29 JULY 1905, Page 7

members for five hundred years have prevented the civilisation of

Eastern Europe, his brain is probably superior to that of any of his predecessors. Inheriting the throne at a moment when its power seemed on. the eve of extinction, he gathered the reins into his own hands, and within two years became the dreaded master of the whole organisation of his Empire. An. adroit use of his pretensions to the Kaliphate gave the prestige of sanctity to his autocracy, while the unhesitating punish- ment of every opponent and of every man upon whom his suspicion fell spread around him a terror before which the opposition of his greatest Pashas, and even of the entire Divan, which in previous reigns had exercised at least the right of giving influential advice, melted silently away. The little man who resisted was slain ; the great man was sent to an Arab city or other remote post, and then usually disappeared. A guard of Albanian fanatics, and sailors kept in harbour to the ruin of the Fleet, enabled him to defy threats of assassination; while menaces of insurrection were met by the most uncompromising massacres recorded in the history even of the East, and to be paralleled in Europe only by the destruction of the Albigenses. The Great Powers who from time to time threatened him were played off against one another ; and though Bulgaria, and after- wards Thessaly, were torn from his grasp, and Egypt, Crete, and Cyprus have been gently drawn away from beneath his sceptre, the fairest provinces of the Roman world still remain at his absolute disposal. The Ottoman clan is bound to his support by the belief, universal among its members, that "when Othman falls Islam falls " ; and the Sultan, with his Treasury disorganised and the Russian indemnity unpaid, can still collect a formidable army in which each individual soldier is as brave, if not as efficient, as a Japanese. No one, it is said, ever gets the better of Abd-ul-Hamid in diplomacy, and—which is most unusual —he has never failed to see the moment at which he must retreat. Hated though he is by every Arab, European, or Armenian subject, the disappearance of his sinister figure from the centre of authority must for a time, at all events, have greatly weakened his Empire, and might have been followed by events which in. Europe would wholly change its position. There is danger, cool observers say, immediately ahead. The paralysis of Russia, which has given new hope to the Pashas, has also given new energy to the Bulgarians and Macedonians, and a whisper is going round the Near East that war between Sofia and Con- stantinople can no longer be avoided. If the Pashas do not declare it, runs serious gossip, the Coburger will. The result of that conflict is, of course, uncertain ; but the Bulgarians have two hundred thousand trained soldiers, and they are the equals of Turks in all but experience of battle. It is most improbable, indeed, that Russia, and Austria, and perhaps even Germany, would abstain from interference ; but that interference would be menacing for the Moslem, and the Ottomans, lacking the keen brain of their Sultan, who would inevitably sow dissension among any invaders, might have been compelled, leaving Constantinople in flames, to retire to Asia. As it is, nothing is certain, not even the identity of his assailants. They may have been Anarchists, though they obviously lacked the courage of that anti-social faction. They were possibly the agents of some Palace intrigue; possibly also emissaries of some of the scores of men who are wearing out their lives in European capitals because suspicion has fallen on them in Yildiz Kiosk ; possibly even the bravos of some strictly Turkish party hungering for a change in the occupancy of the throne.

It is one of the many bizarre peculiarities of Con- stantinople that no one, not even the most experienced diplomatist, appears to understand the character of the next heir. The throne belongs, by Mussulman law, to the eldest male of the house of Othman; but whether any competent male survives older than the Sultan's sons seems to be something of a mystery, the "heir," Mohammed Reshid Effendi, having been kept in strict seclusion. All we can be sure of is that a Sultan will appear, and will be supported by the Ottoman statesmen and generals, who in the last resort control the Empire. They might not choose the eldest man, whether brother or son, but they certainly will not step outside the house of Othman, and the new Sovereign might possibly be a, very able man. No reigning house has ever produced so many men of the first force as that of Othman, and they have the advantage of the equality which reigns among all Mnssulmans. The Sovereign, even if persetally weak, if he knows of an able man among his Mohammedan subjects, can always, whatever his history or his position, even if he is, like the first Kiuprili, a renegade, stoop down and in a day make him lord of the Empire. It has been done over and over again; and as he cannot be of the blood of Othman, his master does not feel towards him any of the jealousy which in European Monarchies has so often made the successful Chancellor or General insecure. It is probable, however, that he would be himself a strong man. The Western idea is that a Turkish Prince bred up in the harem, and sedulously kept from offices of distinc- tion, must always be a more or less feeble creature; but the whole history of the Turkish Sultans negatives that theory. They have all been bred in the harem. In some way or other the man who may be the successor does get educated in politics, does understand his position, and usually from the first shows the capacity for grasping absolute power. He knows by tradition what he has to do. The current idea that the taint of insanity has come into the family is probably a libel, or at most is true only of individual members, and the great Ottoman group would set aside a man so afflicted, with every external mark of respect. The European, Arab, and Armenian subjects of Turkey have little to hope from the weakness of any future ruler, who will, we may be fairly assured, carry out the very definite principles of Mussulman rule without any hesitation other than that produced by the prospect of external inter- ference. No unaided insurrection against the Sultans has ever yet 'succeeded, and but for the watchful eyes of Europe the dynasty might last for centuries, always destroying, always hostile to true civilisation—compare Con- stautinople with Bagdad or Cordova—but possessing in itself some force which is all the more remarkable because it does not inhere in all the governing families of Asia. The descendants of Tumour Beg, and of many another great Mussulman house, showed a tendency to grow silly akin to that which has ruined so many great English families, but the house of Othman, like that of Hohenzollern, has never lacked force. The mischief it has done to mankind is, in the judgment of all historians, incalculable ; but the chances are still that when its hour arrives it will go down as it rose, fighting heroically for what it deems its rights, and for the prerogatives of Islam. A good history of the Sultans would be a narrative as fascinating as that of the Roman Emperors, and, like theirs, would be in the main a history of great and strange personalities.