Lecture 9. The Future of the Ottomans

{207} SCIENTIFIC anticipations are commonly either truisms or failures; failures, if, as is usually the case, they are made upon insufficient data; and truisms, if they succeed, for conclusions, being always contained in their premisses, never can be discoveries. Yet, as mixed mathematics correct, without superseding, the pure science, so I do not see why I may not allowably take a sort of pure philosophical view of the Turks and their position, though it be but abstract and theoretical, and require correction when confronted by the event. There is a use in investigating what ought to be, under given suppositions and conditions, even though speculation and fact do not happen to keep pace together.

As to myself, having laid down my premisses, as drawn from historical considerations, I must needs go on, whether I will or no, to the conjectures to which they lead; and that shall be my business in this concluding discussion. My line of argument has been as follows:—First, I stated some peculiarities of civilized and of barbarian communities; I said that it is a general truth that civilized states are destroyed from within, and barbarian states from without; that the very causes, which lead to the greatness of civilized communities, at length by continuing become their {208} ruin, whereas the causes of barbarian greatness uphold that greatness, as long as they continue, and by ceasing to act, not by continuing, lead the way to its overthrow. Thus the intellect of Athens first was its making and then its unmaking; while the warlike prowess of the Spartans maintained their pre-eminence, till it succumbed to the antagonist prowess of Thebes.


I laid down this principle as a general law of human society, open to exceptions and requiring modifications in particular cases, but true on the whole. Next, I went on to show that the Ottoman power was of a barbarian character. The conclusion is obvious; viz., that it has risen, and will fall, not by anything within it, but by agents external to itself; and this conclusion, I certainly think, is actually confirmed by Turkish history, as far as it has hitherto gone. The Ottoman state seems, in matter of fact, to be most singularly constructed, so as to have nothing inside of it, and to be moved solely or mainly by influences from without. What a contrast, for instance, to the German race! In the earliest history of that people, we discern an element of civilization, a vigorous action of the intellect residing in the body, independent of individuals, and giving birth to great men, rather than created by them. Again, in the first three centuries of the Church, we find martyrs indeed in plenty, as the Turks might have soldiers; but (to view the matter humanly) perhaps there was not one great mind, after the Apostles, to teach and to mould her children. The highest intellects, Origen, Tertullian, and Eusebius, were representatives of a philosophy not hers; her greatest bishops, such as St. Gregory, St. Dionysius, and St. Cyprian, so little exercised a doctor's {209} office, as to incur, however undeservedly, the imputation of doctrinal inaccuracy. Vigilant as was the Holy See then, as in every age, yet there is no Pope, I may say, during that period, who has impressed his character upon his generation; yet how well instructed, how precisely informed, how self-possessed an oracle of truth, nevertheless, do we find the Church to be, when the great internal troubles of the fourth century required it! how unambiguous, how bold is the Christianity of the great Pontiffs, St. Julius, St. Damasus, St. Siricius, and St. Innocent; of the great Doctors, St. Athanasius, St. Basil, St. Ambrose, and St. Augustine! By what channels, then, had the divine philosophy descended down from the Great Teacher through three centuries of persecution? First through the See and Church of Peter, into which error never intruded (though Popes might be little more than victims, to be hunted out and killed, as soon as made), and to which the faithful from all quarters of the world might have recourse when difficulties arose, or when false teachers anywhere exalted themselves. But intercommunion was difficult, and comparatively rare in days like those, and of nothing is there less pretence of proof than that the Holy See, while persecution raged, imposed a faith upon the ecumenical body. Rather, in that earliest age, it was simply the living spirit of the myriads of the faithful, none of them known to fame, who received from the disciples of our Lord, and husbanded so well, and circulated so widely, and transmitted so faithfully, generation after generation, the once delivered apostolic faith; who held it with such sharpness of outline and explicitness of detail, as enabled even the unlearned instinctively to discriminate between truth and error, spontaneously to reject the very shadow of heresy, and {210} to be proof against the fascination of the most brilliant intellects, when they would lead them out of the narrow way. Here, then, is a luminous instance of what I mean by an energetic action from within.

Take again the history of the Saracenic schools and parties, on which I have already touched. Mr. Southgate considers the absence of religious controversy among the Turks, contrasted with its frequency of old among the Saracens, as a proof of the decay of the spirit of Islam. I should rather refer the present apathy to the national temperament of the Turks, and set it down, with other instances I shall mention presently, as a result of their barbarism. Saracenic Mahometanism, on the contrary, gives me an apposite illustration of what I mean by an "interior" people, if I may borrow a devotional word to express a philosophical idea. A barbarous nation has no "interior," but the Saracens show us what a national "interior" is. "In former ages," says the author to whom I have referred, Mr. Southgate, "the bosom of Islamism was riven with numerous feuds and schisms, some of which have originated from religious controversy, and others from political ambition. During the first centuries of its existence, and while Mussulman learning flourished under the patronage of the Caliphs, religious questions were discussed by the learned with all the proverbial virulence of theological hatred. The chief of these questions respected the origin of the Koran, the nature of God, predestination and free will, and the grounds of human salvation. The question, whether the Koran was created or eternal, rent for a time the whole body of Islamism into twain, and gave rise to the most violent persecutions ... Besides these religious contentions, which divided the Mussulmans into parties, but seldom gave birth to sects, there have sprung up, at different {211} periods, avowed heresies, which flourished for a time, and for the most part died with their authors. Others, stimulated by ambition only, have reared the standard of revolt, and under cover of some new religious dogma, propounded only to shield a selfish end, have sought to raise themselves to power. Most of these, whether theological disputes, heresies, or civil rebellions, cloaked under the name of religion, arose previously to the sixteenth century." [Note 1]


Such is that internal peculiarity, the presence of which constitutes a civilized, the absence a barbarous people; which makes a people great, and small again; and which, just consistently with the notion of their being barbarians, I cannot discern, for strength or for weakness, in the Turks. On the contrary, almost all the elements of their success, and instruments of their downfall, are external to themselves. For instance, their religion, one of their principal bonds, owes nothing to them; it is, not only in substance, but in concrete shape, just what it was when it came to them. I cannot find that they have commented upon it; I cannot find that they are the channels of any of those famous traditions by which the Koran is interpreted, and which they themselves accept; or that they have exercised their minds upon it at all, except so far as they have been obliged, in a certain degree, to do so in the administration of the law. It is true also that they have been obliged to choose to be Sunnites and not Shiahs; but, considering the latter sect arose in Persia, since the date of the Turkish occupation of Constantinople, it was really no choice at all. They have but remained as they were. Besides, the Shiahs {212} maintain the hereditary transmission of the Caliphate, which would exclude the line of Othman from the succession—good reason then the Turks should be Sunnites; and the dates of the two events so nearly coincide, that one could even fancy that the Shiahs actually arose in consequence of the Sultan Selim's carrying off the last of the Abassides from Egypt, and gaining the transference of the Caliphate from his captive. Besides, if it is worth while pursuing the point, did they not remain Sunnites, they would have to abandon the traditional or oral law, and must cease to use the labours of its four great doctors, which would be to bring upon themselves an incalculable extent of intellectual toil; for without recognized comments on the Koran, neither the religion nor the civil state could be made to work.

The divine right of the line of Othman is another of their special political bonds, and this too is shown by the following extract from a well-known historian [Note 2], if it needs showing, to be simply external to themselves: "The origin of the Sultans," he says, "is obscure; but this sacred and indefeasible right" to the throne, "which no time can erase, and no violence can infringe, was soon and unalterably implanted in the minds of their subjects. A weak or vicious Sultan may be deposed and strangled, but his inheritance devolves to an infant or an idiot; nor has the most daring rebel presumed to ascend the throne of his lawful sovereign. While the transient dynasties of Asia have been continually subverted by a crafty visir in the palace, or a victorious general in the camp, the Ottoman succession has been confirmed by the practice of five centuries, and is now incorporated with the vital principle of the Turkish nation." Here we have on the one hand the imperial succession described as an element {213} of the political life of the Osmanlis—on the other as an appointment over which they have no power; and obviously it is from its very nature independent of them. It is a form of life external to the community it vivifies.

Probably it was the wonderful continuity of so many great Sultans in their early ages, which wrought in their minds the idea of a divine mission as the attribute of the dynasty; and its acquisition of the Caliphate would fix it indelibly within them. And here again, we have another special instrument of their imperial greatness, but still an external one. I have already had occasion to observe, that barbarians make conquests by means of great men, in whom they, as it were, live; ten successive monarchs, of extraordinary vigour and talent, carried on the Ottomans to empire. Will any one show that those monarchs can be fairly called specimens of the nation, any more than Zingis was the specimen of the Tartars? Have they not rather acted as the Deus machin, carrying on the drama, which has languished or stopped, since the time when they ceased to animate it? Contrast the Ottoman history in this respect with the rise of the Anglo-Indian Empire, or with the military successes of Great Britain under the Regency; or again with the literary eminence of England under Charles the Second or even Anne, which owed little to those monarchs. Kings indeed at various periods have been most effective patrons of art and science; but the question is, not whether English or French literature has ever been indebted to royal encouragement, but whether the Ottomans can do anything at all, as a nation, without it.

Indeed, I should like it investigated what internal history the Ottomans have at all; what inward development of any kind they have made since they crossed Mount Olympus and planted themselves in Broussa; how they {214} have changed shape and feature, even in lesser matters, since they were a state, or how they are a year older than when they first came into being. We see among them no representative of Confucius, Chi-hoagti, and the sect of Ta-osse; no magi; no Pisistratus and Harmodius; no Socrates and Alcibiades; no patricians and plebeians; no Csar; no invasion or adoption of foreign mysteries; no mythical impersonation of an Ali; no Suffeeism; no Guelphs and Gibellines; nothing really on the type of Catholic religious orders; no Luther; nothing, in short, which, for good or evil, marks the presence of a life internal to the political community itself. Some authors indeed maintain they have a literature; but I cannot ascertain what the assertion is worth. Rather the tenor of their annals runs thus:—Two Pachas make war against each other, and a kat-sherif comes from Constantinople for the head of the one or the other; or a Pacha exceeds in pillaging his province, or acts rebelliously, and is preferred to a higher government and suddenly strangled on his way to it; or he successfully maintains himself, and gains an hereditary settlement, still subject, however, to the feudal tenure, which is the principle of the political structure, continuing to send his contingent of troops, when the Sultan goes to war, and remitting the ordinary taxes through his agent at Court. Such is the staple of Turkish history, whether amid the hordes of Turkistan, or the feudatory Turcomans of Anatolia, or the imperial Osmanlis.


The remark I am making applies to them, not only as a nation, but as a body politic. When they descended on horseback upon the rich territories which they occupy, they had need to become agriculturists, and miners, and {215} civil engineers, and traders; all which they were not; yet I do not find that they have attempted any of these functions themselves. Public works, bridges, and roads, draining, levelling, building, they seem almost entirely to have neglected; where, however, to do something was imperative, instead of applying themselves to their new position, and manifesting native talent for each emergency, they usually have had recourse to foreign assistance to execute what was uncongenial or dishonourable to themselves. The Franks were their merchants, the Armenians their bankers, the subject races their field labourers, and the Greeks their sailors. "Almost the whole business of the ship," says Thornton, "is performed by the slaves, or by the Greeks who are retained upon wages."

The most remarkable instance of this reluctance to develop from within—remarkable, both for the originality, boldness, success, and permanence of the policy adopted, and for its appositeness to my purpose—is the institution of the Janizaries, detestable as it was in a moral point of view. I enlarge upon it here because it is at the same time a palmary instance of the practical ability and wisdom of their great Sultans, exerted in compensation of the resourceless impotence of the barbarians whom they governed. The Turks were by nature nothing better than horsemen; infantry they could not be; an infantry their Sultans hardly attempted to form out of them; but since infantry was indispensable in European warfare, they availed themselves of passages in their own earlier history, and provided themselves with a perpetual supply of foot soldiers from without. Of this procedure they were not, strictly speaking, the originators; they took the idea of it from the Saracens. You may recollect that, when their ancestors were defeated by the {216} latter people in Sogdiana, instead of returning to their deserts, they suffered themselves to be diffused and widely located through the great empire of the Caliphs. Whether as slaves, or as captives, or as mercenaries, they were taken into favour by the dominant nation and employed as soldiers or civilians. They were chosen as boys or youths for their handsome appearance, turned into Mahometans, and educated for the army or other purposes. And thus the strength of the empire which they served was always kept fresh and vigorous, by the continual infusion into it of new blood to perform its functions; a skilful policy, if the servants could be hindered from becoming masters.

Masters in time they did become, and then they adopted a similar system themselves; we find traces of it even in the history of the Gaznevide dynasty. In the reign of the son of the great Mahmood, we read of an insurrection of the slaves; who, conspiring with one of his nobles, seized his best horses, and rode off to his enemies. "By slaves," says Dow, in translating this history, "are meant the captives and young children, bought by kings, and educated for the offices of state. They were often adopted by the Emperors, and very frequently succeeded to the Empire. A whole dynasty of these possessed afterwards the throne in Hindostan."

The same system appears in Egypt, about or soon after the time of the celebrated Saladin. Zingis, in his dreadful expedition from Khorasan to Syria and Russia, had collected an innumerable multitude of youthful captives, who glutted, as we may say, the markets of Asia. This gave the conquerors of Egypt an opportunity of forming a mercenary or foreign force for their defence, on a more definite idea than seems hitherto to have been acted upon. Saladin was a Curd, and, as such, a neighbour {217} of the Caucasus; hence the Caucasian tribes became for many centuries the store-houses of Egyptian mercenaries. A detestable slave trade has existed with this object, especially among the Circassians, since the time of the Moguls; and of these for the most part this Egyptian force, Mamlouks, as they are called, has consisted. After a time, these Mamlouks took matters into their own hands, and became a self-elective body, or sort of large corporation. They were masters of the country, and of its nominal ruler, and they recruited their ranks continually, and perpetuated their power, by means of the natives of the Caucasus, slaves like themselves, and of their own race.

"During the 500 or 600 years," says Volney, "that there have been Mamlouks in Egypt, not one of them has left subsisting issue; there does not exist one single family of them in the second generation; all their children perish in the first and second descent. The means therefore by which they are perpetuated and multiplied were of necessity the same by which they were first established." These troops have been massacred and got rid of in the memory of the last generation; towards the end of last century they formed a body of above 8,500 men. The writer I have just been quoting adds the following remarks:—"Born for the most part in the rites of the Greek Church, and circumcised the moment they are bought, they are considered by the Turks themselves as renegades, void of faith and of religion. Strangers to each other, they are not bound by those natural ties which unite the rest of mankind. Without parents, without children, the past has nothing to do for them, and they do nothing for the future. Ignorant and superstitious from education, they become ferocious from the murders they commit, and corrupted by the {218} most horrible debauchery." On the other hand, they had every sort of incentive and teaching to prompt them to rapacity and lawlessness. "The young peasant, sold in Mingrelia or Georgia, no sooner arrives in Egypt, than his ideas undergo a total alteration. A new and extraordinary scene opens before him, where everything conduces to awaken his audacity and ambition. Though now a slave, he seems destined to become a master, and already assumes the spirit of his future condition. No sooner is a slave enfranchised, than he aspires to the principal employments; and who is to oppose his pretensions? and he will be no less able than his betters in the art of governing, which consists only in taking money, and giving blows with the sabre."

In describing the Mamlouks I have been in a great measure describing the Janizaries, and have little to add to the picture. When Amurath, one of the ten Sultans, had made himself master of the territory round Constantinople, as far as the Balkan, he passed northwards, and subdued the warlike tribes which possessed Bulgaria, Servia, Bosnia, and the neighbouring provinces. These countries had neither the precious metals in their mountains, nor marts of commerce; but their inhabitants were a brave and hardy race, who had been for ages the terror of Constantinople. It was suggested to the Sultan, that, according to the Mahometan law, he was entitled to a fifth part of the captives, and he made this privilege the commencement of a new institution. Twelve thousand of the strongest and handsomest youths were selected as his share; he formed them into a military force; he made them abjure Christianity, he consecrated them with a religious rite, and named them Janizaries. The discipline to which they were submitted was peculiar, and in some respects severe. They were in the first instance {219} made over to the peasantry to assist them in the labours of the field, and thus were prepared by penury and hard fare for the privations of a military life. After this introduction, they were drafted into the companies of the Janizaries, but only in order to commence a second noviciate. Sometimes they were employed in the menial duties of the palace, sometimes in the public works, sometimes in the dockyards, and sometimes in the imperial gardens. Meanwhile they were taught their new religion, and were submitted to the drill. When at length they went on service, the road to promotion was opened upon them; nor were military honours the only recompense to which they might aspire. There are examples in history, of men from the ranks attaining the highest dignities in the state, and at least of one of them marrying the sister of the Sultan.

This corps has constituted the main portion of the infantry of the Ottoman armies for a period of nearly five hundred years; till, in our own day, on account of its repeated turbulence, it was annihilated, as the Mamlouks before it, by means of a barbarous massacre. Its end was as strange as its constitution; but here it comes under our notice as a singular exemplification of the unproductiveness, as I may call it, of the Turkish intellect. It was nothing else but an external institution devised to supply a need which a civilized state would have supplied from its own resources; and it fell perhaps without any essential prejudice to the integrity of the power which it had served. That power is just what it was before the Janizaries were formed. They may still fall back upon the powerful cavalry, which carried them all the way from Turkistan; or they may proceed to employ a mercenary force; anyhow their primitive social type remains inviolate. {220}

Such is the strange phenomenon, or rather portent, presented to us by the barbarian power which has been for centuries seated in the very heart of the old world; which has in its brute clutch the most famous countries of classical and religious antiquity, and many of the most fruitful and beautiful regions of the earth; which stretches along the course of the Danube, the Euphrates, and the Nile; which embraces the Pindus, the Taurus, the Caucasus, Mount Sinai, the Libyan mountains, and the Atlas, as far as the Pillars of Hercules; and which, having no history itself, is heir to the historical names of Constantinople and Nica, Nicomedia and Csarea, Jerusalem and Damascus, Nineveh and Babylon, Mecca and Bagdad, Antioch and Alexandria, ignorantly holding in possession one-half of the history of the whole world. There it lies and will not die, and has not in itself the elements of death, for it has the life of a stone, and, unless pounded and pulverized, is indestructible. Such is it in the simplicity of its national existence, while that mode of existence remains, while it remains faithful to its religion and its imperial line. Should its fidelity to either fail, it would not merely degenerate or decay; it would simply cease to be.


But we have dwelt long enough on the internal peculiarities of the Ottomans; now let us shift the scene, and view them in the presence of their enemies, and in their external relations both above and below them; and then at once a very different prospect presents itself for our contemplation. However, the first remark I have to make is one which has reference still to their internal condition, but which does not properly come into consideration, {221} till we place them in the presence of rival and hostile nations and races. Moral degeneracy is not, strictly speaking, a cause of political ruin, as I have already said; but its existence is of course a point of the gravest importance, when we would calculate the chance which a people has of standing the brunt of war and insurrection. It is a natural question to ask whether the Osmanlis, after centuries of indulgence, have the physical nerve and mental vigour which carried them forward through such a course of fortunes, till it enthroned them in three quarters of the world. Their numbers are diminished and diminishing; their great cities are half emptied; their villages have disappeared; I believe that even out of the fraction of Mahometans to be found amid their European population, but a miserable minority are Osmanlis. Too much stress, however, must not be laid on this circumstance. Though the Osmanlis are the conquering race, it requires to be shown that they have ever had much to do, as a race, with the executive of the Empire. While there are some vigorous minds at the head of affairs, while there is a constant introduction of foreigners into posts of authority and power, while Curd and Turcoman supply the cavalry, while Egypt and other Pachalics send their contingents, while the government can manage to combine, or to steer between, the fanaticism of its subjects and the claims of European diplomacy, there is a certain counterbalance in the State to the depravity and worthlessness, whatever it be, of those who have the nominal power.

A far more formidable difficulty, when we survey their external prospects, is that very peculiarity, which, internally considered, is so much in their favour—the simplicity of their internal unity, and the individuality of their political structure. The Turkish races, as being {222} conquerors, of course are only a portion of the whole population of their empire; for four centuries they have remained distinct from Slavonians, Greeks, Copts, Armenians, Curds, Arabs, Jews, Druses, Maronites, Ansarians, Motoualis; and they never can coalesce with them. Like other Empires, they have kept their sovereign position by the insignificance, degeneracy, or mutual animosities of the several countries and religions which they rule, and by the ruthless tyranny of their government. Were they to relax that tyranny, were they to relinquish their ascendancy, were they to place their Greek subjects, for instance, on a civil equality with themselves, how in the nature of things could two incommunicable races coexist beside each other in one political community? Yet if, on the other hand, they refuse this enfranchisement of their subjects, they will have to encounter the displeasure of united Christendom.

Nor is it a mere question of political practicability or expedience: will the Koran, in its laxest interpretation, admit of that toleration, on which the Frank kingdoms insist? yet what and where are they without the Koran?

Nor do we understand the full stress of the dilemma in which they are placed, until we have considered what is meant by the demands and the displeasure of the European community. Pledged by the very principle of their existence to barbarism, the Turks have to cope with civilized governments all around them, ever advancing in the material and moral strength which civilization gives, and ever feeling more and more vividly that the Turks are simply in the way. They are in the way of the progress of the nineteenth century. They are in the way of the Russians, who wish to get into the Mediterranean; they are in the way of the English, {223} who wish to cross to the East; they are in the way of the French, who, from the Crusades to Napoleon, have felt a romantic interest in Syria; they are in the way of the Austrians, their hereditary foes. There they lie, unable to abandon their traditionary principles, without simply ceasing to be a state; unable to retain them, and retain the sympathy of Christendom;—Mahometans, despots, slave merchants, polygamists, holding agriculture in contempt, Europe in abomination, their own wretched selves in admiration, cut off from the family of nations [Note 3], existing by ignorance and fanaticism, and tolerated in existence by the mutual jealousies of Christian powers as well as of their own subjects, and by the recurring excitement of military and political combinations, which cannot last for ever.


And, last of all, as if it were not enough to be unable to procure the countenance of any Christian power, except on specific conditions prejudicial to their existence, still further, as the alternative of their humbling themselves before the haughty nations of the West whom they abhor, they have to encounter the direct cupidity, hatred, and overpowering pressure of the multitudinous North, with its fanaticism almost equal, and its numbers superior, to their own; a peril more awful in imagination, from the circumstance that its descent has been for so many centuries foretold and commenced, and of late years so widely acquiesced in as inevitable. Seven centuries and a half have passed, since, at the very beginning {224} of the Crusades, a Greek writer still extant turns from the then menacing inroads of the Turks in the East, and the long centuries of their triumph which lay in prospect, to record a prophecy, old in his time, relating to the North, to the effect that in the last days the Russians should be masters of Constantinople. When it was uttered no one knows; but it was written on an equestrian statue, in his day one of the special monuments of the Imperial City, which had one time been brought thither from Antioch. That statue, whether of Christian or pagan origin is not known, has a name in history, for it was one of the works of art destroyed by the Latins in the taking of Constantinople; and the prediction engraven on it bears at least a remarkable evidence of the congruity in itself, if I may use the word, of that descent of the North upon Constantinople, which, though not as yet accomplished, generation after generation grows more probable.

It is now a thousand years since this famous prophecy has been illustrated by the actual incursions of the Russian hordes. Such was the date of their first expedition against Constantinople; their assaults continued through two centuries; and, in the course of that period, they seemed to be nearer the capture of the city than they have been at any time since. They descended the Dnieper in boats, coasted along the East of the Black Sea, and so came round by Trebizond to the Bosphorus, plundering the coast as they advanced. At one time their sovereign had got possession of Bulgaria, to the south of the Danube. Barbarians of other races flocked to his standard; he found himself surrounded by the luxuries of the East and West, and he marched down as far as Adrianople, and threatened to go further. Ultimately he was defeated; then followed the conversion of his {225} people to Christianity, which for a period restrained their barbarous rapacity; after this, for two centuries, they were under the yoke and bondage of the Tartars; but the prophecy, or rather the omen, remains, and the whole world has learned to acquiesce in the probability of its fulfilment. The wonder rather is, that that fulfilment has been so long delayed. The Russians, whose wishes would inspire their hopes, are not solitary in their anticipations: the historian from whom I have borrowed this sketch of their past attempts [Note 4], writing at the end of last century, records his own expectation of the event. "Perhaps," he says, "the present generation may yet behold the accomplishment of a rare prediction, of which the style is unambiguous and the date unquestionable." The Turks themselves have long been under the shadow of its influence; even as early as the middle of the seventeenth century, when they were powerful, and Austria and Poland also, and Russia distant and comparatively feeble, a traveller tells us that, "of all the princes of Christendom, there was none whom the Turks so much feared as the Czar of Muscovy." This apprehension has ever been on the increase; in favour of Russia, they made the first formal renunciation of territory which had been consecrated to Islam by the solemnities of religion,—a circumstance which has sunk deep into their imaginations; there is an enigmatical inscription on the tomb of the Great Constantine, to the effect that "the yellow-haired race shall overthrow Ismael;" moreover, ever since their defeats by the Emperor Leopold, they have had a surmise that the true footing of their faith is in Asia; and so strong is the popular feeling on the subject, that in consequence their favourite cemetery is at Scutari on the Asiatic coast [Note 5]. {226}


It seems likely, then, at no very remote day, to fare ill with the old enemy of the Cross. However, we must not undervalue what is still the strength of his position. First, no well-authenticated tokens come to us of the decay of the Mahometan faith. It is true that in one or two cities, in Constantinople, perhaps, or in the marts of commerce, laxity of opinion and general scepticism may to a certain extent prevail, as also in the highest class of all, and in those who have most to do with Europeans; but I confess nothing has been brought home to me to show that this superstition is not still a living, energetic principle in the Turkish population, sufficient to bind them together in one, and to lead to bold and persevering action. It must be recollected that a national and local faith, like the Mahometan, is most closely connected with the sentiments of patriotism, family honour, loyalty towards the past, and party spirit; and this the more in the case of a religion which has no articles of faith at all, except those of the Divine Unity and the mission of Mahomet. To these must be added more general considerations: that they have ever prospered under their religion, that they are habituated to it, that it suits them, that it is their badge of a standing antagonism to nations they abhor, and that it places them, in their own imagination, in a spiritual position relatively to those nations, which they would simply forfeit if they abandoned it. It would require clear proof of the fact, to credit in their instance the report of a change of mind, which antecedently is so improbable.

And next it must be borne in mind that, few as may be the Osmanlis, yet the raw material of the Turkish {227} nation, represented principally by the Turcomans, extends over half Asia; and, if it is what it ever has been, might under circumstances be combined or concentrated into a formidable Power. It extends at this day from Asia Minor, in a continuous tract, to the Lena, towards Kamtchatka, and from Siberia down to Khorasan, the Hindu Cush, and China. The Nogays on the north-east of the Danube, the inhabitants of the Crimea, the populations on each side of the Don and Wolga, the wandering Turcomans who are found from the west of Asia, along the Euxine, Caspian, and so through Persia into Bukharia, the Kirghies on the Jaxartes, are said to speak one tongue, and to have one faith [Note 6]. Religion is a bond of union, and language is a medium of intercourse; and, what is still more, they are all Sunnites, and recognize in the Sultan the successor of Mahomet.

Without a head, indeed, to give them a formal unity, they are only one in name. Nothing is less likely than a resuscitation of the effete family of Othman; still, supposing the Ottomans driven into Asia, and a Sultan of that race to mount the throne, such as Amurath, Mahomet, or Selim, it is not easy to set bounds to the influence the Sovereign Pontiff of Islam might exert, and to the successes he might attain, in rallying round him the scattered members of a race, warlike, fanatical, one in faith, in language, in habits, and in adversity. Nay, even supposing the Turkish Caliph, like the Saracenic of old, still to slumber in his seraglio, he might appoint a vicegerent, Emir-ul-Omra, or Mayor of the Palace, such as Togrul Beg, to conquer with his authority in his stead.

But, supposing great men to be wanting to the {228} Turkish race, and the despair, natural to barbarians, to rush upon them, and defeat, humiliation, and flight to be their lot; supposing the rivalries and dissensions of Pachas, in themselves arguing no disaffection to their Sultan and Caliph, should practically lead to the success of their too powerful foes, to the divulsion of their body politic, and the partition of their territory; should this be the distant event to which the present complications tend, then the fiercer spirits, I suppose, would of their free will return into the desert, as a portion of the Kalmucks have done within the last hundred years. Those, however, who remained, would lead the easiest life under the protection of Russia. She already is the sovereign ruler of many barbarian populations, and, among them, Turks and Mahometans; she lets them pursue their wandering habits without molestation, satisfied with such service on their part as the interests of the empire require. The Turcomans would have the same permission, and would hardly be sensible of the change of masters. It is a more perplexing question how England or France, did they on the other hand become their masters, would be able to tolerate them in their reckless desolation of a rich country. Rather, such barbarians, unless they could be placed where they would answer some political purpose, would eventually share the fate of the aboriginal inhabitants of North America; they would, in the course of years, be surrounded, pressed upon, divided, decimated, driven into the desert by the force of civilization, and would once more roam in freedom in their old home in Persia or Khorasan, in the presence of their brethren, who have long succeeded them in its possession.

Many things are possible; one thing is inconceivable, {229} —that the Turks should, as an existing nation, accept of modern civilization; and, in default of it, that they should be able to stand their ground amid the encroachments of Russia, the interested and contemptuous patronage of Europe, and the hatred of their subject populations.

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1. Tour through Armenia, etc.
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2. Gibbon.
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3. Since this was written, they have been taken into the European family by the Treaty of 1856, and the Sultan has become a Knight of the Garter. This strange phenomenon is not for certain to the advantage of their political position.
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4. Gibbon.
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5. Thornton, ii. 89; Formby, p. 24; Eclectic Rev., Dec., 1828.
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6. Pritchard.
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Newman Reader — Works of John Henry Newman
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