THE PROPHET OF TILE CAUCASUS.
MR. SPENCER is advantageously known as the author of Germany and the Germans,* and of a book of travels in Krim Tartary and Cireassia.t The interest with which his sojourn in the ancient Chersonese inspired his mind, induced hint to investigate, by records and oral inquiry, the barbarous and treacherous conquest of Krim Tartary by the Russians under CATHERINE'S favourite POTEMKIN. At first he thought of writing a history of the transaction ; but, finding a difficulty in obtaining sufficient and authentic materials, on account of the studied obscurity in which the Russian Government has involved the subject, he abandoned his intention : yet, unwilling to lose the materials he had collected, * See Spectator, No. 408; 23d April 1836. t No. 475; 5th August 1837. be determined to write a romance upon the event, and has pro- duced the Prophet qf the Caucasus.
This determination was injudicious; on two grounds. In the
first place, the literal character of Mr. SPENCER'S mind, and his apparent deficiency in imagination, would ever prevent him from imparting vitality to his characters, interest to his story and scenes, or spirit to his descriptions,—which not being transcripts of some particular reality, but what the painters call " compositions," intended to represent the general nature of the country and its people, require the breadth of fiction to satisfy the mind. In the second place, it is proceeding altogether upon a false principle to make history the predominant feature of a romance. Ne man can serve two masters : no author can hope to unite two different modes of composition in the same work. The filets of history will, in the reader's mind, be tainted with fiction, and fiction will look like matter-of-fact. The Prophet of the Caucasus fully illustrates this error. Nothing
is complete, nothing consistent: there is neither the whole history of the conquest of the Krimea, nor a full account of the historical
personages ; we take no interest in the characters of the romance ; and the render who knows little of the subject, and is not skilled in the separation of truth from invention by internal evidence, will not know what to believe and what to reject.
This failure arises from no want of pains in Mr. SPENCER : he has pressed all his most striking materials into service, and en- deavours to twist them into connexion. The singular brute Suvorof, the favourite Potemkin, the. Empress Catherine, the Emperor Joseph, and a long list of inferior personages, are all introduced into the romance : Krim Tartars, Circassians, Russians, the battles that were fought and the sieges that were made, arc also brought in at Freakr or less length ; and there is a full description of the daringly-successful scheme by which Voteinkin beguiled the Em- press in her progress through the devastated and depopulated country, by masquerade Tartars and villages run up for the occa- sion,—a system not yet altogether abandoned in Russia. But the arrangement is forced ; done not naturally, but, as the phrase is, by " hook or by crook "—artifice, not art. • 'The " Prophet of the Caucasus," who, in the absence of any
other, must be considered the hero of the piece, was a very re- markable person, who by dint of great ability, great daring, much mystery, and perhaps the arts of a mountebank, stimulated the Tartars and Circassians to a guerilla warfhre, mid opposed con- tinual obstacles to the triumph of the Russians. Of unknown
lineage—speaking, it is said, several languages, and acquainted with history as well as with European arts—Elijah Mansour was supposed by the more intelligent Russian generals to be a Pole ; the Cossacks thought him a devil ; the Mahometans venerated him as a prophet, who was to restore the waning splendour of the crescent and the empire of Ginghis Khan. The exaggeration by which ignorance, fanaticism, and fear, have elevated the character and enterprises of Elijah Mansour, would be a task for the historian to reduce to the probability of truth, and to explain to the satisfliction of his reader ; the peculiar character of some of his single exploits would require considerable genius, as well as a thorough knowledge of the coun- try, its people, and the circumstances of the time, to make him available as the machine of a romance ; but the fitilure of his efforts, his isolated mysterious life, and the obscurity attending his eventual fate, render him unfit to form the principal person in a fiction. When to these things arc added the turgid hyperbole which unimaginative and imitative writers mistake for romance, it will be conceived that Mr. SPENCER makes wild work with Elijah Mansour, the Prophet of the Caucasus. Some of the scenes, however, in which he figures, arc the most effective in the book : and the wildest are the most effective, because, we suspect, they are more homogeneous. The first introduction of the Prophet may be selected as one of the most favourable specimens of Mr. SPENCER; though much of the effect arises from national pecu- liarities incidentally portrayed.
THE PROPHET or Ton CAUCASUS.
The burning sun of Asia had not yet gilded the snow-clad summit of the stupendous Tschetir llagh with the rosy streaks of dawn, ere a traveller was seen approaching )Jagtche Semi, the beautiful capital and residence of the Khans of Krim Tartary. Ile rode a splendid Arabian horse, not less remark- able for strength and symmetry, than a sleek glossy coat of an coon black, a colour by no means frequent in the East, and which ever indicates an animal either extremely vicious or gifted with more than an ordinary degree of courage and sagacity. The well-shaped head, distended nostril, and flowing mane, but more particularly the peculiar form of the hoof, proved that it belonged to that noble race known in the Caucasus and Central Asia by the name of Suladok—a race that are said to retain their swiftness and all the character- istics of youth to the most advanced age. The striking beauty of so noble an animal, its rarity, and great value, but ill accorded with the rank and profession of the rider, whose dress denoted him to be a wandering Thum of the lslamitish faith : for although he carried in his band a lance of prodigious size and length, together with a hangiar and a brace of pistols in his girdle, these weapons were perfectly in keeping with his sacredealliim, as they were not intended to be used in strife with man, but ra- ttler as a defence against the numerous beasts of prey that prowled over the trackless steppes of Krim Tartary. Such indeed were the liannless habits and ackaowledged sanctity of these poor wanderers, that to harm one would be deemed sacrilege, and draw down upon the offender the united fury of the whole population. That the stranger had travelled far, and over wild districts where he was obliged to rely more on his own resources than on the chance of meeting with the shade of a friendly but or the tent of a shephenl, was evident from the Va- rious bags of meal and heathens bottles of water and youghhourt (that nectar of the Tartars) that dangled from his saddle ; not forgetting the little carpet for prayer, and a capacious seheikmene of camel's hair, that served him alike for s mantle by day and covering by night. However much the form of our traveller was enveloped in the folds of a goat- skin vest, it was easy to perceive that he was cast in a truly herculean mould; limbs all bone, brawn, and sinew indicated a constitution that might bid defi- ance alike to change Of climate, privation, and fatigue, and promised in the con- flict an adversary dangerous in no common degree; and whatever disguise he might assume, whatever garb he might wear, no man could meet the singularly fierce expression of his eye, which shone brilliant as a meteor, without feeling that there was in it more the fiery energy of a chieftain than the meekness of a moslemin saint.
Here is a sample of the wilder adventure, opening with a very reporter-like touch.
AN ESCAPE OF THE PROPHET.
Elijah Mansour, whose lofty intellect loved to commune with itself, here firmly, but courteously, declined the further attendance of his friends; and, like all brave spirits, who are too apt to despise danger even when broadly visible, journeyed onward through the gloomy defile of the Katseh. Ile had not, however, proceeded far through that formidable gorge, when the unerring instinct of his noble charger told him, by various manifestations of uneasiness, that some hidden peril lurked about his path. The Prophet, ever mindful of the warnings of Ins sagacious companion, which he knew from ex- perience were never given in vain, was not slow in discovering that a party of Cossacks had posted themselves among the impenetrable brushwood which skirted the defile.
Encompassed by a wall of rock of prodigious height, and already within the reach of the muskets of his deadly enemies, to advance or retreat was equally hazardous ; but self-collected, self. relying, and without betraying the slightest symptom of consciousness that an enemy lay at his feet, the traveller continued to advance at a slow pace, till he came to a cleft in the rock partially screened from observation by the foliage of a widely-spreading oak. Well acquainted with the localities of the country, he knew, however great the danger might be of attempting this means of escape, it was preferable to falling into the hands of his cruel and hereditary foe, the Cossack ; while should he be so fortunate as to gain the bottom, he might set his pursuers at defiance. Confident of his own powers as an equestrian, and not less confident of the mettle, docility, and sure- footedness of the noble animal that hail been for so many years the companion of his perilous exploits in the mountains of Circassia, to plunge in and AC- complish the hazardous descent was the work of an instant—and he was safe.
The Cossacks, astonished at the sudden disappearance of their intended victim at the very moment they felt certain of securing him, hastily galloped up to the spot ; where, instead of time fugitive, they found a deep-yawning abyss, as if the earth had opened to receive tin,. Exclatnations of surprise unless wonder burst from every lip ; they could not believe that any 'north leagued with inyisihie spin would have attempted such a neck-breaking exploit : even the captain of the Cossacks, a man who feared neither man nor devil, felt himself irresistibly impelled to say an Ave-Maria, and cross himself most devoutly. Under the present circumstances, to attempt following the fugitive was entirely out of the question : still, in the expectation of securing him in his en- deavours to escape from the abyss, the pursuit was not given up ; and, being by this time joined by the Tatar prince, Adil-beg, and a strong party of his ad- herents, through whose treachery Mansour was betrayed in the first instance, every outlet was guarded with the most jealous core. At length, wearied with acting the sentinel to rocks and brushwood, and not a little chagrined by the ill-successes of the expedition, the commander of the Cossacks, determined to explore the mysterious abyss, in defiance of the re- peated warnings of the peasants of the district, who contended that it led to the abode of the gnomes in time centre of the earth. A few of the most daring among the Cossacks, aided by ropes, undertook the dangerous descent ; but no sooner did they arrive at the bottom than their horrible wailings and cries for help appalled the stoutest among their comrades : this was succeeded by a death- like silence. Each man looked aghast at the other, no doubt expecting every moment to see the Prophet emerge in company with a legion of dxmons and utterly destroy them.