Warington W. Smyth, M.A.
There can be few temperaments in which the approach to the confines of Christendom does not awake an exciting sensation of interest. The novelty of the scenes on which we gaze, the picturesqueness of the figures which cross our path, the traditions and histories of the lands upon which we enter, and the political questions affecting the present and the future of their strangely mingled populations, combine to invest the East with a romance unknown in Western Europe. Hungary, and its provinces, Slavonia and Transylvania, with their strongly contrasted peoples, their Babel of tongues, and their mixture of civilization and wildness, form an admirable stepping-stone to aid the traveller in crossing from our countries of balance and routine to those of irregularity and adventure.
During a twelvemonth passed in these regions north of the Danube, I had learnt to prize many a good trait in the character of the Madjiar and of his rivals, the German settler and the Slavonian - whether much abused Croat or more peaceful Servian. A long excursion, chiefly on foot, along the military frontier, had, like misfortune, brought me acquainted with strange bed-fellows, in the shape of Wallack villagers in their poverty-stricken huts, and border soldiers in their lone guard-houses; whilst the hospitality of successful gold miners around Zalathna, of country gentlemen in the Bannat, and of Servian monks in Slavonia, opened up to me many phases of life curious in themselves and characteristic of a state of transition.
But the nearer the frontier of Turkey the more stirring became the pictures of national character, and the tales of doings in the interior; and at length, in spite of kindly invitations, and the attractive geological features which had formed a prominent object of examination on my journeys, I rejoiced on bidding adieu to Orsova, the last town in the south-eastern corner of Hungary.
A great majority of the population of European Turkey is composed of nations either identical with or closely allied to some of those above mentioned; and it is no less interesting than politically important to compare their condition in Hungary with that in the dominions of their Ottoman rulers. The bull: of the people who inhabit Bulgaria,* Servia, Montenegro, Bosnia, and Hertzegovina, are Slavonians speaking a kindred language with that of the Servians or "Ratzen" of Southern Hungary, and for the most part, of the same religious creed; whilst the Wallacks of Transylvania and the Bannat are but a branch of the nation which occupies Wallachia and Moldavia, and possesses more vigorous representatives in Mount Pindus and tile S. W. of European Turkey.
* The Bulgarians, although originally of a distinct stock, are so fused with their neighbors, that they may now be regarded as wholly Slavonized),
But a cursory glance is not sufficient to unravel the chaos of nationalities, and religions, and customs formed by the juxtaposition of all these, with the Albanians who inhabit certain districts, and with the Turks, Greeks, and Jews, who are sprinkled more or less plentifully throughout this part of the empire. The social condition of the country interposes great difficulties in the collection of information, and very few Western Europeans have been sufficiently in contact with several of these conflicting parties to give satisfactory evidence on the data for the general questions now so frequently broached in regard to the future fate of this fine land. The travels of men who ride in haste and state, with Tahtars and interpreters, give them but little more insight into the real working and thinking life of the natives, than would a journey by coach or railroad to a foreigner in our own island. The views of Europeans long resident in the country are for the most part so tinged with some particular prejudice, that ideas obtained through their information are apt to be extremely partial to one party or the other, as seen through some discolored medium; and still more is this the case where reliance is placed on servants or dragomen, who seek at the expense of others to elevate their own national cause. By none can results be more fairly obtained, and comparisons more evenly weighed, than by those who in a plain and simple manner make their way from place to place, brought to the level of the people they wish to study by some acquaintance with their language, and by the absence of that barrier which is generally interposed between the natives and those who travel with the signs of greater wealth and with introductions to chiefs and governors.
The circumstances under which I journeyed from end to end of Turkey, enabled me to see many of the relations of the country in so unbiased a light that I deem it almost a duty to contribute my mite towards the clearing up of those questions which at present agitate the whole civilized world. Centuries of warfare and religious hatred, and the studied misrepresentations of enemies, have so covered with odium the name of the Osmanli, that the testimony of one who, although but partially prepared for the task, has roved among them alone and unrecommended, cannot but tend to develop an appreciation of their true character.
It may be premised, that the first portion of my journey, made from the Hungarian frontier to Constantinople, has been so often described that there would be no excuse for repeating it, were it not that any additional details respecting Wallachia and the Lower Danube must present some objects of interest at a time when the eyes of all Europe are turned in that direction. It was only after the lapse of about a year occupied in Egypt, Syria, and Asia Minor, that I returned through European Turkey, better prepared, and favored too by accident, to become acquainted with the domestic life and the social relations of the Turk.
I purpose, then, to omit altogether the beaten route through Egypt and Syria; and after taking a preliminary view of the first visit to Constantinople by way of the Danube, to give some account of a journey through a part of Mesopotamia and Asia Minor. It will afterwards be more feasible, in describing a traverse through the almost undescribed tracts of Northern Macedonia and Moesia, to place before the reader some of those points which are indispensable in forming a true judgment upon the Eastern question.