Littell's Living Age/Volume 133/Issue 1721/Montenegro. A Sketch

From The Nineteenth Century.

MONTENEGRO.[1]

A SKETCH.

It is sometimes said, in relation to individuals, that the world does not know its greatest men. It might at least as safely be averred, in speaking of large numbers, that Christendom does not know its most extraordinary people. The name of Montenegro, until within the last two years, was perhaps less familiar to the European public than that of Monaco, and little more than that of San Marino. And yet it would, long ere this, have risen to worldwide and immortal fame, had there been a Scott to learn and tell the marvels of its history, or a Byron to spend and be spent on its behalf. For want of the vates sacer, it has remained in the mute, inglorious condition of Agamemnon's predecessors.[2] I hope that an interpreter between Montenegro and the world has at length been found in the person of my friend Mr. Tennyson, and I gladly accept the honor of having been invited to supply a commentary to his text. In attempting it I am sensible of this disadvantage — that it is impossible to set out the plain facts of the history of Montenegro (or Tsernagora in its own Slavonic tongue) without begetting in the mind of any reader strange, and nearly all are strange, to the subject, a resistless suspicion of exaggeration or of fable.

The vast cyclone of Ottoman conquest, the most formidable that the world has ever seen, having crossed the narrow sea from Asia in the fourteenth century, made rapid advances westward, and blasted, by its successive acquisitions, the fortunes of countries the chief part of which were then among the most civilized, Italy alone being excepted, of all Europe. I shall not here deal with the Hellenic lands. It is enough to say that Bulgaria, Serbia (as now known), Bosnia, Herzegovina, Albania, gradually gave way.

Before telling the strange tale of those who, like some strong oak that the lightning fails to rive, breasted all the wrath of the tempest, and never could be slaves, let me render a tribute to the fallen. For the most part, they did not succumb without gallant resistance. The Serbian sovereigns of the fifteenth century were great and brave men, ruling a stout and brave people. They reached their zenith when, in 1347, Stephen Dushan entitled himself emperor of Serbs, Greeks, and Bulgarians. In an evil hour, and to its own ruin, the Greek empire invoked against him the aid of the Ottoman Turks. In 1356, he closed a prosperous career by a sudden death. On the fatal field of Kossovo, in 1389, treachery allied itself with Ottoman prowess to bring about the defeat of the Serbian army; and again it was by treacherous advances that a qualified subjection was converted into an absolute servitude. The West, with all its chivalry, can cite no grander examples of martial heroism than those of Marko Kraljevitch, so fondly cherished in the Serbian lands, and of George Castriotes or Scanderbeg, known far and wide, and still commemorated by the name of a vicolo of Rome.

The indifference, or even contempt, with which we are apt to regard this field of history, ought to be displaced by a more rational, as well as more honorable, sentiment of gratitude. It was these races, principally Slavonian, who had to encounter in its unbroken strength, and to reduce, the mighty wave, of which only the residue, passing the Danube and the Save, all but overwhelmed not Hungary alone, but Austria and Poland. It was with a Slavonian population that the Austrian emperor fortified the north bank of the Save, in the formation of the famous military frontier. It was Slav resistance, unaided by the West, which abated the impetus of the Ottoman attack just to such a point, that its reserve force became capable of being checked by European combinations.

Among the Serbian lands was the flourishing principality of Zeta. It took its name from the stream, which flows southward from the mountain citadel towards the Lake of Scutari. It comprised the territory now known as Montenegro or Tsernagora, together with the seaward, frontier, of which a niggardly and unworthy jealousy had not then deprived it, and with the rich and fair plains encircling the irregular outline of the inhospitable mountain. Land after land had given way; but Zeta ever stood firm under the Balchid family. At last in 1478 Scutari was taken on the south, and in 1483 the ancestors of the still brave population of Herzegovina on the north submitted to the Ottomans. Ivan Tchernoievitch, the Montenegrin hero of the day, hard pressed on all sides, applied to the Venetians for the aid he had often given, and was refused. Thereupon he, and his people with him, quitted, in 1484, the sunny tracts in which they had basked for some seven hundred years, and sought, on the rocks and amidst the precipices, surety for the two gifts, by far the most precious to mankind, their faith and their freedom. To them, as to the pomaks of Bulgaria, and the Bosnian begs, it was open to purchase by conformity a debasing peace. Before them, as before others, lay the trinoda necessitas, the alternatives of death, slavery, or the Koran. They were not to die, for they had a work to do. To the Koran or to slavery they preferred a life of cold, want, hardship, and perpetual peril. Such is their Magna Charta; and, without reproach to others, it is, as far as I know, the noblest in the world.

To become a centre for his mountain home, Ivan had built a monastery at Cettinjé, and declared the place to be the metropolis of Zeta. What is most of all remarkable in the whole transaction is, that he carried with him into the hills a printing-press.[3] This was in 1484, in a petty principality; they were men worsted in war, and flying for their lives. Again, it was only seven years after the earliest volume had been printed by Caxton in the rich and populous metropolis of England; and when there was no printing-press in Oxford, or in Cambridge, or in Edinburgh. It was only sixteen years after the first printing-press had been established (1468) in Rome, the capital of Christendom; only twenty-eight years after the appearance (1456) of the earliest printed book, the first-born of the great discovery.

Then and there,

They few, they happy few, they band of brothers[4]

voted unanimously their fundamental law, that, in time of war against the Turk, no son of Tsernagora could quit the field without the order of his chief; that a run-away should be forever disgraced, and banished from his people; that he should be dressed in woman's clothes, and presented with a distaff; and that the women, striking him with their distaffs, should hunt the coward away from the sanctuary of freedom.

And, now for four centuries wanting only seven years, they have maintained in full force the covenant of that awful day, through an unbroken series of trials, of dangers, and of exploits, to which it is hard to find a parallel in the annals of Europe, perhaps even of mankind.

It was not to be expected that the whole mass of any race or people should have the almost preterhuman energy, which their lot required. All along, from time to time, the weaker brethren have fallen away; and there were those who said to Ivan, as the Israelites said to Moses, "Wherefore have ye made us to come up out of Egypt, to bring us into this evil place?"[5] The great Ivan died in 1490, and was succeeded by his eldest son George, who in 1499 was persuaded by his Venetian wife to go back into the habitable world; not of Islam, however, but at Venice. Worse than this, his younger brother Stephen had gone with a band of companions to Constantinople and proposed to Bajazet the Second the betrayal of his country. He, and those whom he took with him, were required to turn Mahometans, and they did it. None could be so fit, as traitors, to be renegades. They then set out with an Ottoman force for the work of conquest. They were met by George, and utterly defeated. But these victors, the men of the printing-press as well as of the sword, were no savages by nature, only afterwards when the Turks in time made them so.

They took back their renegade fellow-countrymen into Montenegro, and allowed them the free exercise of their religion,[6]

On the retirement of George, which seems only to have become final in 1516,[7] the departing prince made over the sovereign power to the metropolitan. And now began, and lasted for three hundred and thirty-six years, an ecclesiastical government in miniature over laymen, far more noble than that of the popes in its origin and purer in its exercise, as well as in some respects not less remarkable. The epithet I have last used may raise a smile. But the greatness of human action, and of human character, do not principally depend on the dimensions of the stage where they are exhibited. In the fifth century, and, before the temporal power arose, there was a Leo as truly great as any of the famous mediaeval pontiffs. The traveller may stand upon the rock of Corinth, and look, across and along the gulf, to the Acropolis of Athens; and may remember, with advantage no less than with wonder, that these little states of parochial extension, were they that shook the world of their own day, and that have instructed all posterity. But the basileus, whom Greece had to keep at arm's length, had his seat afar; and, even for those within his habitual reach, was no grinding tyrant. Montenegro fought with a valor that rivalled, if it did not surpass, that of Thermopylæ and Marathon; with numbers and resources far inferior, against a foe braver and far more, terrible. A long series of about twenty prelates, like Moses, or Joshua, or Barak, or the son of Jesse, taught in the sanctuary, presided in the council, and fought in the front of the battle. There were among them many, who were admirable statesmen. These were especially of the Nicgush family, which came in the year 1687 to the permanent possession of power: a power so little begirt with the conveniences of life, and so well weighted with responsibility and care, that in the free air of these mountains it was never coveted, and never abused.

Under the fourteen vladikas, who had ruled for one hundred and seventy years before this epoch, the people of Montenegro not only lived sword in hand, for this they have since done and still do, but nourished in their bosom an enemy more deadly, say the historians[8] than the pashas and their armies. Not only were they ever liable to the defection of such as had not the redundant manhood required in order to bear the strain of their hard and ever-threatened existence; but the renegades on the banks of the Rieka, whom they had generously taken back, maintained disloyally relations with the Porte, and were ever ready to bring its war-galleys by the river into the interior of the country. At last the measure of patience was exhausted. Danilo, the first vladika of the Nicgush dynasty, had been invited, under an oath of safe-conduct from the pasha of Scutari, to descend into the plain of Zeta, among the homes of his ancestors, for the purpose of consecrating a church. While engaged on this work, he was seized, imprisoned, and cruelly tortured.[9] At last he was released on a ransom of 3,000 ducats, a sum which the hillsmen were only enabled to make up by borrowing in Herzegovina. It was felt that the time had arrived for a decisive issue; and we come now to a deed of blood which shows that for those human beings with whom the Turk forced himself into contact, and who refused to betray their faith, there were no alternatives but two: if not savages they must be slaves, if not slaves they must come near to being savages.

It was determined to slay by night every one of the renegades, except such as were willing to return to the faith of their fathers. The year was 1702, and the night chosen was that which divided Christmas eve from Christmas-day. The scale was not large, but the operation was terrible; and the narrative, contained in an old Volkslied, shows that it was done under that high religious exaltation which recalls the fiery gloom of the "Agamemnon," and the sanguinary episodes of the Old Testament.

The hallowed eve draws onwards. The brothers Martinovitch kindle their consecrated torches. They pray fervently to the new-born God. Each drains a cup of wine; and seizing the sacred torches, they rush forth into the darkness. Wherever there was a Turk, there came the five avengers. They that would not be baptized were hewn down every one. They that embraced the Cross were taken as brothers before the vladika. Gathered in Cettinjé, the people hailed with songs of joy the reddening dawn of the Christmas morning; all Tsernagora now was free![10]

The war had been a standing rather than an intermittent war, and each party to it was alternately aggressor and defender. The Turk sought to establish his supremacy by exacting the payment of the haradsch, the poll or military-service tax, paid in kind, which sometimes, in the more open parts, as we may suppose, of the territory, he succeeded in obtaining. Once the collector complained that the measure used was too small. The tax-payer smashed his skull with it, and said: "That is Tsernagora measure."[11] But the Montenegrins were aggressive as well as the Turks. Of the fair plains they had been compelled to deliver to the barbarian, they still held themselves the rightful owners; and in carrying on against him a predatory warfare they did no more than take back, as they deemed, a portion of their own. This predatory warfare, which had a far better justification than any of the Highland or Border raids that we have learned to judge so leniently, has been effectually checked by the efforts of the admirable vladikas and princes of the last hundred years; for, as long as it subsisted, the people could not discharge effectually the taint of savagery. It even tended to generate habits of rapine. But the claim to the lands is another matter; there is no lapse of title by user here; the bloody suit has been prosecuted many times in the course of each of twelve generations of men. That claim to the lands they have never given up, and never will.

From 1710 onwards, at intervals, the sovereigns of Russia and Austria have used the Montenegrins for their own convenience when at war with Turkey, and during the war of the French Revolution the English did the like, and, by their co-operation and that of the inhabitants, effected the conquest of the Bocche di Cattaro. To England they owe no gratitude; to Austria, on the whole, less than none, for, to satisfy her, the district she did not win was handed over to her with our concurrence. She has rigidly excluded the little state from access to the sea, and has at times even prevented it from receiving any supplies of arms. Russia, however, from the time of Peter the Great, though using them for her own purposes, has not always forgotten their interests, and has commonly aided the vladikas with a small annual subvention, raised, through the liberality of the czar now reigning, to some 3,000l. a year;[12] the salary of one of our railway commissioners. Nor should it be forgotten that Louis Napoleon, seemingly under a generous impulse, took an interest in their fortunes, and made a further addition to the revenues of the prince, which raised them in all to an amount such as would equip a well-to-do English country gentleman, provided that he did not bet, or aspire to a deer-forest, or purchase Sèvres or even Chelsea porcelain.

The most romantic and stirring passages of other histories may be said to grow pale, if not by the side of the ordinary life of Tsernagora, at least when brought into comparison with that life at the critical emergencies, which were of very constant recurrence. What was the numerical strength of the bishop-led community, which held fast its oasis of Christianity and freedom amidst the dry and boundless desert of Ottoman domination? The fullest details I have seen on this subject are those given by Frilley and Wlahoviti. The present form of the territory exhibits the figure which would be produced if two roughly-drawn equilateral triangles, with their apices slightly truncated, had these apices brought together, so that the two principal masses should be severed by a narrow neck or waist of territory. The extreme length of the principality from the border above Cattaro on the west to Mount Kom, the farthest point eastwards of Berda, is about seventy miles; the greatest breadth from north to south is a good deal less; but the line at the narrow point from Spuz on the south to Niksich on the north, both of them on ground still Turkish, does not exceed twenty miles. The reader will now easily understand the tenacity with which a controversy seemingly small has just been carried on at Constantinople between the delegates of Prince Nicholas and the Porte; with andirivieni almost as many as marked the abortive conference of December and January, or the gestation of the recent protocol. At these points, the plain makes dangerous incisions into the group of mountains;[13] and from them the Turk has been wont to operate. The population of his empire is forty millions; and I believe his claims for military service extend over the whole, except the five millions (in round numbers) of free people, who inhabit the Serbian and Roumanian principalities. Let us now see what were the material means of resistance on the other side. About a.d. 1600, there are said to have been thirty-five hundred houses and eight thousand fighting men in Montenegro. The military, age is from twelve to fifty; and these numbers indicate a population not much, if at all, over thirty thousand. This population was liable to be thinned by renegadism and constant war; but, since the early siftings, the operation of the baser cause appears to have been slight. On the other hand, freedom attracts the free; and tribes, or handfuls, of Turkish subjects near Montenegro have had a tendency to join it. Until a few years back, it never had a defined frontier; it is only in recent times that its eastern triangle, that of Berda, has been added to Tsernagora proper. About 1800, the population had risen to fifty-five thousand. In 1825, to seventy-five thousand. In 1835, the official calendar of Cettinjé placed it at one hundred thousand, and in 1865 at one hundred and ninety-six thousand. This included the districts of Grabovo, Rudine and Joupa, conquered under Prince Danilo. For the mere handful of mountaineers has been strong enough, on the whole, not only to hold but to increase its land. Yet, on the establishment of free Serbia, a tendency to emigrate from the sterile rocks into that well-conditioned country was naturally exhibited; and two battalions composed of the children of Montenegrins helped to make up that small portion of the army of General Tchernaieff, on which alone, in the operations of the recent war, he could confidently rely.

While the gross population of Montenegro, in men, women, and children, was slowly growing through three centuries from thirty to fifty thousand, we must inquire with curiosity what amount of Turkish force has been deemed by the Porte equal to the enterprise of attacking the mountain. And here, strange as it may seem, history proves it to have been the general rule not to attack Montenegro except with armies equalling or exceeding, sometimes doubling or more, in numbers, all the men, women, and children that it contained. In 1712, under the vladika Danilo, fifty thousand men crossed the Zeta between Podgoritza and Spuz, Some accounts raise this force beyond one hundred thousand.[14] Danilo assailed their camp before dawn on the 29th of July, with an army, in three divisions, which could hardly have reached twelve thousand men. With a loss of three hundred and eighteen men, he slew, at the lowest estimate, twenty thousand. And in these alone, so far as I know, of all modern wars, it seems not uncommon to find the slain among the Turks exceeding the gross number of the highland heroes arrayed against them. Great is the glory of the Swiss in their Burgundian wars for freedom; but can it be matched with the exploits of the bishops of Montenegro and their martial flocks? Once more the heart of the little nation relieves itself in song.

The seraskier wrote to Danilo: "Send me your paltry tribute, and three of your best warriors for hostages. Refuse, and I will lay waste the land from the Morea to the salt-sea[15] with fire and sword, and will seize you alive,[16] and put you to death by torture." As he read this letter the vladika wept bitterly. He summoned the heads of communities to Cettinjé. Some said, "Give them the tax;" but others, "Give them our stones." … They determined that they would fight to the last man. They swore with one accord that all they would give the Turk should be the bullet-rain of their muskets.

And thus continues the tale. Three Montenegrins went down to the Turkish encampment by night, and traversed the slumbering masses just as, in the tenth Iliad, Odusseus and Diomed moved amid the sleeping allies of Troy. Vuko, one of the three, said to his comrades: "Go you back; I abide here to serve the cause." They returned to Cettinjé, and said: "So many are the Turks, that, had we three all been pounded into salt, we should not be enough to salt a supper for them." How this recalls the oldest census in the world, the census of Homer, who says:[17] "Were the Achaians divided into parties of ten, and every Trojan employed in serving them with wine, one for each party, many a ten would lack a wine-server." But, not to terrify their friends, they added that this vast host was but a host of cripples. So the people heard mass, received the benediction of their vladika, and then set out upon the errand of victory or death. Vuko had induced the enemy to rest by the Vladinia, on the plea that they would not find water between that stream and Cettinjé. Here, before dawn, came down on them the bullet-rain. They were slaughtered through three days of flight; and the bard concludes: "O my Serbian brothers, and all ye in whose breast beats the heart of liberty, be glad; for never will the ancient freedom perish, so long as we still hold our little Tsernagora!"

The very next year, the Turks assembled one hundred and twenty thousand of their best troops for the purpose of crushing the mountaineers, whose numbers fell within the satirical description applied by Tigranes to the Romans: "Too many for an embassy, too few for an army." But even this was not enough of precaution. Thirty-seven head men of Montenegro, who had proceeded to the Turkish camp to negotiate with the commander, were basely seized and put to death. The Turks now ventured to assail a force one-tenth of its own numbers and deprived of its leaders. They burned the monastery, they carried thousands of women and children into slavery, and then, without attempting to hold the country, they marched off to the Morea, while the men of Tsernagora descended from their rocky fastnesses and rebuilt their villages.[18] They powerfully befriended Austria and Venice in the war they were then waging, and, as was too commonly the case, were left in the lurch by their allies at the peace of Passarowitz in 1719. The Turks accordingly made bold to attack them in 1722 with twenty thousand men under Hussein Pasha. One thousand Montenegrins took this general prisoner, and utterly discomfited his army.[19] In 1727, another Turkish invasion was similarly defeated. In 1732, Topal Osman Pasha marched against the Piperi, who had joined them, with thirty thousand men, but had to fly with the loss of his camp and baggage. In 1735 the heroic Danilo passed into his rest, after half a century of toil and glory.

These may be taken as specimens of the military history of Montenegro. Time does not permit me to dwell on what is perhaps the most curious case of personation in all history, that of Stiepan Mali, who for many years together passed himself off upon the mountaineers as being Peter III. of Russia, the unfortunate husband of Catherine, and, in that character, partially obtained their obedience. But the presence of a prince reputed to be Russian naturally stimulated the Porte. Again Montenegro was invaded in 1768 by an army variously estimated at sixty-seven thousand, one hundred thousand, and even one hundred and eighty thousand men. Their force of ten thousand to twelve thousand was, as ever, ready for fight; but the Venetians, timorously obeying the Porte, prohibited the entry of munitions of war. Utter ruin seemed now at length to overhang them. A cartridge was worth a ducat, such was their necessity; when five hundred of their men attacked a Turkish division, and had for their invaluable reward a prize of powder. And now all fear had vanished. They assailed before dawn the united forces of the pashas of Roumelia from the south and Bosnia from the north. Again they effected the scarcely credible slaughter of twenty thousand Turks with three thousand horses, and won an incredible booty of colors, arms, munitions, and baggage. So it was that the flood of war gathered round this fortress of faith and freedom, and so it was that flood was beaten back. Afflavit Dominus, ac dissipantur.

In 1782 came Peter[20] to the throne, justly recorded, by the fond veneration of his countrymen, as Peter the Saint. Marmont, all whose inducements and threats he alike repelled, has given this striking description of him: "Ce vladika, homme superbe, de cinquante ans environ, d'un esprit remarquable, avait beaucoup de noblesse et de dignite dans ses manières. Son autorite positive et legale dans son pays était peu de chose, mais son influence était sans bornes."[21] As bishop, statesman, legislator, and warrior, he brought his country safely through eight-and-forty years of scarcely intermitted struggle. Down to, and perhaps after, his time, the government was carried on as in the Greece of the heroic age. The sovereign was priest, judge, and general; and was likewise the head of the assembly, not representative, but composed of the body of the people, in which were taken the decisions that were to bind the people as laws. This was called the Sbor; it was held in the open air; and when it became unruly, the method of restoring order was to ring the bell of the neighboring church. Here was promulgated for the first time in the year 1796, by his authority, a code of laws for Montenegro, which had hitherto been governed, like the Homeric communities, by oral authority and tradition. In 1798 he appointed a body of judges, and in 1803 he added to the code a supplement. With the nineteenth century, in round numbers, commenced the humanizing process, which could not but be needed among a race whose existence, for ten generations of men, had been a constant struggle of life and death with the ferocious Turk. From his time, the haradsch was no more heard of.[22] Here is the touching and simple account of the calm evening that closed his stormy day: —

On the 18th of October, 1830, Peter the First, who was then in his eighty-first year, was sitting, after the manner of his country, by the fireside of his great kitchen, and was giving to his chiefs, assembled round him, instructions for the settlement of some local[23] differences which had arisen. The aged vladika, feeling himself weak, announced that his last hour was come, and prayed them to conduct him to the humble cell which, without fire, he inhabited as a hermit would. Arriving there, he stretched himself on his bed; urged upon his chiefs to execute with fidelity the provisions set forth in the will he had that day dictated to his secretary; and then, in conversation and in prayer, rendered up his soul to God. So died this illustrious man, whom a Slavonic writer has not scrupled to call the Louis XIV. of Tsernagora, but who in a number of respects was also its Saint Louis.[24]

Thirty-five years after his death, Miss Mackenzie and Miss Irby, in their remarkable tour, visited the country. They found still living some of those who had lived under St. Peter; and thus they give the report of him which they received: —

There are still with us men who lived under St. Peter's rule, heard his words, and saw his life. For fifty years he governed us; and fought and negotiated for us; and walked before us in pureness and uprightness from day to day. He gave us good laws, and put an end to the disorderly state of the country. He enlarged our frontier, and drove away our enemies. Even on his deathbed he spoke words to our elders, which have kept peace among us since he has gone. While he yet lived we swore by his name. We felt his smile a blessing, and his anger a curse. We do so still.[25]

The voice of his people declared him a saint. Did the Vatican ever issue an award more likely to be ratified above? I have already indicated resemblances between the characteristic features of Montenegro and of Homeric or Achaian Greece. One of the most remarkable among them is the growth of men truly great in small theatres of action. Not Peter the First only, but his successors, will bear some comparison with those, whom the great Greek historians of the classic period have made so famous. To Peter the First succeeded his nephew Radatomovo, aged seventeen years. He was thereupon invested with the ecclesiastical habit and the sovereignty, and in 1833, when aged only twenty, he received at St. Petersburg episcopal consecration. Sir Gardner Wilkinson informs us that he was nearly six feet eight inches in height, and thoroughly well proportioned. His skill with the rifle was such that, when one of his attendants tossed a lemon into the air, he would readily put a bullet through it. At nineteen the cloud of Turkish war broke upon him from Scutari; for he had refused to accept a berat from the Porte, which would have sealed him as a vassal. The pasha's advanced guard of several thousand men[26] was defeated by a body of eight hundred Montenegrins, at the head of whom the pope Radoviti fell bravely fighting; and no more was heard of the invasion. But this vladika, following up St. Peter's work, set his face sternly against all such lawless habits as remained in the country. In his modes of repression there are curious traits of manners. The man-slayer was shot,[27] but the thief was ignominiously hanged. In the matter of shooting there was a great difficulty; for the terrible usage of the vendetta — which had by no means been extirpated from the Ionian Islands twenty years ago — bound the kin or descendants of a man to avenge his death on the person who slew him. The expedient adopted was to shoot by a large platoon, so that the killer could not be identified. I read that, before brigandage and the vendetta could be thoroughly put down, some hundreds of lives[28] were taken; more, probably, than were ever lost in the bloodiest battle with the Turk. Internal reform, which partook of a martial character, was the great task of this reign. But not exclusively. Under him was performed one of the feats incredible except in Montenegro. Ten men in 1835 seized by a coup de main the old castle of Zabliak, once the capital of Zeta, held it for four days against three thousand Turks, and then surrendered it only by order of the vladika, who was anxious to avoid a war. Nearly all his battles were victories.

This giant had received at St. Petersburg a high education, and was a cultivated man. A friend of mine has seen and admired him at Venice. He goes by the title of "the hero, statesman, poet vladika;" and his verse has given him a high place in Slav literature. He is thus described:[29]

{smaller|One while he was to be seen as a captain, sword in hand, giving an example of every military virtue at the head of his troops ; another, as a priest and preacher, carrying the cross alone, and subduing his wild compatriots into gentleness; again, as an inexorable judge, ordering the execution of culprits in his presence, or as a prince incorruptible, and refusing all the favors by which it was sought to fetter his independence.}}

Down to his time, there had been a civil governor who acted under the metropolitan as sovereign; but the holder of the office was deposed for intriguing with Austria, and, when the vladika died at thirty-nine, no successor had been appointed. This perhaps tended to accelerate the change, which was effected on the death of Peter the Poet in 1851. But a share in it was due to that subtle influence, the love of woman, which has so many times operated at great crises upon human affairs. The young Danilo, the nephew of the deceased vladika, designated for the succession, was attached to a beautiful girl in Trieste, and the hope of union with her could only be maintained in the event of his avoiding episcopal consecration, which entailed the obligation of celibacy. The senate almost unanimously supported him in his determination; and thus was effected a change which perhaps was required by the spirit of the times. The old system, among other points, entailed a great difficulty with respect to regulating the succession, which, among a people less simple and loyal, would have been intolerable. So, then, ended that line of the vladikas of Montenegro, who had done a work for freedom, as well as for religion, never surpassed in any country of the globe. Of the trappings and enjoyments of power, they had known nothing. To them, it was endeared as well as sanctified only by burdens and by perils. Their dauntless deeds, their simple, self-denying lives, have earned for them a place of high honor in the annals of mankind, and have laid for their people the solid groundwork on which the future, and a near future as it seems, will build.

Danilo did no dishonor, during his short reign, to the traditions of his episcopal predecessors. He consummated the great work of internal order, and published in 1855 the statute-book in force until 1876. In the war with Omar Pasha (1852-3), the military fame of the country was thoroughly maintained, under admirable leaders, though as usual with inferior arms and numbers. During the Crimean struggle, he maintained the formal neutrality of his country, though it cost him a civil war, and nearly caused the severance of Berda from the ancient Montenegro.[30] In May 1858, his brother Mirko revived and rivalled at Grabovo all the old military glories of Tsernagora. Having no artillery, and very inferior arms, the Montenegrins swept down from the hill upon the gunners of the Turks, and destroyed them. In this battle the Ottoman force, enclosed in a basin or corrie, without power of retreat, displayed a desperate valor, for which on most other occasions they have not been by any means so remarkable. Nor was their numerical superiority so manifold as it commonly had been. They were defeated with the loss of several thousand lives, fourteen guns, colors, baggage, and munitions. From the bodies of many dead were taken English as well as French medals, obviously granted for the Crimean war, which were seen by Miss Mackenzie and Miss Irby among the collection of trophies at Cettinjé.[31] The victory of Grabovo produced a great excitement among the rayahs of Turkey. But the great powers of Europe came to the help of the Porte and its huge empire against the lilliputian state, that is scarcely a speck upon its map. It had to abide a diplomatic verdict. A commission, sitting at Constantinople, accorded to it the advantage of establishing in principle the delimitation of its frontiers, and in 1859 admitted its envoy, notwithstanding the protest of Ali Pasha, to take part in its deliberations. But the powers had in 1857 determined at Paris that, in return for some small accretion, and for access to the sea, Montenegro should definitively acknowledge the suzerainty of the Porte.[32] Her refusal was positive, despite the wishes of the prince. It was to French[33] not British advocacy that she seems to have owed a declaration of May i858,[34] which acknowledged the independence of the Black Mountain.

In August 1860, Prince Danilo was shot on the quay of Cattaro. The assassin was prompted by a motive of private revenge, for which different grounds are assigned. Like his predecessors, he lived and died a hero. In what estimation he was held, let Miss Mackenzie and Miss Irby testify.

On his death his body had been carried up the mountain, and deposited in a church. For many weeks afterwards, as they tell us, this church was filled, morning, noon, and all night through, by his people, men, women, and children; and stalwart warriors were, as of old, dissolved in tears.

Danilo was succeeded by his nephew Nikita, the present prince of Montenegro. He had not at his accession completed his nineteenth year. It is characteristic of the principality that his own father Mirko, the victor of Grabovo, contentedly gave way to him. Goptchevitch, the brother of his aunt, Princess Darinka, acquaints us that he set out with two fixed ideas — the first, to prosecute the civilizing work among his people; the second, to liberate the sister Serbian lands still in servitude.[35] This writer appears disposed, in regard to the present sovereign, rather to play the part of critic than of eulogist; but ascribes to him great merit in his political conduct and in the prosecution of social reforms. Soon after his accession, Montenegro was worsted, after a long resistance, in a war with Turkey. She had been driven to her crags, when diplomatic mediation brought about a settlement. It was then proved that an empire of thirty-five million could gain the advantage against a tribe under two hundred thousand. Only, however, when she could concentrate against it all or nearly all her forces; when she had a general, not a Turk, of the ability of Omar Pasha; when she had reformed her whole armament by means of European loans; and when Montenegro had but her old muskets and old ways. Since then a great change has taken place. The army has been organized in thirty battalions, eight hundred strong; and now for the first time we hear of an endeavor to establish a certain strength of cavalry. The fighting men are reckoned at thirty-five thousand; but the military age begins at twelve. The obligation for offensive service runs only from seventeen; but it appears that the zeal of patriotism carries the people while yet boys into the ranks. The force available for general operations, between seventeen and fifty, amounts to twenty-four thousand. The arms have been greatly improved, two-thirds having breechloaders, all (as is stated) revolvers, and most of them carrying the handschar. During the war from July to October, 1876, we heard much of the Turkish victories over a Serbian army composed principally of peasants put suddenly into the ranks, with a salting of real soldiers; but very little, in comparison, of their failures and defeats in the conflict with Montenegro. Goptchevitch has supplied[36] a detailed account of the operations. I shall refer only to the most remarkable. On the 28th of July the men of Tsernagora encountered Muktar Pasha, and for once with superior force. Four thousand Turks were killed, but only seventy men of Montenegro. Osman Pasha was taken; Selim was among the slain. At Medun, on the 14th of August, twenty thousand Turks were defeated by five thousand of these heroic warriors; and forty-seven hundred slain. On the 6th of September five battalions of Montenegro defeated Dervisch Pasha in his movement upon Piperi, and slew three thousand of his men. On the 7th of October Muktar Pasha, with eighteen thousand men, drove three Montenegrin battalions back upon Mirotinsko Dolove. Here they were raised, by a junction with Vukotitch, to a strength of six thousand men. Thus reinforced, they swept down upon Muktar, and, after an action of sixteen hours, drove him back to Kloluk, leaving fifteen hundred dead behind him. On the 10th of October Dervisch Pasha effected an advance from the south, until he found himself attacked simultaneously at various points, and had to retreat with a loss of two thousand men. On the 20th of October Medun was taken, and the Ottoman general fled to Scutari, leaving garrisons in Spuz and Podgoritza. The armistice arrested this course of disasters, when the southern army (Dervisch) had been reduced from forty-five thousand to twenty-two thousand, and the northern (Muktar) from thirty-five thousand to eighteen thousand.

So much for that "indomitable pluck" of the Turks which has since moved the enthusiastic admiration of a British minister.

Goptchevitch reckons the slain on the Turkish side at twenty-six thousand; on the side of Montenegro, at one thousand. And there is no wonder if we find the Montenegrins now aspire to breechloaders and to cavalry: they captured from their enemies (with much besides) twelve thousand breechloaders and fifteen hundred horses.

Montenegro brought into action, in all, twenty-five thousand men; seventeen thousand of her own, two thousand allies, and six thousand insurgents from the Turkish provinces: a fact, this last, highly indigestible for those who contend that rebellions in Turkey are not sustained by natives, but by foreigners. The entire Turkish force directed against Tsernagora is stated at the enormous total of one hundred and thirty thousand. It was, of course, chiefly Asiatic.

It will be observed that the whole of these figures are taken from a work on the Slavonic side. The author has had the best means of information; and the statements are written not for our information, but for that of the sober and studious Germans. They are such as might at first sight well provoke a smile of incredulity. Yet, strange to say, they are in pretty close conformity with the general, the nearly unbroken, tenor of a series of wars reaching over four centuries. This is the race which, when asked for tribute, offered stones; whose privations were such, that on one occasion, having taken some hundreds of Turkish prisoners, they gladly accepted in exchange the same number of pigs; who clothe the coward in the garb of woman, but whose women freely grasp the rifle in the hour of need; yet whose men of war weep like women for the dead prince they love; and whose fathers in 1484 carried the printing-press with them to the mountains.

What became of that printing-press? Probably, when, not long after the removal to the hills, a vast army of Ottomans penetrated to Cettinjé and burned the monastery, it perished in the flames. The act of carrying it there demonstrated the habits, and implied the hopes, of a true civilization. But those habits and those hopes could not survive the cruel, inexorable incidents of the position. Barbarous himself in origin, and rendered far more barbarous by the habitual tyranny incident of necessity to his peculiar position in these provinces, the Turk has barbarized every tribe about him, except those whom he unmanned. The race of Tsernagora, with their lives ever in their hand, have inhabited not a territory, but a camp; and camp life, bad at the best, is terrible in its operation when it becomes continuous for twelve generations of men. It was only a fraction of the brutality and cruelty of Turks that in course of time was learned by the mountaineers. But even that fraction was enough to stir a thrill of horror. Of the exposure of the heads of the slain I cannot speak so strongly as some, who appear to forget that we did the same thing in the middle of the last century which Montenegro carried on into this one; and that a Jacobite, fighting for his ancient line of kings, may fairly bear comparison with a race which had claimed a commission not only to conquer all the earth, but to blast and blight all they conquered. On both sides this was a coarse, harsh practice, and it was nothing more. The same cannot be said of the mutilation of prisoners. There was an undoubted case of this kind during the late war, when a batch of Turks had their noses or upper lips or both cut away. This is certainly very far less bad than burning, flaying, impaling, and the deeds worse even than these in Bulgaria, for which rewards and decorations have been given by the Porte. But it was a vile act; and we have to regret that no measures have been taken by the British agency which published it to trace it home, so that we might know the particulars of time, place, and circumstance, and learn whether it was done by Montenegrins or by their allies, who have not undergone the civilizing influence of the last four reigns in Tsernagora. The unnaturally severe conditions, which have been normal in Montenegrin existence, will be best of all understood by the ideas and usages which have prevailed among themselves towards one another. Firstly, we are told that death in battle came to be regarded as natural death, death in bed as something apart from nature. Secondly, agriculture, and still more all trading industry, fell into disrepute among these inveterate warriors, and the first was left to the women, while they depended upon foreign lands to supply the handicrafts. Thirdly, when a comrade was wounded in battle so as to be helpless, the first duty was to remove him; but if this were impossible from the presence of the enemy, then to cut off his head, so as to save him from the shame or torture which he was certain to incur if taken alive by the Turks. Not only was this an act of friendship, but a special act of special friendship. There grew up among the mountaineers a custom of establishing a conventional relationship, which they called bond-brotherhood; and it was a particular duty of the bond-brother to perform this fearful office for his mate. In fact, the idea of it became for the Montenegrin simple and elementary, as we may learn from an anecdote, with a comic turn, given by Sir Gardner Wilkinson.

When the Austrians and Montenegrins were fighting against the Turks, allies of the French, on a certain occasion a handful of men had to fly for their lives. Two Austrians were among them, of whom one had the misfortune to be what is called stout. When the party had run some way, he showed signs of extreme distress, and said he would throw himself on the ground, and take his chance. "Very well," said a fellow-fugitive, "make haste, say your prayers, make the sign of the cross, and I will then cut off your head for you." As might be expected, this was not at all the view of the Austrian in his proposal, and the friendly offer had such an effect upon him, that he resumed the race and reached a place of safety. Under the steady reforming influences, which have been at work for nearly a hundred years, few vestiges of this state of things probably remain.

But I will dedicate the chief part of my remaining space to the application of that criterion which is of all others the sharpest and surest test of the condition of a country — namely, the idea it has embraced of woman, and the position it assigns to her.

This is both the weak, the very weak, and also the strong point of Montenegro. The women till the fields, and may almost be said to make them; for Lady Strangford testifies that she saw various patches of ground in cultivation, which were less than three feet square, and it seems that handfuls of soil are put together even where a single root will grow. More than this, over the great ladder-road between Cettinjé and Cattaro, the women carry such parcels, bound together, as, being over ten pounds in weight, are too heavy for the post; and Goptchevitch records the seemingly easy performance of her task by a woman who was the bearer of his large and long portmanteau.[37] Consequently, though the race is beautiful, and this beauty may be seen in very young girls, as women they become short in stature, with harsh and repulsive features. Nor is their social equality recognized, since they not only labor but perform menial offices for the men. One of our authorities[38] informs us that the husband often beats his wife. This, however, to my knowledge was a practice which did not excite general repugnance, one generation back, among the Hellenic inhabitants of Cefalonia.

The portrait thus set before us is sufficiently ungainly: let us turn to its more winning features. Crime of all kinds is rare in Montenegro: Miss Mackenzie and Miss Irby inform us that in a year the gaol had but two prisoners. But the crimes, or sins, which have reference to woman, are, whether in their viler or their milder forms, almost unknown. Not violation only, but seduction and prostitution, says Goptchevitch, are not found in Montenegro.[39] The old law of the country punished all unchastity with death: a law, of which there seem to be traces also in Bulgaria. Everywhere the purity and modesty of the maiden enjoy an absolute respect; and a woman, in every defile, every hamlet of Tsernagora, is a perfect escort for the traveller. Moreover, even the French writer, to whom I am so much indebted, and who seems to view this matter through a pair of Parisian spectacles, candidly admits that the Montenegrin woman is quite satisfied with her state. "La Monténégrine semble du reste se complaire dans ce rôle dínfériorité et d'abjection."[40] If the condition of the women was not Parisian, neither, it may be truly said, was that of the men.

The women have the same passionate attachment with the men to family and country, and display much of the same valor. Goptchevitch supplies two most remarkable examples. A sister and four brothers, the four of course all armed, are making a pilgrimage or excursion to a church. The state of war with the Turk being normal, we need not wonder when we learn that they are attacked unawares on their way, in a pass where they proceed in single file, by seven armed Turks; who announce themselves by shooting dead the first of the brothers, and dangerously wounding the second. The odds are fearful, but the fight proceeds. The wounded man leans against the rock, and, though he receives another and fatal shot, kills two of the Turks before he dies. The sister presses forward, and grasps his rifle and his dagger. At last all are killed on both sides, excepting herself and a single Turk. She asks for mercy; and he promises it, but names her maidenly honor as the price. Indignant, and perceiving that now he is off his guard, she stabs him with the dagger. He tears it from her hand, they close, and she dashes the wretch over the precipice into the yawning depth below.[41]

The second anecdote is not less singular. Tidings reach a Montenegrin wife that her husband has just been slain by a party under the command of a certain aga. Knowing the road by which they are travelling, she seizes a rifle, chooses her position, and shoots the aga dead. The rest of the party take to flight. The wife of the dead aga sends her an epistle. "Thou hast robbed me of both my eyes. Thou art a genuine daughter of Tsernagora. Come to-morrow alone to the border-line, and we will prove by trial which of us was the better wife." The Tsernagorine appeared, equipped with the arms of the dead aga, and alone as she was invited. But the Turkish woman had thought prudence the better part of valor, and brought an armed champion with her, who charges her on horseback. She shot him dead as he advanced, and, seizing her faithless antagonist, bound her and took her home, kept her as a nursemaid for fourteen years, and then let her go back to her place and people.[42]

Such, in the rudest outline, is the Montenegro of history, and of fact. Such it was. Such it is. But what will it be? On some points we may speak with boldness; on others it must be with reserve. However unskilful may be the hand which has inscribed these pages, it can hardly have expelled so completely from the wonderful picture both its color and its form, as not to have left in it vestiges at least and suggestions of a character greatly transcending the range of common experience, and calculated to awaken an extraordinary interest. Montenegro, which has carried down through four centuries, in the midst of a constant surge of perils, a charmed life, we may say with confidence will not die. No Russian, no Austrian eagle, will build its nest in the Black Mountain.[43] The men of Tsernagora, who have never allowed the very shadow of a Turkish title to grow up by silent prescription, will claim their portion[44] of an air and soil genial to man, and of free passage to and fro over the land and sea which God has given us. It is another question whether their brethren of the Serbian lands will amalgamate with them politically on an extended scale, and revive, either by a federal or an incorporating union, the substance, if not the form, of the old Serbian State. Such an arrangement would probably be good for Europe, and would go some way to guarantee freedom and self-government to the other European provinces of Turkey, whether under Ottoman suzerainty or otherwise. There is another question deeper and more vital. Rudeness and ferocity are rapidly vanishing; when their last trace disappears, will the simplicity, the truth, the purity, the high-strung devotion, the indomitable heroism, lose by degrees their native tone and their clear, sharp outline, and will a vision on the whole so glorious for them, so salutary and corrective for us,

die away,
And fade into the light of common day?[45]

To the student of human nature, forty years ago, Pitcairn's Island offered a picture of singular interest, no less remote morally than locally from common life, a paradise, not indeed of high intellect and culture, but of innocence and virtue. It became necessary to find for the growing numbers a larger site; and they were carried to Norfolk Island, when it had been purged of its population of convicts double-dyed. The spot was lovely, and the conditions favorable; but the organism would not bear transplanting, and the Pitcairners fast declined into the common mass of men. Is this to be the fate of the men of Montenegro when they substitute ease, and plenty, and power, and the pleasures and luxuries of life, for that stern but chivalrous wooing of adversity, the "relentless power," in which they have been reared to a maturity of such incomparable hardihood? I dare not say: they have a firmer fibre, a closer tissue than ever was woven in the soft air and habitudes of Pitcairn; may they prove too strong for the world, and remain what in substance they are, a select, a noble, an imperial race!

In another point of view, they offer a subject of great interest to the inquiries of the naturalist. Physically, they are men of exceptional power and stature. Three causes may perhaps be suggested. The habits of their life have been in an extraordinary degree hardy, healthy, simple; if they have felt the pressure of want at times, they have never known the standing curse of plethora,

Nec nova febrium
Terris incubuit cohors.

Next, may not the severe physical conditions of the Black Mountain have acted as a test, and shut out from the adult community all who did not attain to a high standard of masculine vigor? Among other notable features, they are a people of great longevity. Sir G. Wilkinson (shade of Lewis, hear it not!) found among them, living together as a family, seven successive generations; the patriarch had attained the age of one hundred seventeen, with a son of one hundred. A youth at seventeen or eighteen very commonly marries a girl of thirteen or fourteen.[46] But, thirdly, I conceive that moral causes may have co-operated powerfully with outward nature in this matter. Fortes creantur fortibus et bonis. The men who went up with Ivan were men of great souls; and this greatness, transmitted with blood and fortified by habit, may have assisted in supplying us with what seems to be a remarkable case of both natural and providential selection.

For the materials of this sketch I have been principally indebted to the two works named at its head. They are, I believe, the best on the subject; one is large and elaborate, the other, also full, coming down almost to this day. There is as yet no comprehensive book on Montenegro in our language. We have recently had articles on it in the Church Quarterly Review and in Macmillan, the latter guaranteed by the high name of Mr. Freeman. Sir Gardner Wilkinson led the way thirty years ago with some chapters on the mountain in his Dalmatian work. Dr. Neale has supplied some very brief but interesting notices. Lady Strangford's sketch is slight and thin, but with ample power of observation. Miss Mackenzie and Miss Irby were able to bestow far more of time and care on a subject well worthy of them, and have probably made by much the most valuable contribution extant in our language, under this as under other heads, to our knowledge of those south Slavonic provinces whose future will, we may humbly trust, redeem the miseries of their past. "Whereas thou hast been forsaken and hated, so that no man went through thee; I will make thee an eternal excellency, a joy of many generations."[47]W. E. Gladstone.

  1. 1. Le Monténégro Contemporain. Par G. Frilley, Officier de la Légion d'Honneur, et Jovan Wlahoviti, Capitaine au Service de la Serbie. Paris: 1870.
    2. Montenegro und die Montenegriner geschildert von Spiridion Goptchevitch. Leipzig: 1877.
  2. Hor., Od. IV, ix. 25.
  3. Frilley and Wlahoviti, p. 18.
  4. Shakespeare, "Henry V."
  5. Numbers xx. 5.
  6. F. and W., p. 19.
  7. Goptchevitch, p. 6.
  8. F. and W., p. 21.
  9. F. and W., p. 22. G., p. 8.
  10. G., p. 9.
  11. Ibid.
  12. Stated by Goptchevitch as high as 4,000l. a year.
  13. F. and W., pp. 89-91.
  14. F. and W,, p. 23. G., p. 10.
  15. G., p. 10. The Morea was not then Turkish. Does the "salt-sea" mean the White Sea?
  16. As opposed to the ordinary practice in these wars, of death on the field without quarter.
  17. Hom., Il. ii. 128.
  18. G., p. 12.
  19. G., p. 13. F. and W., p. 25.
  20. F. and W., pp. 35-59.
  21. I quote from F. and W., p, 495.
  22. G., p. 21, n.
  23. Among the plemenas, which may be called parishes: subdivisions of the eight nahias, say hundreds. All Montenegro is but a moderate county.
  24. F. and W., p. 58.
  25. "Travels" of Miss Mackenzie and Miss Irby, p. 628 (ed. 1867), Also see Goptchevitch, p. 21.
  26. F. and W., p. 30. O., p. 23.
  27. G., p. 22.
  28. G., p. 39.
  29. F. and W., p. 62.
  30. F. and W., pp. 65-70. G., p. 35.
  31. Mackenzie and Irby, p. 610.
  32. F. and W, p. 72.
  33. It is fair to say that there is, as far as I know, no English account of the affair.
  34. F. and W., p. 73.
  35. G, p. 40.
  36. Pp. 188-93.
  37. G., p. 81.
  38. F. and W., p. 153.
  39. G., pp. 76-7.
  40. F. and W., p. 150.
  41. G., p. 79.
  42. Ibid., p. 78. F. and W., p., 159.
  43. In the arms of Montenegro appears a "sovran eagle" crowned.
  44. F. and W. f p. 500.
  45. Wordsworth, "Ode on Recoll, of Childhood."
  46. G., p. 76.
  47. Isaiah ix. 15.