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Blackwood’s Edinburgh Magazine, Vol. 65, No. 400, February, 1849
No. CCCC. FEBRUARY, 1849. Vol. LXV.
|Caucasus and the Cossacks,||129|
|The Caxtons. Part X.,||147|
|Statistical Accounts of Scotland,||162|
|The Poetry of Sacred and Legendary Art,||175|
|American Thoughts on European Revolutions,||190|
|Dalmatia and Montenegro,||202|
|Modern Biography.—Beattie’s Life of Campbell,||219|
|The English Universities and their Reforms,||235|
|The Covenanters’ Night-Hymn. By Delta,||244|
|The Carlists in Catalonia,||248|
WILLIAM BLACKWOOD AND SONS, 45, GEORGE STREET:
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PRINTED BY WILLIAM BLACKWOOD AND SONS, EDINBURGH.
No. CCCC. FEBRUARY, 1849. Vol. LXV.
CAUCASUS AND THE COSSACKS.
Der Kaukasus und das Land der Kosaken in den Jahren 1843 bis 1846. Von Moritz Wagner. 2 vols. Dresden und Leipzig, 1848.
A handful of men, frugal, hardy, and valiant, successfully defending their barren mountains and dearly-won independence against the reiterated assaults of a mighty neighbour, offer, apart from political considerations, a deeply interesting spectacle. When, upon a map of the world’s eastern hemisphere, we behold, not far from its centre, on the confines of barbarism and civilisation, a spot, black with mountains, and marked “Circassia;” when we contrast this petty nook with the vast territory stretching from the Black Sea to the Northern Ocean, from the Baltic to Behring’s Straits, we admire and wonder at the inflexible resolution and determined gallantry that have so long borne up against the aggressive ambition, iron will, and immense resources of a czar. Sixty millions against six hundred thousand—a hundred to one, a whole squadron against a single cavalier, a colossus opposed to a pigmy—these are the odds at issue. It seems impossible that such a contest can long endure. Yet it has lasted twenty years, and still the dwarf resists subjugation, and contrives, at intervals, to inflict severe punishment upon his gigantic adversary. There is something strangely exciting in the contemplation of so brave a struggle. Its interest is far superior to that of any of the “little wars” in which Europe, since 1815, has evaporated her superabundant pugnacity. African raids and Spanish skirmishes are pale affairs contrasted with the dashing onslaughts of the intrepid Circassians. And, in other respects than its heroism, this contest merits attention. As an important section of the huge mountain-dyke, opposed by nature to the south-eastern extension of the Russian empire, Circassia is not to be overlooked. On the rugged peaks and in the deep valleys of the Caucasus, her fearless warriors stand, the vedettes of southern Asia, a living barrier to the forward flight of the double eagle.
Matters of pressing interest, nearer home, have diverted public attention from the warlike Circassians, whose independent spirit and unflinching bravery deserves better than even temporary oblivion. Not in our day only have they distinguished themselves in freedom’s fight. Surrounded by powerful and encroaching potentates, their history, for the last five hundred years, records constant struggles against oppression. Often conquered, they never were fully subdued. Their obscure chronicles are illumined by flashes of patriotism and heroic courage. Early in the fifteenth century, they conquered their freedom from the Georgian yoke. Then came long wars with the Tartars, who could hardly, perhaps, be considered the aggressors, the Circassians having overstepped their mountain limits, and spread over the plains adjacent to the Sea of Azov. In 1555, the Russian grand-duke, Ivan Vasilivitch, pressed forward to Tarki upon the Caspian, where he placed a garrison. A Circassian tribe submitted to him; he married the daughter of one of their princes, and assisted them against the Tartars. But after a while the Russians withdrew their succour; and the Circassians, driven back to the river Kuban, their natural boundary to the north-west, paid tribute to the Tartars, till the commencement of the eighteenth century, when a decisive victory liberated them. Meanwhile Russia strode steadily southwards, reached the Kuban in the west, whilst, in the east, Tarki and Derbent fell, in 1722, into the hands of Peter the Great. The fort of Swiatoi-Krest, built by the conqueror, was soon afterwards retaken by a swarm of fanatical mountaineers from the eastern Caucasus. It is now about seventy years since Russian and Circassian first crossed swords in serious warfare. A fanatic dervise, who called himself Sheikh Mansour, preached a religious war against the Muscovites; but, although followed with enthusiasm, his success was not great, and at last he was captured and sent prisoner into the interior of Russia. With his fall the furious zeal of the Caucasians subsided for a while. But the Turks, who viewed Circassia as their main bulwark against the rapidly increasing power of their dangerous northern neighbour, made friends of the mountaineers, and stirred them up against Russia. The fortified town of Anapa, on the north-west coast of Circassia, became the focus of the intercourse between the Porte and its new allies. The creed of Mahomet was actively propagated amongst the Circassians, whose relations with Turkey grew more and more intimate, and in the year 1824 several tribes took oath of allegiance to the sultan. In 1829, during the war between Russia and Turkey, Anapa, which had more than once changed hands in the course of previous contests, was taken by the former power, to whom, by the treaty of Adrianople, its possession, and that of the other Turkish posts on the same coast, was finally conceded. Hence the chief claim of Russia upon Circassia—although Circassia had never belonged to the Turks, nor been occupied by them; and from that period dates the war that has elicited from Russia so great a display of force against an apparently feeble, but in reality formidable antagonist—an antagonist who has hitherto baffled her best generals, and picked troops, and most skilful strategists.
The tribes of the Caucasus may be comprehended, for the sake of simplicity, under two denominations: the Tcherkesses or Circassians, in the west, and the Tshetshens in the east. In loose newspaper statements, and in the garbled reports of the war which remote position, Russian jealousy, and the peculiarly inaccessible character of the Caucasians, suffer to reach us, even this broad distinction is frequently disregarded.[A] It is nevertheless important, at least in a physiological point of view; and, even as regards the resistance offered to Russia, there are differences between the Eastern and the Western Caucasians. The military tactics of both are much alike, but the character of the war varies. On the banks of the Kuban, and on the Euxine shores, the strife has never been so desperate, and so dangerous for the Russians, as in Daghestan, Lesghistan, and the land of the Tshetshens. The Abchasians, Mingrelians, and other Circassian tribes, dwelling on the southern slopes of Caucasus, and on the margin of the Black Sea, are of more peaceable and passive character than their brethren to the North and East. The Tshetshens, by far the most warlike and enterprising of the Caucasians, have had the ablest leaders, and have at all times been stimulated by fierce religious zeal. As far back as 1745, Russian missionaries were sent to the tribe of the Osseti, who had relapsed from Christianity to the heathen creed of their forefathers. Every Osset who presented himself at the baptismal font received a silver cross and a new shirt. The bait brought thousands of the mountaineers to the Russian priests, who contented themselves with the outward and visible sign of conversion. These propagandist attempts enraged the Mahomedan tribes, and then it was that they thronged around Sheikh Mansour, as they have done in our day (in 1830) around that strange fanatic Chasi-Mollah, when in his turn he preached a holy war against the Russian. In the latter year, General Paskewitch had just been called away to Poland, and his successor, Baron Rosen, found all Daghestan in an uproar. He immediately opened the campaign, but met a strenuous resistance, and suffered heavy loss. The defence of the village of Hermentschuk, held against him, in the year 1832, by 3000 Tshetshens, was an extraordinary example of heroism. When the Russian infantry forced their way into the place with the bayonet, a portion of the garrison shut themselves up in a fortified house, and made it good against overwhelming numbers, singing passages from the Koran amidst a storm of bombs and grapeshot. At last the building took fire, and its undaunted defenders, the sacred verses still upon their lips, found death in the flames. In an equally desperate defence of the fortified village of Himri, Chasi-Mollah met his death, falling in the very breach, bleeding from many wounds. The chief who succeeded him was less venerated and less energetic, and for a few years the Tshetshens remained tolerably quiet, but without a thought of submission. Nevertheless the Russians flattered themselves that the worst was past; that the death of the mad dervish was an irreparable loss to the mountaineers. They were mistaken. Out of his most ardent adherents Chasi-Mollah had formed a sort of sacred band, whom he called Murides, gloomy fanatics, half warriors, half priests. They composed his body-guard, were unwearied in preaching up the fight for the Prophet’s faith, and in battle devoted themselves to death with a heroism that has never been surpassed. From these, within a short time of their first leader’s death, Chamyl, the present renowned chief of the Tshetshens, soon stood forth pre-eminent, and the Murides followed him to the field with the same enthusiasm and valour they had shown under his predecessor. He did not prove less worthy of guiding them; and the Russians were compelled to confess, that it was easier for the Tshetshens to find an able leader than for them to find a general able to beat him. And victories over the restless and enterprising Caucasians were of little profit, even when obtained. For the most part, they only served to fill the Russian hospitals, and to procure the officers those ribbons and distinctions they so greedily covet, and which, in that service, are so liberally bestowed. Thus, in 1845, Count Woronzoff made a most daring expedition into the heart of Daghestan. He found the villages empty and in flames, lost three thousand men, amongst them many brave and valuable officers, and marched back again, strewing the path with wounded, for whom the means of transport (the horses of the Cossack cavalry) were quite insufficient. With great difficulty, and protected by a column that went out to meet them, the Russians regained their lines, harassed to the last by the fierce Caucasians. This affair was called a victory, and Count Woronzoff was made a prince. Two more such victories would have reduced his expeditionary column to a single battalion. Chamyl, who had cannonaded the Russians with their own artillery, captured in former actions, possibly considered himself equally entitled to triumph, as he slowly retreated, after following up the foe nearly to the gates of their fortresses, into the recesses of his native valleys. 
The interior of Circassia is still an unknown land. The investigations of Messrs Bell, Longworth, Stewart, and others, who of late years have visited and written about the country, were confined to small districts, and cramped by the jealousy of the natives. Mr Bell, who made the longest residence, was treated more like a prisoner than a guest. Other foreigners find a worse reception still. Even the Poles, who desert from the Russian army, are made slaves of by the Circassians, and so severely treated that they are often glad to return to their colours, and endure the flogging that there awaits them. The only European who, having penetrated into the interior, has again seen his own country, is the Russian Baron Turnau, an aide-de-camp of General Gurko; but the circumstances of his abode in Circassia were too painful and peculiar to allow opportunity for observation. They are well told by Dr Wagner.
“By the Emperor’s command, Russian officers acquainted with the language are sent, from time to time, as spies into Circassia,—partly to make topographical surveys of districts previously unknown; partly to ascertain the numbers, mode of life, and disposition of those tribes with whom no intercourse is kept up. These missions are extremely dangerous, and seldom succeed. Shortly before my arrival at Terek, four Russian staff-officers were sent as spies to various parts of Lesghistan. They assumed the Caucasian garb, and were attended by natives in Russian pay. Only one of them ever returned; the three others were recognised and murdered. Baron Turnau prepared himself long beforehand for his dangerous mission. He gave his complexion a brownish tint, and to his beard the form affected by the aborigines. He also tried to learn the language of the Ubiches, but, finding the harsh pronunciation of certain words quite unattainable, he agreed with his guide to pass for deaf and dumb during his stay in the country. In this guise he set out upon his perilous journey, and for several days wandered undetected from tribe to tribe. But one of the works (nobles) under whose roof he passed a night, conceived suspicions, and threatened the guide, who betrayed his employer’s secret. The baron was kept prisoner, and the Ubiches demanded a cap-full of silver for his ransom from the Russian commandant of Fort Ardler. When this officer declared himself ready to pay, they increased their demand to a bushel of silver rubles. The commandant referred the matter to Baron Rosen, then commander-in-chief of the army of the Caucasus; the baron reported it to St Petersburg, and the Emperor consented to pay the heavy ransom. But Rosen represented it to him as more for the Russian interest to leave Turnau for a while in the hands of the Ubiches; for, in the first place, the payment of so large a sum was a bad precedent, likely to encourage the mountaineers to renew the extortion, instead of contenting themselves, as they previously had done, with a few hundred rubles; and, secondly, as a prisoner, Baron Turnau would perhaps have opportunities of gathering valuable information concerning a country and people of whom little or nothing was known. The unfortunate young officer was cruelly sacrificed to these considerations, and passed a long winter in terrible captivity, tortured by frost and hunger, compelled, as a slave, to the severest labour, and often greatly ill-treated. Several attempts at flight failed; and at last the chief, in whose hands he was, confined him in a cage half-buried in the ground, and withal so narrow that its inmate could neither stand upright nor lie at length.”
Thus immured, a prey to painful maladies, his clothes rotting on his emaciated limbs, the unhappy man moaned through his long and sleepless nights, and gave up hope of rescue. No tender-hearted Circassian maiden brought to him, as to the hero of Pushkin’s well-known Caucasian poem, deliverance and love. Such luck had been that of more than one Russian captive; but poor Turnau, in his state of filth and squalor, was no very seductive object. He might have pined away his life in his cage, before Baron Rosen, or his paternal majesty the Czar, had recalled his fate to mind, but for an injury done by his merciless master to one of his domestics, who vowed revenge. Watching his opportunity, this servant, one day that the rest of the household were absent, murdered his lord, released the prisoner, tied him with thongs upon his saddle, upon which the baron, covered with sores and exhausted by illness, was unable to support himself, and galloped with him towards the frontier. In one day they rode eighty versts, (about fifty-four English miles,) outstripped pursuers, and reached Fort Ardler. The accounts given by Baron Turnau of the land of his captivity could be but slight: he had seen little beyond his place of confinement. What he did relate was not very encouraging to Russian invasion. He depicted the country as one mass of rock and precipice, partially clothed with vast tracts of aboriginal forest, broken by deep ravines and mountain torrents, and surmounted by the huge ice-clad pinnacles of the loftiest Caucasian ridge. The villages, some of which nestle in the deep recesses of the woods, whilst others are perched upon steep crags and on the brink of giddy precipices, are universally of most difficult access.
Dr Wagner, whose extremely amusing book forms the text of this article, has never been in Circassia, although he gives us more information about it, of the sort we want, than any traveller in that singular land whose writings have come under our notice. His wanderings were under Russian guidance and escort. During them, he skirted the hostile territory on more than one side; occasionally setting a foot across the border, to the alarm of his Cossacks, whose dread by day and dreams by night were of Circassian ambuscades; he has lingered at the base of Caucasus, and has traversed its ranges—without, however, deeming it necessary to penetrate into those remote valleys, where foreigners find dubious welcome, and whence they are not always sure of exit. He has mixed much with Circassians, if he has not actually dwelt in their villages. It were tedious and unnecessary to detail his exact itinerary. He has not printed his entire journal—according to the lazy and egotistical practice of many travellers—but has taken the trouble to condense it. The essence is full of variety, anecdote and adventure, and gives a clear insight into the nature of the war. Professedly a man of science, an antiquary and a naturalist, Dr Wagner has evidently a secret hankering after matters military. He loves the sound of the drum, and willingly directs his scientific researches to countries where he is likely to smell powder. We had heard of him in the Atlas mountains, and at the siege of Constantina, before we met him risking his neck along the banks of the Kuban, and across the wild steppes of the Caucasus. He has travelled much in the East, and prepared himself for his Caucasian trip by a long stay in Turkey and in Southern Russia. Well introduced, he derived from distinguished Russian generals, intelligent civilians, and Circassian chiefs, particulars of the war more authentic than are to be obtained either from St Petersburg bulletins, or from the ordinary trans-Caucasian correspondents of German and other newspapers, many of whom are in the pay of Russia. His African reminiscences proved of great value. The officers of the army of Caucasus take the strongest interest in the contest between French and Arabs, finding in it, doubtless, points of similitude with the w