ARMENIA.* [SECOND NOTICE.)
RATTLING out of Tiflis in a tarantass—the vehicle which was fully described to us for the first time by Mr. MacGahan—Mr. Bryce and his companion found themselves,—after passing for a couple of miles through a crowd of merchandise-laden animals entering the city,—on the desolate steppe, with almost startling suddenness. The writer describes the plain lying between Tiflis and Erivan as the chief scene of Transcaucasian brigandage, and a Picture of waste and idleness :— "With a little more irrigation, the whole plain might shake with * rrmeansecaucasta and Ararat, being Notes eta Vacation Tour in the Autumn 01870.
Bryce, author of "The Holy Roman Empire," London: Macmillan and Co.
harvests, for now and then one finds a stream descending from the hills, the waters of which could be led in rills over this thirsty soil. At present there are no inhabitants to attempt this. Once in six or seven miles we pass a Tatar burying-ground Not far off we discover, with some difficulty, groups of low, round-topped, earthen hovels, some like an English pig-sty, some more burrows in the clay, with no windows, and only a hole for a door. There is no wood close at hand, and the people are too idle or too poor to fetch it from a distance; be-. sides which, I suppose they prefer the troglodyte style of house, for tho sake of warmth
Silent and. One is puzzled to know how people so poor manage to live at all ; probably, the explanation is that they can live upon infinitely little, far less than a Western labourer needs For the' matter of that, they do not labour, but simply idle, though their country-
men in towns like Tiflis do and can work hard dreary as the steppe is, there is plenty of traffic along the road,—strings of carts laden with merchandise, vehicles with merchants or officials, solitary riders, with two or three daggers, and perhaps pistols also stuck in their belt, and an extraordinary old gun of the matchlock type slung over their shoulder. At first we bowed or touched our hats to these wayfarers, whereat they seemed surprised, and did not return the compliment. Our companion solemnly warned us to salute no more, saying we should be taken for strangers ignorant of the ways of the country, and likely to be rich men; and that even if none of those. we met were thievishly inclined, they might say something about us to other people along the road, who would be ready for mischief."
It is difficult to get at the truth of the stories of brigandage on this great plain, but Mr. Bryce's description of this portion of his journey is certainly less favourable to the people and the Government than his account of the country on the other
side of Tiflis. The Russian officials will not admit the law- lessness which is confidently affirmed by non-official persons,. and of which Mr. Bryce tells one very good story. Four years ago, the Governor of Erivan was encountered on a
journey by a troop of fifty brigands. Their leader rode
forward, and pointed out to his Excellency that the escorti of twenty Cossacks who accompanied him need not attempt to resist the superior numbers of the band. The Governor admitted the justice of this view, and surrendered, upon which, the brigands took from him his favourite horse, and sent him on his way lamenting. A few weeks later, the horse was returned, with a message from the chief that he had no wish to injure the Governor, and desired that nothing should interrupt their friendly relations. "I took your horse," said the chief, "only as- a lesson to you not to interfere with my people, as you have lately been doing ; see that you do not repeat that mistake." The whole of the interior of Russian Armenia—a term which does not, as the author explains, denote any political division, but is merely a popular name for the countries which once formed part of the old Armenian kingdom—is bare and dreary, brown and waterless, but of rich volcanic soil. Everything is rude and primitive to the last degree, and nothing but tea is to be had at the post-houses.
The travellers' first experience of Erivan, which they entered in the dark, was an "unutterable jolting over the masses of loose volcanic rock which form the principal street" ; but the next morning, they found themselves in a thoroughly Eastern town of the Persian type, basking in a sun which made it dangerous to go, out, except under an umbrella. The author's sketch of Erivan the most picturesque bit in his book, next to his description of the, scene upon which he looked from the summit of Ararat. He sketches the town when the bazaar is at its height, at six am.; when the parti-coloured crowd is vibrating in and out of the mouths of the arcades; men in sheep-skin hats, shuffling along in their loose, low-heeled slippers, and women covered from head to- foot with a blue checked robe, are flocking hither from every part of the city, to buy food.
"They cluster like bees round the stalls which bakers and fruit- sellers have set up here and there through the Meidan (an open space' where the road to Persia meets the road to Tiflis and Europe), and where heaps of huge green and yellow melons, plums, apples, and above all, grapes of the richest hue and flavour, lie piled up. Hard by stand the rude country carts or pack horses that have brought the, fruit, with the Armenian peasant, in his loose grey cotton frock ; while- strings of camels from Persia or the Caspian coast file in, led by sturdy Tatars, daggers stuck in their bolts, an old matchlock slung behind,, and a huge sheepskin cap overshadowing the whole body. Sometimes a swarthy, fierce-eyed Kurd from the mountains appears ; sometimes tv slim and stealthy son of Iran, with his tall black hat and yellow robe. It is a perfectly Eastern scene, just such as any city beyond the frontiers would present, save that in Persia one would see mon crucified along the wall, and both there and in Turkey might hear the shrieks of wretches writhing under the bastinado. One forgets Russia till a mounted Cossack is seen galloping past with despatches for Alexandropol. It is just such, a scone as Ararat, whose snowy cone rises behind in incomparable majesty, may have looked down upon any day for these three thousand years. As noon approaches babbling rills of life that flow hither and thither in the bazaar are stilled, the heat has sent every one home to rest an shade, the fruitsellers have moved their stalls, the peasants have re- turned to the country ; Ararat, too, has hid his silvery head in a mantle of clouds."
The most trivial details of Eastern life are fascinating to those whose imagination, as Mr. Bryce says, "has been fed by the BOkle and the Arabian Nights." Under this spell, while deeply impressed by the stagnation of everything, he was fully brought, delight- ing in the colour and the quietude, the stir and the sameness of Oriental life, in the sight of a society "which has preserved that old-world character which seemed old-world even to the Greeks, more than two thousand years ago, a society immovable in its beliefs, ideas, usages, with its fundamental conceptions so differ- ent from our own, that one hardly sees how it is ever to be carried along in the general stream of the world's development, and hardly wishes that it should." From Erivan the travellers travelled across the Araxes plain, which is the richest part of Armenia, being both hot and well-watered, with fields of cotton and tobacco bordering the road, and vineyards, laden with purple fruit, enclosed within high mud walls. They crossed the Araxes by a ford where big buffaloes were cooling themselves in the water, and about four miles on the other side came to the Russian station of Aralykh, a great contrast, in the trim precision of its canton- ments, to the scenes they had been passing through. Aralykh is merely barracks, and not fortified. From this place the expedition to Ararat was arranged and commenced, by the aid of the officer in command, Colonel Shipskef, a Mahommedan noble from the north side of the Caucasus, and an accomplished gentle- man, though he spoke no West-European language. He discussed English history and literature with his guests, by the aid of an
interpreting friend, and knew much more about them than he knew about Ararat, or how the mountain might be ascended. He
promised the travellers, however, that they should have horses and Cossacks to take them to Sardarbulakh, and as much farther as horses and Cossacks could go. "Though," says the writer, "the colonel doubtless marvelled in his beast what could be our motive for a difficult and fatiguing expedition, the success of which was so uncertain, he was too polite to say so, talking as gravely about the matter as if he had beenspresident of an Alpine club sending out his explorers with instructions." Aralykh occu- pies a striking situation, 2,602 feet above the sea-level, exactly on the line where the last slope of Ararat melts into the flat bottom of the Aras valley, a capital spot from whence to contemplate what lay before the traveller intending to make the " impossible " ascent. An entire chapter is devoted to a description of the wonderful mountain, an account of tha traditions which attach to it, and of the superstitious reverence in which it is held by the various races who have no other sentiment in common. A popes of this unanimity Mr. Bryce remarks :—
"In these countries one still sees traces of that tendency, so con- spicuous in the ancient world, but almost obliterated in modern Europe, for men of one race and faith to be impressed by the traditions and superstitions of another faith, which they may even profess to disbelieve and hate. No Irish Protestant venerates the sacred island in Lough Derg, but bore the fanatical Tatars respect, and the Persian rulers formerly honoured and protoctod,Etchmiadzin (or the Three Churchos and many another Christian shrine; while Christians not unfrequently, both in the Caucasus, and farther south through the erstern regions of Turkey, practise pagan or Mahommedan rites, which i ley have learnt from their neighbours, and oven betray their awe for the sacred places of Islam."
The beauty and the majesty of Ararat have, we believe, found but one dissentient voice to decry them, that of the French bota- nist, de Tournefort, who, writing at the beginning of the eighteenth century, says :—" This mountain is one of the most dismal and disagreeable sights on the face of the earth." Mr. Bryce con-
cludes his most interesting description and history of Ararat with an account of the earthquake of 1840, whose traces are still dis- tinctly visible in fractures as fresh as of yesterday, and which overwhelmed the village of Arghuri, the little monastery of St. Jacob, and a Kurdish encampment on the pastures above. Not a soul survived to tell the tale. Since then a few huts have again arisen lower down the slope than the site of old Argburi, where dwell a few Tatars, who pasture their cattle on the sides of the valley, which grass has again begun to clothe. "But Noah's vine, and the primeval willow, and the little monastery where Parrot lived so happily among the few old monks who had retired from the world to this hallowed spot, are gone for ever ; no Christian bell is heard, no Christian service said, upon the Mountain of the Ark."
A chapter devoted to the Armenian people represents them in an interesting light, and paints their condition as sufficiently pitiable. Russian Armenia is not so ill-off as Turkish Armenia, but that is the most that can be said for it ; and short of inde- pendence for the latter, Mr. Bryce sees no prospect of its ameliora- tion, except absorption into the former. The Armenian subjects of Russia are not zealous or devoted subjects, those who live under Turkey look on her just as the Bulgars do. "Better the Czar than the Sultan is the feeling of both ; but better any sort • of local independence, than either Czar or Sultan." Come what may out of the struggle which began after Mr. Bryce's journey came to a close, it can hardly be, we believe, "any kind of local independence" for the tribes whose country is so defenceless and whose character so little fits them for self-government.
With unabated interest and attraction the reader will follow Mr. Bryce on his return journey to Tiflis—the narrative includ- ing a sketch of the Kurds, in the author's closely-packed manner— and thence by Poti, to the Black Sea. Of Poti the writer says that it is the most miserable town that ever traveller were con- demned to halt in. There, owing to a storm in the Euxine, they had to stay ; and bethinking themselves of Mark Tapley in the swamps of Eden, which must have been like Poti, only pleasanter, they set themselves to see the sights of the place. There are not any sights, but there are smells, marshes, fogs, frogs, wild boars, and fevers. The river is above the level of the streets, and the
one-storeyed wooden houses are all falling to pieces. The British Vice-Consul has had fever oftener than any one on record, except Mr. Pickwick's young friends, Bob Sawyer and Benjamin Allen ; nevertheless, he is pleasant and hospitable, and he told the travellers many interesting facts about the Mingrelians and the Russians, and waxed pathetic over the difficulty of doing business in a country where you could not trust any one's word, nor get a stroke of work done when your back was turned. For all the deadly dreariness of Poti, the travellers found a treasure there. We can imagine the eagerness with which they pounced upon the Times in the Consul's office, and read a speech of Mr. Gladstone's, delivered to Ss mass-meeting at Green- wich. Perhaps the elation of his emancipation from Poti may have enhanced Mr. Bryce's enjoyment of later scenes ; at all events, his sketches of the voyage, with its pauses at Batoum
• and Trebizond (the latter dwells in his memory as an enchanted place), are written with increased brilliancy ; and concerning Con- stantinople, he writes with greater enthusiasm than we can recall in the case of any other author. It is " one of the few places in the world which surpass all expectations ; more beautiful, more unique, more commanding than any description has prepared you to find it." He is so captivated and carried away by the wonder and the loveliness of the city, that he even relents in his customary anticipation of the downfall of Turkey. "Modern improvement," he says, "has not yet laid its destroying finger on this accumu- lated wealth of beauty, the gift of many ages and raees, as it too surely will when the Turkish dominion ends. If ever a war is undertaken on behalf of Constantinople, let us understand that it is not for the sake of the Turks, but for xsthetic reasons only, —to preserve the loveliness of a city that is unique in the world, and could never be replaced."