Page:Littell's Living Age - Volume 133.djvu/73

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From The Contemporary Review.



Now that the Turks have vindicated their right to "do what they like with their own," and declare the present state of the Ottoman empire to be quite satisfactory (in which opinion a certain part of English society seems to agree), it is interesting to turn to the record of a time when there seemed considerable danger that the greater part of Europe might have been subjected to the blessings of their rule, and to recall the terror and dismay with which their advance was regarded, and the desperate efforts made to avert what was then considered as the greatest misfortune that could happen to civilization and Christianity.

A small volume of letters from the hero John Sobieski to his wife, detailing his progress day by day to the relief of Vienna and in the battles following it, the success of which at that moment was almost tantamount to the salvation of Christendom, were translated from the Polish into French by Count Plater, and published in 1826. It is a scarce book and extremely interesting, showing as it does the noble, disinterested, simple character of the man, and the fearful imminence of the danger which would have reduced Austria, and indeed the whole centre of Europe, to the condition of Bulgaria, Bosnia, etc. It requires, however, to be supplemented and interpreted by contemporary accounts, gathered from Salvandy's and Von Hammer's histories of Poland and the Ottoman empire.

From the time of the taking of Constantinople in 1453, the Turks had been a standing menace to Europe. Mahomet II., Bajazet II., Selim I. and II., and Solyman the Magnificent, had all advanced at different times, and on different lines of attack. The fall of Rhodes, of Cyprus, of the islands of Greece belonging to Venice, and the strong places in the Peloponnesus, left them free to advance on the conquest of Dalmatia, thus threatening Italy, and on Moldavia, Bessarabia, Servia, Bosnia, Hungary. It was now their object to secure both banks of the Danube. "Les derniers venus d'entre les barbares, les Turcs étaient aussi les plus redonbtables" says Salvandy; "ils n'apportaient pas simplement la conquête, ils apportaient le brigandage, le rapt, l'apostasie, la mort." Their hordes had passed with fire and sword over Epirus and Greece to Transylvania on one side, and the provinces of the Adriatic on the other. Solyman had, it is true, been beaten back from the walls of Vienna with great loss in 1529, after having taken Belgrade; but the check was only for a time.

The fall of Cyprus in the wars of Selim II., who treated the defenders with great barbarity, was succeeded by an attack on Corfu; and although the united fleets of Spain and Venice obtained a great victory at Lepanto, yet Don John of Austria, who commanded, retired immediately. It was "a glorious victory," but produced little advantage, for the Turks dictated the hardest possible conditions to the Venetians, and the battle is generally remembered, as that in which Cervantes lost his arm as much as for any political consequences.

The advance of the Turks continued — four times in eleven years, between 1672 and 1683, irruptions of immense hordes of barbarians threatened the centre of Europe, and in each case they were repelled chiefly, if not entirely, by the genius for war of Sobieski, and the influence which his noble character obtained.

Peace with the Porte was never of any duration; it was only when weakened by dissensions among its disorderly heterogeneous subjects, revolts of the Janissaries, wars with Persia, or the accidental weakness of a sultan, that its onward course was stayed.

The fall of Crete in 1669, after a siege which lasted more or less for twenty-four years, and during which two hundred thousand men were said to have fallen on the two sides, was a cruel blow to Christendom, and the pope, Clement IX., was said to have died of grief at the news.

Flushed by success, Mahomet IV. and his grand vizier Achmet Kiuprili, who was of Greek origin, now entertained the most magnificent projects of conquest. The empire touched the Caspian Sea, the Adri-