SLATIN PASHA IN THE S017DAN.•
IT would seem jejune and conventional to call this a remark- able book. In its own field it is absolutely unique. Nowhere else in the world of letters can be found an account of a savage tyranny described from the inside by a cultivated European who saw it at close quarters for nearly a dozen years. Other men have been captives to wild chiefs, but in almost every case the captivity has been close. But the close captive knows nothing of the life around him. If Slatin Pasha had been in prison he would have been able to tell us little or nothing of that strange polity on the banks of the tropical reaches of the Nile, of which for so long he formed a humble and unhappy part. The peculiarity and interest of his position consisted in the fact that except for a very short time he was at liberty and able to see and hear all that went on in Omdurman. His profession of Mahdiism, his perfect knowledge of Arabic, and the fact that he was made a member of the Klialifa's household, and stood daily at his gate, enabled hint to share as well as witness the strange scenes that went on around him. No doubt Slatin was never really trusted by the Klialifa, never truly at liberty. The Khania, how- ever, felt himself somewhat in the position of the Emperor of whom Gibbon wrote,—" The world was but a safe and dreary prison-house for the Caisar's foes." The Soudan and its deserts seemed to cut off a poor slave from all intercourse with the rest of the world; and hence the Khalifa did not greatly trouble to seclude his victim. He preferred to feed his pride by letting the Dervishes see that he had a white man standing ready to obey his behests. Hence Slatin's strange position,—one seldom, if ever, reached by the prisoners of the 'pirates of Algiers or Morocco. Fortunately, Stalin Pasha was equal to his opportunity. He had a quick eye, a ready mind, a good memory, and, above all, a heart that never failed him. When all is said and done this is indeed the most memorable thing in the book. One cannot but grow enthusiastic over the "unconquerable mind" of the man who, instead of eating his heart out in captivity, or dying or going mad from misery and ennui, kept always in his soul the golden flower of hope, and determined against all the chances and probabilities that be would live to see the world of Europe once again, and to see it not as a man broken with hardship and despair, but as the gallant, good-tempered soldier he shows himself to all who have the pleasure of a personal acquaintance. Such an elasticity and yet such firmness of spirit is worthy of the very highest admiration.
Slatin Pasha's spiritedness and good temper give his book a singular charm, and in spite of its length the reader will find it full of interest and entertainment. But it is more than merely readable. Its author and his able translator and coadjutor, Major Wingate, have wisely made the book an exhaustive study of the politics and history of the Soudan, and from its pages may be drawn the most complete as well as the most picturesque account that has yet been written of the rise of Mahdiism, and of the recent history of that strange dominion, half theocracy, half slave-hunting tyranny, that has arisen on the rains of the Ethiopian Empire acquired by Ismail Pasha. The sinister figures of the Mahdi and his successor the Khalifa are portrayed by Slatin Pasha with great power and skill. Of the Mahdi, however, we do not get much first-hand information, as with him Slatin Pasha, had little personal intercourse. The Khalifa, on the other hand, was studied at close quarters, and we see the crafty, hypocritical, and licentious tyrant in his habit as he lives. At times, and when Slatin Pasha was in favour, the Khalifa would talk to him much as Napoleon talked to the members of his household, recounting episodes in his early life and recalling the time when "my entire property consisted of one donkey, and he had a gall on his back." Interesting, however, as are these account& of the Khalifa's personality, they pale, as indeed does everything else in the book, before the thrilling narrative of the siege of Khartoum. During the final struggle Slatin Pasha was under suspicion, and was kept chained in a miserable pen. From here he watched the assaults on the doomed city, and caught • Fire and Bawd in the Sudan, a Personal Narrative of Fighting and Sierriteg Dui Dervishes, 1S79-1898. By Rudolf 0. Bl.tin Puha, C.B. Translated ItiTu
Wingate, O.K. nitrated by R. Talbot Kelly, R.B.A. London: Arno11. 1896.
now and again some casual rumour of the English expedition tint was on the way to rescue Gordon. One day loud weepings filled the Mahdi's camp,—a thing most strange and unusual, since the display of grief for the dead was very strictly forbidden by the new creed. What could this weep- ing mean ? It meant that the news had come of the English victory at Abu Klea. Here is Slatin Pasha's account of how the news affected him and his fellow-captives :—
"What news !—my heart was literally thumping with joyous excitement. After all these long years, a crowning victory at lost! The Mahdi and Khalifa at once gave orders that all this noise should ceas?.; but for hours the weeping and wailing of the women continued. Instructions were now given to Nur Angara to start off with troops towards Metemmeh ; but what good would this do, even if he had had the will, which he had not, what could he do with a few troops when thousands and thousands of wild fanatics had failed ? Within the next two or three days, came the news of other defeats at Abu Km and Kubba (Gubat), and of the erection of a fort on the Nile close to Metemmeh. The Mahdi and his principal Emirs now held a consultation. All the won- derful v ctories they had gained up to the present were at stake ; for those besieging Khartum were terrified and had retired. It was now the question of a few days only, and the Mahdi was done. They must risk everything. Consequently, orders were sent out to the besiegers to collect and make all preparations. Why did the long-expected steamers with the English troops not come P Did their commanders not know Khartum, and the lives of all in it, were hanging by a thread ? In vain did I, and thousands of others, wait for the shrill whistle of the steamer, and for the booming of the guns announcing that the English bad arrived, and were passing the entrenchments made by the Dervishes to oppose them. Yes, in vain ! The delay was inexplicable ; what could it mean ? Had new difficulties arisen ? It was now Sunday, the 25th f January-a day I shall never forget as long as I live. That evening, when it was dark, the Mahdi and his Khalifas crossed over in a boat to where their warriors were all collected ready for the fight. It was known during the day that Khartum would be attacked the next morning ; and the Mahdi had now gone to brace up his followers for the fray by preaching to them the glories of Jehad, and urging them to fight till death. Pray Heaven Gordon may have got the news, and made his pre- parations to resist in time! On this occasion, the Mahdi and his Kbalifas had most strictly enjoined their followers to restrain their feelings, and receive the last injunctions in silence, instead of with the usual shouts and acclamations, which might awaken the suspicions of the exhausted and hungry garrison. His solemn harangue over, the Mahdi recrossed, and returned to the camp at dawn, leaving with the storming party only Khalifa Sherif, who had begged to be allowed to join in the holy battle."
That night was one of terrible anxiety for Slatin. If the attack failed, his life was restored to him ; if not all was lost. The news of how the battle had sped came all too soon. Three black soldiers hurried to his tent, carrying in their hands a bloody cloth, in which something was wrapped, while behind followed a weeping crowd :—
"The slaves had now approached my tent, and stood before me with insulting gestures ; Shatta undid the cloth and showed me the head of General Gordon ! The blood rushed to my head, and my heart seemed to stop beating ; but, with a tremendous effort of self-control, I gazed silently at this ghastly spectacle. His blue eyes were half-opened ; the month was perfectly natural ; the hair of his head, and his short whiskers, were almost quite white. • Is not this the head of your uncle the unbeliever?' said Sbatta, holding the head up before me.-4 What of it ?' said I, quietly. ' A brave soldier who fell at his post ; happy is he to have fallen ; his sufferings are over.'" The cup of bitterness was filled to overflowing by the advent of the steamers,—just two days too late. Slatin Pasha heard the firing that announced their approach—it is not clear whether he saw them with his own eyes—and when that ceased he knew that the last hope of his delivery had perished. One cannot read this account of the last days of Khartoum without a feeling of intense sorrow and regret. It is clear that the raising of the siege would have been accom- plished by the advent of the steamers three days earlier. It is also, we think, admitted that the steamers might have started three or even four days earlier from Metemmeh. We do not wish to censure the brave men in whose hands the decision lay, for we do not doubt that had they fully realised the situation, they would have risked everything to make the necessary dash up the river. It was, however, their failure to perceive the absolute necessity for such a dash, that gave the Mahdi heart to make a last attempt on Khartoum.
Were we to try to extract, or even notice, all the striking things in the present book, we should fill our paper. We must, however, make one more quotation, and it shall be that of the passage which tells a strange story of a crane :—
"One day, in the month of December, 1892, when I bad just left the Khalifa's door to take a short rest, one of the mulazemin summoned me to the Khalifa's presence. I found him in the reception room, surrounded by his Kadis, and the threats and reprimands which I had received on the occasion of Taib Haj Ali's calumny were still fresh in my mind. I was therefore con- siderably dismayed when the Khalifs, without returning my salute, ordered me to take my seat amongst the judges. Take- this thing,' said he, after a short pause, and in a very severe tone, and see what it contains.' I at once arose and took in both hands the object he gave me, and then sat down again. It con- sisted of a brass ring of about four centimetres in diameter; attached to which was a small metal case about the size and shape of a revolver cartridge. An attempt had been made to open it,. and I could plainly see that it contained a paper. This was indeed an anxious moment for roe. Could it be a letter from my relations, or from the Egyptian Government ; and had the messenger who brought it been captured? Whilst I was engaged, in opening the case with the knife which bad been given me, I turned over in my mind howl should act, and what I should say; and, as good luck would have it, I had not on this occasion to, have recourse to dissimulation. Pulling out two small papers,. and opening them, I found inscribed on them, in minute but legible handwriting, in German, French, English, and Russian. languages the following :—This crane has been bred and brought up on my estate at Asc.ania Nova, in the Province of Tanride, in South Russia. Whoever catches or kills this bird is requested to communicate with me, and inform me where it occurred. (Signed) F. R Falz-Fein. September, 1892.-1 now raised my head, which hitherto I had kept closely bent down; and the Khalifs asked, • Well, what do the papers contain ? " Sire,' I replied, • this case must have been fastened to the neck of a bird which has been killed. Its owner, who lives in Europe, has re- quested that any one who finds the bird should let him know where it was caught or killed." You have spoken the truth,' said. the Khalifa, in a somewhat more amiable tone ; 'the bird was killed by a Shaigi near Dongola, and the cartridge case was found attached to its neck. He took it to the Emir Yunes, whose secre- tary was unable to decipher the writing of the Christian, and he' therefore forwarded it to me. Tell me now what is written on the- paper P' I translated the message, word for word, and, at the Kbalifa's command also tried to describe the geographical position of the country from which the bird had come, and the- distance it had travelled before it was killed. • This is one of the many devilries of those unbelievers,' he said, at last, who waste their time in such useless nonsense. I Mohammedan would never' have attempted to do such a thing.' He then ordered me to hand over the case to his secretary, and signed to me to withdraw; but I managed to take one more hurried glance at the paper,— Ascania Nova, Tauride, South Russia, I repeated over and over again to imprint it on my memory. The mulazemin at the door anxiously awaited my return; and when I came out from the presence of my tyrannical master with a placid countenance, they seemed greatly pleased. On my way to my house, I continued to repeat to myself the name of the writer and his residence, an determined, that should Providence ever grant me my freedom, 1 should not fail to let him know what had happened to his bird:"
So much for this fascinating book. As to the rendering,
we will only say that Major Wingate has done his work as thoroughly and as successfully as he did the greater and more important work of translating Slatin Pasha out of the world of savagery into the world of civilisation.