Billeder på siden

With the exception of the city of Rhodes itself, which is almost entirely inhabited by Turks, who would render it an abode insupportable to any other but themselves, the population of the island is composed of Greeks, descendants of those famous Rhodians, whose valour, ardent love of liberty, taste for the sciences and fine arts, skill in navigation, and activity in commerce, have been celebrated in the annals of antiquity. The long tyranny under which they have been enslaved, has checked the transports of generous souls, and extinguished the torch of genius, and the fiery ardour of glory and riches : the Greeks of Rhodes have preserved, as it were, no more than the shadow of the great energy of their ancestors, a few traces of which are scarcely to be found in their fondness for navigation and traffic, which most of them still follow with some success. They are still, like their forefathers, bold and skilful navigators, able ship-builders, industrious traders; and if the beautiful countries of Asiatic Greece were destined to change their masters, it would be at Rhodes, more than in any other quarter, that we should meet with the powerful succours of courage, of the spirit of liberty, and of intelligence.'

M. Sonnini next paid a hasty visit to Stancho, the ancient Cos, the birth-place of Hippocrates and Apelles, while the plague was in the island. The roadstead of Stancho was, a few years ago, the theatre of a most extraordinary scene, which is thus related by our author.

• A Turkish squadron, commanded by the high admiral, or captain pacha, anchored at Stancho, in the festivals of the Biram, which terminate the fast of the Ramadan. The celebration of these religious and solemn festivals had attracted to the town the greater part of the officers and crews of the squadron, and even the captain pacha himself. Twenty or twenty-five Europeans, taken in privateers belonging to Malta, and reduced to slavery, served on board of the flag-ship. Captain G***, one of the most intrepid commanders of these privateers, who had fought the Mussulmans under the flag of the order of Malta, was one of the slaves. Overwhelmed by numbers and by wounds, he had yielded, and had been thrown isto irons; the opportunity appeared favourable to him for

releasing himself from them: he hastened to communicate his plan and his boldness to his companions of misfortune, among whom were some Maltese, Corsicans, and Italians, and to inAlame them by the hope of liberty and of a rich booty. Their resolution was soon taken ; they fell on the first Turks that presented themselves; they disarmed them, and threw them all, one after the other, into the hold, the hatchways of which they secured. To cut the cables, hoist the sails, and get under way, was the business of the same moment. The other ships having no orders, and perceiving no signal, quietly beheld the departure of the flag-ship, which they might suppose bound on some temporary expedition; and it was not till the captain pacha, apprized too late, in the midst of the exercise of his piety, and himself contemplating from the shore his own ship sailing away with a leading wind, that the squadron got under way; but the pursuit was useless. The ship, conducted by skilful seamen, escaped from them, and a few days after, arrived off Malta.

• Every one there was very much surprised to see in the offing a large ship of war of Turkish construction, steering towards the entrance of the harbour. The galleys, the ancient monuments of the exploits and valour of the knights of Malta, were sent to reconnoitre; the artillery was prepared ; no precaution of defence was neglected : dispositions were made for repelling the attempts of the enemy; but enthusiasm succeeded these warlike preparatives, when it was known that the ship whose approach had occasioned alarm, was brought in by countrymen and friends, whom there was little expectation of seeing again, and that they had made themselves masters of riches which were still less to be expected.

• In fact, the value of this important prize was immense. A ship of the first rate, with her rigging, furniture, stores, provisions, ammunition, and her brass artillery, the money and jewels of the principal officers of the Ottoman navy, part of the sums which the squadron had previously levied on the annual tribute of the islands of the Archipelago, formed a very rich booty, to which it was necessary to add the price that the order of Malta paid for every Mahometan prisoner,

who, from retaliation, were all thrown into irons. The heroes who had seized on all these treasures, had no inconsiderable, number of Turks on board ; and it had entered into their speculations, not to kill any of them, if possible, in order to increase the share which they promised themselves from the prize.

• But policy deranged the great projects of fortune, and frustrated hopes which sound morality disapproves, but which custom and the sort of justice resulting from it, authorize. The court of Constantinople could not endure such a humiliation: it addressed that of Versailles, and claimed its interference. The latter required from the grand master that the ship should be restored; and officers belonging to the navy of France were ordered to take charge of her at Malta, and carry her to Constantinople, where this act of condescension, on the part of the French government, made a very favourable impression. This was not the case of Malta ; there the knights beheld with concern the departure of considerable riches, the property of which appeared incontestably acquired, and the reward of the bravery of their intrepid cruisers. By way of indemnification, the captors were allowed a sum which they considered as moderate, in comparison to the money that the sale of the prize would have procured them, and it is added, that they waited a long time before it was paid.'

At Amorgos, another island in the Grecian Archipelago, our author remarks, that the inhabitants, who were formerly friends to the sciences and fine arts, at this day are devoted to ignorance, and to superstition, its faithful companion. In the country which gave birth to Simonides, he of the Greek poets who possessed, in the highest degree, the art of moving the passions, and of causing the sweet tears of sensibility to flow, are now to be found no others than papas and caloyers, without genius, as well as without knowledge, and credulous ministers of an absurd credulity. They shew, in a small chapel, a vase, which they affirm to be a certain oracle, and which the ignorant consult, in order to know what will be the issue of a voyage, or an enterprise. The vase full of water is a sign of success; if it be almost empty, it announces ill for

down the wrinkles with which age had furrowed his face, when he spoke to me of another accident, in the recollection of which he was wholly absorbed. A few years ago his only son, who sailed with him in these same seas of the Levant, had, in a heavy gale, been crushed to death under his eyes, between the vessel and the boat. He was inconsolable at this loss, and his head was really affected by it.

We remarked, and this observation is well known to navigators who frequent those seas, that, along the coast of Caramania, the currents set to the south-west; their impulse was favourable to us, and diminished the action of the westerly wind, which did not quit us during the day. However, it had lost much of its strength: the sea had fallen, and the different aspects of the land, which our continual change of situation rendered very diversified, made our voyage an agreeable excursion. Towards the sea, we also had objects which interrupted its tiresome sameness: some vessels were sailing near ours, and in the midst of them rose, like a floating mountain, a caravel belonging to the grand signior: thus are called the ships of war of the Turkish navy; their elevation above the water is excessive: their stern is, besides, of a disproportionate height. This structure, which gives great hold to the wind even on the hull of the vessel, occasions her to be difficult to manage, and exposes her to make considerable lee-way, as well as to all the violence of a heavy sea : in an action, the enemy's shot find a greater surface to strike; the vessel is a heavy sailer, and not sure in stays; added to this, the rigging is incomplete and confounded; the artillery, entirely of brass, is composed of pieces of different calibres, which makes it tedious and difficult to serve them, and the gun-decks, being always lumbered, likewise clog a service, which the difference of the weight of metal necessarily renders confused. From such great defects in the construction and rigging of the Turkish men of war, and even the nature of the wood with which they are built, it is easy to remark the infancy or rather the barbarism of navigation.

"And the men who conduct these shapeless masses, are also the most ignorant in the world. There are few among

them who are familiarly acquainted with the use of the compass, who know how to find and mark their route on a chart, who are capable of observing the altitude of the sun above the horizon, when it passes the meridian, in order to ascertain the latitude; nor is there one who has any idea of geography. It may be remembered that, in the course of the last war between the Russians and the Turks, it was impossible to persuade the latter that the Russian fleets could reach Constantinople by another route than by the Black sea. In vain was pointed out to them on the chart the route which brought ships from the Baltic into the Archipelago; the divan, in which sat the high admiral himself, persisted in considering the thing as impracticable, and it was not till the enemy's fleet arrived in the seas of Turkey, that the possibility of this voyage began to obtain credit.

· Towards the evening, a multitude of fishes of the small species of tunny appeared all at once near the ship; they divided with extreme rapidity the surface of the waves, which they caused to bubble, and they darted sometimes out of the water by quick and tumultuous heaps; these sudden passages of fish, swimming in close columns, are, in the eyes of navigators, a certain presage of bad weather. In fact, the sky was charged with vapours, and the horizon began to be covered with clouds, which, to the north-west, were intersected by some vivid and repeated flashes of lightning. The captain, faint and trembling, told me that it was uncommon to sail in these seas, without encountering some violent storm; he added that, the year before, he had been caught in a gale of wind, which had put him in the greatest danger. In consequence, he ordered several sails to be taken in, although the weather was yet very fine, and employed some precautions which were not attended with great success.

• After having exhorted my timid skipper to courage and vigilance, I went to bed and fell into a sound sleep. At two o'clock in the morning, I was awakened by a great noise, and by cries of “ The axes, the axes! Cut! cut away!" 1 sprang on deck, and I saw that, notwithstanding his alarms and precautions, the captain had not the less suffered himself VOL. IV.


« ForrigeFortsæt »