THREE YEARS IN ROUMANIA.*
THE writer of this book is correct, when he says that information concerning the present state of Roumania is a want admittedly * Three Tears in Roumania. By 7. W. Ozanne. London : Chapman and Hall. felt, for much as that country has lately come to the front, and frequently as it has been the subject of conversation, we very much doubt whether many of the people one meets in general society have any clear ideas either of its whereabouts or its con- stitution, or are aware that so lately as 1860 it was non-existent; that is to say, that the two Principalities of Wallachia and Mol- davia which now compose it, were then separate States. Yet Roumania actually prides itself on being the representative of the Dacia of Trajan, which also comprised Transylvania, the Buko- vine, Bessarabia, and the Banate of Temesvar ; and the people hold themselves to be the direct descendants of the Legionaries and other colonists who were transported thither by that Emperor, after his conquest of the country. This pretension, of course, can hardly be fully substantiated ; but even on the showing of their adversaries, the Roumanians are a brave people, not unworthy of a Roman ancestry, and by no means lacking in the elements of pro- gress. Mr. Ozanne, who spent three years among them, describes them as kindly and hospitable, and " the most promising of the Christian races of the East." In this present volume he merely pro- fesses to give a general idea of the country, without going into weari- some detail, or entering too much into political questions ; and he begins by carrying the reader pleasantly down the " beautiful blue Danube" to Bucharest, and afterwards describes first "the city of pleasure" in its various aspects, and then the gipsy race, which forms such a remarkable portion of its population, the Govern- ment, the Church, the country, its agriculture and commerce, and the origin, manners, and customs of the people, giving us also a raid into Transylvania, and ending with a review of the political situation of the Danubian provinces. We gather from his book that the Wallachian capital, surrounded as it is by low hills which screen it from the winter blasts, is in summer a per- fect oven, while the streets, being very badly paved, are in the rainy season absolutely impassable for foot-passengers, the water reach- ing at times to the necks of the horses ; and even when walking is possible, no one stirs out without high boots or high goloshes. Only in the centre of the town is there any appearance of pro- sperity, and lines of dirty streets, consisting of rows of mud hovels and shabby houses, must be passed before reaching the Podu Mogosoi, where are the large hotels, the palace of the Prince, the theatre, and other fine buildings. At right angles with this is the Grand Boulevard, where are the University and the Museum, and near to it is the Strada Lipscanii, or Leipzig Street, which is full of shops. The Chaussee, on the north of the town, is the grand promenade, whence you have a distant view of the Carpathians, and where may be seen every day in the year both splendid equipages and gorgeous toilettes, for the Roumanian Boyard is lavish of his money, and the rich merchants and trades- people are fond of emulating and even surpassing them in display of all kinds. There are said to be two hundred churches in Bucharest, and it literally teems with cafés, which are adapted to the wants of every section of the population, and serve the purpose of clubs, being provided with billiard-tables, chess and draught-boards, dominoes, and cards, well supplied with local and foreign news- papers, which are, " as a rule, carefully and wisely selected," and having very frequently a garden where the people can recreate themselves in the summer evenings, and listen to the music of the laoutari, or gipsy minstrels. We might with advantage take a leaf out of the Roumanian book, and multiply harmless places of amusement of this kind in our capital and larger towns. The Coffee Public-house Association is already doing much, but a vast deal more is needed, and it would be well also if some less clumsy and more attractive name could be devised for these temperance taverns. One pleasing old custom is retained in the streets of Bucharest,—each shop rejoices in a sign-board. This one flourishes beneath the White Cat, and that beneath the Yellow Bear, while a Guardian Angel may protect a third, and of course the Emperor Trajan is everywhere to be seen. The Roumanian gentleman is excessively gay, and his life said to be made up of visits, flirtation, and play, men being often completely ruined at cards, and numbers of estates mortgaged in consequence of their owners' love of gambling. The ladies, who are described as very pretty, elegant, and clever, with exquisite manners, are not by any means famous for their morality, and as three divorces are actually allowed to every one by the Greek Church, the relations between different individuals in society are often singular in the extreme. Children will have their father in one family, their mother in another, and it is said to be quite possible for a woman to meet her two or three former hus- bands while leaning on the arm of a fourth or fifth. Yet so closely are les convenances observed, that not a look or gesture could lead a stranger to imagine that these people were
other than mere acquaintances, and the slightest departure from received customs, or even the most trifling accident, will instantly lead to a duel. A peculiarity of Roumania is the non-existence, save in the case of a few doctors, lawyers, officers of the line, and civil servants, of any native middle-class. The shops are almost all kept by Frenchmen or Germans, while the bankers, artisans, tobacco and spirit vendors, are almost all Jews ; the latter, however, still suffer under persecution. "Roumania is," we are told, " par excellence the land of officialism, and, small country that it is, possesses more civil-servants than either France or Prussia," these unfortunate employes being so badly paid, that they are reduced to the utmost shifts to be able to live, and are for that reason marks for the derision of their fellow-countrymen, who, while they give them the nickname of Cinces, or Fivers, because their pay is supposed to be exactly five napoleons per month, nevertheless grudge even the small sum they are obliged to contribute to their support.
The peasantry is almost wholly military and agricultural, servants being either gipsies or Transylvanian Szeklers. While the foreign element prevails largely in the upper and middle- classes, the peasant is a true Roumanian, of a fine type of man- hood, good-tempered, witty, brave, cheerful, hospitable, ready to forgive and forget, speaking his language with purity, and per- fectly content so long as his tobacco-box is full and his oxen thriving. One pet aversion he cherishes. He detests the Illouscal or Russian. The dress of the Roumanian peasant—supposed not to have altered since the time of Trajan—consists of a tunic and drawers of stout linen, a leathern girdle, in which are stuck knife and tobacco-pouch, and sandals, with, in winter-time, an em- broidered waistcoat of sheepskin, which, after the fashion of the celebrated Irishman, is worn with the woolly side out or in, ac- cording to the exigencies of the season. The costume is completed by a cuciula or high Dacian cap of black wool ; and when the ground is covered with snow and slush, a pair of high boots, thickly greased, are added to the equipment. The women's dress is pretty, and consists of a linen ehemisette, embroidered at the neck and wrists with red and blue, a short white petticoat, a coloured girdle, and on holidays smart boots of red or blue leather. The married women cover their heads with a white kerchief, but the girls let their hair hang down in a long braid, and on gala- days adorn it with coins, carrying round their necks their dowry in bright lira-pieces. These women, like their betters, are ex- tremely pretty, and have well-formed figures and beautiful hands and feet. They are sober and industrious, and good wives and mothers, and spend much of their time in spinning, in embroider- ing sheepskins, in weaving their own clothing, as well as pretty carpets and rugs, in rearing silkworms, and manufacturing holiday skirts and veils. Roumania has two special mineral products,— salt and petroleum. There are several salt-mines, which have been celebrated from the earliest times, and which are now worked upon improved principles ; the method of extracting the petroleum is very singular, and Mr. Ozanne gives us a description of the process. The fisheries on the Danube, the Dambovitza, and the Black Sea are also very productive. Roumania is an extremely picturesque country, with agrand water- system, and its soil so fertile, that it is said to be almost im- possible to come across a barren piece of ground. There are three distinct regions,—the first, that of the mountains, which is composed of forests and pasture lands ; the second, that of the undulating bills which connect the mountains with the level ground, and which is the region of the fruit-tree and the vine ; and the third, that of the plains, devoted to the cultivation of cereals and vegetables, maize being the most valuable crop, as it forms the staple food of the lower classes, and is also largely exported. The peasant is much attached to his village, and can with difficulty be induced to leave it, and in many instances a number of them club together to farm a large estate, being thus enabled to buy machines and implements which would otherwise be beyond their reach. There is, however, one great drawback to improvement, namely, the sys- tem of short leases, which are commonly not given for more than three or five years, and consequently the principal object of the farmer is to get as much out of this holding as possible while he has it in possession. The country, too, is scarcely populous enough for the land to be properly cultivated. The horses of Moldavia, once so celebrated, have much degenerated, and the cattle are also poor; but every peasant has, at least, one cow, and the farmers have herds of oxen. In Wallachia the buffalo is employed for labour, and its milk is excellent, but it requires especial care, and must have a bath at least once a day during the summer months. Sheep of several kinds are very plentiful, and also goats, in- cluding the Angora kind, and every peasant possesses a few pigs, although his frugal meal consists of mamaliga, or boiled maize, with the addition of a little milk, and perhaps a piece of salt-fish. Were it not for its " trying" climate, Ron- mania might be pronounced in many respects a charming country ; but the bitter cold of winter, the fierce heat of summer, the fre- quent changes of temperature, and the fever-producing miasma which seems to lurk in the air, are often fatal to the foreigner, and even to the inhabitants, especially after one of the long and severe fasts enjoined upon the latter by their religion. Mr. Ozanne's account of the Tzigans, or gipsies, and especially the laoutari, or minstrel portion of them, is extremely interesting. Their instru- ments are the violin, the mandoline, and the panpipe, and these they handle with exquisite skill, their style of melody being very peculiar, and so gifted are they with correctness of ear, that they can reproduce an air after once hearing it with the most perfect exactness. After reading this pleasant volume, one can, to a great degree, understand the charm which Roumania has for its people, whose fixed idea, which has passed into a proverb, is that whoever drinks of the sweet water of the Dambovitza will never leave it more, or will, at any rate, return to lay his bones beside his beloved river.