Littell's Living Age/Volume 128/Issue 1648/The True Eastern Question
From The Fortnightly Review.
THE TRUE EASTERN QUESTION.
A visit to the eastern coasts of the Hadriatic, planned long ago with objects bearing wholly on the history of past times, has lately given me a glimpse of a stirring piece of modern history, and has called my thoughts back to subjects which were more familiar to them twenty years back than they have been of late. I had longed for years to see the palace of Spalato, and the other wonders of the land which gave Rome so many of her greatest emperors. This year I had for the first time the opportunity of carrying out this wish of many years, and its carrying out in this particular year caused me to hear and see somewhat, not only of the palace at Spalato, but also of the revolt in Herzegovina. I was able to hear much of the matter from men familiar with the seat of war, and myself to get a glimpse, though only a glimpse, alike of enslaved Herzegovina and of unconquered Montenegro. These sights called up again old thoughts and old controversies. I have ever been one of those, a body sometime very few in number, who could not understand why our love of right and freedom, our hatred of wrong and oppression, should be bounded by the Hadriatic Sea. I could never understand why, while we denounced the oppression of the Austrian or the Russian, while we admired and sympathized with all who rose up against it, we were bound to uphold the far blacker oppression of the Turk, and to hurl every name of contempt and dislike at those who strove to shake off his yoke. I was one of those who raised their protest one and twenty years back, when we were entrapped by a crafty tyrant into waging war against a sovereign and a people who had never wronged us, on behalf of the foulest fabric of tyranny on earth. I could see no glory, no wisdom, nothing but the deepest national shame, in lending the arms of England to support the cause of pope and Turk against the nations of Eastern Christendom. To me the names of Alma, of Balaklava, and of Inkerman are names of national humiliation. They are records of blood shed by English hands in the cause of wrong: and blood shed in the cause of wrong, whether it be shed in victory or in defeat, is matter for shame, and not for boasting. Thus I thought and spoke when they were but few — a few there always were — who thought and spoke with me. Now that the madness of the moment is past, now that we can see things by the light of twenty more years of experience, there are more who speak, there are many more who think, as a few of us thought and spoke during the national frenzy of the Russian war. But few or many it matters not; truth is the same in either case. At Alma and Inkerman England fought for wrong, as a generation before at Navarino she had fought for right. In 1827 we fought to free a nation from its tyrants, and the good work was called an "untoward event." In 1854 we fought to keep nations in their bondage, and it became the fashion to glory in our shame. We have again the choice of good or evil opened before us; we have again to choose between the precedent of the righteous act of which we were ashamed, and the precedent of the unrighteous act in which we gloried. We can again, if we will, do something, perhaps not by fighting but certainly in some other way, either for the cause of good or for the cause of evil. We may use such influence as we may have in the councils of Europe, either on behalf of the Turkish oppressor or on behalf of the victims who have at last turned against him: God grant that whatever we do, by act or by speech, it may be in the spirit of 1827, and not in the spirit of 1854.
When I spoke and wrote about these matters twenty years back, the subject was one which had for me, as it still has, a twofold attraction. I felt that, setting aside all associations which might sway us in the matter, all considerations of past history of religion or races or language, we who spoke up for the oppressed against the oppressor were only speaking the language of simple right. We spoke on behalf of the Greek and the Slave, only as both we and others were wont to speak on behalf of the Pole, the Lombard, and the Hungarian. We spoke on behalf of Christians under Mahometan oppressors as I trust we should have spoken on behalf of Mahometans under Christian oppressors. But for myself personally the matter had also an interest of another kind. The political wrong against which we strove was but the continuation of a great historic wrong. The historic wrong had in truth no small share in bringing about the political wrong. The schism between the Eastern and Western Churches, the rivalry between the Eastern and Western Empires, had wrought a lasting effect on the minds of many who had never heard of either Church or either Empire. A kind of dislike and contempt towards the Christian nations of the East had been fostered for ages in the minds of the Christian nations of the West. The "Greek of the Lower Empire" was held up to scorn as the type of everything that was vile, and the modern Greek was held to be, if anything, a little viler than his Byzantine forefather. Of the great mass of the Christian subjects of the Turk, the Slaves and the Bulgarians, many people seem never to have heard at all. All members of the Eastern Church were jumbled together under the common name of Greeks. Up to that time the Eastern Church had often been looked at with some sympathy by Protestants, as having a common enemy at Rome; but that Church was now suddenly found out to be something worse even than the pope himself. People in Western Europe who protested against the oppressions of Russia or Austria often had no more real knowledge about Italians, Poles, and Hungarians than they had about Greeks, Slaves, and Bulgarians. But they had at least not been brought up with a prejudice of ages against Italians, Poles, or Hungarians. People therefore came to look with sympathy on the victims of Russia and Austria, while they looked with a kind of suspicion upon the victims of the Turk. They also made the great discovery that the Turk had some of the virtues, or apparent virtues, which are commonly found in masters, while his victims had some of the vices which are always found in slaves. It would have been too much trouble to stop and think that the vices of the slave ought to go in some measure to the account of those who made him a slave. It was enough that the Turk had some virtues, and his Christian subjects some vices. He was, by force of this argument, ruled to be altogether in the right, and his Christian subjects to be altogether in the wrong. Then there came in the great Russian bugbear. We were told that, even if the Christians of Turkey had grievances, it was no time to think about them or talk about them when all Europe had a much greater grievance. Greek, Slave, Bulgarian were to be taught a lesson of self-sacrifice; they were to be taught to sit down quietly under real and undoubted evils at the hands of the Turk, because Western Europe had chosen to take into its head that some unknown and shadowy evil was coming on mankind at the hands of the Russian. Then, as usual, to the help of all this mass of falsehood, fallacies, and half-truths, came that dense mass of invincible ignorance which always plays so great a part at all times of popular excitement. Many people could not be made to see the difference between Turkey and the Turks. Because in Western Europe England and the English, France and the French, mean much the same things, they could not understand a state of things in which the Turks were not Turkey, but simply the invaders and oppressors of Turkey. I remember a meeting in some midland town. Derby, I think it was, where a resolution was passed in honour of the "glorious patriotic spirit of the Turkish nation." The same people would certainly not have passed a resolution in honour of the "glorious patriotic spirit of the Austrian nation," when Radctzky set forth to win back Lombardy. That "the glorious patriotic spirit of the Turkish nation" simply meant the obstinate determination of a horde of robbers to keep possession of the houses and lands of other men, certainly never entered the heads of the good people who passed the resolution. They doubtless thought that there was a Turkish nation living in Turkey, just as there is an English nation living in England, and a French nation living in France. We heard much in those days about the "rights of the sultan," and it was not everybody who understood that the rights of the sultan over the houses and goods of Greeks, Slaves, and Bulgarians were exactly the same as the rights of a burglar to the house into which he has broken, and to the goods which he has found in it. In short, the moral confusion which condemned oppression on one side of the Hadriatic and admired it on the other, though it was largely strengthened by wilful and interested perversion, rested in the main on a deep and solid foundation of honest ignorance. The clamourers on behalf of the Turk were undoubtedly one class of that large order who call evil good and good evil; but in a vast number of cases they did so simply because they had been led honestly to mistake evil for good, and good for evil. The worst is that, when a general delusion of this kind has taken possession of the mind of a nation, the delusion cannot be got rid of till it is too late. Truth commonly gets the better in the long run; but for the time falsehoods and half-truths get so firm a hold that truth is not listened to. People may now endure to be told that it is a truer patriotism to try to keep one's country out of an unjust war than to join in a wild cry for rushing into such a war. But twenty years ago all that those who did so got for their pains was to be called unpatriotic and un-English. There is now time to pause and think before we again irrevocably commit ourselves to the cause of unrighteousness.
When all these confusions were rife twenty years back, the history of South-Eastern Europe had been for a long time a favourite subject of my thoughts and reading, though I do not profess to have ever studied it in the same detail in which I have studied some parts of western history. But I had learned enough to know — Mr. Finlay's writings alone could teach that much — how large a part of European history has been utterly misconceived through the traditional contempt for the "Greek of the Lower Empire." As commonly happens, error with regard to past history and error with regard to present policy went together; for in truth the one error was built up upon the other. In those days a writer in Blackwood's Magazine could talk, seemingly with glee, about "the last Byzantine historian being blown into the air by our brave allies the Turks." The man who wrote this nonsense perhaps really thought that, because the Turks were unluckily allies of England in the nineteenth century, therefore they must also have been allies of England in the fifteenth century. He certainly did not think it worth while to stop and think that more than one "last Byzantine historian" contrived to write the history of the very storm in which it was thus taken for granted that he must have been blown into the air. About the same time it was the fashion to write little books about the history of Crimea, in which there was always a great deal about Mithridates, always a great deal about Catherine the Second, but in which the most instructive thing in the history of the peninsula, the long life of the Greek commonwealth of Cherson, was always left out. Perhaps the writers had never heard of the fact; perhaps it was thought inexpedient to let it be known that there ever had been anywhere, least of all in Crimea, so dangerous a thing as a Greek commonwealth. There was therefore a good deal of work to be done by the mere lover of historical accuracy as well as by the lover of political freedom, and both I and others did what we could to spread abroad truer ideas on both branches of the subject. What we generally got for our pains was to be called philhellénes, and to be laughed at for troubling ourselves about "petty states." As I have read history, "petty states" have generally been the salt of the earth; and, as for the name. philhellén, I am in no way ashamed of it, if only it be not used in any exclusive sense. I am simply for right against wrong, for all the victims of the oppressor as against the oppressor, not for any one class of his victims as against any other class. I will accept the name of philhellén with gladness, if only I am allowed to add that I am equally philoslave and philobulgarian.
Those days have long passed away. Since then it has been only by fits and starts that the affairs of Eastern Christendom could be the chief object of the thoughts of any man in the western lands. It was no more than human nature if, in the face of the great events of the last sixteen years, in face of the reunion of Germany and Italy, in face of the overthrow of tyranny in France and of slavery in America, the best friends of the Greek, the Slave, and the Bulgarian might sometimes forget them for a season. Now and then indeed the East became again uppermost in the thoughts of men who could think and feel. There was the moment when Montenegro secured her freedom at Grahovo; there was the moment when Crete rose against her tyrants. Of that last tale of English shame I have before spoken in these pages. I have spoken of the crime of that flinty-hearted man who, when men who had hearts, English consuls and English sailors, were doing what they could to save Cretan women and children from their destroyers, bade that the common rights of humanity should be refused to the oppressed, for fear forsooth that we should "open the Eastern question," or disturb "the integrity and independence of the Ottoman Empire." Then too was seen that other shameful sight of an Englishman sold to the barbarian, abusing English naval skill and science to press down again the yoke of the barbarian on nations who were striving to cast off his yoke. I suppose that the highest degree of glory and of infamy to be found in the annals of naval warfare may be seen in the two contrasted pictures of Hastings in command of the "Karteria" and Hobart in pursuit of the "Henôsis."
But the climax of our national shame was not yet reached. That an Englishman should bear arms in the cause of a barbarian despot, that an Englishman should forbid the offices of humanity to that despot's victims, were after all only the crimes of particular men. But it was something like a national humiliation when the very moment of the Cretan war was chosen to give the oppressor of Crete and of so many other Christian lands a public reception in England. There is something very strange in the way in which we deal out our favours to foreign potentates. When any king comes among us who, other on account of his own character or on behalf of the nation over whom he rules, is really entitled to respect, hardly any notice is taken of him. It may be in some cases that such a prince wishes to avoid the burthen of having any great notice taken of him; but the fact is plain; a respectable king passes almost unnoticed in England, while, when some despot or tyrant or perjurer comes among us, people at once fall down and worship him. Such an one is always received with every honour; crowds assemble to cheer him in the street; orders of chivalry are bestowed upon him; he dines with the lord mayor, and the lord mayor is made a baronet on the strength of the dinner. The red hand is in truth not unhappily chosen as the symbol of the guest for whose sake the honour is conferred. So we received Louis Napoleon Buonaparte, when his words of perjury were still fresh upon his lips, when his hands were still reeking with the blood of his December massacres. So we received the Turkish sultan at the very moment when a Christian people were striving to cast off his hated yoke from their necks. The Turk got his dinner and his garter; the badge of Saint George was thrown around the neck of the successor of Mahomet; and the lord mayor got the rank which seems specially reserved for those who have tyrants to dine with them. But, far worse than this, we were told in the papers that the popular reception given to the sultan could be compared only to the popular reception which had been given to Garibaldi. Had it come to this, that the English people were ready to cheer anything? — that to a London crowd an oppressor and a deliverer were the same thing — that Englishmen were equally ready to shout when Sicily was set free, and when Crete was again bowed down in slavery? So it was. And the cup of our folly and ignominy was filled up by giving a ball to a man who was not the least likely to dance, and by charging the expense of the costly foolery on the purses of the people of India. It was suddenly found out that England was a great Mahometan power, and, to keep up our Mahometan character, the unoffending votaries of Brahma were made to pay for the caperings at which our Mahometan guest sat and looked on. Our zeal for the Turk and his prophet was so great that Christian and heathen alike were to be mulcted to do them honour. The sultan came with his hands reeking with Christian blood, decked in pomp wrung from the tears and groans of Christian subjects. Not to lag behind our guest, the cost of his entertainment was to be wrung out of men of yet a third religion, men who had hitherto deemed that the rule of the Christian had at least delivered them from the rule of the Moslem. Of all the strange forms which oppression and homage to oppression ever took, surely the most grotesque was that of making the people of India pay for a ball given in London to the Grand Turk.
These things too are now passed away. The Turk went back; Crete was again bowed down under his yoke, and I suppose the people of India paid his bill. I remember saying my own say at the time pretty much as I have said it now. Then came a lull. There was comparatively little to make us think of Turks, Greeks or Slaves, till the beginning of the present struggle for freedom. Of course, as will always happen where there is unceasing oppression there has been unceasing discontent and occasional outbreaks. But till this year there was nothing to make the affairs of South-Eastern Europe the chief object of one's thoughts. But now that time has come again. The deliverance of Eastern Christendom has again become the thought which must stand foremost in the mind of every one whose love of right and freedom is not pent up within certain limits on the map. The great strife between right and wrong has again begun, and it has begun in a shape which leads us to hope that we are now really seeing the beginning of the end. For my own part, such news as has been now coming for months from Bosnia and Herzegovina would in any case have stirred my soul to its inmost depths. The wrongs of the West have been redressed; the rod of the oppressor has been broken; Italy is free; Germany is united; France is humbled; Austria is reformed. Is not then the moment come for the yet bitterer wrongs of South-Eastern Europe to be redressed also? Lombardy and Venetia are set free from the whips of the Austrian; has not the day at last come for the Greek and Slave and Albanian and Bulgarian lands to be set free from the scorpions of the Turk? Thoughts like these would have been stirring even in the quiet of one's own home; but they have pressed themselves upon me with tenfold force since a journey planned long ago with other objects has given me the means of seeing and hearing somewhat for myself. I have been able to tread the lands where the strife for freedom is actually going on, to speak with men who have borne their part in the struggle, to learn what is the feeling of men in lands which are themselves free from the dangers of the strife, but whose sons look with brotherly friendship on the men who are engaged in the great and righteous work.
In saying this, I do not wish any one to suppose that I can give such readers as I may find any special information which they cannot find elsewhere. In the present war the English public has had the great advantage of having the facts of the case clearly and truly set before it. It is a great gain that in this matter the Times has mainly taken the right side, and still more that it has been well served by its correspondent on the spot. Every letter in that paper which comes from Ragusa is worth reading and pondering over. By great good luck, the usual purveyor of chatter, the correspondent who tells us what he had for dinner and how many princes he talked to, seems to have found a more congenial sphere elsewhere. The paper from which many Englishmen take their opinions as well as their facts is luckily represented at the present seat of war by a well-informed and trustworthy man, who has had long experience of Turkish doings and of revolts against them, and who is not above putting plain facts into rational English. I have no means of adding anything in the way of mere fact to the accounts which it is to be hoped every one at home has read for himself. All that I can do is to put forward again an old story, old arguments, but a story and arguments which have lost none of their strength by being old. And with me at least they have gained a certain freshness now that they are to me no longer merely matters of book-learning, but are in part at least founded on actual eyesight. Even a few hours on Turkish ground brings more clearly home to one what Turkish rule is. And one cannot be long in the land to which the Turk is a neighbour without finding out that his neighbours have very different notions about the "Eastern question," about "the integrity and independence of the Ottoman Empire," from those which have been so long thought the correct thing in the West. Those cant phrases of diplomacy may still satisfy some readers, and even some writers in England; they do not satisfy anybody in Dalmatia. These men see the wolf at their door, preying on their neighbours' flocks if not on their own, and it is not so easy as it is here to make them believe that the ravenous beast is a harmless and useful watch-dog. Here in the West we are told of a succession of beautiful promises of reform made by sultan after sultan to their Christian subjects. Some of us are actually simple enough to believe that these promises were meant to be fulfilled, or even that they have been fulfilled. In Dalmatia, where the victims of these broken promises come trooping bodily over the frontier, men know better what Turkish promises are worth. We are told here of the stainless good faith of the Turk; they see with their own eyes that Turkish faith is much the same now as it was when Bragadino capitulated on the promise of life and liberty and was flayed alive as his reward. We are told that the nations now under the foreign yoke must be kept under some foreign yoke or other, lest everything should fall into chaos. They look up to the mountains above their heads, and see there a native State under a native prince, where life and property are as safe as they are in any Western land, where even the Mussulman refugee finds a sure shelter. The Slave under Austrian rule himself enjoys, if not a national government, yet at least a government which protects life and property and family honour, and does common justice between man and man. He sees in Montenegro men of his own race and speech enjoying all this and something more. It is therefore not so easy to persuade him as it is to persuade people here that it can anyhow be for the common good of mankind that a third class of men of the same race and speech, differing in nothing from the Dalmatian and the Montenegrin save in the ill luck of their history, should be kept down any longer under the yoke of a power in whose mouth government means brigandage, under whose rule no justice can be had by the weak against the strong, whose promises are, as schoolboys used to say, like pie-crust, made to be broken. Perhaps they are wrong in their conclusions; perhaps the advantages of all these things may be more clearly seen at a distance than they are at a man's own door. But it is at least hard to make men who see these things at their own doors think otherwise than as they do. In Dalmatia and Montenegro in short men think very much as men would think in Hampshire, if, while Hampshire was under a civilized government, Berkshire was under a power from which no redress could be had for the bitterest wrong if a Berkshire man were the sufferer. Perhaps they are quite wrong; perhaps they need to be enlightened as to the blessings of Turkish independence, as to the existence of Turkish integrity. But at least their mistake is natural, and, in the lands where the mistake is natural, it is also beyond doubt universal.
This then at least I can say, that Dalmatian feeling is unanimous for the insurgents and against the Turks. And surely the feeling of those who see what is going on without being immediately touched by it is worth something. There is at least a chance that it may come nearer to the truth than the theories of men who sit in London or elsewhere, and say that a thing must be so and so because it suits their preconceived theories that it should be so and so. Here people simply go on repeating a number of stock phrases, which, if they ever had any meaning, have ceased to have any meaning now. They repeat them as if they had a kind of opus operatum efficacy; as if something was proved by merely saying the same form of words over again. A diplomatist or a newspaper-writer says that the "Eastern question must not be opened;" and perhaps he really thinks that, in so saying, he has proved something or settled something. But if he is asked what is meant by "opening the Eastern question," he will not find it easy to explain. Most likely, however, he will say something about Russia; it is the received traditional rule that he should say something about Russia. Now what the "Eastern question" really means is the question whether a horde of invading barbarians shall still be allowed to hold the nations of South-Eastern Europe in bondage. It means whether insolent oppressors shall still refuse to them, not only political freedom, but those common personal rights which even a decent despotism secures to its subjects. It means whether England and other European powers which have hitherto agreed, for their own supposed interests, to back up this fabric of oppression shall any longer go on doing so. That is the real "Eastern question." No one thinks that the Turk can stand by his own strength. He stands, because hitherto the powers of Europe have fancied that it suits their purpose to let him stand. England, France, and Sardinia went to war one and twenty years ago with the avowed purpose of keeping him standing. By so doing they made themselves accomplices in the doings of the power whose existence they undertook to prolong. The true Eastern question is whether European powers shall go on condemning the nations of South-Eastern Europe to remain under barbarian bondage. Diplomatists and newspaper-writers may sit and say that the Eastern question shall not be reopened. But the Eastern question has been reopened by the swords of the patriots of Bosnia and Herzegovina. With one voice they say, "Come what may, we will never again submit to the Turk. He may kill us; he may lay the land desolate and drive us out of it; but we will never again be his subjects." The question is what those who have hitherto made it their business to keep certain nations under the Turkish yoke are to do, now that those nations have declared that they will endure anything rather than the Turkish yoke. There may be many ways of breaking the yoke, but those who are under it have made up their minds that it shall be broken in some way or other. Even now diplomatists are chattering about for their promises of reform, about a separation of this and that district, about the change of this and that governor. None of these things touch the root of the matter. The people of the revolted lands know that no faith is to be placed in Turkish promises. They do not want reforms at the hand of the Turk; what they want is freedom from the Turk and all that belongs to him. Some years back the people of Lombardy and Venetia told the world that what they wanted was not reform at the hand of the Austrian, but freedom from the Austrian. There were men then who thought that the bondage of Italy was as needful for the interests of mankind as some think that the bondage of Bosnia and Herzegovina is now. But Europe in general did not think so; and Italy is free. Now in Turkey the state of things against which the Italians rose would come in the shape of a great and blessed reform. The Christian subjects of the Turk would be glad indeed to find themselves now no worse off than the Italian subjects of the Austrian were then. But mark the different measures meted out to nations east and west of the Hadriatic Gulf. On one side we applaud men for rising against a government, because it is offensive to national feeling. On the other side we bid men lie down quietly under a government which refuses them the common rights of human beings. Such a government they declare as one man that they will endure no longer. By so doing they have reopened the Eastern question. That question certainly admits of more than one answer; but before we get any answer, we must settle what is to be the shape of the question. Here, with many minds the Eastern question means how to keep the Turk in. In the lands where the Turk is something more than a name, the Eastern question means how to turn the Turk out.
I have in the course of this article more than once, of set purpose, made use of phrases which I know will provoke controversy. I have called the Turks barbarians; I have called them an invading horde. These are the kind of phrases which I know are specially offensive to those who have taken on themselves the strange mission of defending the continued bondage of a large part of Europe. But it is well to set before men's minds, even at the risk of repeating a thrice-told tale or a hundred-times-told tale, what the real state of the case is. It is well again to show what the system really is which the victims of the Turk are striving to overthrow, and which his abettors in England and elsewhere are striving to prolong. To them no phrase is more offensive than to be told that the Turks are an Asiatic horde encamped in Europe. No phrase is more offensive, because no phrase is more true. The usual art of the defenders of the Turk is to speak of the Turkish power as if it were an ordinary government, to speak of revolt against it as if it were an ordinary case of revolt against a government. They perhaps do not go so far as to say that the Turkish government is a good government; but they certainly wish people to believe that it is a government, in the same sense in which the monarchies and commonwealths of other parts of Europe are governments. Now the one point to be clearly understood is that the state of things in South-Eastern Europe is not an ordinary case of government, good or bad. It is a case of subjection to a power which has no right to be called a government at all. The governments of civilized countries may be, and are, better or worse, more or less in accordance with national feeling. There may be under them more or less of political freedom: the judicial and administrative system may be more or less well contrived, more or less purely carried out in practice. Still, in all of these governments, in all the various shades between pure despotism and pure democracy, the government at least professes to act on behalf of the general body of its subjects or citizens, for the good of that general body. The worst European government professes to do equal justice between man and man in private causes, and, for the most part, the profession is pretty fairly carried out. When it is otherwise, it is commonly owing to some defect in the particular law, to some corruption on the part of the particular administrator of the law. It is not commonly owing to anything in the constitution of the governing power which makes it absolutely incapable of doing justice, even if it wishes to do it. Such governments may be better or worse; some may be positively bad; but they are not essentially and incurably bad. A government may be bad, because it is a government of strangers offensive to national feeling, or because, though it is not a government of strangers, yet it is in the exclusive possession of one class of the nation. Such governments are bad governments; still they are governments. They discharge — at least there is nothing to hinder them from discharging — the primary duties of a government; life, property, female honour, may be safe under them, and equal justice may be done in all matters of merely private interest. But the so-called Turkish government does none of these things; it can do none of these things. The Turks are still, as they have been ever since they landed in Europe, a mere horde of invaders. That they landed five hundred years ago makes no difference. A government is not unlawful merely because it had its beginning in a foreign conquest. A government which began in foreign conquest may be legalized in the course of time, sometimes in the course of a very short time. It is legalized as soon as the conquerors and the conquered feel themselves parts of one nation, with common national interests and feelings. It matters nothing to a modern Englishman, it mattered very little to an Englishman of the reign of Henry the Second, on which side his forefathers had fought on Senlac or at Ely. It matters nothing to a modern Frenchman whether his forefathers were Gaul or Frank, Iberian or West-Goth. But it matters now, just as much as it mattered five hundred years back, whether a man in Turkey is a Turk or a subject of the Turk. England is the land of the English; France is the land of the French; but Turkey is not the land of the Turks; it is the land where the Turks hold other nations in bondage. The process of conquest which in other cases came to an end sooner or later, in some cases marvellously soon, has in South-Eastern Europe gone on to this day. The distinctions, national and religious, which existed five hundred years ago are as broadly drawn now as they were then. The Greek, the Slave, the other nations under the Turkish power, remain now as distinct from the Turk as they were in the days of the first conquest. The sultan is to his Christian subjects no more a national sovereign now than he was five hundred years back. He was an alien master then, and he remains an alien master now. Nowhere do the Turk and the Christian look on one another as fellow-countrymen, as all the inhabitants of France or of England look on one another, however distinct and hostile their forefathers may have been in remote ages. At the end of half a millennium, the so-called Turkish government remains what it was at the beginning. The Turks remain as they were then, an army of occupation in a conquered land. The chief difference is that the army of occupation was under far better discipline then than it is now. The early sultans were all of them wise rulers; some of them were, according to their light, just rulers. Some of them had no mind to oppress the conquered any more than was needful to secure the power of the conquerors. Under the great sultans, the lot of the conquered was a hard one; still it was a lot marked out according to certain rules and laws. Oppression might go so far but no further; and there was some hope in the last refuge of the oppressed, that of flying from petty tyrants to the throne. Under the little sultans, this last hope has long passed away. Read in the letters from Ragusa in the Times what the people of Bosnia and Herzegovina suffer at the hands of their petty tyrants, and judge whether they are likely to gain anything by flying to the throne of Abd-ul-aziz.
The so-called Turkish government is then, I say, no government at all. It has no claim on the allegiance of those whom it calls its subjects. Founded on wrong in the beginning, it has kept on the first wrong to this day. It has never, even after five hundred years, become a national government. It has never, in all those ages, had any feeling or interest in common with those of the nations over whom it has borne sway. It has never done for them even those common duties of government which the worst of civilized governments does for its subjects. The Turk is still as much an alien in European Turkey as he was when the land first began to take his name. The sultan may be our dear and cherished ally, he may be knight of the Garter and guest of the lord mayor, but he is none the less the chief of an intruding horde, dwelling by force in the lands and houses of other men. What kind of treatment it is that Turkish rule carries with it. Englishmen may learn from the letters from Ragusa in the Times. In Herzegovina, as elsewhere, the causes of revolutions and their immediate occasions are not always the same. The cause is doubtless the abiding determination of the people to shake off the hateful yoke. The immediate occasion of the outbreak was of that kind which has been the immediate occasion of so many outbreaks, the old tale of the Sicilian Vespers and of the daughters of Skedasos of Leuktra. One necessary accompaniment of Turkish rule is what the Greek poet sang of in Byron's day —
παίδων, παρθένων, γυναικών άνήκεςτος φθορεία.
"Every pretty girl," so I heard at Ragusa, "is carried off as a matter of course." It was a specially foul outrage of this kind which immediately led to the revolt. The Eastern question then simply means whether this kind of thing is to last; it means whether men are to be left under a form of local administration which, when the doer of a murder or suspected murder is not at hand, at once puts all his kinsfolk to the torture. And all this comes on the top of the grinding fiscal exactions both of the local landowners and of the sultan's tax-gatherers. These last, it is well known, have been raised in defiance, as usual, of a distinct promise made by our knight of Saint George to the European powers. Something more was wanted for the vices and follies of a barbarian palace, and the subject Christians had to pay. Men suffering under wrongs like these see but one answer to the question whether such things are to be any longer endured. They do not take things quite so calmly as a writer in the last number of this review. To drive the doers of such deeds beyond the Bosporus or anywhere else may seem "wild and sensational" to gentlemen sitting at their ease in London; to those who have to endure their presence, the attempt to get rid of them seems at once a right and a duty. It is easy calmly to tell the Christians of the East that "they have but to marry and give in marriage to settle the Eastern question." The encouragement to marry and give in marriage must indeed be specially great, as long as those who are given in marriage are likely to be dealt with as they are dealt with by the Turkish masters of Bosnia and Herzegovina.
And now I shall perhaps be taken to task for the use of the phrase "Turkish masters." I shall be told that the Mahometan inhabitants of Bosnia and Herzegovina are not Turkish but Slave. I shall perhaps further be told that, even in the other provinces, the Turks are really no Turks, but Europeans, descendants of European mothers, in many cases of European fathers. I know all this as well as any man. I have myself put forward these facts over and over again; but I am quite prepared to be told them over again as a great piece of news. I use the word "Turkish," because it serves, better than any other word, to express the dominion of men who, if not Turks naturally, have become Turks artificially. The Turks in Europe are an artificial nation, just as the modern Greeks are. That is to say, there is a Turkish kernel and a Greek kernel, round which a number of other elements have gathered and have been assimilated. Multitudes of men who are not Turks or Greeks by natural descent have, in this way, become Turks or Greeks for all practical purposes. Nothing is more certain than that, during the great days of Ottoman dominion, the bravest soldiers and the wisest ministers of the sultans were hardly ever Turks by blood. They were renegade Greeks, Slaves, not uncommonly western Europeans. The tribute of children paid by the subject nations formed the strength of the empire. As long as it was paid, the subject nations could not revolt; those who would have been their natural leaders in revolt were taken from them in their childhood. But renegades of all these classes practically became Turks. There were few indeed among them who, like Scanderbeg, ever went back to the nationality and religion of their childhood. And in Bosnia and Herzegovina, the case is, as is well known, a special one. At the time of the Turkish conquest, the bulk of the landowners in those countries apostatized in order to keep their lands, while the mass of the nation remained faithful. In these provinces then the immediate oppressors are not Turks by blood, but men of the same race as the oppressed. But this in no way makes matters better, but rather worse. A foreign conqueror may command a certain kind of respect which a native renegade certainly cannot. In some cases it is a certain softening of tyranny when one's tyrants are one's countrymen; but that rule can hardly apply to the domination of such a caste as this. It is said that among the Bosnian oligarchy there are many who speak nothing but Slave, to whom Turkish and Arabic are unknown tongues, and who are not remarkable for any deep knowledge of the Koran. In this there may be an element of hope. In the case of a revolution the right way, such men may turn back again as easily as their forefathers turned in the first instance. But for the present they are practically Turks. They are a part, and one of the worst parts, of the great fabric of Turkish oppression, and it is in accordance with all experience everywhere that their dominion should be even more galling than that of the genuine Turks themselves.
Another objection is sure to be made, so easy is it for the advocates of wrong to find objections to every movement on behalf of right. We are told, sometimes glibly enough, with that kind of ease which often comes of over and over again repeating a well-worn formula, that the revolt is no real revolt at all, that its chief leaders and agents are not natives of the country, that it is a movement got up from without, a movement stirred up by Prussia, a movement stirred up by Austria, a Pan-Slavic movement, anything in short rather than a real rising of an oppressed people against its tyrants. These things are always said whenever there is a revolt among the subjects of the Turk, and there is just enough truth in sayings of the kind to make them mischievous. There is no doubt that the movement is a genuine native movement; there is no ground for saying that the leading men among the native Christians keep aloof from it. There is no doubt that the mass of the actual insurgents are really natives of the revolted provinces, stirred up by the wrongs which they themselves have suffered. But, on the other hand, there is no doubt that their ranks have been swelled by sympathizers from kindred but happier lands, and that even some of the leaders of the movement come under this latter head. So it always will be in such cases; and why should it not be so? As a rule, the people of an enslaved district, if left quite to themselves, really cannot rise. They need help from without to enable them to do anything. And shall we dare to blame the Slave who, under the rule of Austria, at least enjoys the common rights of humanity, or the Slave who, on the heights of Montenegro, rejoices in a freedom won by his own right hand, if he goes to the help of his suffering brother who is still under the yoke? To take the analogy which I started before, if Hampshire were free and Berkshire enslaved, should we think it a great crime if a Hampshire man went to help a revolt in Berkshire, or if he even suggested to the men of Berkshire that a favourable moment for revolt had come? Between the men of Montenegro and the men of Herzegovina (here is no wider difference in blood and speech than there is between the men of the two West-Saxon shires. The only difference between them is that the man of Montenegro is free and the man of Herzegovina is in bondage. Is it a crime then for the freeman to help his enslaved brother? Is it a crime to think that one good turn deserves another, that, as many men of Herzegovina fought on the great day which secured the freedom of Montenegro, it is only common gratitude if some men of Montenegro fight in their turn to enable Herzegovina to win her freedom also? The wonderful thing is, not that some Montenegrins have joined the insurgent ranks, but rather that, at such a moment, any one Montenegrin can keep his pistol and yataghan idle in his girdle. That any one Montenegrin can hold back is a sign of the power of a wise prince over a law-abiding people. The traveller in Montenegro is almost inclined to mourn that, while the great strife of right and wrong is going on below, a single one of her valiant sons should be forbidden to share in the good work. But it may perhaps be better that those free heights should still remain a city of refuge, where the Christian flying from the Turk, aye and the Turk flying from the Christian, may seek shelter, and never seek in vain.
The revolt then is in truth a genuine revolt of an oppressed Christian people against Mahometan masters, whether Turks by blood or apostates of their own race matters not. It is a revolt of men who have made up their minds to cast away the yoke or to perish. The conventional talk about reforms is the mere childish babble of diplomatists. The time for reform is past, or rather there never was such a time at all. The experience of twelve hundred years of history ought by this time to have taught us a very simple lesson. The state of things in the European provinces of Turkey is one where the evil is far too deeply rooted for any mere attempts at reform to mend it. The truth is that no real reform can be made as long as Mahometans, whether Turks by blood or not, bear rule over men of any other religion. In so saying, I need hardly disclaim any intolerant feeling towards the Mahometan religion or its professors. I have, in more forms than one, striven to do justice to the Arabian prophet as one of the greatest of reformers in his own age and country. I know as well as any man that there are large parts of the world where the preaching of Islam has carried with it a wonderful advance in every way, moral, social, and political. Towards a Mahometan nation, living in its own land, I have no ill-feeling whatever. I have no ill-feeling towards Persia. The Persian nation gradually adopted Mahometanism, though, in adopting it, they gave it a new form of their own. Persia is really a Mahometan county: the few men of any other religion, Christian or heathen, are, in the strictest sense, dissenters. It is open to them to make the same claims, and to fight the same battle, as a dissenting minority anynhere else: but they cannot claim to be themselves the nation; they cannot call the Mahometan majority intruders or invaders. And what is true of Persia is true also of a large part of the Ottoman dominions in Asia. The country is really Mahometan, and I have no wish to meddle with its Mahometan occupants. It is true that they have displaced a Christian population; but they displaced it so long ago that no practical question can arise out of the displacement, any more than out of our own displacement of the Welsh in Britain. But the case in European Turkey is quite different. There the Mahometans are in no sense the people of the land; they are an army of occupation, holding down subject nations in their own land. That welding together of conquerors and conquered into a single nation, which has legalized conquest in so many other cases, has never happened in the case of the Turks in Europe, and in truth it never can happen. The peaceful fusion of the two races, the absorption of the Frank by the Gaul or of the Norman by the Englishman, never can happen where the conquerors are Mahometans, and where the conquered cleave to their national faith. One of the first principles of the Mahometan religion is that, wherever its votaries have dominion, men of all other religions shall be their subjects. Koran, tribute, or sword still remains the alternative as it was in the days of Omar. By payment of tribute, the conquered Christian, fireworshipper, or Hindoo secured his life, his property, and the free exercise of his religion. But he still remained one of a subject class in his own land. Then and now alike, he is not only politically the subject of a Mahometan sovereign; he is civilly and socially the inferior of every one of his Mahometan fellow-subjects. What the Mahometan law prescribes for tributaries of another religion is a contemptuous toleration. If persecution is forbidden on the one hand, any real equality with men of the dominant religion is forbidden on the other. When such a state of things as this has been the law, it has naturally followed that the treatment of Christians and other non-Mahometan subjects of Mahometan powers has varied greatly in different times and places. Cases may here and there be found in which the subject, the Giaour, got better terms than the capitulation of Omar gave him. In most cases he has got far worse terms. The Turk has everywhere been worse than the Saracen whom he supplanted, and the Ottoman Turk has been the worst of all Turks. In fact, when it is laid down as a matter of religious principle that men of other religions are the natural inferiors and subjects of the Mussulman, it is hardly to be expected that the Mussulman will keep himself within the letter of any capitulation. Where the law prescribes a contemptuous toleration, oppression and persecution are always likely to be the rule in practice. So it ever has been; so, in the nature of things, it ever must be. Let the capitulation of Omar be carried out to the letter throughout the Ottoman dominions; the Christian populalation will still be in a state worse than the state which in other lands has been commonly looked on as fully justifying revolt. They will still be worse off than ever Lombard was under Austrian or Pole under Russian rule. But it is quite certain that the Christians of Turkey are far worse off than the capitulation of Omar would make them, and it is quite certain that they will remain so as long as they remain under a Mahometan government. The Porte may make endless promises of reform; but, even if it wishes to carry them out, it cannot. A Mahometan government cannot, if it will, give real equality to the subjects of other religions. If it does so, it sins against the first principles of the Mahometan law, and it must draw upon itself the ill-will — from their own principles the perfectly just ill-will — of its Mahometan subjects. One Mahometan ruler did give perfect equality to his subjects of all religions; but, in so doing, he had to cease to be a Mahometan. If Abd-ul-aziz has strength to follow in the steps of Akbar, let him do so, and the blessings of mankind will be on him. That would settle the Eastern question at once. But there is no intermediate choice between that settlement and that other settlement which the patriots of the Slave provinces are seeking with their swords. As a Christian, as an Akbarite, sovereign, the Turkish sultan may go on and reign as the Caesar of the New Rome, and the weapons which are now lifted against him may be used for his defence against a malecontent Mahometan minority. But no reform short of this will answer. A Mahometan government may rule well, as far as any despotism can rule well, over a Mahometan people. Over a people not Mahometan it must ever be, even in spite of itself, a government of sheer force and oppression. It must ever be a government towards which its subjects have but one duty, the duty of throwing off its yoke whenever they have the power.
The Turk then must go or he must cease to be a Turk. As he is not likely to cease to be a Turk, it is enough to say that he must go. It does not follow that he need go all at once. From Servia he has gone already. Bosnia and Herzegovina have given him notice to quit, and from them he must go at once. It will be time for him to go from Bulgaria and Albania when Bulgaria and Albania give him notice to quit also. But Bosnia and Herzegovina have made up their minds that they will get rid of him or perish. Which of these two alternatives is to take place is the true Eastern question. It is the question which the powers of Europe have to settle. No one supposes that, if the combined voice of Europe speaks, the sick man whom Europe has so long swathed and bolstered up for its own ends will dare to disobey. An awful responsibility therefore rests on those who now guide the counsels of the European powers. It is nothing short of the responsibility of deciding between good and evil. Shall the lands which have risen against the yoke be forced down again beneath the yoke, or not? To talk of reform is childish. The Turk, as long as he remains a Turk, cannot reform. The revolted lands ask, not for reforms which cannot be had, but for freedom which may be had. It is freedom for which they ask; never mind what form freedom takes; freedom from the Turk will be a blessing, in whatever form it comes. Be it the freest of commonwealths, be it only a despotism which does common justice between man and man, in either case it will be freedom to men who have so long groaned under the yoke of mere brigandage. One change may be better than another, but any change will be better than what is now.
And now at such a moment as this is it too much to ask that the wretched talk about interest and honour and prestige, which has so long grated on the ears of all who love right for its own sake, may at last be hushed? As for "prestige," I hardly know the meaning of the ugly foreign word; by its etymology it would seem to have something to do with the tricks of a juggler. As for honour, I know of only one way in which true honour can be won, and that is by doing right fearlessly at all hazards. The most honourable thing of all is never to do wrong; next after that comes the true courage of the man or the nation who, when wrong has been done, is ready to confess the wrong and to redress it. Our true honour can never demand that we should go on propping up a rotten fabric of evil; it does demand that we should undo the wrong that we have done in helping the evil cause thus far. As for interests, questions about Central Asia or the Suez Canal, I do not profess to be any judge of such matters; but if our Atlantic island has any real interest in them, I suppose that those questions, like other questions of interest, come under the head of the eternal rule that interest should give way to right and duty.
άλλ' εί δίκαια, τών σοφών κρείσσω τύδε
We were told one and twenty years back that our interests were so pressing, that the Russian bugbear was so frightful, that we had no time to listen to the claims of oppressed nations, even when we had ourselves doomed them to oppression. So I would say back again, that, when a plain duty calls on us to help the cause of our suffering brethren, I at least can find no time for nicely calculated questions of interest, not even for counting how near Russia may, in the discharge of her civilizing mission in barbarian lands, have come to the bounds of our own distant dominion. I can only say that the interests of Russia or Austria, the interests of France or Germany or England, must not be thought of in the face of the interests of humanity. Happily one specially sordid form of interest will now be driven to hold its peace. Europe will hardly be called upon to prop up the black fabric of Turkish tyranny in the interest of Turkish bondholders in England. The Turk has, fittingly enough, played the Turk with his creditors as well as with his subjects. Englishmen were not ashamed to lend their money to the barbarian, knowing that every penny which they lent could be used only in propping up the foulest of tyrannies, and in enabling a sensual despot to spend yet more on his luxuries and his vices. They lent their money, knowing that every penny of interest that they were to receive was to be wrung by the minions of a tyrant out of the scanty earning of an oppressed people. They have their reward. The Turk, true to his traditions, has broken faith; the pleasures of the sultan's court have been found too costly; the resources of his victims have been found too scanty; and the men who strove to prop up wrong by gold have found that gold is no longer forthcoming out of the abyss of Turkish misrule.
While I write, the news comes that the deputations from the insurgents have gone to the three courts of Berlin, Vienna, and Saint Petersburg, to "formulate," as the telegram runs, their demands. Later still come other rumours that their deputations are not likely to be attended with much success because the demands of the insurgents "menace the integrity of the Ottoman Empire." Let them ask for reforms, let them ask for "decentralization;" these the great powers may perhaps be inclined to guarantee; but freedom they must not hope for. Later again come, one after another, utterances from Vienna and Saint Petersburg, each one darker and more meaningless than the one which went before it. I know not what truth there may be in all this. I know not what may be the shape taken either by the demands of the insurgents or by the answer of the powers; but I do know that all talk about reforms and decentralization and guaranteeing this and that is simply childish. The three powers can guarantee reform in one way, and in one way only; but that is a way which is certainly menacing to the integrity of the Ottoman Empire. The only way in which any reform can be guaranteed is by giving the lands which are to be reformed full practical emancipation from the Turkish yoke. Talk about new divisions of provinces, about giving Christians a greater share in the local administration, even about putting this or that district under a Christian governor, is not to be listened to. A Christian governor is not necessarily better than a Mahometan governor. A Christian who stoops to be the agent of the sultan is not likely to be among the most high-minded of Christians, or among those who enjoy the greatest confidence among their brethren. The one thing which is needed, the one thing which will meet the wishes of the revolted provinces, the one thing which will ease the powers of the thankless labour of propping up the sick man, will be to give each province, as it demands it, full practical emancipation from the Turkish yoke. Thus the Eastern question may be solved. Such a solution is doubtless inconsistent with the integrity of the Ottoman Empire; but no other solution can be righteous; no other solution is possible.
I just now used the words, "full practical emancipation." I made the qualification advisedly. If practical independence is to be had only at the cost of a nominal homage, or even of a fixed tribute, to the tottering despot of Constantinople, I do not think that practical independence should be refused on those terms. Servia, I believe, still keeps some forms of vassalage, and I have always held it to be one of the misfortunes of Greece that she was at once cumbered with the trappings of an absolutely independent kingdom instead of being allowed to march gradually towards the crown of perfect independence. The nations of the Byzantine peninsula must never be allowed to become wholly isolated from one another. They must never lose the tradition of looking to the New Rome as their natural centre. As long as the Turk sits in New Rome, he may well be the overlord of all of them, provided his overlordship remains as purely formal as it now is over Servia and Roumania. I twill be enough if the lands which are striving for their freedom are put under some government which shall secure to them, if full political freedom, so much the better, but at any rate the common rights of human beings. Everything else is a matter of detail. The most obvious course would be to attach the revolted lands to Montenegro or to Servia, or to divide them between Montenegro and Servia. A glance at the map will show how near independent Montenegro and practically independent Servia come together. The Slave provinces which are still under the yoke are all but isolated from the mass of the Turkish dominions; they form a kind of peninsula of bondage. The main difficulty either in attaching them to Servia or Montenegro, or in forming them into a third Slave principality, lies in this. In Servia, at the time of its emancipation, there were very few settled Mahometan inhabitants. When the Turkish soldiers and officials had marched out, the land was left wholly Christian. In Montenegro of course there never were any Mahometan inhabitants at all. In Bosnia and Herzegovina, on the other hand, there is both a Mahometan and a Catholic minority; and, in setting free the great Orthodox majority, care must be taken not to perpetuate wrong, by giving the Orthodox any undue supremacy over the Catholic and the Mahometan. It might be feared that, either in a newly- formed Slave state or in an extended Servia or Montenegro, there might be danger of old wrongs being repaid in kind by a dominant Orthodox majority. And again the question presents itself, whether an extended Montenegro might not lose its distinctive character, and the Montenegrin experiment, the experiment of civilizing a small warlike tribe, without destroying its distinctive character, without bringing it down to the dead level of common European life, is so interesting, and has hitherto been so successful, that one is loath to do anything that may disturb it. Annexation to the great neighbouring monarchy has an ugly sound, and I should certainly not advocate it for its own sake, or in case anything better can be found. Still it has something to be said for it. We must not forget that the Austro-Hungarian monarchy of 1875 is not the Austrian Empire of 1865. It is giving it less praise than it deserves to say that its rule is better than that of Turkey, and that Herzegovina would greatly gain if it were raised to the level of Dalmatia. Under the rule of the Apostolic King Catholic and Orthodox contrive to live side by side; and under that rule Catholic, Orthodox, and Mahometan would have more chance of doing so than they would have under a purely Orthodox government. The great difficulty in the way of annexation in this quarter is the dislike of the Magyars to any strengthening of the Slave element in the united monarchy. Zealous Slaves have been known to answer that the Magyars are Turanian intruders no less than the Turks, and that Turks and Magyars might with advantage march off together. But the kingdom of the apostolic Stephen can be hardly got rid of so easily as this. Hungary and the other lands joined under the rule of her king seem marked out as called on to be the leading Christian state of South-Eastern Europe. Within the Austro-Hungarian monarchy, even within the Hungarian kingdom itself, there is already the strongest jumble of nationalities and religions. And the like jumble of nationalities and religions there must be in any considerable state which may arise in South-Eastern Europe. The present union between Hungary and Austria supplies a precedent for a quasi-federal union, which, if a greater number of states were joined together, might become more truly federal. For the king of Hungary and Dalmatia to become also king of Bosnia is not ideally the best remedy for the evil. But that, or anything else, would be a relief to lands which have been so long bowed down under the yoke of the barbarian.
Here are great issues, issues so great that but few of us can have any direct control over them. But one thing we can all of us do. All of us, far and near, can stretch out a helping hand to the hapless and homeless fugitives who have fled before the face of the barbarian invader, to seek shelter in the friendly lands of Servia, Montenegro, and Dalmatia. Women, children, old men, helpless beings of every kind, have fled from the face of the destroyer to throw themselves upon the charity of their happier brethren. I, who have seen their distress, can bear witness to its being the saddest sight that my eyes ever saw. Not that either private or public charity has been lacking; but it is as when Burke spoke of the victims of another desolating war, — "It was a people in beggary; it was a nation that stretched out its hands for food." There are men on the spot, in hospitable Ragusa, who are doing all that single men can do; but the cry of these unhappy refugees is one which should speak in the ears of all Christendom, in the ears of all the civilized world. England is not commonly the last in such good works, and the cause of these helpless refugees has been strongly represented by the Times correspondent at Ragusa. Let me add my word to his. If there ever was a voice which ought to go to the heart, if there ever was a time when we ought to stretch forth a kindly hand, it is to help these helpless victims of a stern necessity. While their kinsfolk are fighting for faith and freedom and all that is dear to the heart of man, they can only suffer in silence, unless the hand of charity is stretched out to help them from every land where faith and freedom and the common rights of human beings are no longer things which have to be striven for on the field of battle. Edward A. Freeman.