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Journey through Russia to the Caucasian Isthmus.
himself, and which he meant to descend to future generations, an inscription in which no trace of Christianity can be found :
LOCUM SEPULTURÆ ELEGI
The “Deo erexit Voltaire" had certainly, with all its false boast, and Pharisaical righteousness, at least the merit of the mightiest name. The curse of the intercessory character given to man hangs around Rome to the last, whether in life or even deathnay, even beyond death. We
this in sorrow rather than in anger; we deeply regret the fatal sin that seems, almost like a judicial infatuation, to hang around Rome, and which alone will prevent any union, until she purify herself of her pollution and her plagues. Who obstructs Catholic union? Ecclesia Romana. Quantum mutata ab antiqua luce, ab primitiva veritate!
ART. IV.-Reise durch Russland nach dem Kaukasischen Isth
mus. (Journey through Russia to the Caucasian Isthmus.)
Von Karl Koch. 2 vols. Stuttgart and Tübingen. 1843. The Caucasian Isthmus, as it has, of late years, in Germany, become fashionable to designate the countries situated between the Caspian and the Black Sea, though not now so much a terra incognita and land of fable as it was to the ancients, may still be looked on as a very imperfectly explored region; and the work of a German professor of great erudition, who, after spending two years in exploring the country, and four more in preparing two goodly volumes for the press, comes forward to entertain us with
the result of his observations and researches, can scarcely fail to be received with a strong feeling of interest and curiosity. Many circumstances contribute to heighten this feeling. Sacred and profane history point alike to the Caucasus, and the adjoining plains, as the theatre of events of the highest interest to mankind at large; while poetry has chosen the same regions as the scene of many of those fables of classic antiquity, amid whose lovely mists the early history of civilization so gracefully veils herself from our view. These fables were naturally placed in regions
respecting which the inventive chroniclers of infant Greece felt least apprehensive of being tutored by their auditors; and few countries, in this respect, were better suited to the poet than those which stretched away from the eastern coast of the Black Sea. Their existence was, indeed, known, and their ports, no doubt, were occasionally visited by the adventurous trader; but a fatal climate, added to the ferocity of the mountain tribes, sufficed to deter strangers from venturing into the interior, and the chronicler might give the reins to his imagination, without any danger of being rebuked for the extravagance of his statements.
Of the geography of this part of Asia the ancients had the most confused ideas. This
be seen from the strange routes by which the Argonauts are stated to have returned from Colchis to Greece. The Caspian Sea, though described with tolerable accuracy by Herodotus, was by the later geographers of Greece and Rome believed to be a part of the great northern ocean,—an error which remained uncorrected till the days of Ptolemy; nay, even in modern times, so little was known respecting this portion of the Old World, that, until a survey of the mighty lake had been made by order of Peter the Great, the Caspian was supposed to extend in length from East to West, in which manner it will be found laid down in all maps of an antecedent date. It was only when the countries around the Caucasus acquired a political importance in the eyes of the Russian government, that Europe began to obtain authentic information respecting them.
Within the last ten years the Caucasus has been invested, for the world at large, with a new interest. We have seen a nation of mountaineers, who, though at various periods of their history they had yielded a kind of feudal homage to the several empires that had successively risen, flourished, and declined around them, yet had never owned a foreign sovereign, nor had ever been ruled by any code but the oral decisions of their assembled elders, promulgated to meet a passing emergency. This nation, and the land which they inhabit, we have seen handed over, by a sovereign who never exercised power over them, to a sovereign who, with immense resources of every kind at his command, has not yet been able to subject them to his rule. He has harassed them, indeed, by frequent inroads, he has isolated them from the rest of mankind by erecting forts at the entrance to their several valleys, he has reduced their numbers by a sanguinary system of warfare, and he has visited their homes with famine by periodical forays to lay waste their harvest fields and carry off their cattle ; nevertheless, after a war of ten years, waged with the same systematic cruelty that characterizes the razzias of the French in Algiers, we still behold the Circassians as resolute in their resistance as on the first day when they were surprised by the intelligence, that a sultan, who had never been their master, had given them away to an emperor whom they were resolved never to obey.
In a struggle of this nature the synpathy of mankind can be engaged only on one side. When we see a dwarf doing battle against a colossal antagonist, however little doubt we may entertain respecting the issue of the contest, our wishes and feelings can scarcely fail to be with the weaker of the two combatants. It would be so even were the justice of the cause doubtful; how much more, when the avowed object of the struggle is to subject to the will of the most arbitrary government in the world, a race of men who have enjoyed their wild freedom since the remotest period reached by the annals of history. It will not do to tell us that the Circassians are mere semi-barbarians, whose darling occupation is robbery and plunder, and who seem to be radically deficient in most of the requisites necessary to form a civilized and flourishing community," nor, that “ their subjugation, by a civilized government, will be a material service to the cause of humanity;"* every man of generous feeling turns with indignant disgust from a decision as false as it is ungenerous, and despises equally the liberal (!) effusion, and the slip-slop style in which it is penned. A high degree of civilization, we are aware, has not yet shed its softening influence over the mountaineers of the Caucasus; and their notions of meum and tuum, with respect to the cattle grazing on the lowlands beyond the Kuban and Terek, are not more refined than were those of many of our own Highland chiefs a century and a half ago ; but we should as soon, on that account, have thought of devoting our own brave Celts to extermination or colonial slavery, by way of correcting their morals, as we should wish to see the Caucasus “tranquillized" by the deadly influence of Russian discipline. Nay, it may even be doubted whether the people of the plains, if left to themselves, would not find an occasional foray from the hills a less evil than that security which Russia boasts she has given to the tribes that consent to live in vassalage under her sceptre. Even in the work before us, written throughout in the most friendly spirit possible to Russia, abundant proofs may be found that the military civilization, brought by Cossack lances into the Caucasian Isthmus, is any thing but an unqualified blessing.
Dr. Charles Koch, Professor of Natural History at the University of Jena, seems to have long entertained an ardent desire to visit the Caucasus, with a view to botanical and geological investigations, and, in 1836, circumstances permitted him to carry his contemplated expedition into execution. He left Jena in May, and passing through St. Petersburg, Moscow, and the country of the Cossacks of the Don, he reached Stavropol, the capital of Ciscaucasia, on the 22nd of August. He visited the principal towns occupied by the Russians, along the Kuban and Terek, crossed the Caucasus by the Pass of Dariel, where the road, it seems, has been so much improved by the Russians, that, at the cost of a few accidents to wheels and axletrees, a light carriage may travel along it, and arrive in perfect safety at Tiflis, though not without being frequently tormented on the road by the fear of being picked up and carried away into the mountains by some roving party of hostile Circassians, of whom our author appears frequently to have heard very terrible tales, that effectually deterred him from seeking their nearer acquaintance.
* Vide M'Culloch's Geographical Dictionary, vol. i. p. 612 and 614,—a work which, though it contains many well written ar es, is, upon the who
a very unequal compilation, and far from deserving the popularity for which it stands in. debted to an over-friendly press.
Tiflis became the professor's head-quarters, whence he made excursions in all directions as far as Russian protection appeared likely to afford him security. He visited Imeria, Mingrelia, Grusia, and Armenia ; saw something of the Russian forts along the Black Sea ; crossed the Turkish frontier to examine the ruins of Ani, once the capital of a mighty empire, but now presenting nothing to interest the traveller, but the recollection of its former greatness ; and he even ventured occasionally into parts of the highlands, occupied by tribes that, for the time at least, were not at open hostility with the Russians. Of the Circassians he saw little or nothing; and his account of them is taken chiefly from the works of Bell and Longworth, with such corrections as he was able to collect from the Russian officers, and occasionally from friendly chiefs. One winter our professor spent entirely at Tiflis. The following summer he was thrown on a sick bed by a coup de soleil, which confined him again at Tiflis during nearly the whole of the autumn of 1837. In December of that
year he started on his return to Germany, where, early in March, 1838, he was able once more to resume his professional duties at Jena. The journey itself occupied the author less time, however, than did the preparation of his narrative; the second and last volume of which was not published till the present year (1843), or nearly five years after his return. Since then he has, we believe, started again for the Caucasus, where, no doubt, he is at the present moment prosecuting his botanical inquiries, which, in due time, we presume, will furnish him with materials for volumes as bulky and as valuable as those which we propose to ourselves to render some account of in the present article.
Of Professor Koch's remarks respecting St. Petersburg and Moscow, our readers will scarcely desire to be informed. He had it in contemplation to revisit the Caucasus, and could not, therefore, be expected to speak of the Russian capitals, otherwise than in terms of unqualified eulogy. At Tiflis or Stavropol, or at the court of a Mingrelian prince, a traveller may indeed presume to censure, so he do it gently; and he may even deplore the abuses that are but too apt to slip into the administration of such distant provinces, so he soften the asperity of his remarks on a subordinate officer, by lamenting that the excellent intentions of a paternal government should not always be carried out ; but on the Neva or the Moskwa his admiration of all he sees must be unbounded, unless he have renounced all idea of ever visiting those happy regions again. All despots, be they the autocrat of
all the Russias, or the sovereign people of the United States, must have their adulation administered in unsparing doses; and he who alloys his flattery with reservations and conditions, will win as little favour on such occasions, as if he had startled the ears of power by the unwonted language of truth. Passing over, therefore, the first eighty pages of the professor's book, we will start with him from Voronesh, on his journey to the country of the Cossacks of the Don. Here, for the first time, we find him abandoned to his own guidance, for till then he had been accompanied by a good-natured young officer, whose acquaintance he had made in the diligence, and who seems to have been untiring in his endeavours to contribute to the comfort and accommodation of the stranger. This kind solicitude on the part of Russians to show all imaginable courtesy to strangers, has so frequently excited the admiration of travellers, that we may in fairness esteem it to be a national characteristic ; time alone can show whether so amiable a feeling will not be weakened or modified in proportion as civilization extends itself more generally among all classes of the people.
Immediately on leaving Voronesh, we find Professor Koch affording us evidence of two features in his character that are not at all calculated to heighten our esteem for him. These are a quickness to apprehend danger, and an over-solicitude for his personal convenience. His postilion, willing to make a little more profit than he was entitled to, seems to have driven the professor to the door of some unlicensed farmer, instead of the regularly authorized postmaster; whereupon Mr. Koch immediately fancied himself to have been betrayed into the hands of assassins and banditti, and was evidently in a terrible fright. We pass his adventure with a feldjäger, in whose “ agreeable company” our professor arrived at Novo-Tsherkask, the capital of the Don Cossacks, where he made but a short stay; but as