WALPOLE'S ANSAYRII AND EASTERN TRAVELS.. ONLY a small portion of
these three volumes relates to the subject of " the Ansayrii" or the Assassins ; and that portion is little more than a narrative of the author's adventures amongst them, with incidental remarks on their customs and religion. The book is really an account of sojourns in Syria, and numerous excursions in that country, Asia Minor, Mesopotamia, and Armenia. Mr. Walpole seems to possess the restlessness and love of novelty which is said to characterize men whose vocation is one of continual movement ; and having in his midshipman days served in the Levant, he set out for Syria, where he established his head-quarters; wandering at intervals over the regions we have mentioned, from Damascus to Trebisond on the Black Sea, and from the Euphrates to the Mediterranean. In the course of his ramblings he traversed the desert, crossed the Armenian mountains ; struck the route of the Ten Thousand ; visited many of the sites memorable in classio or Christian warfare, and many cities remarkable for the intellectual struggles of the faith, or associated with our ideas of Oriental magnificence or beauty.
Mr. Walpole was well adapted to travel with advantage. He has the heartiness and endurance of a sailor, and that cosmopolitan in- difference to modes or habits which varied service induces. He is
• The Ansayrii, or Assassins; with Travels in the further East, in 1850-51; in eluding a Visit to Nineveh. By Lieut. the Bon. F.Walpole, R.N., Author of "Four Years in the Pacific." In three volumes. Published by Bentley.
well read in the history of many of the countries he visited ; has an eye for natural beauty, whether in man, woman, child, or land- scape ; and if he was not at starting versed in the languages, he picked them up on the spot, at least Arabic and Turkish. The matter of his book is more valuable than the story of his journies. A good narrative of travels should resemble a well-conceived campaign, and have its base or starting-point, its object or end, and the road between the two. The Ansayrii is deficient in all three. There is little more beginning or ending than arises from a first and a last page ; the intermediate parts have small con- nexion with the two termini, or indeed with each other, except what arises from the personality of the author. Mr. Walpole stops awhile at a place, and then starts off whither inclination or accident leads him. His only continuous narrative of travel is the journey across the desert to visit Mr. Layard at Mosul, and his return by way of the Black Sea. In the other cases, the reader is as it were " dragged about." There are descriptions of the road, often pleasant from its scenery, or curious from its antiquities and associations; there are frequent adventures, and constant pictures of the people : but the reader feels the deficient unity or purpose —he misses that art of arrangement which makes a narrative run
on like a story.
The value of the book consists in its exhibition of the character and manners of the people, and of the state of society, especially in the villages or smaller towns. Mr. Walpole's position was well adapted to accomplish this object. A large portion of Asiatic Turkey is in a very unsettled state. The victories of Ibrahim Pacha have shaken the prestige of the Sultan : his re- forms and education have shaken the Mahometanism of numbers : the rapid victories of the English naval forces against Ibrahim impressed the people with a high notion of English prowess ; and though some had a fancy that we only acted as tributaries to the Grand Turk, yet the opinion was widely spread that we could take the country if we would, and some wished we would. With these general advantages of his nationality, Mr. Walpole did not allow the national spirit to suffer in his hands. Any slight in etiquette, which Asiatics are prone to offer if they think they can do it with impunity, was promptly checked : if an official insulted him in a town, complaint was at once made to the commandant ; in the country Mr. Walpole took the law into his own hands and banged the Turk : and these means not only answered the purpose of keeping up his dignity, but inspired the rayabs and peasants with favourable sentiments. By the aid of his national prestige, his personal qualities, and long residence, he made many friends, and saw the natives in a very different way from that of a travel- ler dependent upon his dragoman for all he sees, does, or thinks. Living for years among the people, Mr. Walpole saw them under all circumstances. His facts are more favourable to them than his conclusions ; or probably the judgment depends upon the race. Of the true Turk his opinion is harsh. He confirms the proverb " Once a Turk always a Turk." Education or European expe- rience has no other effect than to make him a disbeliever in his own creed, and more subtle in carrying out his purposes. He may bend to external circumstances, he may feign liberality, but in his heart of hearts he curses the Giaour even while flattering him ; a bigotry of race rather than of religion. Of the Christians, espe- cially the Greek Christians, Mr. Walpole speaks contemptuously as well as badly ; they are not only dishonest, cringing, and bigoted, but cowardly to boot. The mountaineers he estimates more highly, and the Ansayrii in particular; yet the deeds of some of them are bloodier than those of the other classes, even if we allow for bar- barism and blood-feuds. His descriptive instances do not main- tain the harshness of his judgment. The upper class of Turks might be restrained by fear of their government, perhaps a little awed by the displays of English power along the coast of Syria; but such reasons would hardly develop the virtues of the peasantry, however they might restrain their vices. The people at large, though poor and oppressed, seem kind, hospitable, and cheerful, with a spice of pleasant satire, that would hardly be expected from their race and circumstances. Many are the tales told by one set of villagers of another, to mark the " innocence " of their neigh- bours. These samples have a genuine old Greek humour about them.
"My hostess was famous as a relator of stories. These were either drawn from fancy or described what had really been. One was said to have hap- pened in a neighbouring village ; where, as a proof of their credulity, the people were said to have planted charcoal in order to save themselves from the trouble of burning or buying it. There was a couple who, advancing in their circumstances, resolved to build a new house for themselves, and to forsake the family mansion, too small to hold them and their newly enlarged no- tions : so they forthwith gave orders to a mason, who set to work and com- pleted the walls and roof. The door must be made at Beyrout; so the man, approaching the doorway, found it just his height when he stood upright with his chin out, and he placed his hands skirting out from his sides as the measure of the width. Fixed in this position, he started. First he met his priest ; whose hand he could not kiss for fear of altering his position. The priest, much incensed, said, 'How is this Michiel ? where is your God ? ' 'Here is the measure,' replied the man. 'Your faith is small.' Here is the measure.' Purgatory is deep.' Here is the measure.' And hell is wide.' Here is the measure,' still replied the man, totally engrossed by his one idea ; and, preserving his measure, pursuing his road, he tripped and fell. Unwilling to have his journey for nothing, he lay on the ground, carefully preserving his position. A man passing by looked at him, saying, ' He is dead ; how long has he been dead passing Here is the measure.' He has bled a good deal." Here is the measure.' How mad he is !" Here is the measure.' However, at last he reached Beyrout, and a carpenter re- lieved him of his measure and his restraint."
The following story gives an idea which the people entertain of
the Franks,—it may also involve a sarcasm on longwindedness. "The stories of the Franks, among the poorer people, are innumerable, They say that the Devil has fled Frangistan, being no match for the people; for, on one occasion, the Devil met a Frank on the road. The Devil was tired, for he had done a good deal of work ; so he said to the Frank, Come, now, as we both are tired, let us carry each other, and he who is carried shall sing a verse : when the verse is finished, he shall get down, and the other shall ride.' The Frank consented, and the Devil jumped on his back, and sang, like an honest man, his verse. No sooner had he finished, than he jumped down and offered his back. Up jumped the Frank, and commen- ced a long dismal song : the poor Devil listened for the verse to end ; but no —on, on the fellow continued, one monotonous drone ; and the poor Devil thought his only way was to go on slowly—slowly and hope. So he wont on slower and slower ; but, alas ! he felt most dreadfully pricked behind, and then found the heels of the Frank armed with large spurs. The poor fellow passed a weary night : the Frank never paused with his song—what was worse, never paused with his heels; and thus they travelled till they reached the boundary of Frangistan. The Devil trudged on here, the Frank jumped down, and the Devil hurried on, leaving Lim sitting on a stone, still singing. Satan found the country would not do for him, so resolved never to return, but devote his whole energies to the Belled el Arabistan."
This is a harsh case of punishment for blasphemy, but not harsher than would have taken place in Spain, and perhaps other Popish countries, less than a century ago.
"In the Turkish burial-ground I saw also the tomb of the man executed about a year since for saying the sister of Mehemet was what she ought not to be. He had, it appears, a quarrel with another man, and in his passion thus blasphemed the sister of the holy Prophet : he was taken before the cadi, a fanatical man, who, on two Mussulmans bearing witness to the fact, sentenced him to death. The case was referred to Stamboul, and the order came to carry it into execution. Amidst the hooting and curses of his fel- lows, he was dragged forth, and there, near where he now lies peaceably, his head was cut off. He had fled for refuge to the commandant of the troop ; who would not yield him up until peremptorily ordered to do so by the Porte ; his widow, faithful through his disgrace, unmindful of his most ab- horrent crime, had on the day I was there put fresh myrtles on his tomb. The inscription was pretty ; it said—' Think not he sinned more than others : the bad words he spoke and died for were from the lips of the Devil; his heart was pure and good.' He has a handsome tomb.'
The foregoing anecdotes are from the country : the following has a touch of town-bred refinement : the scene is Beyrout.
"A ball had been given by the Frank residents some time before our ar- rival, to which the Paella and the principal officers of his government were invited. On their return home they praised the Frank women, the dresses, j &c., and above all, the beautiful dances in which they had joined the fair houris of the West. So lavish was their praise, that the helps of the true be- lievers felt their blood boil and their hearts big for revenge.
" Calling on some Frank ladies, they repeated the stories they had heard, and begged a similar exhibition might take place before them • stating that no male Caffer was to be present. An evening was appointed: they came, and several Frank ladies present stood up and danced waltzes, polkas, quadrilles, &c. Ou the conclusion of the festival, the slaves of the Pacha's wife put a purse of gold into each of the dancers' laps. Down went the Westerns in a faint ; cries, hysterics,—was ever such an insult ! The Paella's wife calmly departed; saying, she had only followed her country's custom of paying dancers."
These anecdotes of marriages are from Aleppo.
"In the next page of my journal I find an excessively ugly fellow wished to marry a young and very pretty girl. The parents being poor, readily con- sented to the match, for he was very rich,—which all ugly men are not. By force of presents, jewels, gold, and promises, they obtained her consent. Un- fortunately, a few days before the marriage, she happened to see him, and immediately told her married sister it was impossible—she could not marry him. However, she was answered that it was far too late to retreat, and the preparations were completed. During the ceremony, she twice withdrew her hand from his ; and when asked, 'Will you take this man ? ' her sister forced her head down, the only sign of assent they could make her to give. After nine days, however, she returned to her father's house, a virgin. Supplica- tions, prayers, entreaties, were in vain—she would not go back to her hus- band. The bishop has just dissolved the marriage, at the same time stating that this is no precedent.
"Our next-door neighbour has two daughters affianced,—pretty little girls of from seven to nine years of age. They told the elder, Your betrothed is ugly' ; he, however, was shown to her one day, and she said, 'He is not so bad.' And this is marriage ; this is the way to choose a help meet for one! Better the old proverb :
I would advise a man to pause Before he takes a wife; In fact, dear sir, I see no cause He should not pause for life.'
"However, my opinion is rapidly changing—not as regard marrying, but as respects the way it is done here in the East, in comparison with our way. Of one thing I am sure, that wives in the East are fully as true and faithful, and more economical, domestic, and useful, than even in England. In these engagements the man certainly has the worst of it ; he can rarely, if ever, see his betrothed. If she walks, she is shrouded up ; while she can see him freely, and watch him, while perhaps he little deems those eyes are upon him."