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  • Jeremiah












Journey to Shabatz.—Resemblance of Manners to those of the Middle Ages.—Palesh.—A Servian Bride.—Blind Minstrel.—Gypsies.—Macadamized Road.

The immediate object of my first journey was Shabatz; the second town in Servia, which is situated further up the Save than Belgrade, and is thus close upon the frontier of Bosnia. We consequently had the river on our right hand all the way. After five hours' travelling, the mountains, which hung back as long as we were in the vicinity of Belgrade, now approached, and draped in forest green, looked down on the winding Save and the pinguid flats of the Slavonian frontier. Just before the sun set, we wound by a circuitous road to an eminence which, projected promontory-like into the river's course. Three rude crosses were planted on a steep, not unworthy the columnar harmony of Grecian marble.

When it was quite dark, we arrived at the Colubara, and passed the ferry which, during the long Servian revolution, was always considered a post of importance, as commanding a communication between Shabatz and the capital. An old man accompanied us, who was returning to his native place on the frontiers of Bosnia, having gone to welcome Wucics [1] and Petronievitch. [2] He amused me by asking me "if the king of my country lived in a strong castle?" I answered, "No, we have a queen, whose strength is in the love of all her subjects." Indeed, it is impossible to travel in the interior of Turkey without having the mind perpetually carried back to the middle ages by a thousand quaint remarks and circumstances, inseparable from the moral and political constitution of a half civilized and quasi-federal empire. For, in nearly all the mountainous parts of Turkey, the power of the government is almost nominal, and even up to a very recent period the position of the Déré Beys savoured strongly of feudalism.

We arrived at Palesh, the khan of which looked like a new coffee-shop in a Turkish bazaar, and I thought that we should have a sorry night's quarters; but mine host, leading the way with a candle up a ladder, and though a trap-door, put us into a clean newly-carpeted room, and in an hour the boy entered with Turkish wash-hand apparatus; and after ablution the khan keeper produced supper, consisting of soup, which contained so much lemon juice, that, without a wry face, I could scarcely eat it—boiled lamb, from which the soup had been made, and then a stew of the same with Tomata sauce. A bed was then spread out on the floor à la turque, which was rather hard; but as the sheets were snowy white, I reckoned myself very lucky.

I must say that there is a degree of cleanliness within doors, which I had been led to consider as somewhat foreign to the habits of Slavic populations. The lady of the Austrian consul-general in Belgrade told me that she was struck with the propriety of the dwellings of the poor, as contrasted with those in Galicia, where she had resided for many years; and every traveller in Germany is struck with the difference which exists between the villages of Bohemia and those in Saxony, and other adjacent German provinces.

From Palesh we started with fine weather for Skela, through a beautifully wooded park, some fields being here and there inclosed with wattling. Skela is a new ferry on the Save, to facilitate the communication with Austria.

Near here are redoubts, where Kara Georg, [3] the father of the reigning prince, held out during the disasters of 1813, until all the women and children were transferred in safety to the Austrian territory. Here we met a very pretty girl, who, in answer to the salute of my fellow-travellers, bent herself almost to the earth. On asking the reason, I was told that she was a bride, whom custom compels, for a stated period, to make this humble reverence.

We then came to the Skela, and seeing a large house within an enclosure, I asked what it was, and was told that it was the reconciliation-house, (primiritelnj sud,) a court of first instance, in which cases are decided by the village elders, without expense to the litigants, and beyond which suits are seldom carried to the higher courts. There is throughout all the interior of Servia a stout opposition to the nascent lawyer class in Belgrade. I have been more than once amused on hearing an advocate, greedy of practice, style this laudable economy and patriarchal simplicity—"Avarice and aversion from civilization." As it began to rain we entered a tavern, and ordered a fowl to be roasted, as the soup and stews of yester-even were not to my taste. A booby, with idiocy marked on his countenance, was lounging about the door, and when our mid-day meal was done I ordered the man to give him a glass of slivovitsa, as plum brandy is called. He then came forward, trembling, as if about to receive sentence of death, and taking off his greasy fez, said, "I drink to our prince Kara Georgovich, [4] and to the progress and enlightenment of the nation." I looked with astonishment at the torn, wretched habiliments of this idiot swineherd. He was too stupid to entertain these sentiments himself; but this trifling circumstance was the feather which indicated how the wind blew. The Servians are by no means a nation of talkers; they are a serious people; and if the determination to rise were not in the minds of the people, it would not be on the lips of the baboon-visaged oaf of an insignificant hamlet.

The rain now began to pour in torrents, so to make the most of it, we ordered another magnum of strong red wine, and procured from the neighbourhood a blind fiddler, who had acquired a local reputation. His instrument, the favourite one of Servia, is styled a goosely, [5] being a testudo-formed viol; no doubt a relic of the antique, for the Servian monarchy derived all its arts from the Greeks of the Lower Empire. But the musical entertainment, in spite of the magnum of wine, and the jovial challenges of our fellow traveller from the Drina, threw me into a species of melancholy. The voice of the minstrel, and the tone of the instrument, were soft and melodious, but so profoundly plaintive as to be painful. The song described the struggle of Osman Bairactar with Michael, a Servian chief, and, as it was explained to me, called up successive images of a war of extermination, with its pyramids of ghastly trunkless heads, and fields of charcoal, to mark the site of some peaceful village, amid the blaze of which its inhabitants had wandered to an eternal home in the snows and trackless woods of the Balkan. When I looked out of the tavern window the dense vapours and torrents of rain did not elevate my spirits; and when I cast my eyes on the minstrel I saw a peasant, whose robust frame might have supported a large family, reduced by the privation of sight, to waste his best years in strumming on a monotonous viol for a few piastres.

I flung him a gratuity, and begged him to desist.

After musing an hour, I again ordered the horses, although it still rained, and set forth, the road being close to the river, at one part of which a fleet of decked boats were moored. I perceived hat they were all navigated by Bosniac Moslems, one of whom, smoking his pipe under cover, wore the green turban of a Shereef; they were all loaded with raw produce, intended for sale at Belgrade or Semlin.

The rain increasing, we took shelter in a wretched khan, with a mud floor, and a fire of logs blazing in the centre, the smoke escaping as it best could by the front and back doors. Gipsies and Servian peasants sat round it in a large circle; the former being at once recognizable, not only from their darker skins, but from their traits being finer than those of the Servian peasantry. The gipsies fought bravely against the Turks under Kara Georg, and are now for the most part settled, although politically separated from the rest of the community, and living under their own responsible head; but, as in other countries, they prefer horse dealing and smith's work to other trades.

As there was no chance of the storm abating, I resolved to pass the night here on discovering that there was a separate room, which our host said he occasionally unlocked, for the better order of travellers: but as there was no bed, I had recourse to my carpet and pillow, for the expense of Uebergewicht had deterred me from bringing a canteen and camp bed from England.

Next morning, on waking, the sweet chirp of a bird, gently echoed in the adjoining woods, announced that the storm had ceased, and nature resumed her wonted calm. On arising, I went to the door, and the unclouded effulgence of dawn bursting through the dripping boughs and rain-bespangled leaves, seemed to realize the golden tree of the garden of the Abbassides. The road from this point to Shabatz was one continuous avenue of stately oaks—nature's noblest order of sylvan architecture; at some places, gently rising to views of the winding Save, with sun, sky, and freshening breeze to quicken the sensations, or falling into the dell, where the stream darkly pellucid, murmured under the sombre foliage.

The road, as we approached Shabatz, proved to be macadamized in a certain fashion: a deep trench was dug on each side; stakes about a foot and a half high, interlaced with wicker-work, were stuck into the ground within the trench, and the road was then filled up with gravel.

[1] Tran. note: Toma Vučić Perišić, Serbian merchant, military and political leader. A vojvoda during the First Serbian Uprising, Vučić Perišić was the de facto second most powerful person after Knez Miloš Obrenović in Serbia in the first half of the XIX century. Toma Vučić Perišić was also a member of Ustavobranitelji (Defenders of the Constitution), with his vocal support for the Serbian constitution, after conflicts with the Obrenović dynasty, best shown in his own words: "I am afraid of no one, not the Prince nor the Council, nor the ministers, nor metropolitan, and no one should be afraid of anyone, we are all equal, what a prince is is the same as a swineherd, a swineherd the same as a councilor, councilor the same as a tailor, tailor the same as a judge, a judge the same as me, we are all equal: it should not be that only one gets warmed by the sun while the rest of us stand in the shade... I am afraid of no one, I am only afraid of the Constitution, I will say that to Prince Mihailo just as I said it to his father... let no one think that a prince can do whatever he wants in the land; he must listen to the people and do what the people will and commands."

[2] Tran. note: Avram Petronijević, secretary to Knez Miloš Obrenović, multiple times the Serbian representative (ćehaja) with the Sublime Porte, diplomat, Minister of Foreign Affairs and longest-serving Prime Minister of Serbia in a single mandate (1844-1852), as well as a prominent member of the Ustavobranitelji (Defenders of the Constitution) group, which sought to limit the powers of the Knez. Spoke German, Greek, Romanian, Italian, Turkish and French.

[3] Tran. note: Đorđe Petrović, better known for his nickname Karađorđe (Black George). Leader of the First Serbian Uprising (1804-1813) and the founder of the Karađorđević dynasty. Karađorđe first came to prominence during the Austro-Turkish war of 1788-1791 as a member of the Serbian freikorps (Serb auxiliaries from Serbia who fought with the Austrians). After the defeat of Austria, he lived in exile in Austria until 1794 when a general amnesty was announced. Until the start of the First Serbian uprising in 1804, he was a livestock merchant and after the defeat of the First Serbian Uprising, he escaped again to Austria, which handed him over to Russia instead of extraditing him to the Ottomans. In 1817 he returned to Serbia, but was promptly killed by agents of Miloš Obrenović, out of fear that the Ottomans would go back on the freedoms that they granted Serbia after the Second Serbian Uprising (1815-1817).

[4] Tran. note: Aleksandar Karađorđević, younger son of Karađorđe. Aleksandar returned to Serbia in 1839 and became an adjutant to Mihailo Obrenović, Knez of Serbia 1839-1842 and 1860-1868. Aleksandar became the Knez in 1842 after the Ustavobranitelji (defenders of the constituion) managed to depose Knez Mihailo and his reign was marked by the influence of that group, which is why the period is also called the Ustavobranitelji regime. In 1858, his abdication was secured due to conflicts in internal politics with the State Council.

[5] Tran. note: Gusle is a single-stringed musical instrument (and musical style). The instrument is always accompanied by singing; musical folklore, specifically epic poetry. The gusle player (guslar) holds the instrument vertically between his knees, with the left hand fingers on the strings. The strings are never pressed to the neck, giving a harmonic and unique sound. The art form was listed on the UNESCO Representative List of the Intangible Cultural Heritage of Humanity in 2018.

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