WALKS IN ALGIERS4
Asy one who takes up Mr. Seguin's book under the impression that it is a sort of "Murray's Guide" to Algiers, will soon find out his mistake. It is, no doubt, an exhaustive handbook, but it is something very much more than this ; and the reader who, perhaps, dips into it for a few special facts, will probably find his attention chained by the amount of information it contains, and very possibly experience a feeling of surprise at his own ignorance of a subject with which he had taken it for granted he was familiar. We all talk about Algiers, and every one connects it with French efforts at colonisation, and regards it as a success or failure, very much as sympathy or prejudice rules the hour; but how many of us, till Mr. Seguin came to our aid, had really any very
The first fox was poisoned.
t Walks is Algiers. By L. G. Seguin. London: Caldy, Ishiater, and Co. 1878.
distinct idea of the history of the city of sunshine to which, year after year, larger and yet larger numbers of seekers after health resort, in their efforts to escape the chilling fogs and dreary gloom of an English winter. The geographical position of Algiers is familiar to most of us, though it is dangerous to take even that for granted ; but a glance at the map will show the special natural advantages the city enjoys as a resort for invalids, "with the sea in face of her, and the mountains at her back." And Mr.
Seguin enters into details as minute as guide-book ever gave, as to all questions of temperature (which the intending visitor or colonist will be glad to know is, from the beginning of October to the end of May, delightful in the extreme), as to the class of constitutions this delightful climate specially suits, and the amount of accommodation which awaits the visitor. He does not even omit the through fare 'from London to Algiers, or any other prosaic details with which the traveller may desire to become acquainted ; but it is with another side of his subject we feel specially concerned. We want to know more of those "rose- tinted Moorish palaces he describes so well, more of the real history of the fair city to which no pencil seems able to do justice, and in which Eastern and European civilisation are so strangely blended. The blaze of colour, the jargon of tongues, Arab, Moor, and Jew, each in his own peculiar costume, all forming, to the visitor's bewildered gaze, a sort of realisation of some dream of the old, old world of ancient story, till he is somewhat rudely awakened by the very palpable presence of modern boulevards and very Palais-Royal-like-looking shops. But our curiosity is aroused by the motley group of which Mr. Seguin gives so glowing a description, and he proceeds to make us more intimately acquainted with the various personages who compose it. Amongst them all, the Kabyles, perhaps, interest us most.
These people, whose occupation of the mountain fastnesses of the country, dates so far back that they have almost a claim to be regarded as the original inhabitants of the country, have, Mr. Seguin assures us, a very considerable mixture of Greek, Roman, and even Teutonic blood in them. They have never fully embraced Islamism. At the time of the Arab invasion, writes Mr. Seguin, they were a Christian 'people, and far advanced in civilisation, and long after they had nominally adopted the faith of the invaders (we can hardly in their case say the conquerors) they retained many of their own Christian customs, as, for instance, the retention of the Christian Sunday, the discourage- ment of polygamy, and the consequent elevation of the one wife into a companion and true helpmate. They seem, in fact, to form what our author terms a savage free republic :—
" Each village formerly had a representative, called an amin, elected every year on a principle of univerAal suffrage ; the duties of the amin being to administer justice and regulate public expenditure. A parlia- ment of mains elected a president from their body, but these could decide on no important matter without referring the case to their con- stitnents, who met weekly in each village for deliberation. The tribes were also united in a kind of confederation, offensive and defensive, called a Sof—a remarkable democratic institution, which is, perhaps, best described as a mutual association, destined to cause the rights of an oppressed majority to be respected by a powerful and overbearing minority.' Since the insurrection of 1871, the French have considerably modified all these institutions which they had previously respected, and the amins are now appointed by the French, instead of being elected by the tribes."
Offences among this people are almost invariably punished in ac- cordance with a fixed scale of fines, and such fines and taxes "are applied to the maintenance of mosques, schools, and refuges for indigent persons and travellers." They are, as a people, skilful artificers, working in pottery in shapes of almost Etruscan beauty, and excelling in inlaying work. We cannot follow Mr. Seguin in his interesting details of the early struggles of these remarkable people. All their efforts were unavailing to beat back the great wave of Mahommedan invasion ; the Arab, with his sword in one hand and the Koran in the other, trod down the feeble mixture of Christianity and idolatry which was all that remained to the African Church, and made himself master of the country, but not without very determined resistance on the part of the Kabyles, who when they could no longer stay the torrent, retired to their own mountain fastnesses as unsubdned as ever. In 1538 the sovereignty of Algiers was surrendered to the Sultan of Turkey. We must take up the thread of the narrative at the moment (1541) when the Algerine pirates were the terror of Europe, and the Emperor Charles V. undertook his celebrated expedition against them. Spanish enterprise has not been fortunate in the matter of weather, and an armada of three hundred and sixty vessels was scattered by a tremendous storm. The army which had landed was cut to pieces by the infuriated Algerines, and the remnant which escaped carried to Europe such tidings of the in-
vincibility of the enemy, that for long after the great nations of the civilised portions of the globe contented themselves with pur- chasing immunity from their piratical attacks by the payment of a species of black-mail. This state of things continued for some hundreds of years, during which period we read of almost in- conceivable cruelties inflicted by this small, semi-barbarous State on the Christian subjects of some of the greatest Powers in Europe, —at one time no less than forty thousand Christians being in
slavery in Algiers, and that "during one space of six years, from 1674-80, no less than six thousand English subjects were sold into
slavery, or ransomed only at exorbitant prices." As late as the year 1813, Pananti, himself a captive, thus describes slavery in Algiers :—
"No sooner is any one declared a slave, than he is instantly stripped -of his clothes and covered with a species of sackcloth. He is also generally left without shoes or stockings, and often obliged to work bareheaded in the scorching rays of an African sun. Awoke at day- light in the prison where they are shut up at night, they are sent to work with the most abusive threats, and sink under the weight and severity of their keepers' whips. Made to sink wells and elean sewers, yoked with the ass and the mule, hundreds die miserably every year. The slightest offence is punished with two hundred blows on the feet or back, and when exhausted or sick, the wretched sufferers are abandoned like dogs by the roadside."
England was at last roused to put a stop to this state of things, and in 1816 Lord Exmouth commanded an expedition which effectually succeeded in putting a stop to Christian slavery. The terms of the treaty he secured are such as to swell the heart of any Englishman with honest pride. And now we are brought to the moment when France took up the gauntlet which, even -after the suppression of Christian slavery, the Algerine pirates still threw down to the civilised world. Mr. Seguin gives with much clearness the narrative of the causes which immediately pro- duced the French attack ; into which, however, we cannot go. But on the 5th of July, 1830, the French army, which in May had left Toulon, under the command of General de Bourmont, " entered Algiers through silent and deserted streets, and the historic white flag of the Bourbons floated from the battlements of the old pirate stronghold." It was a desperate moment in the history of France. Before de Bourmont could reap the honours due to his success, Charles X. had been deposed, and "the victor of Algiers left the scene of his conquests a fugitive- proserit." In giving a brief résumé of the details which Mr. Seguin's graphic pen has invested with a fresh charm, we must pass over entirely, essential as it is to his narrative, his description of one of the most remarkable men the modern world, at all events, has produced,—Abd-el-Kader,—and only lightly touch the thread of his story at the moment when Louis Philippe and Marshal Valde disregarded the great chief's appeal for justice, and war broke out again with fury, and Kabyle and Arab joining, threatened destruction to every outlying European settlement. The battle Isly decided the war on the side of the French, but the honour of the nation was stained by deeds of frightful cruelty. One -deed, ascribed to Marshal Pelissier, is probably within the memory ef many of our readers ; it strikes the imagination of the present writer as almost unparalleled in horror :— " The Ouled-Riah, a tribe who had never yet acknowledged French supremacy,and who had been implicated with Boa Maze, were pursued by a French column under Colonel, afterwards Marshal, Pelissier. Being hard pressed, they retired with all their women and children into the cave of Frechich. Colonel Pelissier summoned them to surrender; they not only refused, but fired at and killed the envoy. Enraged by this conduct, the French colonel ordered the mouth of the cave to bo filled up with blocks of wood, and fired. Flames and smoke filled the cavern ; frightful shrieks rent the air. Th.) French column, drawn up at the mouth of the cave, waited to despatch any fugitives who might break from their horrible tomb of fire ; but none came. Not a living soul escaped!"
But whatever might be the conduct of Marshals, France had peaceable thoughts towards Algeria, and the determination to found a French colony there took possession of the national mind. The moment was not fully ripe. 1 he Kabyles, who first attracted our attention when we began this notice, came once more promin- ently forward, and "savage Switzerland," as the federation of free tribes has, Mr. Seguin says, been not inaptly called, assumed the offensive ; and it was some time before they were once more driven back to their mountain fastnesses, to yield a few years later to the superior power of the enemy. The coup (Mat of December 2nd, 1851, sent vast numbers of exiles to Algeria, there, by forced labour, to make roads, and bridges, and other public works, all, in fact, that was to advance the cause of civilisation, as understood by France in that hour. In 1860 the Emperor Napoleon III, paid his first visit to Algiers, and we get a momentary glimpse of the man
in his best moods, his worser self laid aside, as he strove to "carry
the incompleteness on a stage," recognised "that mankind i' the and Catigr main have little wants, not large," and "finding the natives oppressed and ruined by taxation and usury, he set his imperial machinery to work to remedy the abuses from which he found them suffering." And if, as Mr. Seguin complains, a common- place and utterly uninteresting French town is gradually being substituted for the old picturesque one, the 100,000,000 francs expended on public works have not been unfruitful in results ; nor has Algiers had reason to complain of being made a free port, of having her commune enfranchised, and of receiving a sound monetary system. It is to Algiers, with all these improvements fresh within her, that Mr. Seguin invites the tourist. The Moorish dwellings, some 80,000 in number, it is said, "with a fine double row of palm trees, extending for miles along the shore, have been destroyed, to make way for a modern boulevard ;" but the visitor may, if he so pleases, quickly turn his back on all the more distinct indications of modern civili- sation, and plunge into ravines where the lemon tree and pome- granate mingle their branches with the banana and jujubier, or follow his route along roads where, "sheltered from prying eyes by wild screens of waving pampas-grass and stern cacti, lie little Arab hamlets or farmsteads." The cactus hedges form an almost impregnable wall around the simple dwellings of the Arab, but the aloe hedgerows evidently carry off the palm in the matter of beauty. The reader, however, who cares to know more of the varied scenes of natural and artificial beauty to which rambles round the French-African city would bring him, will do well to study Mr. Seguin's book for himself.