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  • Jeremiah












Return to Servia.—The Danube.—Semlin.—Wucics and Petronievitch.—Cathedral Solemnity.—Subscription Ball.

After an absence of six months in England, I returned to the Danube. Vienna and Pesth offered no attractions in the month of August, and I felt impatient to put in execution my long cherished project of traveling through the most romantic woodlands of Servia. Suppose me then at the first streak of dawn, in the beginning of August, 1844, hurrying after the large wheelbarrow which carries the luggage of the temporary guests of the Queen of England at Pesth to the steamer lying just below the long bridge of boats that connects the quiet sombre bureaucratic Ofen with the noisy, bustling, movement-loving new city, which has sprung up as it were by enchantment on the opposite side of the water. I step on board—the signal is given for starting — the lofty and crimson-peaked Bloxberg — the vine-clad hill that produces the fiery Ofener wine, and the long and graceful quay, form, as it were, a fine peristrephic panorama, as the vessel wheels round, and, prow downwards, commences her voyage for the vast and curious East, while the Danubian tourist bids a dizzy farewell to this last snug little centre of European civilization. We hurry downwards towards the frontiers of Turkey, but nature smiles not,—We have on our left the dreary steppe of central Hungary, and on our right the low distant hills of Baranya. Alas! this is not the Danube of Passau, and Lintz, and Mölk, and Theben. But now the Drave pours her broad waters into the great artery. The right shore soon becomes somewhat bolder, and agreeably wooded hills enliven the prospect. This little mountain chain is the celebrated Frusca Gora, the stronghold of the Servian language, literature, and nationality on the Austrian side of the Save.

A few days after my arrival, Wucics [1] and Petronievitch,[2] the two pillars of the party of Kara Georgevitch, the reigning prince, [3] and the opponents of the ousted Obrenovitch family, returned from banishment in consequence of communications that had passed between the British and Russian governments. Great preparations were made to receive the popular favourites.

One morning I was attracted to the window, and saw an immense flock of sheep slowly paraded along, their heads being decorated with ribbons, followed by oxen, with large citrons stuck on the tips of their horns.

One vender of shawls and carpets had covered all the front of his shop with his gaudy wares, in order to do honour to the patriots, and at the same time to attract the attention of purchasers.

The tolling of the cathedral bell announced the approach of the procession, which was preceded by a long train of rustic cavaliers, noble, vigorous-looking men. Standing at the balcony, we missed the sight of the heroes of the day, who had gone round by other streets. We, therefore, went to the cathedral, where all the principal persons in Servia were assembled. One old man, with grey, filmy, lack-lustre eyes, pendant jaws, and white beard, was pointed out to me as a centenarian witness of this national manifestation.

The grand screen, which in the Greek churches veils the sanctuary from the vulgar gaze, was hung with rich silks, and on a raised platform, covered with carpets, stood the archbishop, a dignified high-priest-looking figure, with crosier in hand, surrounded by his deacons in superbly embroidered robes. The huzzas of the populace grew louder as the procession approached the cathedral, a loud and prolonged buzz of excited attention accompanied the opening of the grand central portal, and Wucics and Petronievitch, grey with the dust with which the immense cavalcade had besprinkled them, came forward, kissed the cross and gospels, which the archbishop presented to them, and, kneeling down, returned thanks for their safe restoration. On regaining their legs, the archbishop advanced to the edge of the platform, and began a discourse describing the grief the nation had experienced at their departure, the universal joy for their return, and the hope that they would ever keep peace and union in view in all matters of state, and that in their duties to the state they must never forget their responsibility to the Most High.

Wucics, dressed in the coarse frieze jacket and boots of a Servian peasant, heard with a reverential inclination of the head the elegantly polished discourse of the gold-bedizened prelate, but nought relaxed one single muscle of that adamantine visage; the finer but more luminous features of Petronievitch were evidently under the control of a less powerful will. At certain passages of the discourse, his intelligent eye was moistened with tears. Two deacons then prayed successively for the Sultan, the Emperor of Russia, and the prince.

And now uprose from every tongue, and every heart, a hymn for the longevity of Wucics and Petronievitch. "The solemn song for many days" is the expressive title of this sublime chant. This hymn is so old that its origin is lost in the obscure dawn of Christianity in the East, and so massive, so nobly simple, as to be beyond the ravages of time, and the caprices of convention.

The procession then returned, the band playing the Wucics march, to the houses of the two heroes of the day.

We dined; and just as dessert appeared the whiz of a rocket announced the commencement of fire-works. As most of us had seen the splendid bouquet of rockets, which, during the fêtes of July, amuse the Parisians, we entertained slender expectations of being pleased with an illumination at Belgrade. On going out, however, the scene proved highly interesting. In the grand square were two columns à la Vicentina, covered with lamps. One side of the square was illuminated with the word Wucics, and the other with the word Avram in colossal letters. At a later period of the evening the downs were covered with fires roasting innumerable sheep and oxen, a custom which seems in all countries to accompany popular rejoicing.

I had never seen a Servian full-dress ball, but the arrival of Wucics and Petronievitch procured me the opportunity of witnessing an entertainment of this description. The principal apartment in the new Konak, built by prince Michael, was the ball-room, which, by eight o'clock, was filled, as the phrase goes, by all "the rank and fashion" of Belgrade. Senators of the old school, in their benishes and shalwars, and senators of the new school in pantaloons and stiff cravats. As Servia has become, morally speaking, Europe's youngest daughter, this is all very well: but I must ever think that in the article of dress this innovation is not an improvement. I hope that the ladies of Servia will never reject their graceful national costume for the shifting modes and compressed waists of European capitals.

No head-dress, that I have seen in the Levant, is better calculated to set off beauty than that of the ladies of Servia. From a small Greek fez they suspend a gold tassel, which contrasts with the black and glossy hair, which is laid smooth and flat down the temple. Even now, while I write, memory piques me with the graceful toss of the head, and the rustle of the yellow satin gown of the sister of the princess, who was admitted to be the handsomest woman in the room, and with her tunic of crimson velvet embroidered in gold, and faced with sable, would have been, in her strictly indigenous costume, the queen of any fancy ball in old Europe.

Wucics and Petronievitch were of course received with shouts and clapping of hands, and took the seats prepared for them at the upper end of the hall. The Servian national dance was then performed, being a species of cotillion in alternate quick and slow movements.

I need not repeat the other events of the evening; how forms and features were passed in review; how the jewelled, smooth-skinned, doll-like beauties usurped the admiration of the minute, and how the indefinably sympathetic air of less pretentious belles prolonged their magnetic sway to the close of the night.

[1] 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: 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.

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