« ForrigeFortsæt »
expected to grow; and fifty years almost had elapsed before a great power had arisen in Europe, having in any capital circumstance a joint interest with Greece, or specially authorized, by visible right and power, to interfere as her protector. The semi-Asiatic power of Russia, from the era of the Czar Peter the Great, had arisen above the horizon with the sudden sweep and splendor of a meteor. The arch described by her ascent was as vast in compass as it was rapid; and, in all history, no political growth, not that of our own Indian empire, had travelled by accelerations of speed so terrifically marked. Not that even Russia could have really grown in strength according to the apparent scale of her progress. The strength was doubtless there, or much of it, before Peter and Catherine; but it was latent: there had been no such sudden growth as people fancied; but there had been a sudden evolution. Infinite resources had been silently accumulating from century to century; but, before the Czar Peter, no mind had come across them of power sufficient to reveal their situation, or to organize them for practical effects. In some nations, the manifestations of power are coincident with its growth; in others, from vicious institutions, a vast crystallization goes on for ages blindly and in silence, which the lamp of some meteoric mind is required to light up into brilliant display. Thus it had been in Russia; and hence, to the abused judgment of all Christendom, she had seemed to leap like Pallas from the brain of Jupiter-gorgeously endowed, and in panoply of civil array, for all purposes of national grandeur, at the fiat of one coarse barbarian. As the metropolitan home of the Greek
church, she could not disown a maternal interest in the humblest of the Grecian tribes, holding the same faith with herself, and celebrating their worship by the same rites. This interest she could, at length, venture to express in a tone of sufficient emphasis; and Greece became aware that she could, about the very time when Turkish oppression had begun to unite its victims in aspirations for redemption, and had turned their eyes abroad in search of some great standard under whose shadow they could flock for momentary protection, or for future hope. What cabals were reared upon this condition of things by Russia, and what premature dreams of independence were encouraged throughout Greece in the reign of Catherine II., may be seen amply developed, in the once celebrated work of Mr. William Eton.
Another great circumstance of hope for Greece, coinciding with the dawn of her own earliest impetus in this direction, and travelling pari passu almost with the growth of her mightiest friend, was the advancing decay of her oppressor. The wane of the Turkish crescent had seemed to be in some secret connection of fatal sympathy with the growth of the Russian cross. Perhaps the reader will thank us for rehearsing the main steps by which the Ottoman power had flowed and ebbed. The foundations of this empire were laid in the thirteenth century, by Ortogrul, the chief of a Turkoman tribe, residing in tents not far from Dorylæum, in Phrygia (a name so memorable in the early crusades), about the time when Jenghiz had overthrown the Seljukian dynasty. His son Osman first assumed the title of Sultan ; and, in 1300, having reduced the city of Prusa, in
Bithynia, he made it the capital of his dominions. The Sultans who succeeded him for some generations, all men of vigor, and availing themselves not less of the decrepitude which had by that time begun to palsy the Byzantine sceptre, than of the martial and religious fanaticism which distinguished their own followers, crossed the Hellespont, conquering Thrace and the countries up to the Danube. In 1453, the most eminent of these Sultans, Mahomet II., by storming Constantinople, put an end to the Roman empire; and before his death he placed the Ottoman power in Europe pretty nearly on that basis to which it had again fallen back by 1821. The long interval of time between these two dates involved a memorable flux and reflux of power, and an oscillation between two extremes of panic-striking grandeur, in the ascending scale (insomuch that the Turkish Sultan was supposed to be charged in the Apocalypse with the dissolution of the Christian thrones), and in the descending scale of paralytic dotage tempting its own instant ruin. In speculating on the causes of the extraordinary terror which the Turks once inspired, it is amusing, and illustrative of the revolutions worked by time, to find it imputed, in the first place, to superior discipline; for, if their discipline was imperfect, they had, however, a standing army of Janissaries, whilst the whole of Christian Europe was accustomed to fight merely summer campaigns with hasty and untrained levies ; a second cause lay in their superior finances, for the Porte had a regular revenue, when the other powers of Europe relied upon the bounty of their vassals and clergy; and, thirdly, which is the most surprising
feature of the whole statement, the Turks were so far ahead of others in the race of improvement, that to them belongs the credit of having first adopted the extensive use of gunpowder, and of having first brought battering-trains against fortified places. To his artillery and his musketry it was that Selim the Ferocious (grandson of that Sultan who took Constantinople) was indebted for his victories in Syria and Egypt. Under Solyman the Magnificent (the well-known contemporary of the Emperor Charles V.) the crescent is supposed to have attained its utmost altitude; and already for fifty years the causes had been in silent progress which were to throw the preponderance into the Christian scale. In the reign of his son, Selim the Second, this crisis was already passed; and the battle of Lepanto, in 1571, which crippled the Turkish navy in a degree never wholly recovered, gave the first overt signal to Europe of a turn in the course of their prosperity. Still, as this blow did not equally affect the principal arm of their military service, and as the strength of the German empire was too much distracted by Christian rivalship, the prestige of the Turkish name continued almost unbroken until their bloody overthrow in 1664, at St. Gothard, by the imperial General Montecuculi. In 1673 they received another memorable defeat from Sobieski, on which occasion they lost twenty-five thousand men. In what degree, however, the Turkish Samson had been shorn of his original strength, was not yet made known to Europe by any adequate expression, before the great catastrophe of 1683. In that year, at the instigation of the haughty vizier, Kara Mustafa, the Turks had undertaken the siege of Vien
na; and great was the alarm of the Christian world. But, on the 12th of September, their army of one hundred and fifty thousand men was totally dispersed by seventy thousand Poles and Germans, under John Sobieski-"He conquering through God, and God by him." Then followed the treaty of Carlovitz, which stripped the Porte of Hungary, the Ukraine, and other places; and "henceforth," says Mr. Gordon, "Europe ceased to dread the Turks; and began even to look upon their existence as a necessary element of the balance of power among its states." Spite of their losses, however, during the first half of the eighteenth century, the Turks still maintained a respectable attitude against Christendom. But the wars of the Empress Catherine II., and the French invasion of Egypt, demonstrated that either their native vigor was exhausted and superannuated, or, at least, that the institutions were superannuated by which their resources had been so long administered. Accordingly, at the commencement of the present century, the Sultan Selim II. endeavored to reform the military discipline; but in the first collision with the prejudices of his people, and the interest of the Janissaries, he perished by sedition. Mustafa, who succeeded to the throne, in a few months met the same fate. then (1808) succeeded a prince formed by nature for such struggles, cool, vigorous, cruel, and intrepid. This was Mahmoud the Second. He perfectly understood the crisis, and determined to pursue the plans of his uncle Selim, even at the hazard of the same fate. Why was it that Turkish soldiers had
* See the sublime Sonnet of Chiabrera on this subject, as translated by Mr. Wordsworth.