SERVIA,YOUNGEST MEMBER OF THE EUROPEAN FAMILY (1845), VIII/XXXV
YOUNGEST MEMBER OF THE EUROPEAN FAMILY:
RESIDENCE IN BELGRADE,
TRAVELS IN THE HIGHLANDS AND WOODLANDS OF THE INTERIOR,
DURING THE YEARS 1843 AND 1844.
ANDREW ARCHIBALD PATON, ESQ.
Holman, the Blind Traveller.—Milutinovich, the Poet.—Bulgarian Legend.—Tableau de genre.—Departure for the Interior.
Belgrade, unlike other towns on the Danube, is much less visited by Europeans, since the introduction of steam navigation, than it was previously. Servia used to be the porte cochère of the East; and most travellers, both before and since the lively Lady Mary Wortley Montague, took the high road to Constantinople by Belgrade, Sofia, Philippopoli, and Adrianople. No mere tourist would now-a-days think of undertaking the fatiguing ride across European Turkey, when he can whizz past Widdin and Roustchouk, and even cut off the grand tongue at the mouth of the Danube, by going in an omnibus from Czernovoda to Kustendgi; consequently the arrival of an English traveller from the interior, is a somewhat rare occurrence.
One day I was going out at the gateway, and saw a strange figure, with a long white beard and a Spanish cap, mounted on a sorry horse, and at once recognized it to be that of Holman, the blind traveller.
"How do you do, Mr. Holman?" said I.
"I know that voice well."
"I last saw you in Aleppo," said I; and he at once named me.
I then got him off his horse, and into quarters.
This singular individual had just come through the most dangerous parts of Bosnia in perfect safety; a feat which a blind man can perform more easily than one who enjoys the most perfect vision; for all compassionate and assist a fellow-creature in this deplorable plight.
Next day I took Mr. Holman through the town, and described to him the lions of Belgrade; and taking a walk on the esplanade, I turned his face to the cardinal points of the compass, successively explaining the objects lying in each direction, and, after answering a few of his cross questions, the blind traveller seemed to know as much of Belgrade as was possible for a person in his condition.
He related to me, that since our meeting at Aleppo, he had visited Damascus and other eastern cities; and at length, after sundry adventures, had arrived on the Adriatic, and visited the Vladika of Montenegro, who had given him a good reception. He then proceeded through Herzegovina and Bosnia to Seraievo, where he passed three days, and he informed me that from Seraievo to the frontiers of Servia was nearly all forest, with here and there the skeletons of robbers hung up in chains.
Mr. Holman subsequently went, as I understood, to Wallachia and Transylvania.
Having delayed my departure for the interior, in order to witness the national festivities, nothing remained but the purgatory of preparation, the squabbling about the hire of horses, the purchase of odds and ends for convenience on the road, for no such thing as a canteen is to be had at Belgrade. Some persons recommended my hiring a Turkish Araba; but as this is practicable only on the regularly constructed roads, I should have lost the sight of the most picturesque regions, or been compelled to take my chance of getting horses, and leaving my baggage behind. To avoid this inconvenience, I resolved to perform the whole journey on horseback.
The government showed me every attention, and orders were sent by the minister of the interior to all governors, vice-governors, and employés, enjoining them to furnish me with every assistance, and communicate whatever information I might desire; to which, as the reader will see in the sequel, the fullest effect was given by those individuals.
On the day of departure, a tap was heard at the door, and enter Holman to bid me good-bye. Another tap at the door, and enter Milutinovich, who is the best of the living poets of Servia, and has been sometimes called the Ossian of the Balkan. As for his other pseudonyme, "the Homer of a hundred sieges," that must have been invented by Mr. George Robins, the Demosthenes of "one hundred rostra." The reading public in Servia is not yet large enough to enable a man of letters to live solely by his works; so our bard has a situation in the ministry of public instruction. One of the most remarkable compositions of Milutinovich is an address to a young surgeon, who, to relieve the poet from difficulties, expended in the printing of his poems a sum which he had destined for his own support at a university, in order to obtain his degree.
Now, it may not be generally known that one of the oldest legends of Bulgaria is that of "Poor Lasar," which runs somewhat thus:—
"The day departed, and the stranger came, as the moon rose on the silver snow. 'Welcome,' said the poor Lasar to the stranger; 'Luibitza, light the faggot, and prepare the supper.'
"Luibitza answered: 'The forest is wide, and the lighted faggot burns bright, but where is the supper? Have we not fasted since yesterday?'
"Shame and confusion smote the heart of poor Lasar.
"'Art thou a Bulgarian,' said the stranger, 'and settest not food before thy guest?'
"Poor Lasar looked in the cupboard, and looked in the garret, nor crumb, nor onion, were found in either. Shame and confusion smote the heart of poor Lasar.
"'Here is fat and fair flesh,' said the stranger, pointing to Janko, the curly-haired boy. Luibitza shrieked and fell. 'Never,' said Lasar, 'shall it be said that a Bulgarian was wanting to his guest,' He seized a hatchet, and Janko was slaughtered as a lamb. Ah, who can describe the supper of the stranger!
"Lasar fell into a deep sleep, and at midnight he heard the stranger cry aloud, 'Arise, Lasar, for I am the Lord thy God; the hospitality of Bulgaria is untarnished. Thy son Janko is restored to life, and thy stores are filled.'
"Long lived the rich Lasar, the fair Luibitza, and the curly-haired Janko."
Milutinovich, in his address to the youthful surgeon, compares his transcendent generosity to the sacrifice made by Lasar in the wild and distasteful legend I have here given.
I introduced the poet and the traveller to each other, and explained their respective merits and peculiarities. Poor old Milutinovich, who looked on his own journey to Montenegro as a memorable feat, was awe-struck when I mentioned the innumerable countries in the four quarters of the world which had been visited by the blind traveller. He immediately recollected of having read an account of him in the Augsburg Gazette, and with a reverential simplicity begged me to convey to him his desire to kiss, his beard. Holman consented with a smile, and Milutinovich, advancing as if he were about to worship a deity, lifted the peak of white hairs from the beard of the aged stranger, pressed them to his lips, and prayed aloud that he might return to his home in safety.
In old Europe, Milutinovich would have been called an actor; but his deportment, if it had the originality, had also the childish simplicity of nature.
When the hour of departure arrived, I descended to the court yard, which would have furnished good materials for a tableau de genre, a lofty, well built, German-looking house, rising on three sides, surrounded a most rudely paved court, which was inclosed on the fourth by a stable and hay-loft, not one-third the height of the rest. Various mustachioed far niente looking figures, wrapped cap-à-pie in dressing gowns, lolled out of the first floor corridor, and smoked their chibouques with unusual activity, while the ground floor was occupied by German washer-women and their soap-suds; three of the arcades being festooned with shirts and drawers hung up to dry, and stockings, with apertures at the toes and heels for the free circulation of the air. Loud exclamations, and the sound of the click of balls, proceeded from the large archway, on which a cafe opened. In the midst of the yard stood our horses, which, with their heavily padded and high cantelled Turkish saddles, somewhat à la Wouvermans, were held by Fonblanque's robust Pandour in his crimson jacket and white fustanella. My man Paul gave a smack of the whip, and off we cantered for the highlands and woodlands of Servia.