employed by the Porte to guard the defiles of the entrance into Peloponnesus, raised the standard of revolt, and marched to invest the Acrocorinthus. In the Messenian territory, the Bishop of Modon, having made his guard of Janissaries drunk, cut the whole of them to pieces; and then encamping on the heights of Navarin, his lordship blockaded that fortress. The abruptness of these movements, and their almost simultaneous origin at distances so considerable, sufficiently prove how ripe the Greeks were for this revolt as respected temper; and in other modes of preparation they never could have been ripe whilst overlooked by Turkish masters. That haughty race now retreated from all parts of the Morea, within the ramparts of Tripolizza.
In the first action which occurred, the Arcadian Greeks did not behave well; they fled at the very sound of the Moslem tread. Colocotroni commanded; and he rallied them again; but again they deserted him at the sight of their oppressors; “and I,” said Colocotroni afterwards, when relating the circumstances of this early affair, “having with me only ten companions including my horse, sat down in a bush and wept.”
Meantime, affairs went ill at Patrass. Yussuf Pacha, having been detached from Epirus to Euboea by the Scrasker, heard on his route of the insurrection in Peloponnesus. Upon which, altering his course, he sailed to Patrass, and reached it on the fifteenth of April. This was Palm Sunday, and it dawned upon the Greeks with evil omens. First came a smart shock of earthquake; next a cannonade announcing the approach of the Pacha; and, lastly, an Ottoman brig of war, which saluted the fort and cast anchor before the town.
The immediate consequences were disastrous. The Greeks retreated; and the Pacha detached Kihaya-Bey, a Tartar officer of distinguished energy, with near three thousand men, to the most important points of the revolt. On the fifth of May, the Tartar reached Corinth, but found the siege already raised. Thence he marched to Argos, sending before him a requisition for bread. He was answered by the men of Argos that they had no bread, but only powder and ball at his service. This threat, however, proved a gasconade; the Kihaya advanced in three columns; cavalry on each wing, and infantry in the centre; on which, after a single discharge, the Argives fled.
[Footnote: It has a sublime effect in the record of this action to hear that the Argives were drawn up behind a wall originally raised as a defence against the deluge of Inachus. ]
Their general, fighting bravely, was killed, together with seven hundred others, and fifteen hundred women captured. The Turks, having sacked and burned Argos, then laid siege to a monastery, which surrendered upon terms; and it is honorable to the memory of this Tartar general, that, according to the testimony of Mr. Gordon, at a time when the war was managed with merciless fury and continual perfidies on both sides, he observed the terms with rigorous fidelity, treated all his captives with the utmost humanity, and even liberated the women.
Thus far the tide had turned against the Greeks; but now came a decisive reaction in their favor; and, as if forever to proclaim the folly of despair, just at the very crisis when it was least to have been expected, the Kihaya was at this point joined by the Turks of Tripolizza, and was now reputed to be fourteen thousand strong. This proved to be an exaggeration; but the subsequent battle is the more honorable to those who believed it. At a council of war, in the Greek camp, the prevailing opinion was that an action could not prudently be risked. One man thought otherwise; this was Anagnostoras; he, by urging the desolations which would follow a retreat, brought over the rest to his opinion; and it was resolved to take up a position at Valtezza, a village three hours’ march from Tripolizza. Thither, on the twenty- seventh of May, the Kihaya arrived with five thousand men, in three columns, having left Tripolizza at dawn; and immediately raised redoubts opposite to those of the Greeks, and placed three heavy pieces of cannon in battery. He hoped to storm the position; but, if he should fail, he had a reason for still anticipating a victory, and that was the situation of the fountains, which must soon have drawn the Greeks out of their position, as they had water only for twenty-four hours’ consumption.
The battle commenced: and the first failure of the Kihaya was in the cannonade; for his balls, passing over the Greeks, fell amongst a corps of his own troops. These now made three assaults; but were repulsed in all. Both sides kept up a fire till night; and each expected that his enemy would retire in the darkness. The twenty-eighth, however, found the two armies still in the same positions. The battle was renewed for five hours; and then the Kihaya, finding his troops fatigued, and that his retreat was likely to be intercepted by Nikitas (a brave partisan officer bred to arms in the service of England), who was coming up by forced marches from Argos with eight hundred men, gave the signal for retreat. This soon became a total rout; the Kihaya lost his horse; and the Greeks, besides taking two pieces of cannon, raised a trophy of four hundred Moslem heads.
Such was the battle of Yaltezza, the inaugural performance of the insurrection; and we have told it thus circumstantially, because Mr. Gordon characterizes it as “remarkable for the moral effect it produced;” and he does not scruple to add, that it “certainly decided the campaign in Peloponnesus, and perhaps even the fate of the revolution.”
Three days after, that is, on the last day of May, 1821, followed the victory of Doliana, in which the Kihaya, anxious to recover his lost ground, was encountered by Nikitas. The circumstances were peculiarly brilliant. For the Turkish general had between two and three thousand men, besides artillery; whereas Nikitas at first sustained the attack in thirteen barricaded houses, with no more than ninety-six soldiers, and thirty armed peasants. After a resistance of eleven hours, he was supported by seven hundred men; and in the end he defeated the Kihaya with a very considerable loss.
These actions raised the enthusiasm of the Morea to a high point; and in the mean time other parts of Greece had joined in the revolt. In the first week of April an insurrection burst out in the eastern provinces of Greece, Attica, Boeotia, and Phocis. The insurgents first appeared near Livadia, one of the best cities in northern Greece. On the thirteenth, they occupied Thebes without opposition. Immediately after, Odysseus propagated the revolt in Phocis, where he had formerly commanded as a lieutenant of Ali Pacha’s. Next arose the Albanian peasantry of Attica, gathering in armed bodies to the west of Athens. Towards the end of April, the Turks, who composed one fifth of the Athenian population (then rated at ten thousand), became greatly agitated; and twice proposed a massacre of the Christians. This was resisted by the humane Khadi; and the Turks, contenting themselves with pillaging absent proprietors, began to lay up stores in the Acropolis. With ultra Turkish stupidity, however, out of pure laziness, at this critical moment, they confided the night duty on the ramparts of the city to Greeks. The consequence may be supposed. On the eighth of May, the Ottoman standard had been raised and blessed by an Tman. On the following night, a rapid discharge of musketry, and the shouts of Christ has risen! Liberty! Liberty! proclaimed the capture of Athens. Nearly two thousand peasants, generally armed with clubs, had scaled the walls and forced the gates. The prisoners taken were treated with humanity. But, unfortunately, this current of Christian sentiment was immediately arrested by the conduct of the Turks in the Acropolis, in killing nine hostages, and throwing over the walls some naked and headless bodies.
The insurrection next spread to Thessaly; and at last even to Macedonia, from the premature and atrocious violence of the Pacha of Salonika. Apprehending a revolt, he himself drew it on, by cutting off the heads of the Christian merchants and clergy (simply as a measure of precaution), and enforcing his measures on the peasantry by military execution. Unfortunately, from its extensive plains, this country is peculiarly favorable to the evolutions of the Turkish cavalry; the insurgents were, therefore, defeated in several actions; and ultimately took refuge in great numbers amongst the convents on Mount Athos, which also were driven into revolt by the severity of the Pacha. Here the fugitives were safe from the sabres of their merciless pursuers; but, unless succored by sea, ran a great risk of perishing by famine. But a more important accession to the cause of independence, within one month from its first outbreak in the Morea, occurred in the Islands of the Archipelago. The three principal of these in modern times, are Hydra, Spezzia, and Psarra.
[Footnote: Their insignificance in ancient times is proclaimed by the obscurity of their ancient names–Aperopia, Tiparenus, and Psyra. ]
They had been colonized in the preceding century, by some poor families from Peloponnesus and Ionia. At that time they had gained a scanty subsistence as fishermen. Gradually they became merchants and seamen. Being the best sailors in the Sultan’s dominions, they had obtained some valuable privileges, amongst which was that of exemption from Turkish magistrates; so that, if they could not boast of autonomy, they had at least the advantage of executing the bad laws of Turkish imposition by chiefs of their own blood. And they had the further advantage of paying but a moderate tribute to the Sultan. So favored, their commerce had flourished beyond all precedent. And latterly, when the vast extension of European warfare had created first-rate markets for grain, selecting, of course, those which were highest at the moment, they sometimes doubled their capitals in two voyages; and seven or eight such trips in a year were not an unusual instance of good fortune. What had been the result, may be collected from the following description, which Mr. Gordon gives us, of Hydra: “Built on a sterile rock, which does not offer, at any season, the least trace of vegetation, it is one of the best cities in the Levant, and infinitely superior to any other in Greece; the houses are all constructed of white stone; and those of the aristocracy–erected at an immense expense, floored with costly marbles, and splendidly furnished–might pass for palaces even in the capitals of Italy. Before the revolution, poverty was unknown; all classes being comfortably lodged, clothed, and fed. Its inhabitants at this epoch exceeded twenty thousand, of whom four thousand were able-bodied seamen.”
The other islands were, with few exceptions, arid rocks; and most of them had the inestimable advantage of being unplagued with a Turkish population. Enjoying that precious immunity, it may be wondered why they should have entered into the revolt. But for this there were two great reasons: they were ardent Christians in the first place, and disinterested haters of Mahometanism on its own merits; secondly, as the most powerful
[Footnote: Mr. Gordon says that “they could, without difficulty, fit out a hundred sail of ships, brigs, and schooners, armed with from twelve to twenty-four guns each, and manned by seven thousand stout and able sailors.” Pouqueville ascribes to them, in 1813, a force considerably greater. But the peace of Paris (one year after Pouqueville’s estimates) naturally reduced their power, as their extraordinary gains were altogether dependent on war and naval blockades. ]
nautical confederacy in the Levant, they anticipated a large booty from captures at sea. In that expectation, at first, they were not disappointed. But it was a source of wealth soon exhausted; for, naturally, as soon as their ravages became known, the Mussulmans ceased to navigate. Spezzia was the first to hoist the independent flag; this was on the ninth of April, 1821. Psarra immediately followed her example. Hydra hesitated, and at first even declined to do so; but, at last, on the 28th of April, this island also issued a manifesto of adherence to the patriotic cause. On the third of May, a squadron of eleven Hydriot and seven Spezzia vessels sailed from Hydra, having on the mainmast “an address to the people of the Egean sea, inviting them to rally round the national standard: an address that was received with enthusiasm in every quarter of the Archipelago where the Turks were not numerous enough to restrain popular feeling.”
“The success of the Greek marine in this first expedition,” says Mr. Gordon, “was not confined to merely spreading the insurrection throughout the Archipelago: a swarm of swift armed ships swept the sea from the Hellespont to the waters of Crete and Cyprus; captured every Ottoman trader they met with, and put to the sword, or flung overboard, the Mahometan crews and passengers; for the contest already assumed a character of terrible ferocity. It would be vain to deny that they were guilty of shocking barbarities; at the little island of Castel Rosso, on the Karamanian shore, they butchered, in cold blood, several beautiful Turkish females; and a great number of defenceless pilgrims (mostly old men), who, returning from Mecca, fell into their power, off Cyprus, were slain without mercy, because they would not renounce their faith.” Many such cases of hideous barbarity had already occurred, and did afterwards occur, on the mainland. But this is the eternal law and providential retribution of oppression. The tyrant teaches to his slave the crimes and the cruelties which he inflicts; blood will have blood; and the ferocious oppressor is involved in the natural reaction of his own wickedness, by the frenzied retaliation of the oppressed. Now was indeed beheld the realization of the sublime imprecation in Shakspeare: “one spirit of the first-born Cain” did indeed reign in the hearts of men; and now, if ever upon this earth, it seemed likely, from the dreadful acharnement which marked the war on both sides,–the acharnement of long-hoarded vengeance and maddening remembrances in the Grecian, of towering disdain in the alarmed oppressor,–that, in very simplicity of truth, “Darkness would be the burier of the dead.”
Such was the opening scene in the astonishing drama of the Greek insurrection, which, through all its stages, was destined to move by fire and blood, and beyond any war in human annals to command the interest of mankind through their sterner affections. We have said that it was eminently a romantic war; but not in the meaning with which we apply that epithet to the semi-fabulous wars of Charlemagne and his Paladins, or even to the Crusaders. Here are no memorable contests of generosity; no triumphs glorified by mercy; no sacrifices of interest the most basely selfish to martial honor; no ear on either side for the pleadings of desolate affliction; no voice in any quarter of commanding justice; no acknowledgment of a common nature between the belligerents; nor sense of a participation in the same human infirmities, dangers, or necessities. To the fugitive from the field of battle there was scarcely a retreat; to the prisoner there was absolutely no hope. Stern retribution, and the very rapture of vengeance, were the passions which presided on the one side; on the other, fanaticism and the cruelty of fear and hatred, maddened by old hereditary scorn. Wherever the war raged there followed upon the face of the land one blank Aceldama. A desert tracked the steps of the armies, and a desert in which was no oasis; and the very atmosphere in which men lived and breathed was a chaos of murderous passions. Still it is true that the war was a great romance. For it was filled with change, and with elastic rebound from what seemed final extinction; with the spirit of adventure carried to the utmost limits of heroism; with self-devotion on the sublimest scale, and the very frenzy of patriotic martyrdom; with resurrection of everlasting hope upon ground seven times blasted by the blighting presence of the enemy; and with flowers radiant in promise springing forever from under the very tread of the accursed Moslem.
NOTE.–We have thought that we should do an acceptable service to the reader by presenting him with a sketch of the Suliotes, and the most memorable points in their history. We have derived it (as to the facts) from a little work originally composed by an Albanian in modern Greek, and printed at Venice in 1815. This work was immediately translated into Italian, by Gherardini, an Italian officer of Milan; and, ten years ago, with some few omissions, it was reproduced in an English version; but in this country it seems never to have attracted public notice, and is probably now forgotten.
With respect to the name of Suli, the Suliotes themselves trace it to an accident:–“Some old men,” says the Albanian author, reciting his own personal investigations amongst the oldest of the Suliotes, “replied that they did not remember having any information from their ancestors concerning the first inhabitants of Suli, except this only: that some goat and swine herds used to lead their flocks to graze on the mountains where Suli and Ghiafa now stand; that these mountains were not only steep and almost inaccessible, but clothed with thickets of wood, and infested by wild boars; that these herdsmen, being oppressed by the tyranny of the Turks of a village called to this day Gardichi, took the resolution of flying for a distance of six hours’ journey to this sylvan and inaccessible position, of sharing in common the few animals which they had, and of suffering voluntarily every physical privation, rather than submit to the slightest wrong from their foreign tyrants. This resolution, they added, must be presumed to have been executed with success; because we find that, in the lapse of five or six years, these original occupants of the fastness were joined by thirty other families. Somewhere about that time it was that they began to awaken the jealousy of the Turks; and a certain Turk, named Suli, went in high scorn and defiance, with many other associates, to expel them from this strong position; but our stout forefathers met them with arms in their hands. Suli, the leader and inciter of the Turks, was killed outright upon the ground; and, on the very spot where he fell, at this day stands the centre of our modern Suli, which took its name, therefore, from that same slaughtered Turk, who was the first insolent and malicious enemy with whom our country in its days of infancy had to contend for its existence.”
Such is the most plausible account which can now be obtained of the incunabula of this most indomitable little community, and of the circumstances under which it acquired its since illustrious name. It was, perhaps, natural that a little town, in the centre of insolent and bitter enemies, should assume a name which would long convey to their whole neighborhood a stinging lesson of mortification, and of prudential warning against similar molestations. As to the chronology of this little state, the Albanian author assures us, upon the testimony of the same old Suliotes, that “seventy years before” there were barely one hundred men fit for the active duties of war, which, in ordinary states of society, would imply a total population of four hundred souls. That may be taken, therefore, as the extreme limit of the Suliote population at a period of seventy years antecedently to the date of tke conversation on which he founds his information. But, as he has unfortunately omitted to fix the exact era of these conversations, the whole value of his accuracy is neutralized by his own carelessness. However, it is probable, from the internal evidence of his book, which brings down affairs below the year 1812, that his information was collected somewhere about 1810. We must carry back the epoch, therefore, at which Suli had risen to a population of four hundred, pretty nearly to the year 1740; and since, by the same traditionary evidence, Suli had then accomplished an independent existence through a space of eighty years, we have reason to conclude that the very first gatherings of poor Christian herdsmen to this sylvan sanctuary, when stung to madness by Turkish insolence and persecution, would take place about the era of the Restoration (of our Charles II.), that is, in 1660.
In more modern times, the Suliotes had expanded into four separate little towns, peopled by five hundred and sixty families, from which they were able to draw one thousand first-rate soldiers. But, by a very politic arrangement, they had colonized with sixty-six other families seven neighboring towns, over which, from situation, they had long been able to exercise a military preponderance. The benefits were incalculable which they obtained by this connection. At the first alarm of war the fighting men retreated with no incumbrances but their arms, ammunition, and a few days’ provision, into the four towns of Suli proper, which all lay within that ring fence of impregnable position from which no armies could ever dislodge them; meantime, they secretly drew supplies from the seven associate towns, which were better situated than themselves for agriculture, and which (apparently taking no part in the war) pursued their ordinary labors unmolested. Their tactics were simple, but judicious; if they saw a body of five or six thousand advancing against their position, knowing that it was idle for them to meet such a force in the open field, they contented themselves with detaching one hundred and fifty or two hundred men to skirmish on their flanks, and to harass them according to the advantages of the ground; but if they saw no more than five hundred or one thousand in the hostile column, they then issued in equal or superior numbers, in the certainty of beating them, striking an effectual panic into their hearts, and also of profiting largely by plunder and by ransom.
In so small and select a community, where so much must continually depend upon individual qualities and personal heroism, it may readily be supposed that the women would play an important part; in fact, “the women carry arms and fight bravely. When the men go to war, the women bring them food and provisions; when they see their strength declining in combat, they run to their assistance, and fight along with them; but, if by any chance their husbands behave with cowardice, they snatch their arms from them, and abuse them, calling them mean, and unworthy of having a wife.” Upon these feelings there has even been built a law in Suli, which must deeply interest the pride of women in the martial honor of their husbands; agreeably to this law, any woman whose husband has distinguished himself in battle, upon going to a fountain to draw water, has the liberty to drive away another woman whose husband is tainted with the reproach of cowardice; and all who succeed her, “from dawn to dewy eve,” unless under the ban of the same withering stigma, have the same privilege of taunting her with her husband’s baseness, and of stepping between her or her cattle until their own wants are fully supplied.
This social consideration of the female sex, in right of their husbands’ military honors, is made available for no trifling purposes; on one occasion it proved the absolute salvation of the tribe. In one of the most desperate assaults made by Ali Pacha upon Suli, when that tyrant was himself present at the head of eight thousand picked men, animated with the promise of five hundred piastres a man, to as many as should enter Suli, after ten hours’ fighting under an enfeebling sun, and many of the Suliote muskets being rendered useless by continual discharges, a large body of the enemy had actually succeeded in occupying the sacred interior of Suli itself. At that critical moment, when Ali was in the very paroxysms of frantic exultation, the Suliote women, seeing that the general fate hinged upon the next five minutes, turned upon the Turks en masse, and with such a rapture of sudden fury, that the conquering army was instantly broken–thrown into panic, pursued; and, in that state of ruinous disorder, was met and flanked by the men, who were now recovering from their defeat. The consequences, from the nature of the ground, were fatal to the Turkish army and enterprise; the whole camp equipage was captured; none saved their lives but by throwing away their arms; one third of the Turks (one half by some accounts) perished on the retreat; the rest returned at intervals as an unarmed mob; and the bloody, perfidious Pacha himself saved his life only by killing two horses in his haste. So total was the rout, and so bitter the mortification of Ali, who had seen a small band of heroic women snatch the long-sought prize out of his very grasp, that for some weeks he shut himself up in his palace at Yannina, would receive no visits, and issued a proclamation imposing instant death upon any man detected in looking out at a window or other aperture–as being presumably engaged in noticing the various expressions of his defeat which were continually returning to Yannina.
The wars, in which the adventurous courage of the Suliotes (together with their menacing position) could not fail to involve them, were in all eleven. The first eight of these occurred in times before the French Revolution, and with Pachas who have left no memorials behind them of the terrific energy or hellish perfidy which marked the character of Ali Pacha. These Pachas, who brought armies at the lowest of five thousand, and at the most of twelve thousand men, were uniformly beaten; and apparently were content to be beaten. Sometimes a Pacha was even made prisoner; but, as the simple
[Footnote: On the same occasion the Pacha’s son, and sixty officers of the rank of Aga, were also made prisoners by a truly rustic mode of assault. The Turks had shut themselves up in a church; into this, by night, the Suliotes threw a number of hives, full of bees, whose insufferable stings soon brought the haughty Moslems into the proper surrendering mood. The whole body were afterwards ransomed for so trifling a sum as one thousand sequins. ]
Suliotes little understood the art of improving advantages, the ransom was sure to be proportioned to the value of the said Pacha’s sword-arm in battle, rather than to his rank and ability to pay; so that the terms of liberation were made ludicrously easy to the Turkish chiefs.
These eight wars naturally had no other ultimate effect than to extend the military power, experience, and renown, of the Suliotes. But their ninth war placed them in collision with a new and far more perilous enemy than any they had yet tried; above all, he was so obstinate and unrelenting an enemy, that, excepting the all-conquering mace of death, it was certain that no obstacles born of man ever availed to turn him aside from an object once resolved on. The reader will understand, of course, that this enemy was Ali Pacha. Their ninth war was with him; and he, like all before him, was beaten; but not like all before him did Ali sit down in resignation under his defeat. His hatred was now become fiendish; no other prosperity or success had any grace in his eyes, so long as Suli stood, by which he had been overthrown, trampled on, and signally humbled. Life itself was odious to him, if he must continue to witness the triumphant existence of the abhorred little mountain village which had wrung laughter at his expense from every nook of Epirus. Delenda est Carthago! Suli must be exterminated! became, therefore, from this time, the master watchword of his secret policy. And on the 1st of June, in the year 1792, he commenced his second war against the Suliotes, at the head of twenty-two thousand men. This was the second war of Suli with Ali Pacha; but it was the tenth war on their annals; and, as far as their own exertions were concerned, it had the same result as all the rest. But, about the sixth year of the war, in an indirect way, Ali made one step towards his final purpose, which first manifested its disastrous tendency in the new circumstances which succeeding years brought forward. In 1797 the French made a lodgment in Corfu; and, agreeably to their general spirit of intrigue, they had made advances to Ali Pacha, and to all other independent powers in or about Epirus. Amongst other states, in an evil hour for that ill-fated city, they wormed themselves into an alliance with Prevesa; and in the following year their own quarrel with Ali Pacha gave that crafty robber a pretence, which he had long courted in vain, for attacking the place with his overwhelming cavalry, before they could agree upon the mode of defence, and long before any mode could have been tolerably matured. The result was one universal massacre, which raged for three days, and involved every living Prevesan, excepting some few who had wisely made their escape in time, and excepting those who were reserved to be tortured for Ali’s special gratification, or to be sold for slaves in the shambles. This dreadful catastrophe, which in a few hours rooted from the earth an old and flourishing community, was due in about equal degrees to the fatal intriguing of the interloping French, and to the rankest treachery in a quarter where it could least have been held possible; namely, in a Suliote, and a very distinguished Suliote, Captain George Botzari; but the miserable man yielded up his honor and his patriotism to Ali’s bribe of one hundred purses (perhaps at that time equal to twenty-five hundred pounds sterling). The way in which this catastrophe operated upon Ali’s final views was obvious to everybody in that neighborhood. Parga, on the sea-coast, was an indispensable ally to Suli; now, Prevesa stood in the same relation to Parga, as an almost indispensable ally, that Parga occupied towards Suli.
This shocking tragedy had been perpetrated in the October of 1798; and, in less than two years from that date, namely, on the 2d of June, 1800, commenced the eleventh war of the Suliotes; being their third with Ali, and the last which, from their own guileless simplicity, meeting with the craft of the most perfidious amongst princes, they were ever destined to wage. For two years, that is, until the middle of 1802, the war, as managed by the Suliotes, rather resembles a romance, or some legend of the acts of Paladins, than any grave chapter in modern history. Amongst the earliest victims it is satisfactory to mention the traitor, George Botzari, who, being in the power of the Pacha, was absolutely compelled to march with about two hundred of his kinsmen, whom he had seduced from Suli, against his own countrymen, under whose avenging swords the majority of them fell, whilst the arch-traitor himself soon died of grief and mortification. After this, Ali himself led a great and well-appointed army in various lines of assault against Suli. But so furious was the reception given to the Turks, so deadly and so uniform their defeat, that panic seized on the whole army, who declared unanimously to Ali that they would no more attempt to contend with the Suliotes–“Who,” said they, “neither sit nor sleep, but are born only for the destruction of men.” Ali was actually obliged to submit to this strange resolution of his army; but, by way of compromise, he built a chain of forts pretty nearly encircling Suli; and simply exacted of his troops that, being forever released from the dangers of the open field, they should henceforward shut themselves up in these forts, and constitute themselves a permanent blockading force for the purpose of bridling the marauding excursions of the Suliotes. It was hoped that, from the close succession of these forts, the Suliotes would find it impossible to slip between the cross fires of the Turkish musketry; and that, being thus absolutely cut off from their common resources of plunder, they must at length be reduced by mere starvation. That termination of the contest was in fact repeatedly within a trifle of being accomplished; the poor Suliotes were reduced to a diet of acorns; and even of this food had so slender a quantity that many died, and the rest wore the appearance of blackened skeletons. All this misery, however, had no effect to abate one jot of their zeal and their undying hatred to the perfidious enemy who was bending every sinew to their destruction. It is melancholy to record that such perfect heroes, from whom force the most disproportioned, nor misery the most absolute, had ever wrung the slightest concession or advantage, were at length entrapped by the craft of their enemy; and by their own foolish confidence in the oaths of one who had never been known to keep any engagement which he had a momentary interest in breaking. Ali contrived first of all to trepan the matchless leader of the Suliotes, Captain Foto Giavella, who was a hero after the most exquisite model of ancient Greece, Epaminondas, or Timoleon, and whose counsels were uniformly wise and honest. After that loss, all harmony of plan went to wreck amongst the Suliotes; and at length, about the middle of December, 1803, this immortal little independent state of Suli solemnly renounced by treaty to Ali Pacha its sacred territory, its thrice famous little towns, and those unconquerable positions among the crests of wooded inaccessible mountains which had baffled all the armies of the crescent, led by the most eminent of the Ottoman Pachas, and not seldom amounting to twenty, twenty-five, and in one instance even to more than thirty thousand men. The articles of a treaty, which on one side there never was an intention of executing, are scarcely worth repeating; the amount was–that the Suliotes had perfect liberty to go whither they chose, retaining the whole of their arms and property, and with a title to payment in cash for every sort of warlike store which could not be carried off. In excuse for the poor Suliotes in trusting to treaties of any kind with an enemy whom no oaths could bind for an hour, it is but fair to mention that they were now absolutely without supplies either of ammunition or provisions; and that, for seven days, they had suffered under a total deprivation of water, the sources of which were now in the hands of the enemy, and turned into new channels. The winding up of the memorable tale is soon told:–the main body of the fighting Suliotes, agreeably to the treaty, immediately took the route to Parga, where they were sure of a hospitable reception, that city having all along made common cause with Suli against their common enemy, Ali. The son of Ali, who had concluded the treaty, and who inherited all his father’s treachery, as fast as possible despatched four thousand Turks in pursuit, with orders to massacre the whole. But in this instance, through the gallant assistance of the Parghiotes, and the energetic haste of the Suliotes, the accursed wretch was disappointed of his prey. As to all the other detachments of the Suliotes, who were scattered at different points, and were necessarily thrown everywhere upon their own resources without warning or preparation of any kind,–they, by the terms of the treaty, had liberty to go away or to reside peaceably in any part of Ali’s dominions. But as these were mere windy words, it being well understood that Ali’s fixed intention was to cut every throat among the Suliotes, whether of man, woman, or child,–nay, as he thought himself dismally ill-used by every hour’s delay which interfered with the execution of that purpose,–what rational plan awaited the choice of the poor Suliotes, finding themselves in the centre of a whole hostile nation, and their own slender divisions cut off from communication with each other? What could people so circumstanced propose to themselves as a suitable resolution for their situation? Hope there was none; sublime despair was all that their case allowed; and, considering the unrivalled splendors of their past history for more than one hundred and sixty years, perhaps most readers would reply, in the famous words of Corneille–Qu’ils mourussent. That was their own reply to the question now so imperatively forced upon them; and die they all did. It is an argument of some great original nobility in the minds of these poor people, that none disgraced themselves by useless submissions, and that all alike, women as well as men, devoted themselves in the “high Roman fashion” to the now expiring cause of their country. The first case which occurred exhibits the very perfection of nonchalance in circumstances the most appalling. Samuel, a Suliote monk, of somewhat mixed and capricious character, and at times even liable to much suspicion amongst his countrymen, but of great name, and of unquestionable merit in his military character, was in the act of delivering over to authorized Turkish agents a small outpost, which had greatly annoyed the forces of Ali, together with such military stores as it still contained. By the treaty, Samuel was perfectly free, and under the solemn protection of Ali; but the Turks, with the utter shamelessness to which they had been brought by daily familiarity with treachery the most barefaced, were openly descanting to Samuel upon the unheard-of tortures which must be looked for at the hands of Ali, by a soldier who had given so much trouble to that Pacha as himself. Samuel listened coolly; he was then seated on a chest of gunpowder, and powder was scattered about in all directions. He watched in a careless way until he observed that all the Turks, exulting in their own damnable perfidies, were assembled under the roof of the building. He then coolly took the burning snuff of a candle, and threw it into a heap of combustibles, still keeping his seat upon the chest of powder. It is unnecessary to add that the little fort, and all whom it contained, were blown to atoms. And with respect to Samuel in particular, no fragment of his skeleton could ever be discovered.
[Footnote: The deposition of two Suliote sentinels at the door, and of a third person who escaped with a dreadful scorching, sufficiently established the facts; otherwise the whole would have been ascribed to the treachery of Ali or his son. ]
After this followed as many separate tragedies as there were separate parties of Suliotes; when all hope and all retreat were clearly cut off, then the women led the great scene of self- immolation, by throwing their children headlong from the summit of precipices; which done, they and their husbands, their fathers and their sons, hand in hand, ran up to the brink of the declivity, and followed those whom they had sent before. In other situations, where there was a possibility of fighting with effect, they made a long and bloody resistance, until the Turkish cavalry, finding an opening for their operations, made all further union impossible; upon which they all plunged into the nearest river, without distinction of age or sex, and were swallowed up by the merciful waters. Thus, in a few days, from the signing of that treaty, which nominally secured to them peaceable possession of their property, and paternal treatment from the perfidious Pacha, none remained to claim his promises or to experience his abominable cruelties. In their native mountains of Epirus, the name of Suliote was now blotted from the books of life, and was heard no more in those wild sylvan haunts, where once it had filled every echo with the breath of panic to the quailing hearts of the Moslems. In the most “palmy” days of Suli, she never had counted more than twenty-five hundred fighting men; and of these no considerable body escaped, excepting the corps who hastily fought their way to Parga. From that city they gradually transported themselves to Corfu, then occupied by the Russians. Into the service of the Russian Czar, as the sole means left to a perishing corps of soldiers for earning daily bread, they naturally entered; and when Corfu afterwards passed from Russian to English masters, it was equally inevitable that for the same urgent purposes they should enter the military service of England. In that service they received the usual honorable treatment, and such attention as circumstances would allow to their national habits and prejudices. They were placed also, we believe, under the popular command of Sir R. Church, who, though unfortunate as a supreme leader, made himself beloved in a lower station by all the foreigners under his authority. These Suliotes have since then returned to Epirus and to Greece, the peace of 1815 having, perhaps, dissolved their connection with England, and they were even persuaded to enter the service of their arch-enemy, Ali Pacha. Since his death, their diminished numbers, and the altered circumstances of their situation, should naturally have led to the extinction of their political importance. Yet we find them in 1832 still attracting (or rather concentrating) the wrath of the Turkish Sultan, made the object of a separate war, and valued (as in all former cases) on the footing of a distinct and independent nation. On the winding up of this war, we find part of them at least an object of indulgent solicitude to the British government, and under their protection transferred to Cephalonia. Yet again, others of their scanty clan meet us at different points of the war in Greece; especially at the first decisive action with Ibrahim, when, in the rescue of Costa Botzaris, every Suliote of his blood perished on the spot; and again, in the fatal battle of Athens (May 6, 1827), Mr. Gordon assures us that “almost all the Suliotes were exterminated.” We understand him to speak not generally of the Suliotes, as of the total clan who bear that name, but of those only who happened to be present at that dire catastrophe. Still, even with this limitation, such a long succession of heavy losses descending upon a people who never numbered above twenty-five hundred fighting men, and who had passed through the furnace, seven times heated, of Ali Pacha’s wrath, and suffered those many and dismal tragedies which we have just recorded, cannot but have brought them latterly to the brink of utter extinction.