« PreviousContinue »
The Turkish history, as yet, has lain hid in the ponderous tomes of Knolles and his continuator Rycaut; the rise alone of the Ottoman power, and its rapid growth, up to the taking of Constantinople, are familiar to the general reader, in the rapid but masterly description of Gibbon. The fame of Knolles's His: tory rests on the well-known sentence of Johnson, who eulogizes this old worthy as the first of historians, unhappy only in the choice of his subject.' Gibbon, in his peculiar vein of solemn sarcasm, - doubts whether a partial and verbose compilation from Latin writers, thirteen hundred folio pages of speeches and battles, can either instruct or amuse an enlightened age, which requires from the historian some tincture of philosophy and criticism.' It is extraordinary that even the pride of dictatorial paradox should have tempted Johnson to set up an idol of his own, at the head of the historic literature of England, which even then possessed Raleigh and Clarendon. The reverse of Johnson's decision we conceive to be more just. Knolles owes his fame, in a great degree, to his subject. The young imagination of Byron is said to have been strongly excited by the kindling pages of this historian. We suspect, however, that it was the Turkish character, its stern vigour, and its imposing and somewhat mysterious dignity, even perhaps the haughty and ferocious visages, in their noble and picturesque costume, which struck the congenial mind of the poet. The Turkish history retains much of the strangeness, the wildness, if we may so speak, the barbaric gorgeousness' of its oriental character; while the constant collision with the western nations, its advance into the most celebrated regions of Europe, keep up a perpetual contrast and relief, and break that solemn monotony which reigns throughout Asiatic history. The purely Eastern annals are like one great battle, where a mass of
Dusk faces, with white silken turbans wreathed,' mingle in undistinguishable confusion :- but in the Turkish, we find the scymitar and the turban opposed to the spear and the helmet of Christian chivalry. Nor is it here one warlike adventurer, one head of a wandering tribe, who suddenly rises up, forms a vast empire, founds a brief dynasty, which is as rapidly swept away, and replaced by another; one Tartar race, which perpetually throws down and reconstructs the empire or the kingdom of another; it is a solid and established monarchy; a line of kings, in which, notwithstanding the constitutional practice of general fratricide at each accession, the regular order of descent has been as seldom departed from, as in any royal race in Europe. Knolles, to whom we would render full justice, is occasionally both spirited and graphic in his battles and sieges : there is a grave earnestness in his manner, sometimes darkening into animosity,
sometimes, as it were, thrilling into awe, which indicates the time when the Turk had not yet ceased to be the proverbial terror of the West. His narrative is sometimes free and almost flowing, where it is not interrupted by interminable speeches, and solemn moralizing—which bears much the same analogy to the profound political observation of Thucydides or Clarendon, that the poetry of his panegyrist's Irene does to Shakspeare. His verbosity is now and then condensed into vigour, and his quaintness,* which unfortunately too often degenerates into coarseness and vulgarity, is at times amusing and characteristic. Still, his immeasurable prolixity must have wearied his own more patient age, and as a history, the book is entirely without authority. It is hard, perhaps, that Knolles should be condemned for compiling from Latin writers, who, with the exception of the Byzantines, furnished almost the only accessible information of the time. After the fashion of his day, he sweeps into one vast mass all the heterogeneous materials which he could bring together: nor could he be expected to anticipate the severer discrimination of a more critical age. · The outline of Gibbon is drawn with all his accustomed boldness and brilliancy, and considering the inevitable deficiency of his materials, with singular accuracy. In few passages has the historian of the • Decline and Fall' displayed with greater success his unrivalled felicity in combining into a brief and pregnant narrative his multifarious and widely-scattered information, than in the chapters which describe the rise and progress of the Ottoman power. If it be our object, in the course of this article, to point out, from the higher authority of the work before us, some of the errors into which he has fallen, it is very far from our design to detract from his fame. M. Guizot, if we remember right, has said, that the more profound his historical researches, the more inaccuracies he has been enabled to detect in Gibbon; but that, at the same time, admiration has been constantly on the increase at his general truth and fidelity, and the consummate skill with which he has moulded his vast materials into one symmetrical design.
The history of M. Von Hammer comes before us with high pretensions, both from the reputation of the author as a profound oriental scholar, and the various and yet unexplored sources of information at his command. To his extensive Eastern knowledge M. Von Hammer adds that extraordinary familiarity with the whole literature of Europe, which none but his indefatigable countrymen have time or leisure to acquire ; and of which, like others of his race, he is sometimes lured, it must be owned, into an ostentatious
* Johnson would have been somewhat astounded, if in his desultory manner of reading, he had opened on one chapter which begins with this diguified phrase, Now lay the great city of Nice in the suds.'
display, display, and a whimsical misapplication. But besides this genera preparation for his important work, M. Von Hammer has possessed great and peculiar advantages. He has had free access to the archives of Vienna and of Venice; and, in the latter, has brought to light some important documents which had escaped even the searching vigilance of Daru. Above all, his intimate acquaintance with what our readers may be surprised to hear described as the voluminous literature of Turkey, gives weight to his statements, still further increased by his calm and philosophic impartiality. We have here the picture of the great contest as drawn by the lion as well as by the man. The greater part of these historical treasures have been accumulated by the exertions and at the cost of the author. Of 200 Turkish, Arabian, or Persian works, which relate the general history, or that of some portion of the Ottoman Empire, only twelve were known to Sir W. Jones, and not above twenty-four are found in the public libraries of Constantinople. The poetic wealth of the Turks appears equally inexhaustible, and, what is not less extraordinary, possesses considerable historic value. Of the stern and sanguinary Barbarians, who have deluged both continents, with blood—those malignant and turbaned Turks'whom the popular imagination of Europe supposes utterly inaccessible to the softer emotions, and incapable of gentler or more refined pursuits, not a few have been poets. Viziers and even sultans have retired from the tumult of the battle, the intrigue of the court, the luxury of the harem, to pour forth the mystic strains of divine love, or to embody their own terrestrial emotions in native or in Persian verse. Nor are theirs the rude, simple, and spirit-stirring strains of a warlike people in its heroic or mythic age, when history, law, and religion are alike poetry: the style of these writers appears singularly elaborate and artificial; it is not the ordinary language of a youthful and imaginative people, but the luxury of a highly civilized and polished court. · Probably the only instance in the annals of mankind of a poetical intercourse between a general and the court of his sovereign, is the Bulletin announcing the retreat of the grand vizier from the unsuccessful siege of Bagdad, in a Gazelle, a favourite measure of the Turks; to which the sultan replied, in the same metre, and playing on the same images and metaphors with his poetic vizier. Conceive a dispatch to the Foreign Office in a madrigal; and his gracious Majesty-assisted a little, perhaps, by one of the authors of The New Whig Guide'-intimating his pleasure in responsive lyric strain. We shall introduce, during the course of our observations, some of these royal and noble authors' to the acquaintance of our readers. .' It was on the 27th of July, in the year 1299 of the Christian
era, that Othman first invaded the territory of Nicomedia ; and the singular accuracy of the date seems to disclose some foresight of the rapid and destructive growth of the monster.' Notwithstanding this authoritative sentence of Gibbon, who thus fixes the year and the day when the Ottoman or Osmanlie power (according as the great founder of the dynasty is named Othman or Osman) first burst upon the ill-defended provinces of the Byzantine Empire—Von Hammer, on Turkish authority, assigns this remarkable event to the 701st year of the Hegira, which synchronizes with A.D. 1301. The calculations of Possinus on the history of Pachymer, the Byzantine annalist quoted by Gibbon himself, make it 1302, which agrees with the Turkish reckoning, as the 701st year of the Hegira did not expire till August 1302. Vast importance is attached to this date by the Mahometan chroniclers. Each century of the Hegira has opened with some great sovereign, who has stamped his character upon the age. The Hegira, of course, dawned with the Prophet of Islam. At the commencement of the second century appeared Omar Ben Abdolasis, the most just monarch of the ruling family of Ommia. At the beginning of the third, Mamun, the great patron of knowledge and science, sat on the throne of the Caliphate at Bagdad. With the dawn of the fourth, Obeidollah Mehdi had founded the Caliphate of the Fatemites in Africa. The opening of the fifth divided into two equal portions the forty years reign of Kadirbillah, the last great caliph of the family of Abbas; and at that of the fifth arose the conqueror Dzengis Chan. "These giants of Asiatic history stand on the vestibule of the temple of each century; and thus stands at the entrance of the eighth of the Hegira, the founder of the empire, called after his name, the grandson of Suleiman, the son of Ortoghrul, Osman,' Suleiman, the ancestor of the Ottoman race, was an adventurer at the head of a tribe of Oguzian Turks, who, after the dissolution of the dynasty of Dzengis, on his return to Karismia, was drowned in the Euphrates. Of his four sons, two led the greater part of the tribe back to Karismia. Ortoghrul remained in Roum with 400 pastoral families. Knolles has related with tolerable accuracy the accidental service rendered by Ortoghrul to Aladdin the Seljukian sultan of Iconium. The sultan was overborne by a superior army of Tartars, when Ortoghrul, in the true spirit of chivalry, espousing the weaker cause, fell upon the conquering party, and completely routed them. A grant of an 'inoni' at Saguta was his reward. • Thus is Ertoghrul the Oguzian Turk, with his homely herdsmen, become a petty lord of a country village, and in good favour with the sultan : whose followers, as sturdy herdsmen with their families, lived in winter with him in Saguta; but in summer in tents, with their cattle upon the mountains. Our old historian relates with more than his usual prolixity the poetic love-adventure of the son of Ortoghrul with Malhatun, the beautiful daughter of the pious and learned Sheik Edebali. Von Hammer adds to his more clear and lively narrative of this romantic incident, a dream of Osman, evidently the fiction of a later age, which, however it may cast a suspicion upon the historic veracity of the Turkish writers, gives no unfavourable impression of their poetical invention.
• At midnight he saw himself and the Sheikh, his host, stretched out at length. From the breast of Edebali arose the moon; as she waxed, she inclined towards Osman; at her full she sunk and concealed herself in his bosom. Then from his loins sprung up a tree, which grew in beauty and strength ever greater and greater ; and spread its boughs and its branches ever wider and wider, over earth and sea, stretching its shadow to the utmost horizon of the three parts of the world. Under it stood mountains, like Caucasus and Atlas, Taurus and Hæmus, as the four pillars of the boundless leafy pavilion. Like the four rivers from the roots of this tree of paradise streamed forth the Tigris and Euphrates, the Nile and the Danube. Barks covered the rivers, fleets the seas, corn the fields, and woods the mountains. From the latter sprang fountains in fertilizing abundance, and murmured through the rose and cypress thickets of these Eden-like lawns and groves. From the valleys towered up cities with domes and cupolas, with pyramids and obelisks, with minarets and turrets (pracht und thurmsäulen). On the summits of these glittered the crescent; from their galleries the Muezzin's call to prayer sounded through the concert of a thousand nightingales and a thousand parrots, who sung and chattered in the cooling shade, the countless leaves of which were formed like swords. Then arose a prevailing wind, and drove all the points against the cities, and particularly against the imperial capital of Constantine, which, at the conflux of two seas and two continents, like a diamond set between two sapphires and two emeralds, forms the most precious centre-stone of the ring of universal empire.
A darker and more true prognostic of the character of Turkish greatness was exhibited by its famous ancestor. The first foundation of the Ottoman kingdom was cemented by kindred blood. Already had the inclination of the tribe to place itself rather under the rule of the prudent and experienced Dindar, the brother of their chieftain Ortoghrul, than that of his impetuous and enterprising son, awakened the jealousy of the ambitious Osman. The endeavour of the elder to arrest, by the more timid counsels of age, the daring schemes of the younger warrior, wrought his anger to the height.
• Osman's fiery spirit would not brook the icy prudence of the greyheaded man; in wrath he opposed the arrows of his words with the