III. The Conquests of the Turks

Lecture 5. The Turk and the Christian

{104} I SAID in my last Lecture, that we are bound to judge of persons and events in history, not by their outward appearance, but by their inward significancy. In speaking of the Turks, we may for a moment yield to the romance which attends on their name and their actions, as we may admire the beauty of some beast of prey; but, as it would be idle and puerile to praise its shape or skin, and form no further judgment upon it, so in like manner it is unreal and unphilosophical to interest ourselves in the mere adventures and successes of the Turks, without going on to view them in their moral aspect also. No race casts so broad and dark a shadow on the page of ecclesiastical history, and leaves so painful an impression on the minds of the reader, as the Turkish. The fierce Goths and Vandals, and then again the Lombards, were converted to Catholicism. The Franks yielded to the voice of St. Remigius, and Clovis, their leader, became the eldest son of the Church. The Anglo-Saxons gave up their idols at the preaching of St. Augustine and his companions. The German tribes acknowledged Christ amid their forests, though they martyred St. Boniface and other English and Irish {105} missionaries who came to them. The Magyars in Hungary were led to faith through loyalty to their temporal monarch, their royal missioner St. Stephen. The heathen Danes reappear as the chivalrous Normans, the haughty but true sons and vassals of St. Peter. The Saracens even, who gave birth to an imposture, withered away at the end of 300 or 400 years, and had not the power, though they had the will, to persevere in their enmity to the Cross. The Tartars had both the will and the power, but they were far off from Christendom, or they came down in ephemeral outbreaks, which were rather those of freebooters than of persecutors, or they directed their fury as often against the enemies of the Church as against her children. But the unhappy race, of whom I am speaking, from the first moment they appear in the history of Christendom, are its unmitigated, its obstinate, its consistent foes. They are inexhaustible in numbers, pouring down upon the South and West, and taking one and the same terrible mould of misbelief as they successively descend. They have the populousness of the North, with the fire of the South; the resources of Tartars, with the fanaticism of Saracens. And when their strength declines, and age steals upon them, there is no softening, no misgiving; they die and make no sign. In the words of the Wise Man, "Being born, they forthwith ceased to be; and have been able to show no mark of virtue, but are consumed in wickedness." God's judgments, God's mercies, are inscrutable; one nation is taken, another is left. It is a mystery; but the fact stands; since the year 1048 the Turks have been the great Antichrist among the races of men.

I say since this date, because then it was that Togrul Beg finally opened the gates of the North to those descents, which had taken place indeed at intervals before, {106} but then became the habit of centuries. In vain was the power of his dynasty overthrown by the Crusaders; in vain do the Seljukians disappear from the annals of the world; in vain is Constantinople respited; in vain is Europe saved. Christendom in arms had not yet finished, it had but begun the work, in which it needed the grace to persevere. Down came the savage hordes, as at first, upon Sogdiana and Khorasan, so then upon Syria and its neighbouring countries. Sometimes they remain wild Turcomans, sometimes they fall into the civilization of the South; but there they are, in Egypt, in the Holy Land, in Armenia, in Anatolia, forming political bodies of long or short duration, breaking up here to form again there, in all cases trampling on Christianity, and beating out its sacred impression from the breasts of tens of thousands. Nor is this all; scarcely is the race of Seljuk quite extinct, or rather when it is on its very death-bed, after it had languished and shrunk and dwindled and flickered and kept on dying through a tedious two hundred years, when its sole remaining heir was just in one obscure court, from that very court we discern the birth of another empire, as dazzling in its rise, as energetic and impetuous in its deeds as that of Togrul, Alp, and Malek, and far more wide-spreading, far more powerful, far more lasting than the Seljukian. This is the empire of the great (if I must measure it by a human standard) and glorious race of Othman; this is the dynasty of the Ottomans or Osmanlis; once the admiration, the terror of nations, now, even in its downfall, an object of curiosity, interest, anxiety, and even respect; but, whether high or low, in all cases to the Christian the inveterate and hateful enemy of the Cross. {107}

1.

There is a certain remarkable parallel and contrast between the fortunes of these two races, the Seljukian and the Ottoman. In the beginning of the twelfth century, the race of Seljuk all but took Constantinople, and overran the West, and did not; in the beginning of the fifteenth, the Ottoman Turks were all but taking the same city, and then were withheld from taking it, and at length did take it, and have it still. In each case a foe came upon them from the north, still more fierce and vigorous than they, and humbled them to the dust.

These two foes, which came upon the Seljukian Turks and the Ottoman Turks respectively, are names by this time familiar to us; they are Zingis and Timour. Zingis came down upon the Seljukians, and Timour came down upon the Ottomans. Timour pressed the Ottomans even more severely than Zingis pressed the Seljukians; yet the Seljukians did not recover the blow of Zingis; but the Ottomans survived the blow of Timour, and rose more formidable after it, and have long outlived the power which inflicted it.

Zingis and Timour were but the blind instruments of divine vengeance. They knew not what they did. The inward impulse of gigantic energy and brutal cupidity urged them forward; ambition, love of destruction, sensual appetite, frenzied them, and made them both more and less than men. They pushed eastward, westward, southward; they confronted promptly and joyfully every peril, every obstacle which lay in their course. They smote down all rival pride and greatness of man; and therefore, by the law (as I may call it) of their nature and destiny, not on politic reason or far-reaching plan, but because they came across him, they smote the Turk. {108} These then were one class of his opponents; but there was another adversary, stationed against him, of a different order, one whose power was not material, but mental and spiritual; one whose enmity was not random, or casual, or temporary, but went on steadily from age to age, and lasts down to this day, except so far as the Turk's decrepitude has at length disarmed anxiety and opposition. I have spoken of him already; of course I mean the Vicar of Christ. I mean the zealous, the religious enmity to every anti-Christian power, of him who has outlasted Zingis and Timour, who has outlasted Seljuk, who is now outlasting Othman. He incited Christendom against the Seljukians, and the Seljukians, assailed also by Zingis, sunk beneath the double blow. He tried to rouse Christendom against the Ottomans also, but in vain; and therefore in vain did Timour discharge his overwhelming, crushing force against them. Overwhelmed and crushed they were, but they revived. The Seljukians fell, in consequence of the united zeal of the great Christian commonwealth moving in panoply against them; the Ottomans succeeded by reason of its deplorable divisions, and its decay of faith and heroism.

2.

Whether indeed in the long run, and after all his disappointments and reverses, the Pope was altogether unsuccessful in his warfare against the Ottomans, we shall see by-and-by; but certainly, if perseverance merited a favourable issue, at least he has had a right to expect it. War with the Turks was his uninterrupted cry for seven or eight centuries, from the eleventh to the eighteenth; it is a solitary and singular event in the history of the Church. Sylvester the Second was the {109} originator of the scheme of a union of Christian nations against them. St. Gregory the Seventh collected 50,000 men to repel them. Urban the Second actually set in motion the long crusade. Honorius the Second instituted the order of Knight Templars to protect the pilgrims from their assaults. Eugenius the Third sent St. Bernard to preach the Holy War. Innocent the Third advocated it in the august Council of the Lateran. Nicholas the Fourth negotiated an alliance with the Tartars for its prosecution. Gregory the Tenth was in the Holy Land in the midst of it, with our Edward the First, when he was elected Pope. Urban the Fifth received and reconciled the Greek Emperor with a view to its renewal. Innocent the Sixth sent the Blessed Peter Thomas the Carmelite to preach in its behalf. Boniface the Ninth raised the magnificent army of French, Germans, and Hungarians, who fought the great battle of Nicopolis. Eugenius the Fourth formed the confederation of Hungarians and Poles who fought the battle of Varna. Nicholas the Fifth sent round St. John Capistran to urge the princes of Christendom against the enemy. Callixtus the Third sent the celebrated Hunniades to fight with them. Pius the Second addressed to their Sultan an apostolic letter of warning and denunciation. Sixtus the Fourth fitted out a fleet against them. Innocent the Eighth made them his mark from the beginning of his Pontificate to the end. St. Pius the Fifth added the "Auxilium Christianorum" to our Lady's Litany in thankfulness for his victory over them. Gregory the Thirteenth with the same purpose appointed the Festival of the Rosary. Clement the Ninth died of grief on account of their successes. The venerable Innocent the Eleventh appointed the Festival of the Holy Name of Mary, for their rout before {110} Vienna. Clement the Eleventh extended the Feast of the Rosary to the whole Church for the great victory over them near Belgrade. These are but some of the many instances which might be given; but they are enough for the purpose of showing the perseverance of the Popes.

Nor was their sagacity in this matter less remarkable than their pertinacity. The Holy See has the reputation, even with men of the world, of seeing instinctively what is favourable, what is unfavourable, to the interests of religion and of the Catholic Faith. Its undying opposition to the Turks is not the least striking instance of this divinely imparted gift. From the very first it pointed at them as an object of alarm for all Christendom, in a way in which it had marked out neither Tartars nor Saracens. It exposed them to the reprobation of Europe, as a people, with whom, if charity differ from merciless ferocity, tenderness from hardness of heart, depravity of appetite from virtue, and pride from meekness and humility, the faithful never could have sympathy, never alliance. It denounced, not merely an odious outlying deformity, painful simply to the moral sight and scent, but an energetic evil, an aggressive, ambitious, ravenous foe, in whom foulness of life and cruelty of policy were methodized by system, consecrated by religion, propagated by the sword. I am not insensible, I wish to do justice, to the high qualities of the Turkish race. I do not altogether deny to its national character the grandeur, the force and originality, the valour, the truthfulness and sense of justice, the sobriety and gentleness, which historians and travellers speak of; but, in spite of all that has been done for them by nature and by the European world, Tartar still is the staple of their composition, and their gifts and attainments, whatever {111} they may be, do but make them the more efficient foes of faith and civilization.

3.

It was said by a Prophet of old, in the prospect of a fierce invader, "a day of clouds and whirlwinds, a numerous and strong people, as the morning spread upon the mountains. The like to it hath not been from the beginning, nor shall be after it, even to the years of generation and generation. Before the face thereof a devouring fire, and behind it a burning flame. The land is like a garden of pleasure before it, and behind it a desolate wilderness; neither is there any one can escape it." Now I might, in illustration of the character which the Turks bear in history, suitably accommodate these words to the moral, or the social, or the political, or the religious calamities, of which they were the authors to the Christian countries they overran; and so I might bring home to you the meaning and drift of that opposition with which the Holy See has met them in every age. I might allude (if I dare, but I dare not, nor does any one dare),—else, allusion might be made to those unutterable deeds which brand the people which allows them, even in the natural judgment of men, as the most flagitious, the most detestable of nations. I might enlarge on the reckless and remorseless cruelty which, had they succeeded in Europe, as they succeeded in Asia, would have decimated or exterminated her children; I might have reminded you, for instance, how it has been almost a canon of their imperial policy for centuries, that their Sultan, on mounting the throne, should destroy his nearest of kin, father, brother, or cousin, who might rival him in his sovereignty; how he is surrounded, and his subjects according to their wealth, with slaves {112} carried off from their homes, men and boys, living monuments of his barbarity towards the work of God's hands; how he has at his remorseless will and in the sudden breath of his mouth the life or death of all his subjects; how he multiplies his despotism by giving to his lieutenants in every province, a like prerogative; how little scruple those governors have ever felt in exercising this prerogative to the full, in executions on a large scale, and sudden overwhelming massacres, shedding blood like water, and playing with the life of man as though it were the life of a mere beast or reptile. I might call your attention to particular instances of such atrocities, such as that outrage perpetrated in the memory of many of us,—how, on the insurrection of the Greeks at Scio, their barbarian masters carried fire and sword throughout the flourishing island till it was left a desert, hurrying away women and boys to an infamous captivity, and murdering youths and grown men, till out of 120,000 souls, in the spring time, not 900 were left there when the crops were ripe for the sickle. If I do not go into scenes such as these in detail, it is because I have wearied and troubled you more than enough already, in my account of the savage perpetrations of Zingis and Timour.

Or I might, in like manner, still more obviously insist on their system of compulsory conversion, which, from the time of the Seljukian Sultans to the present day, have raised the indignation and the compassion of the Christian world; how, when the lieutenants of Malek Shah got possession of Asia Minor, they profaned the churches, subjected Bishops and Clergy to the most revolting outrages, circumcised the youth, and led off their sisters to their profligate households;—how, when the Ottomans conquered in turn, and added an infantry, {113} I mean the Janizaries, to their Tartar horse, they formed that body of troops, from first to last, for near five hundred years, of boys, all born Christian, a body of at first 12,000, at last 40,000 strong, torn away year by year from their parents, circumcised, trained to the faith and morals of their masters, and becoming in their turn the instruments of the terrible policy of which they had themselves been victims; and how, when at length lately they abolished this work of their hands, they ended it by the slaughter of 20,000 of the poor renegades whom they had seduced from their God. I might remind you how within the last few years a Protestant traveller tells us that he found the Nestorian Christians, who had survived the massacres of their race, living in holes and pits, their pastures and tillage land forfeited, their sheep and cattle driven away, their villages burned, and their ministers and people tortured; and how a Catholic missionary has found in the neighbourhood of Broussa the remnant of some twenty Catholic families, who, in consequence of repudiating the Turkish faith, had been carried all the way from Servia and Albania across the sea to Asia Minor; the men killed, the women disgraced, the boys sold, till out of a hundred and eighty persons but eighty-seven were left, and they sick, and famished, and dying among their unburied dead. I could of course continue this topic also to any extent, and draw it out as an illustration of the words of the Prophet which I have quoted. But I prefer to take those words literally, as expressive of the desolation spread by an infidel foe over the face of a flourishing country; and then I shall be viewing the Turkish rule under an aspect addressed to the senses, not admitting of a question, calculated to rouse the sensibilities of Christians of whatever caste of opinion, and explanatory by itself of the {114} determined front which the Holy See has ever made against it.

4.

The Catholic Church was in the first instance a wanderer on the earth, and had nothing to attach her to its soil; but no sooner did persecution cease, and territory was allowed to her, than she began to exert a beneficent influence upon the face of the land, and on its cultivators. She shed her consolations, and extended her protection, over the serf and the slave; and, while she gradually relaxed his fetters, she sent her own dearest children to bear his burden with him, and to aid him in the cultivation of the soil. Under the loving assiduity of the Benedictine Monk, the ravages of war were repaired, the plantation throve, the river diffused itself in rills and channels, and hill and dale and plain rejoiced in corn land and pasture. And when in a later time a world was to be created, not restored, when the deep forests of the North were to be cleared, and the unwholesome marsh to be drained, who but the missionaries from the same great Order were to be the ministers of temporal, as well as spiritual, benefits to the rude tribes they were converting? And then again, when history moved on into the era of the first Turkish outbreak, who but St. Bernard, the very preacher of the Crusade, who but he led on his peaceful Cistercians, after the pattern of his master, St. Stephen, to that laborious but cheerful husbandry, which they continue in the wild places of the earth even to this day? Never has Holy Church forgotten,—abhorrent, as she is, from the Pantheistic tendencies which in all ages have surrounded her,—never has she forgotten the interests of that mighty mother on whose bosom we feed in life, {115} into whose arms we drop in death; never has she forgotten that that mother is the special creature of God, and to be honoured, in leaf and flower, in lofty tree and pleasant stream, for His sake, as well as for our own; that while it is our primeval penalty to till the earth, she lovingly repays us for our toil; that Adam was a gardener even in Paradise, and that Noe inaugurated his new world by "beginning to be a husbandman, and by planting a vineyard."

Such is the genius of the true faith; and it might have been thought, that, though not Christians, even of very gratitude, the barbarous race, which owed a part of whatever improvement of mind or manners they had received to the fair plains of Sogdiana, would, on seizing on their rich and beautiful lands on the north, east, and south of the Mediterranean, have felt some sort of reverence for their captive, and, while enjoying her gifts, would have been merciful to the giver. But the same selfish sensuality, with which they regard the rational creation of God, possesses them in their conduct towards physical nature. They have made the earth their paramour, and are heartless towards her dishonour and her misery. We have lately been reminded in this place of the Doge of Venice [Note 1] making the Adriatic his bride, and claiming her by a ring of espousal; but the Turk does not deign to legitimatize his possession of the soil he has violently seized, or to gain a title to it by any sacred tie; caring for no better right to it than the pirate has to the jurisdiction of the high seas. Let the Turcoman ride up and down Asia Minor or Syria for a thousand years, how is the trampling of his horse-hoofs a possession of those countries, more than a {116} Scythian raid or a Tartar gallop across it? The imperial Osmanli sits and smokes long days in his pavilion, without any thought at all of his broad domain except to despise and to plunder and impoverish its cultivators; and is his title made better thereby than the Turcoman's, to be the heir of Alexander and Seleucus, of the Ptolemies and Massinissa, of Constantine and Justinian? What claim does it give him upon Europe, Asia, and Africa, upon Greece, Palestine, and Egypt, that he has frustrated the munificence of nature and demolished the works of man?

5.

Asia Minor especially, the peninsula which lies between the Black Sea, the Archipelago, and the Mediterranean, was by nature one of the most beautiful, and had been made by art one of the most fertile of countries. It had for generations contained flourishing marts of commerce, and it had been studded with magnificent cities, the ruins of which now stand as a sepulchre of the past. No country perhaps has seen such a succession of prosperous states, and had such a host of historical reminiscences, under such distinct eras and such various distributions of territory. It is memorable in the beginning of history for its barbarian kings and nobles, whose names stand as commonplaces and proverbs of wealth and luxury. The magnificence of Pelops imparts lustre even to the brilliant dreams of the mythologist. The name of Crœsus, King of Lydia, whom I have already had occasion to mention, goes as a proverb for his enormous riches. Midas, King of Phrygia, had such abundance of the precious metals that he was said by the poets to have the power of turning whatever he touched into gold. The tomb of {117} Mausolus, King of Caria, was one of the seven wonders of the ancient world. It was the same with the Greek colonies which were scattered along its coasts; they are renowned for opulence, for philosophy, and for the liberal and the fine arts. Homer among the poets, Thales among philosophers, Herodotus, the father of history, Hippocrates, the oracle of physicians, Apelles, the prince of painters, were among their citizens; and Pythius, who presented one of the Persian Kings with a plane-tree and a vine of massive gold, was in his day, after those kings, the richest man in the known world.

Then come the many splendid cities founded by the successors of Alexander, through its extent; and the powerful and opulent kingdoms, Greek or Barbarian, of Pontus, and Bithynia, and Pergamus—Pergamus, with its library of 200,000 choice volumes. Later still, the resources of the country were so well recognised, that it was the favourite prey of the Roman statesmen, who, after involving themselves in enormous debts in the career of ambition, needed by extortion and rapine to set themselves right with their creditors. Next it became one of the first seats of Christianity; St. Luke in the Acts of the Apostles relates to us the apostolic labours of St. Paul there in town and country; St. John wrote the Apocalypse to the Churches of seven of its principal cities; and St. Peter, his first Epistle to Christians scattered through its provinces. It was the home of some of the greatest Saints, Martyrs, and Doctors of the early ages: there first, in Bithynia, the power of Christianity manifested itself over a heathen population; there St. Polycarp was martyred, there St. Gregory Thaumaturgus converted the inhabitants of Pontus; there St. Gregory Nazianzen, St. Gregory Nyssen, St. {118} Basil, and St. Amphilochius preached and wrote. There were held three of the first four Councils of the Church, at Chalcedon, at Ephesus, and at Nica, the very city afterwards profaned by the palace of the Sultan. It abounded in the gifts of nature, for food, utility, or ornament; its rivers ran with gold, its mountains yielded the most costly marbles; it had mines of copper, and especially of iron; its plains were fruitful in all kinds of grain, in broad pastures and luxuriant woods, while its hills were favourable to the olive and the vine.

Such was that region, once celebrated for its natural advantages, for its arts, its splendour, as well as for its gifts of grace; and the misery and degradation which are at present imprinted on the very face of the soil are the emblems of that worse ruin which has overtaken the souls of its children. I have already referred to the journal of Dr. Chandler, who saw it, even in its western coast, overrun by the hideous tents of the Turcomans. Another traveller of late years [Note 2] tells us of that ancient Bithynia, which runs along the Black Sea, a beautiful and romantic country, intersected with lofty mountains and fertile valleys, and abounding in rivers and forests. The luxuriance of the pastures, he says, and the richness of the woods, often reminded him of an English gentleman's park. Such is it as nature has furnished it for the benefit of man; but he found its forests covered with straggling Turcomans and numerous flocks of goats. As he was passing through Phrygia, the inhabitants smiled, when he asked for ruins, assuring him that the whole country was overspread with them. There too again he found a great part of its face covered with the roving Turcomans, "a boisterous and ignorant race, {119} though much more honourable and hospitable," he adds, "than the inhabitants of the towns." Mr. Alison tells us that when the English fleet, in 1801, was stationed on the southern coast, some sailors accidentally set fire to a thick wood, and the space thus left bare was studded all along with the ruins of temples and palaces.

A still more recent traveller [Note 3] corroborates this testimony. Striking inland from Smyrna, he found "the scenery extremely beautiful, and the land," he continues, "which is always rich, would be valuable, if sufficiently cultivated, but it is much neglected." In another part of the country, he "rode for at least three miles through a ruined city, which was one pile of temples, theatres, and buildings, vying with each other in splendour." Now here, you will observe, I am not finding fault with the mere circumstance that the scenes of ancient grandeur should abound in ruins. Buildings will decay; old buildings will not answer new uses; there are ruins enough in Europe; but the force of the argument lies in this, that in these countries there are ruins and nothing else; that the old is gone, and has not been replaced by the new. So was it about Smyrna; and so too about Sardis: "Its situation," he says, "is very beautiful, but the country over which it looks is now almost deserted, and the valley is become a swamp. Its little rivers of clear water, after turning a mill or two, serve only to flood, instead of draining and beautifying the country." His descriptions of the splendour of the scenery, yet of the desolation of the land, are so frequent that I should not be able to confine my extracts within bounds, did I attempt to give them all. He speaks of his route as lying through "a rich wilderness" of ruins. Sometimes the landscape "so far exceeded the beauty of nature, as to {120} seem the work of magic." Again, "the splendid view passed like a dream; for the continual turns in the road, and the increasing richness of the woods and vegetation, soon limited my view to a mere foreground. Nor was this without interest; on each projecting rock stood an ancient sarcophagus; and the trees half concealed the lids and broken sculpture of innumerable tombs."

The gifts of nature remain; he was especially struck with the trees. "We traversed the coast," he says, "through woods of the richest trees, the planes being the handsomest to be found in this or perhaps any other part of the world. I have never seen such stupendous arms to any trees." Everything was running wild; "the underwood was of myrtle, growing sometimes twenty feet high, the beautiful daphne laurel, and the arbutus; and they seemed contending for pre-eminence with the vine, clematis, and woodbine, which climbed to the very tops, and in many instances bore them down into a thicket of vegetation, impervious except to the squirrels and birds, which, sensible of their security in these retreats, stand boldly to survey the traveller." Elsewhere he found the ground carpeted with the most beautiful flowers. A Protestant Missionary [Note 4], in like manner, travelling in a different part of the country, speaks of the hedges of wild roses, the luxuriant gardens and fruit-trees, principally the cherry, the rich soil, the growth of beech, oak, and maple, the level meadows and swelling hills covered with the richest sward, and the rivulets of the purest water. No wonder that, as he tells us, "sitting down under a spreading walnut-tree, by the side of a murmuring mill stream, he was led by the charming woodland scenery around to reflect upon that mysterious Providence, by which so beautiful a country {121} has been placed under such a blighting government, in the hands of so ignorant and barbarous a people."

The state of the population is in keeping with the neglected condition of the country. It is, down to the present time, wasting away; and that there are inhabitants at all seems in the main referable to merely accidental causes. On the road from Angora to Constantinople there were old people, twenty years since, who remembered as many as forty or fifty villages, where now there are none; and in the middle of the last century two hundred places had become forsaken in the tract lying between those two cities and Smyrna [Note 5].

This desolation is no accident of a declining empire; it dates from the very time that a Turk first came into the country, from the era of the Seljukian Sultans, eight hundred years ago. We have indirect but clear proof of it in the course of history following their expulsion from the country by the Crusaders. For a while the Greeks recovered their dominion in its western portion, and fixed their imperial residence at Nica, which had been the capital of the Seljukians. A vigorous prince mounted the throne, and the main object of his exertions and the special work of his reign was the recovery of the soil. We are told by an English historian [Note 6], that he found the most fertile lands without either cultivation or inhabitants, and he took them into his own management. It followed that, in the course of some years, the imperial domain became the granary and garden of Asia; and the sovereign made money without impoverishing his people. According to the nature of the soil, he sowed it with corn, or planted it with vines, or laid it down in grass: his pastures abounded with herds and flocks, horses and swine; and his speculation, as it may {122} be called, in poultry was so happy, that he was able to present his empress with a crown of pearls and diamonds out of his gains. His example encouraged his nobles to imitation; and they learned to depend for their incomes on the honourable proceeds of their estates, instead of oppressing their people, and seeking favours from the court. Such was the immediate consequence when man cooperated with the bountifulness of nature in this fruitful region; and it brings out prominently by its contrast the wretchedness of the Turkish domination.

6.

That wretchedness is found, not in Asia Minor only, but wherever Turks are to be found in power. Throughout the whole extent of their territory, if you believe the report of travellers, the peasantry are indigent, oppressed, and wretched [Note 7]. The great island of Crete or Candia would maintain four times its present population; once it had a hundred cities; many of its towns, which were densely populous, are now obscure villages. Under the Venetians it used to export corn largely; now it imports it. As to Cyprus, from holding a million of inhabitants, it now has only 30,000. Its climate was that of a perpetual spring; now it is unwholesome and unpleasant; its cities and towns nearly touched one another, now they are simply ruins. Corn, wine, oil, sugar, and the metals are among its productions; the soil is still exceedingly rich; but now, according to Dr. Clarke, in that "paradise of the Levant, agriculture is neglected, inhabitants are oppressed, population is destroyed." Cross over to the continent, and survey Syria and its neighbouring cities; at this day the Turks themselves are dying out; Diarbekr, which numbered 400,000 souls {123} in the middle of last century, forty years afterwards had dwindled to 50,000. Mosul had lost half its inhabitants; Bagdad had fallen from 130,000 to 20,000; and Bassora from 100,000 to 8,000.

If we pass on to Egypt, the tale is still the same. "In the fifteenth century," says Mr. Alison, "Egypt, after all the revolutions which it had undergone, was comparatively rich and populous; but since the fatal era of Turkish conquest, the tyranny of the Pashas has expelled industry, riches, and the arts." Stretch across the width of Africa to Barbary, wherever there is a Turk, there is desolation. What indeed have the shepherds of the desert, in the most ambitious effort of their civilization, to do with the cultivation of the soil? "That fertile territory," says Robertson, "which sustained the Roman Empire, still lies in a great measure uncultivated; and that province, which Victor called Speciositas totius terr florentis, is now the retreat of pirates and banditti."

End your survey at length with Europe, and you find the same account is to be given of its Turkish provinces. In the Morea, Chateaubriand, wherever he went, beheld villages destroyed by fire and sword, whole suburbs deserted, often fifteen leagues without a single habitation. "I have travelled," says Mr. Thornton, "through several provinces of European Turkey, and cannot convey an idea of the state of desolation in which that beautiful country is left. For the space of seventy miles, between Kirk Kilise and Carnabat, there is not an inhabitant, though the country is an earthly paradise. The extensive and pleasant village of Faki, with its houses deserted, its gardens overrun with weeds and grass, its lands waste and uncultivated, and now the resort of robbers, affects the traveller with the most {124} painful sensations." [Note 8] Even in Wallachia and Moldavia the population has been gradually decreasing, while of that rich country not more than a fortieth part is under tillage. In a word, the average population in the whole Empire is not a fifth of what it was in ancient times.

7.

Here I am tempted to exclaim (though the very juxtaposition of two countries so different from each other in their condition needs an apology), I cannot help exclaiming, how different is the condition of that other peninsula in the centre of which is placed the See of Peter! I am ashamed of comparing, or even contrasting, Italy with Asia Minor—the seat of Christian governments with the seat of a barbarian rule—except that, since I have been speaking of the tenderness which the Popes have shown, according to their means, for the earth and its cultivators, there is a sort of fitness in pointing out that the result is in their case conformable to our just anticipation. Besides, so much is uttered among us in disparagement of the governments of that beautiful country, that there is a reason for pressing the contrast on the attention of those, who in their hearts acknowledge little difference between the rulers of Italy and of Turkey. I think it will be instructive, then, to dwell upon the account given us of Italy by an intelligent and popular writer of this day; nor need we, in doing so, concern ourselves with questions which he elsewhere discusses, such as whether Italy has received the last improvements in agriculture, or in civil economy, or in finance, or in politics, or in mechanical contrivances; in short, whether the art of life is carried there to its perfection. Systems and codes are to be tested by their {125} results; let us put aside theories and disputable points; let us survey a broad, undeniable, important fact; let us look simply at the state both of the land and of the population in Italy; let us take it as our gauge and estimate of political institutions; let us, by way of contrast, put it side by side of the state of land and population, as reported to us by travellers in Turkey.

Mr. Alison, then, in his most diligent and interesting history of Europe [Note 9], divides the extent of Italy into three great districts, of mountain, plain, and marsh. The region of marsh lies between the Apennines and the Mediterranean; and here, I confess, he finds fault with the degree of diligence in reclaiming it exerted by its present possessors. He notices with dissatisfaction that the marshes of Volterra are still as pestilential as in the days of Hannibal; moreover, that the Campagna of Rome, once inhabited by numerous tribes, is now an almost uninhabited desert, and that the Pontine Marshes, formerly the abode of thirty nations, are now a pestilential swamp. I will not stop to remind you that the irruptions of barbarians like the Turks, have been the causes of this desolation, that the existing governments had nothing to do with it, and that, on the contrary, they have made various efforts to overcome the evil. For argument's sake, I will allow them to be a reproach to the government, for they will be found to be only exceptions to the general state of the country. Even as regards this low tract, he speaks of one portion of it, the plain of the Clitumnus, as being rich, as in ancient days, in herds and flocks; and he enlarges upon the Campagna of Naples as "still the scene of industry, elegance, and agricultural riches. There," he says, "still, as in ancient times, an admirable cultivation brings to perfection the {126} choicest gifts of nature. Magnificent crops of wheat and maize cover the rich and level expanse; rows of elms or willows shelter their harvests from the too scorching rays of the sun; and luxuriant vines, clustering to the very tops of the trees, are trained in festoons from one summit to the other. On its hills the orange, the vine, and the fig-tree flourish in luxuriant beauty; the air is rendered fragrant by their ceaseless perfume; and the prodigy is here exhibited of the fruit and the flower appearing at the same time on the same stem."

So much for that portion of Italy which owes least to the labours of the husbandman: the second portion is the plain of Lombardy, which stretches three hundred miles in length by one hundred and twenty in breadth, and which, he says, "beyond question is the richest and the most fertile in Europe." This great plain is so level, that you may travel two hundred miles in a straight line, without coming to a natural eminence ten feet high; and it is watered by numerous rivers, the Ticino, the Adda, the Adige, and others, which fall into the great stream of the Po, the "king of rivers," as Virgil calls it, which flows majestically through its length from west to east till it finds its mouth in the Adriatic. It is obvious, from the testimony of the various travellers in the East, whom I have cited, what would be the fate of this noble plain under a Turkish government; it would become nothing more or less than one great and deadly swamp. But Mr. Alison observes: "It is hard to say, whether the cultivation of the soil, the riches of nature, or the structures of human industry in this beautiful region, are most to be admired. An unrivalled system of agriculture, from which every nation in Europe might take a lesson, has long been established over its whole surface, and two, and sometimes three successive crops {127} annually reward the labours of the husbandman. Indian corn is produced in abundance, and by its return, quadruple that of wheat, affords subsistence for a numerous and dense population. Rice arrives at maturity to a great extent in the marshy districts; and an incomparable system of irrigation, diffused over the whole, conveys the waters of the Alps to every field, and in some places to every ridge, in the grass lands. It is in these rich meadows, stretching round Lodi, and from thence to Verona, that the celebrated Parmesan cheese, known over all Europe for the richness of its flavour, is made. The vine and the olive thrive in the sunny slopes which ascend from the plain to the ridges of the Alps; and a woody zone of never-failing beauty lies between the desolation of the mountain and the fertility of the plain."

8.

Such is his language concerning the cultivation at present bestowed upon the great plain of Italy; but after all it is for the third or mountainous region of the country, where art has to supply the deficiencies of nature, that he reserves his enthusiastic praises. After speaking of what nature really does for it in the way of vegetation and fruits, he continues: "An admirable terrace-cultivation, where art and industry have combined to overcome the obstacles of nature, has everywhere converted the slopes, naturally sterile and arid, into a succession of gardens, loaded with the choicest vegetable productions. A delicious climate there brings the finest fruits to maturity; the grapes hang in festoons from tree to tree; the song of the nightingale is heard in every grove; all nature seems to rejoice in the paradise which the industry of man has created. To this incomparable system of horticulture, which appears to {128} have been unknown to the ancient Romans, and to have been introduced into Europe by the warriors who returned from the Crusades, the riches and smiling aspect of Tuscany and the mountain-region of Italy are chiefly to be ascribed; for nothing can be more desolate by nature than the waterless declivities, in general almost destitute of soil, on which it has been formed. The earth required to be brought in from a distance, retaining walls erected, the steep slopes converted into a series of gentle inclinations, the mountain-torrent diverted or restrained, and the means of artificial irrigation, to sustain nature during the long droughts of summer, obtained. By the incessant labour of centuries this prodigy has been completed, and the very stony sterility of nature converted into the means of heightening, by artificial means, the heat of summer ... No room is lost in these little but precious freeholds; the vine extends its tendrils along the terrace walls ... in the corners formed by their meeting, a little sheltered nook is found, where fig-trees are planted, which ripen delicious fruit under their protection. The owner takes advantage of every vacant space to raise melons and vegetables. Olives shelter it from the rains; so that, within the compass of a very small garden, he obtains olives, figs, grapes, pomegranates, and melons. Such is the return which nature yields under this admirable system of management, that half the crop of seven acres is sufficient in general for the maintenance of a family of five persons, and the whole produce supports them all in rustic affluence. Italy, in this delightful region, still realizes the glowing description of her classic historian three hundred years ago."

The author I have quoted goes on next to observe that this diligent cultivation of the rock accounts for {129} what at first sight is inexplicable, viz., the vast population, which is found, not merely in the valleys, but over the greater part of the ridges of the Apennines, and the endless succession of villages and hamlets which are perched on the edge or summit of rocks, often, to appearance, scarcely accessible to human approach. He adds that the labour never ends, for, if a place goes out of repair, the violence of the rain will soon destroy it. "Stones and torrents wash down the soil; the terraces are broken through; the heavy rains bring down a shapeless mass of ruins; everything returns rapidly to its former state." Thus it is that parts of Palestine at present exhibit such desolate features to the traveller, who wonders how it ever could have been the rich land described in Scripture; till he finds that it was this sort of cultivation which made it what it was, that this it was the Crusaders probably saw and imported into Europe, and this that the ruthless Turks in great measure laid waste.

Lastly, he speaks of the population of Italy; as to the towns, it has declined on account of the new channels of commerce which nautical discovery has opened, to the prejudice of the marts and ports of the middle ages. In spite of this, however, he says, "that the provinces have increased both in riches and inhabitants, and the population of Italy was never, either in the days of the Emperors, or of the modern Republics, so considerable as it is at the present moment. In the days of Napoleon, it gave 1,237 to the square marine league, a density greater than that of either France or England at that period. This populousness of Italy," he adds, "is to be explained by the direction of its capital to agricultural investment, and the increasing industry with which, during a long course of centuries, its inhabitants have overcome the sterility of nature."{130}

Such is the contrast between Italy under its present governments and Asia Minor under the Turks; and can we doubt at all, that, if the Turks had conquered Italy, they would have caused the labours of the agriculturist and the farmer to cease, and have reduced it to the level of their present dominions?

Top | Contents | Volume Contents | Works | Home


Notes

1. Vid. a beautiful passage in Cardinal Wiseman's late lecture at Liverpool.
Return to text

2. Vid. Murray's Asia.
Return to text

3. Sir Charles Fellows.
Return to text

4. Vid. Smith and Dwight's Travels.
Return to text

5. Eclectic Review, Dec. 1839.
Return to text

6. Gibbon.
Return to text

7. Alison on Population, vol. i. p. 309. etc.
Return to text

8. Vol. i., p. 66, note.
Return to text

9. Alison. ch. xx., 28.
Return to text

Top | Contents | Volume Contents | Works | Home


Newman Reader — Works of John Henry Newman
Copyright 2007 by The National Institute for Newman Studies. All rights reserved.