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Historical Sketches: Volumes 1 To 3 -Blessed John Henry Newman

The Past and Present of the Ottomans

WHATEVER objections in detail may stand against the account I have been giving of barbarism and civilization—and I trust there are none which do not admit of removal—so far, I think, is clear, that, if my account be only in the main correct, the Turkish power certainly is not a civilized, and is a barbarous power. The barbarian lives without principle and without aim; he does but reflect the successive outward circumstances in which he finds himself, and he varies with them. He changes suddenly, when their change is sudden, and is as unlike what he was just before, as one fortune or external condition is unlike another. He moves when he is urged by appetite; else, he remains in sloth and inactivity. He lives, and he dies, and he has done nothing, but leaves the world as he found it. And what the individual is, such is his whole generation; and as that generation, such is the generation before and after. No generation can say what it has been doing; it has not made the state of things better or worse; for retrogression there is hardly room; for progress, no sort of material. Now I shall show that these characteristics of the barbarian are rudimental points, as I may call them, in the picture of the Turks, as drawn by those who have studied them. I shall principally avail myself of the information supplied by Mr. Thornton and M. Volney, men of name and ability, and for various reasons preferable as authorities to writers of the present day.


“The Turks,” says Mr. Thornton, who, though not blind to their shortcomings, is certainly favourable to them, “the Turks are of a grave and saturnine cast … patient of hunger and privations, capable of enduring the hardships of war, but not much inclined to habits of industry.… They prefer apathy and indolence to active enjoyments; but when moved by a powerful stimulus they sometimes indulge in pleasures in excess.” “The Turk,” he says elsewhere, “stretched at his ease on the banks of the Bosphorus, glides down the stream of existence without reflection on the past, and without anxiety for the future. His life is one continued and unvaried reverie. To his imagination the whole universe appears occupied in procuring him pleasures.… Every custom invites to repose, and every object inspires an indolent voluptuousness. Their delight is to recline on soft verdure under the shade of trees, and to muse without fixing the attention, lulled by the trickling of a fountain or the murmuring of a rivulet, and inhaling through their pipe a gently inebriating vapour. Such pleasures, the highest which the rich can enjoy, are equally within the reach of the artizan or the peasant.”

M. Volney corroborates this account of them:—“Their behaviour,” he says, “is serious, austere, and melancholy; they rarely laugh, and the gaiety of the French appears to them a fit of delirium. When they speak, it is with deliberation, without gestures and without passion; they listen without interrupting you; they are silent for whole days together, and they by no means pique themselves on supporting conversation. If they walk, it is always leisurely, and on business. They have no idea of our troublesome activity, and our walks backwards and forwards for amusement. Continually seated, they pass whole days smoking, with their legs crossed, their pipes in their mouths, and almost without changing their attitude.” Englishmen present as great a contrast to the Ottoman as the French; as a late English traveller brings before us, apropos of seeing some Turks in quarantine: “Certainly,” he says, “Englishmen are the least able to wait, and the Turks the most so, of any people I have ever seen. To impede an Englishman’s locomotion on a journey, is equivalent to stopping the circulation of his blood; to disturb the repose of a Turk on his, is to re-awaken him to a painful sense of the miseries of life. The one nation at rest is as much tormented as Prometheus, chained to his rock, with the vulture feeding on him; the other in motion is as uncomfortable as Ixion tied to his ever-moving wheel.”


However, the barbarian, when roused to action, is a very different being from the barbarian at rest. “The Turk,” says Mr. Thornton, “is usually placid, hypochondriac, and unimpassioned; but, when the customary sedateness of his temper is ruffled, his passions … are furious and uncontrollable. The individual seems possessed with all the ungovernable fury of a multitude; and all ties, all attachments, all natural and moral obligations, are forgotten or despised, till his rage subsides.” A similar remark is made by a writer of the day: “The Turk on horseback has no resemblance to the Turk reclining on his carpet. He there assumes a vigour, and displays a dexterity, which few Europeans would be capable of emulating; no horsemen surpass the Turks; and, with all the indolence of which they are accused, no people are more fond of the violent exercise of riding.”

So was it with their ancestors, the Tartars; now dosing on their horses or their waggons, now galloping over the plains from morning to night. However, these successive phases of Turkish character, as reported by travellers, have seemed to readers as inconsistencies in their reports; Thornton accepts the inconsistency. “The national character of the Turks,” he says, “is a composition of contradictory qualities. We find them brave and pusillanimous; gentle and ferocious; resolute and inconstant; active and indolent; fastidiously abstemious, and indiscriminately indulgent. The great are alternately haughty and humble, arrogant and cringing, liberal and sordid.” What is this but to say in one word that we find them barbarians?

According to these distinct moods or phases of character, they will leave very various impressions of themselves on the minds of successive beholders. A traveller finds them in their ordinary state in repose and serenity; he is surprised and startled to find them so different from what he imagined; he admires and extols them, and inveighs against the prejudice which has slandered them to the European world. He finds them mild and patient, tender to the brute creation, as becomes the children of a Tartar shepherd, kind and hospitable, self-possessed and dignified, the lowest classes sociable with each other, and the children gamesome. It is true; they are as noble as the lion of the desert, and as gentle and as playful as the fireside cat. Our traveller observes all this; and seems to forget that from the humblest to the highest of the feline tribe, from the cat to the lion, the most wanton and tyrannical cruelty alternates with qualities more engaging or more elevated. Other barbarous tribes also have their innocent aspects—from the Scythians in the classical poets and historians down to the Lewchoo islanders in the pages of Basil Hall.


2. But whatever be the natural excellences of the Turks, progressive they are not. This Sir Charles Fellows seems to allow: “My intimacy with the character of the Turks,” he says, “which has led me to think so highly of their moral excellence, has not given me the same favourable impression of the development of their mental powers. Their refinement is of manners and affections; there is little cultivation or activity of mind among them.” This admission implies a great deal, and brings us to a fresh consideration. Observe, they were in the eighth century of their political existence when Thornton and Volney lived among them, and these authors report of them as follows:—“Their buildings,” says Thornton, “are heavy in their proportions, bad in detail, both in taste and execution, fantastic in decoration, and destitute of genius. Their cities are not decorated with public monuments, whose object is to enliven or to embellish.” Their religion forbids them every sort of painting, sculpture, or engraving; thus the fine arts cannot exist among them. They have no music but vocal; and know of no accompaniment except a bass of one note like that of the bagpipe. Their singing is in a great measure recitative, with little variation of note. They have scarcely any notion of medicine or surgery; and they do not allow of anatomy. As to science, the telescope, the microscope, the electric battery, are unknown, except as playthings. The compass is not universally employed in their navy, nor are its common purposes thoroughly understood. Navigation, astronomy, geography, chemistry, are either not known, or practised only on antiquated and exploded principles. As to their civil and criminal codes of law, these are unalterably fixed in the Koran. Their habits require very little furniture; “the whole inventory of a wealthy family,” says Volney, “consists in a carpet, mats, cushions, mattresses, some small cotton clothes, copper and wooden platters for the table, a mortar, a portable mill, a little porcelain, and some plates of copper tinned. All our apparatus of tapestry, wooden bedsteads, chairs, stools, glasses, desks, bureaus, closets, buffets with their plate and table services, all our cabinet and upholstery-work are unknown.” They have no clocks, though they have watches. In short, they are hardly more than dismounted Tartars still; and, if pressed by the Powers of Christendom, would be able, at very short warning, to pack up and turn their faces northward to their paternal deserts. You find in their cities barbers and mercers; saddlers and gunsmiths; bakers and confectioners; sometimes butchers; whitesmiths and ironmongers; these are pretty nearly all their trades. Their inheritance is their all; their own acquisition is nought. Their stuffs are from the classical Greeks; their dyes are the old Tyrian; their cement is of the age of the Romans; and their locks may be traced back to Solomon. They do not commonly engage either in agriculture or in commerce; of the cultivators of the soil I have said quite enough in a foregoing Lecture, and their commerce seems to be generally in the hands of Franks, Greeks, or Armenians, as formerly in the hands of the Jews.

The White Huns took to commerce and diplomacy in the course of a century or two; the Saracens in a shorter time unlearned their barbarism, and became philosophers and experimentalists; what have the Turks to show to the human race for their long spell of prosperity and power?

As to their warfare, their impracticable and unprogressive temperament showed itself even in the era of their military and political ascendancy, and had much to do, as far as human causes are concerned, with their defeat at Lepanto. “The signal for engaging was no sooner given,” says the writer in the “Universal History,” “than the Turks with a hideous cry fell on six galeasses, which lay at anchor near a mile ahead of the confederate fleet.” “With a hideous cry,”—this was the true barbarian onset; we find it in the Red Indians and the New Zealanders; and it is noticed of the Seljukians, the predecessors of the Ottomans, in their celebrated engagement with the Crusaders at Dorylæum. “With horrible howlings,” says Mr. Turner, “and loud clangour of drums and trumpets, the Turks rushed on;” and you may recollect, the savage who would have murdered the Bishop of Bamberg, began with a shriek. However, as you will see directly, such an onset was as ignorant as it was savage, for it was made with a haughty and wilful blindness to the importance of firearms under their circumstances. The Turks, in the hey-day of their victories and under their most sagacious leaders, had scorned and ignored the use of the then newly invented instruments of war. In truth, they had shared the prejudice against firearms which had been in the first instance felt by the semi-barbarous chivalry of Europe. The knight-errant, as Ariosto draws and reflects him, disdained so dishonourable a means of beating a foe. He looked upon the use of gunpowder, as Mr. Thornton reminds us, as “cruel, cowardly, and murderous;” because it gave an unfair and disgraceful advantage to the feeble or the unwarlike. Such was the sentiment of the Ottomans even in the reign of their great Soliman. Shortly before the battle of Lepanto, a Dalmatian horseman rode express to Constantinople, and reported to the Divan, that 2,500 Turks had been surprised and routed by 500 musqueteers. Great was the indignation of the assembly against the unfortunate troops, of whom the messenger was one. But he was successful in his defence of himself and his companions. “Do you not hear,” he said, “that we were overcome by guns? We were routed by fire, not by the enemy. It would have been otherwise, had it been a contest of courage. They took fire to their aid; fire is one of the elements; what is man that he should resist their shock?” They did not dream of the apophthegm that knowledge is power; and that we become strong by subduing nature to our will.

Accordingly, their tactics by sea was a sort of land engagement on deck, as it was with our ancestors, and with the ancients. First, they charged the adverse vessel, with a view of taking it; if that would not do, they boarded it. They fought hand to hand, and each captain might pretty much exercise his own judgment which ship to attack, as Homer’s heroes chose their combatants on the field of Troy. However, the Christian galeasses at Lepanto,—for to these we must at length return,—were vessels of larger dimensions than the Ottomans had ever built; they were fortified, like castles, with heavy ordnance, and were so disposed as to cover the line of their own galleys. The consequence was, that as the Turks advanced in order of battle, these galeasses kept up a heavy and destructive fire upon them, and their barbarian energy availed them as little as their howlings. It was the triumph of civilization over brute force, as well as of faith over misbelief. “While discipline and attention to the military exercises could insure success in war, the Turks,” says Thornton, “were the first of military nations. When the whole art of war was changed, and victory or defeat became matter of calculation, the rude and illiterate Turkish warriors experienced the fatal consequences of ignorance without suspecting the cause; accustomed to employ no other means than force, they sunk into despondency, when force could no longer avail.”

Another half century has passed since this was written, and the Turkish power has now completed its eighth century since Togrul Beg, the first Seljukian Sultan; and what has been the fruit of so long a duration? Just about the time of Togrul Beg, flourished William, Duke of Normandy; he passed over to take possession of England; compare the England of the Conquest with the England of this day. Again, compare the Rome of Junius Brutus to the Rome of Constantine, 800 years afterwards. In each of these polities there was a continuous progression, and the end was unlike the beginning; but the Turks, except that they have gained the faculty of political union, are pretty much what they were when they crossed the Jaxartes and Oxus. Again, at the time of Togrul Beg, the Greek schism also took place; now from Michael Cerularius, in 1054, to Anthimus; in 1853, Patriarchs of Constantinople, eight centuries have passed of religious deadness and insensibility: a longer time has passed in China of a similar political inertness: yet China has preserved at least the civilization, and Greece the ecclesiastical science, with which they respectively passed into their long sleep; but the Turks of this day are still in the less than infancy of art, literature, philosophy, and general knowledge; and we may fairly conclude that, if they have not learned the very alphabet of science in eight hundred years, they are not likely to set to work on it in the nine hundredth.

Moreover, it is remarkable that with them, as with the ancient Medes and Persians, change of law and government is distinctly prohibited. The greatest of their Sultans, and the last of the great ten, Soliman, known in European history as the Magnificent, is called by his compatriots the Regulator, on account of the irreversible sanction which he gave to the existing administration of affairs. “The magnitude and the splendour of the military achievements of Soliman,” says Mr. Thornton, “are surpassed in the judgment of his people by the wisdom of his legislation. He has acquired the name of Canuni, or institutor of rules … on account of the order and police which he established in his Empire. He caused a compilation to be made of all the maxims and regulations of his predecessors on subjects of political and military economy. He strictly defined the duties, the powers, and the privileges of all governors, commanders, and public functionaries. He regulated the levies, the services, the equipments, and the pay of the military and maritime force of the Empire. He prescribed the mode of collecting, and of applying, the public revenue. He assigned to every officer his rank at court, in the city, and in the army; and the observance of his regulations was enforced on his successors by the sanction of his authority. The work, which his ancestors had begun, and which his care had completed, seemed to himself and his contemporaries the compendium of human wisdom. Soliman contemplated it with the fondness of a parent; and, conceiving it not to be susceptible of further improvement, he endeavoured to secure its perpetual duration.” The author, after pointing out that this was done at the very time when a new hemisphere was in course of exploration, when the telescope was mapping for mankind the heavens, when the Baconian philosophy was about to convert discovery and experiment into instruments of science, printing was carrying knowledge and literature into the heart of society, and the fine arts were receiving one of their most remarkable developments, proceeds: “The institutions of Soliman placed a barrier between his subjects and future improvement. He beheld with complacency and exultation the eternal fabric which his hands had reared; and the curse denounced against pride has reduced the nation, which participated in his sentiments, to a state of inferiority to the present level of civilized men.” The result is the same, though we say that Soliman only recognized and affirmed that barbarism was the law of the Ottoman power.


3. It is true that in the last quarter of a century efforts have been made by the government of Constantinople to innovate on the existing condition of its people; and it has addressed itself in the first instance to certain details of daily Turkish life. We must take it for granted that it began with such changes as were easiest; if so, its failure in these small matters suggests how little ground there is for hope of success in other advances more important and difficult. Every one knows that in the details of dress, carriage, and general manners, the Turks are very different from Europeans: so different, and so consistently different, that the contrariety would seem to arise from some difference of essential principle. “This dissimilitude,” says Mr. Thornton, “which pervades the whole of their habits, is so general, even in things of apparent insignificance, as almost to indicate design rather than accident. The whole exterior of the Oriental is different from ours.” And then he goes on to mention some specimens, to which we are able to add others from Volney and Bell. For instance:—The European stands firm and erect; his head drawn back, his chest advanced, his toes turned out, his knees straight. The attitude of the Turk, in each of these particulars, is different, and, to express myself by an antithesis, is more conformable to nature, and less to reason. The European wears short and close garments, the Turk long and ample. The one uncovers the head, when he would show reverence; with the other, a bared head is a sign of folly. The one salutes by an inclination, the other by raising himself. The one passes his life upright, the other sitting. The one sits on raised seats, the other on the ground. In inviting a person to approach, the one draws his hand to him, the other thrusts it from him. The host in Europe helps himself last; in Turkey, first. The one drinks to his company, or at least to some toast; the other drinks silently, and his guests congratulate him. The European has a night dress, the Turk lies down in his clothes. The Turkish barber pushes the razor from him; the Turkish carpenter draws the saw to him; the Turkish mason sits as he builds; and he begins a house at the top, and finishes at the bottom, so that the upper rooms are inhabited, when the bottom is a framework.

Now it would seem as if this multitude of little usages hung together, and were as difficult to break through as the meshes of some complicated web. However, the Sultan found it the most favourable subject-matter of his incipient reformation; and his consequent attempt and the omens of its ultimate issue are interestingly recounted in the pages of Sir Charles Fellows, the panegyrist both of Mahmood and his people. “The Turk,” he says, “proud of his beard, comes up from the province a candidate for, or to receive, the office of governor. The Sultan gives him an audience, passes his hand over his own short-trimmed beard; the candidate takes the hint, and appears the next day shorn of his honoured locks. The Sultan, who is always attired in a plain blue frock coat, asks of the aspirant for office if he admires it; he, of course, praises the costume worn by his patron; whereupon the Sultan suggests that he would look well in it, as also in the red unturbaned fez. The following day the officer again attends to receive or lose his appointment; and, to promote the progress of his suit, throws off his costly and beautiful costume, and appears like the Sultan in the dull unsightly frock.”

Such is the triumph of loyalty and self-interest, and such is its limit. “A regimental cloak,” continues our author, “may sometimes be seen covering a fat body inclosed in all the robes of the Turkish costume; the whole bundle, including the fur-lined gown, being strapped together round the waist. Some of the figures are literally as broad as long, and have a laughable effect on horseback. The saddles for the upper classes are now generally made of the European form; but the people, who cannot give up their accustomed love of finery for plain leather, have them mostly of purple or crimson velvet, embroidered with silver or gold, the holsters ornamented with beautiful patterns.” After a while, he continues: “One very unpopular reform which the Sultan tried to effect in the formation of his troops was that of their wearing braces, a necessary accompaniment to the trousers; and why? because these form a cross, the badge of the infidel, upon the back. Many, indeed, will submit to severe punishment, and even death, for disobedience to military orders, rather than bear upon their persons this sign hostile to their religion.”

In another place he continues this subject with an amusing accuracy of analysis:—“The mere substitution of trousers for their loose dress interferes seriously with their old habits; they all turn in their toes, in consequence of the Turkish manner of sitting, and they walk wide, and with a swing, from being habituated to the full drapery: this gait has become natural to them, and in their European trousers they walk in the same manner. They wear wide-topped loose boots, which push up their trousers. Wellington boots would be still more inconvenient, as they must slip them off six times a day for prayers. In this new dress they cannot with comfort sit or kneel on the ground, as is their custom; and they will thus be led to use chairs; and with chairs they will want tables. But, were these to be introduced, their houses would be too low, for their heads would almost touch the ceiling. Thus by a little innovation might their whole usages be unhinged.”


4. In these failures, however, should they turn out to be such, the vis inertiæ of habit is not the whole account of the matter; an antagonistic principle is at work, characteristic of the barbarian, and intimately present to the mind of a Turk—national pride. All nations, indeed, are proud of themselves; but, as being the first and the best, not as being the solitary existing perfection, among the inhabitants of the earth. Civilized nations allow that foreigners have their specific excellences, and such excellences as are a lesson to themselves. They may think too well of their own proficiency, and may lose by such blindness; but they admit enough about others to allow of their own emulation and advance; whereas the barbarian, in his own estimate, is perfect already; and what is perfect cannot be improved. Hence he cherishes in his heart a self-esteem of a very peculiar kind, and a special contempt of others. He views foreigners, either as simply unworthy of his attention, or as objects of his legitimate dominion. Thus, too, he justifies his sloth, and places his ignorance of all things human and divine on a sort of intellectual basis.

Robertson, in his history of America, enlarges on this peculiarity of the savage. “The Tartar,” he says, “accustomed to roam over extensive plains, and to subsist on the produce of his herds, imprecates upon his enemy, as the greatest of all curses, that he may be condemned to reside in one place, and to be nourished with the top of a weed. The rude Americans … far from complaining of their own situation, or viewing that of men in a more improved state with admiration or envy, regard themselves as the standard of excellence, as beings the best entitled, as well as the most perfectly qualified, to enjoy real happiness.… Void of foresight, as well as free from care themselves, and delighted with that state of indolent security, they wonder at the anxious precautions, the unceasing industry, and complicated arrangements of Europeans, in guarding against distant evils, or providing for future wants; and they often exclaim against their preposterous folly, in thus multiplying the troubles, and increasing the labour of life.… The appellation which the Iroquois give to themselves is, ‘The chief of men.’ Caraibe, the original name of the fierce inhabitants of the Windward Islands, signifies ‘The warlike people.’ The Cherokees, from an idea of their own superiority, call the Europeans ‘Nothings,’ or ‘The accursed race,’ and assume to themselves the name of ‘The beloved people.’ … They called them the froth of the sea, men without father or mother. They suppose that either they have no country of their own, and, therefore, invaded that which belonged to others; or that, being destitute of the necessaries of life at home, they were obliged to roam over the ocean, in order to rob such as were more amply provided.”

It is easy to see that an intense self-adoration, such as is here suggested, is, in the case of a martial people, to a certain point a principle of strength; it gives a sort of intellectual force to the impetuosity and obstinacy of their attacks; while, on the other hand, it is in the long run a principle of debility, as blinding them to the most evident and imminent dangers, and, after defeat, burdening and precipitating their despair.

Now, is it possible to trace this attribute of barbarism among the Turks? If so, what does it do for them, and whence is it supplied? You will recollect, I have not been unwilling in a former Lecture to acknowledge what is salutary in Mahometanism; certainly it embodies in it some ancient and momentous truths, and is undeniably beneficial so far as their proper influence extends. But, after all, looked at as a religion, it is as debasing to the populations which receive it as it is false; and, as it arose among barbarians, it is not wonderful that it subserves the reign of barbarism. This it certainly does in the case of the Turks; already three great departments of intellectual activity in civilized countries have incidentally come before us, which are forbidden ground to its professors. The first is legislation; for the criminal and civil code of the Mahometan is unalterably fixed in the Koran. The second is the modern system of money transactions and finance; for “in obedience to their religion,” says an author I have been lately quoting, “which, like the Jewish law, forbids taking interest for money, the Turks abstain from carrying on many lucrative trades connected with the lending of money. Hence other nations, generally the Armenians, act as their bankers.” The third is the department of the Fine Arts for, it being unlawful to represent the human form, nay, any natural substance whatever, as fruit or flowers, sculpture loses its solitary object, painting is almost extinguished, while architecture has been obliged to undergo a sort of revolution in its decorative portions to accommodate it to the restriction. These, however, are matters of detail, though of very high importance; what I wish rather to point out is the general tendency of Mahometanism, as such, to foster those very faults in the barbarian which keep him from ameliorating his condition. Here something might be said on what seems to be the acknowledged effect of its doctrine of fatalism, viz., in encouraging a barbarian recklessness of mind both in special seasons of prosperity and adversity, and in the ordinary business of life; but this is a point which it is difficult to speak of without a more intimate knowledge of its circumstances than can be gained at a distance; I prefer to show how the Religion is calculated to act upon that extravagant self-conceit, which Robertson tells us is so congenial to uncivilized man. While, on the one hand, it closes the possible openings and occasions of internal energy and self-education, it has no tendency to compensate for this mischief, on the other, by inculcating any docile attention to the instruction of foreigners.


To learn from others, you must entertain a respect for them; no one listens to those whom he contemns. Christian nations make progress in secular matters, because they are aware they have many things to learn, and do not mind from whom they learn them, so that he be able to teach. It is true that Christianity, as well as Mahometanism, which imitated it, has its visible polity, and its universal rule, and its especial prerogatives and powers and lessons, for its disciples. But, with a divine wisdom, and contrary to its human copyist, it has carefully guarded (if I may use the expression) against extending its revelations to any point which would blunt the keenness of human research or the activity of human toil. It has taken those matters for its field in which the human mind, left to itself, could not profitably exercise itself, or progress, if it would; it has confined its revelations to the province of theology, only indirectly touching on other departments of knowledge, so far as theological truth accidentally affects them; and it has shown an equally remarkable care in preventing the introduction of the spirit of caste or race into its constitution or administration. Pure nationalism it abhors; its authoritative documents pointedly ignore the distinction of Jew and Gentile, and warn us that the first often becomes the last; while its subsequent history has illustrated this great principle, by its awful, and absolute, and inscrutable, and irreversible passage from country to country, as its territory and its home. Such, then, it has been in the divine counsels, and such, too, as realized in fact; but man has ways of his own, and, even before its introduction into the world, the inspired announcements, which preceded it, were distorted by the people to whom they were given, to minister to views of a very different kind. The secularized Jews, relying on the supernatural favours locally and temporally bestowed on themselves, fell into the error of supposing that a conquest of the earth was reserved for some mighty warrior of their own race, and that, in compensation of the reverses which befell them, they were to become an imperial nation.

What a contrast is presented to us by these different ideas of a universal empire! The distinctions of race are indelible; a Jew cannot become a Greek, or a Greek a Jew; birth is an event of past time; according to the Judaizers, their nation, as a nation, was ever to be dominant; and all other nations, as such, were inferior and subject. What was the necessary consequence? There is nothing men more pride themselves on than birth, for this very reason, that it is irrevocable; it can neither be given to those who have it not, nor taken away from those who have. The Almighty can do anything which admits of doing; He can compensate every evil; but a Greek poet says that there is one thing impossible to Him—to undo what is done. Without throwing the thought into a shape which borders on the profane, we may see in it the reason why the idea of national power was so dear and so dangerous to the Jew. It was his consciousness of inalienable superiority that led him to regard Roman and Greek, Syrian and Egyptian, with ineffable arrogance and scorn. Christians, too, are accustomed to think of those who are not Christians as their inferiors; but the conviction which possesses them, that they have what others have not, is obviously not open to the temptation which nationalism presents. According to their own faith, there is no insuperable gulf between themselves and the rest of mankind; there is not a being in the whole world but is invited by their religion to occupy the same position as themselves, and, did he come, would stand on their very level, as if he had ever been there. Such accessions to their body they continually receive, and they are bound under obligation of duty to promote them. They never can pronounce of any one, now external to them, that he will not some day be among them; they never can pronounce of themselves that, though they are now within, they may not some day be found outside, the divine polity. Such are the sentiments inculcated by Christianity, even in the contemplation of the very superiority which it imparts; even there it is a principle, not of repulsion between man and man, but of good fellowship; but as to subjects of secular knowledge, since here it does not arrogate any superiority at all, it has in fact no tendency whatever to centre its disciple’s contemplation on himself, or to alienate him from his kind. He readily acknowledges and defers to the superiority in art or science of those, if so be, who are unhappily enemies to Christianity. He admits the principle of progress on all matters of knowledge and conduct on which the Creator has not decided the truth already by revealing it; and he is at all times ready to learn, in those merely secular matters, from those who can teach him best. Thus it is that Christianity, even negatively, and without contemplating its positive influences, is the religion of civilization.


But I have here been directing your attention to Christianity with no other view than to illustrate, by the contrast, the condition of the Mahometan Turks. Their religion is not far from embodying the very dream of the Judaizing zealots of the Apostolic age. On the one hand, there is in it the profession of a universal empire, and an empire by conquest; nay, military success seems to be considered the special note of its divine origin. On the other hand, I believe it is a received notion with them that their religion is not even intended for the north of the earth, for some reasons connected with its ceremonial; nor is there in it any public recognition, as in intercessory prayer, of the duty of converting infidels. Certainly, the idea of Mahometan missions and missionaries, unless an army in the field may be considered to be such, is never suggested to us by Eastern historian or traveller, as entering into their religious system. Though the Caliphate, then, may be transferred from Saracen to Turk, Mahometanism is essentially a consecration of the principle of nationalism; and thereby is as congenial to the barbarian as Christianity is congenial to man civilized. The less a man knows, the more conceited he is of his proficiency; and, the more barbarous is a nation, the more imposing and peremptory are its claims. Such was the spirit of the religion of the Tartars, whatever was the nature of its tenets in detail. It deified the Tartar race; Zingis Khan was “the son of God, mild and venerable;” and “God was great and exalted over all, and immortal, but Zingis Khan was sole lord upon the earth.” Such, too, is the strength of the Greek schism, which there only flourishes where it can fasten on barbarism, and extol the prerogatives of an elect nation. The Czar is the divinely-appointed source of religious power; his country is “Holy Russia;” and the high office committed to him and to it is to extend what it considers the orthodox faith. The Osmanlis are not behind Tartar or Russ in pretending to a divine mission; the Sultan, in his treaties with Christian Powers, calls himself “Refuge of Sovereigns, Distributor of Crowns to the Kings of the earth, Master of Europe, Asia, and Africa, and shadow of God upon earth.”

We might smile at such titles, were they not claimed in good earnest, and professed in order to be used. It is said to be the popular belief among the Turks, that the monarchs of Europe are, as this imperial style declares, the feudatories of the Sultan. We should smile, too, at the very opposite titles which they apply to Europeans, did they not here, too, mean what they say, and strengthen and propagate their own scorn and hatred of us by using them. “The Mussulmans, courteous and humane in their intercourse with each other,” says Thornton, “sternly refuse to unbelievers the salutation of peace.” Not that they necessarily insult the Christian; he adds, by this refusal; nay, he even insists that polished Turks are able to practise condescension; and then, as an illustration of their courtesy, he tells us that “Mr. Eton, pleasantly and accurately enough, compared the general behaviour of a Turk to a Christian with that of a German baron to his vassal.” However, he allows that at least “the common people, more bigoted to their dogmas, express more bluntly their sense of superiority over the Christians.” “Their usual salutation addressed to Christians,” says Volney, “is ‘good morning;’ but it is well if it be not accompanied with a Djaour, Kafer, or Kelb, that is, impious, infidel, dog, expressions to which Christians are familiarized.” Sir C. Fellows is an earnest witness for their amiableness; but he does not conceal that the children “hoot after a European, and call him Frank dog, and even strike him;” and on one occasion a woman caught up a child and ran off from him, crying out against the Ghiaour; which gives him an opportunity of telling us that the word “Ghiaour” means a man without a soul, without a God. A writer in a popular Review, who seems to have been in the East, tells us that “their hatred and contempt of the Ghiaour and Frangi is as burning as ever; perhaps even more so, because they are forced to implore his aid. The Eastern seeks Christian aid in the same spirit and with the same disgust as he would eat swine’s flesh, were it the only means of securing him from starvation.” Such conduct is indeed only consistent with their faith, and the untenableness of that faith is not my present question; here I do but ask, are these barbarians likely to think themselves inferior in any respect to men without souls? are they likely to receive civilization from the nations of the West, whom, according to the well-known story, they definitively divide into the hog and the dog?

I have not time for more than an allusion to what is the complement of this arrogance, and is a most pregnant subject of thought, whenever the fortunes of the Ottomans are contemplated; I mean the despair which takes its place in their minds, consistently with the barbarian temperament, upon the occurrence of any considerable reverses. A passage from Mr. Thornton just now quoted refers to this characteristic. The overthrow at Lepanto, though they rallied from their consternation for a while, was a far more serious and permanent misfortune in its moral than in its material consequences. And, on any such national calamity, the fatalism of their creed, to which I have already referred, consecrates and fortifies their despair.

I have been proving a point, which most persons would grant me, in thus insisting on the essential barbarism of the Turks; but I have thought it worth while to insist on it under the feeling, that to prove it is at the same time to describe it, and many persons will vaguely grant that they are barbarous without having any clear idea what barbarism means. With this view I draw out my formal conclusion:—If civilization be the ascendancy of mind over passion and imagination; if it manifests itself in consistency of habit and action, and is characterised by a continual progress or development of the principles on which it rests; and if, on the other hand, the Turks alternate between sloth and energy, self-confidence and despair,—if they have two contrary characters within them, and pass from one to the other rapidly, and when they are the one, are as if they could not be the other;—if they think themselves, notwithstanding, to be the first nation upon earth, while at the end of many centuries they are just what they were at the beginning;—if they are so ignorant as not to know their ignorance, and so far from making progress that they have not even started, and so far from seeking instruction that they think no one fit to teach them;—there is surely not much hazard in concluding, that, apart from the consideration of any supernatural intervention, barbarians they have lived, and barbarians they will die.

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