Book: Eastern Sketches
Author: Benjamin Disraeli

Eastern Sketches By Benjamin Disraeli

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Pages (PDF): 52
Publication Date: -

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A relatively short book that consists of several sketches of places that Disraeli travelled to. Chapters include: Ibrahim Pasha; The Court of Egypt; The Valley of Thebes; Egyptian Thebes; Shoubra; Eden and Lebanon; A Syrian Sketch; The Bosphorus; An Interview with a great Turk; and, Munich.

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The eyes of all Europe have been lately directed with feverish anxiety towards the East. With the early history of the present ruler of Egypt, and with his projects of military reform, our readers are doubtless well acquainted. We shall, therefore, only rapidly glance at the present condition of Syria, as on the causes that led to the astonishing success of a campaign that at one time threatened to construct, upon a new basis, the political geography of the East.

In contemplating the state of degradation and impotency into which have fallen Syria, and that vast Peninsula which extends westward of the Euphrates, after having occupied so proud a place in the page of history, from the earliest traditionary periods down to the time when the Turkish Sultans abandoned Broussa for Adrianople, we naturally inquire what has become of the intellectual inheritance which the ancient inhabitants of these countries left behind them? Where are the successors of the skilful workmen of Damascus, of Mossul, and of Angora; the navigators of Phoenicia, the artists of Ionia, and the wise men of Chaldea? Several distinct characters of civilisation have successively flourished in this part of Asia. To the primitive ages, to the reign of the Pelasgi, correspond the subterraneous excavations of Macri, and the Phrygian monuments of Seïdï Gazi; to the Babylonian power, the ruins of Bagdad, and the artificial mountains of Van; to the Hellenic period, the baths, the amphitheatres, and the ruins which strew the coast of the Archipelago; to the Roman empire, the military roads which traverse in every direction the whole Peninsula; to the Greeks of the middle ages, the church of Iznik.

And now that Mussulman civilisation, which at its brightest periods produced the beautiful mosque of the Sultan Bayazid at Amasia, is at its last gasp; for we can, with safety, affirm that not a single grand thought, either social, religious, or political, any longer connects together the four millions of inhabitants which the Porte numbers in this part of her dominions. All unity has disappeared, and the Asmoulis, who compose the predominating race, no longer obey but some old habits and recollections. The downfall of the Janizary system destroyed their last connecting link. Forgetting that their destiny was conquest — that they were only encamped in the land — that they had received a military organisation for a permanent state of warfare — that their headquarters was Constantinople — they have become attached to the soil, and shut themselves up in their harems, have established a feudal system, are divided among themselves by hereditary enmities, and their contempt for foreigners is no longer founded on their courage and power.

Near the coasts of the Archipelago European intercourse has, in some degree, civilised the manners of the Turks, but as the traveller advances into the interior, civilisation sensibly decreases. On approaching the central plateau of Asia Minor, he perceives that cultivation seldom extends beyond the distance of half a league round a village; the inhabitants are secreted in the mountains, and carefully avoid the vicinity of the great roads; it is a well-known statistical phenomenon, that the most inaccessible districts are the most populous and the richest. This will be easily understood, when it is told that the passage of troops through a district is a pest more dreaded than the fatal plague itself. The once flourishing and magnificent plains of Eske–Seher have been deserts since the Sultan Amurath traversed them, at the head of 300,000 men, to lay siege to Bagdad. His passage was marked by all the devastating effects of the hurricane. When a body of those horsemen called Delhis, who are attached to the suite of every Pasha, enters a village, the consternation is general, and followed by a system of exaction that to the unfortunate villager is equivalent to ruin. To complain to the Pasha would be to court instant destruction. From this we can conceive the horror of the peasantry of Anatolia at the passage of large bodies of troops through their country, and consequently the obstacles a European army would encounter which should ever be masters of the Black and Mediterranean Seas. The Turcomans, a Nornase tribe, who sometimes pitch their tents on the shores of the Archipelago, and who pay but a moderate tribute to the Porte, are also another cause of devastation. But it is the Musseleins, the farmers of the Pasha, who are the oppressors par excellence; they are always present to despoil the unfortunate fellah, to leave him, to use a common expression in the mouths of this oppressed race, ‘but eyes wherewith to weep.’ The welfare of the people, respect for the orders of the Porte, are things to them of the utmost indifference; to govern is to raise men and taxes; to obey, is to fear. Thus the law of force reigns almost exclusively at forty or fifty leagues from the capital.

But on a nearer approach to the Euphrates, the dissolution of every social tie becomes more striking. We find ourselves amid the independent tribes — the cruel Lendes; among the Tezdis — a people who adore the spirit of Erib. Towards the north we fall in with the Lazzi, and all those fierce natives who are entrenched like vultures amid the fastnesses of the Caucasus. Again, in the South we discover the wandering Arabs, the pirates of the desert, and the mountaineers of Lebanon, who live in a state of perpetual discord. Over this immense line of countries centuries have passed, and left no trace behind; all that the ancients and the crusaders have related to us of them, is typical of their condition at this day. The bows and arrows, the armour, exhibited as objects of curiosity in our museums, are still in use among them. It is only by chance, or by profiting by their intestine divisions, that the authority of the Porte is recognised. The Pashas are mostly hereditary, and live in a state of perpetual insurrection. Thus from the shores of the Archipelago to the banks of the Euphrates and the Tigris, civilisation and vegetation appear to obey the same law of decrease.