Page images
PDF
EPUB

RETURN TO STAMBOUL.

LETTER XL.

241

Return to Stamboul-Prospect from Seraglio Point.-Spirit of Islamism. -Progress of Refinement.-The Bazars of Stamboul.-Covered Streets. -Jewish Factors.-Contents of the Shops.-Peculiarities of the Bazars. -Perambulating Auctioneers.

Constantinople,

Ir is now some three weeks since I last wrote you from Smyrna, all of which time I have been luxuriating amid the groves on either side of the Bosphorus, and wandering over the most interesting portions of old Stamboul.

At this midsummer season there can be nothing more delightful than rowing about these beautiful waters, and straying along their magnificent banks, ever and anon diving deep into the recesses of some of the wooded valleys which divide the mountains of Europe and Asia.

-

During our first visit we were very industrious, and saw nearly all that is worth one's attention here; leaving little to do at present except revisiting such objects as one can always recur to with delight; the seraglio gardens, the mosques, the bazars, the ancient walls, the Valley of the Sweet Waters, the forest of Belgrade, and the numerous villages and marine villas that line both sides of the Bosphorus for many miles.

The seraglio gardens present much greater attractions at this season of the year than when I saw them last, and we frequently passed the sultry midday hours in their delicious shades. The unique and charming prospect from Seraglio Point, which I have before described to you, is, if pos sible, more enchanting at this time than when the wintry winds scarcely permitted the more delicate craft to ply in safety over the broad expanse of waters on all sides of us. VOL. II.-X

The trees and groves which surround most of the mosques are now clothed with luxuriant foliage, and the fountains of their courts sparkle more brightly in the summer sun; the cool shade of the porticoes which environ them entices one to while away an hour in observing the singular groups who resort thither, either for conversation or meditation, previous to the hour of prayer.

Nature has done everything for this her most favoured region, and art but little. Even the most splendid mosques of the Moslems derive their greatest lustre from being lifted high in air, upon the swelling crests of the seven-hilled city; and the Asiatic villas of the Bosphorus would make but a sorry figure along the naked and mountainous banks of the Nile. Should the Russian ever obtain undisputed possession of these delightful shores, we should, no doubt, ere long, see his severe Greek temples and palaces, supplanting the more picturesque architecture of Asia, and Constantinople rising once more upon the ruins of Stamboul.

In a utilitarian point of view, it is, perhaps, "a consumma. tion devoutly to be wished ;" and, now that the Turk is fast losing all that once gave him so much interest, and shed such a romantic lustre upon his character, it were perhaps better that he should be driven back again beyond the Caspian gates, there to form a new empire from the scattered hordes of Tartary, or re-erect the proud throne of Osman over the fallen majesty of the degenerate Persian.

One thing, however, is certain, that into whose hands soever the empire of the Osmanlies may fall, the time is not far distant when it must change masters.

Were it not that the two great leaders of Islam, Mahmoud and Mohammed Ali, are wasting the energies of the nation in their suicidal struggle for the ascendancy, there might still be a prospect that the crescent would for another century hold up its head in proud defiance of the cross. The combined resources of Turkey, Syria, and Egypt, with

SPIRIT OF ISLAMISM.

243

their extensive dependancies, are incalculably great; and if all the powers of these vast regions were united under the standard of the Prophet, the great Bear of the North might growl, the Gallic Eagle might again show his talons, or even the British Lion roar, but the Empire of the East could mock at their menaces, and maintain its integrity at home so long as she eschewed conquest in the West, and was not ambitious of dominion over the midland seas.

But such appears not to be the design of the overruling Providence who directs the affairs of men and nations, without their seeming to heed his warnings, or to profit by the experience of the past.

Nations, as well as individuals, are frequently their own destroyers, and it may well be said of the Turk, "Whom God would destroy he first makes mad." Intoxicated by power, the splendid and polished Saracen, not content with civilizing the fairest portion of Western Europe, aimed at planting the standard of Islam upon every spot where the cross of Christ was worshipped.

Such, however, was not the will of Him who directs the storm, and at whose command even the sun himself is checked in mid career. The same power stayed the torrent in another quarter, when the ruthless Turk would have laid waste the fair plains of Eastern Europe, and surmounted every cross with the golden crescent.

How singular that the Moslem has chosen as the emblem of his faith the crescent form of the pale cold moon; that faith which was to be imposed on the human race by war, and all its proselytes baptized in blood!

Which mythe did he mean to adopt in relation to the moon; that of the chaste Diana, by whose rays the infidel was to be enlightened, and the path of the faithful to their promised paradise be illuminated; or, instead of the silver coronet of the daughter of Apollo, did he intend by the fiery horns of the furious Hecate to push Christianity to the wall,

and, with more than Scythian barbarity, immolate the dis ciples of the purer faith? If the latter, then it is time that the great nations of Christendom should fraternize, and that another Orestes and Pylades should dash to the earth the high-priest of Baal, and carry into captivity the emblem of his faith. If this cannot be effected without the shedding of blood, then the dread alternative must come. In war this faith was ushered into existence, through war it attained its maturity, and it seems as if only by war its stubborn old age is to be subdued.

66

Coming events cast their shadows before;" and it would appear, from the storm that is gathering in the East, that the "war of opinion" foretold by the great statesman Canning, instead of being fought upon the fertile and populous plains of central Europe, will be transferred to the deserted and neglected prairies of western Asia, where the nations of the North and the South, the West and the East, will meet to decide the great question, whether man in future is to be governed by blind despotism, or by laws resulting from the lights of modern civilization.

I have now before me a long letter of my husband's, in reply to the queries of a friend at home on the present unsettled state of affairs in the East; and, with your permission, I will extract some of the reflections therein contained, not inapposite to the subject into which I have inadvertently just been drawn. He says, "However war, in the abstract, is to be deprecated, yet, when we come to consider its ultimate effects upon the masses of mankind in different portions of the civilized world, may we not thence infer that the same All-wise design guides and directs the actions of men in this particular, as in those movements which seem to be actuated by more benign principles and virtuous rules of action? What are called the 'march of intellect' and the ' progress of improvement,' would they have attained their present exalted point had the two principal masses remained unto this

MORAL INFLUENCE OF WAR.

245

day, the one stagnating under the vertical sun of the tropics, and the other congealed amid polar snows? Has not the alternate mixing up of the species been the result of war alone; and has not civilization been the result of the interchange of ideas, habits, arts, and local knowledge? Was it for peace or war, for commerce or plunder, that the first prow kissed the wave that bathes the foot of Carmel ?

"The early Phoenician barks that pirated among the peaceful isles of Javan, and scoured the fruitful coast of Tarshish, were but the pioneers for Egyptian refinement and southern arts; the seeds of which, taking root among the hardier sons of Europe, and mixing with the indigenous Pelasgi and Etrurians, converted them into Greeks and Romans. These semi-barbarous nations, after tasting the luxuries which their subsequent commerce brought them from the land of the sun, longed to possess themselves of those regions where they might help themselves to the 'good the gods provide' without stint or price. Nor were they long without a pretext for aggression. The abortive invasion of a Xerxes provoked them to retaliation, when, led by an Alexander, they precip itated to the dust the tottering and superannuated thrones of Asia, erecting on their ruins the vigorous institutions of the North, and appropriating to themselves such refinements as had withstood the shock of Theban and Babylonian struggles, Returning full freighted with the wealth acquired by their arms, they brought with them a portion of the bland and polished manners of the South, which gave to the world a Corinth, an Athens, a Syracuse, and a Rome, such as we are taught to admire in their best estate. If, when the blandishments of the southern climes had enervated their descendants, they became an easy prey to those over whom they ruled, the sterner virtues, which in them had become extinct, were not lost upon the accomplished Southrons. Have we not seen the Saracen and the yet more recent Turcoman hordes, led by their califs and their sultans, carrying the lightning of

« PreviousContinue »