Life of Schamyl - And Narrative of the Circassian War of Independence Against Russia
by John Milton Mackie
1  2  3  4     Next Part
Home - Random Browse

[Transcriber's note: Obvious printer's errors have been corrected, author's spelling has been retained.]













The principal authors who have recently written on Circassia are Bodenstedt, Moritz Wagner, Marlinski, Dubois de Montpreux, Hommaire de Hell, Taillander, Marigny, Golovin, Bell, Longworth, Spencer, Knight, Cameron, Ditson; and from their pages chiefly has been filled the easel with the colors of which I have endeavored to paint the following picture of a career of heroism nowise inferior to that of the most famous champions of classical antiquity, of a war of independence such as may not improperly be compared with the most glorious struggles recorded in the annals of liberty, and of a state of society perhaps the most romantic and the most nearly resembling that described in the songs of Homer which the progress of civilization has now left for the admiration of mankind.


I. The Land of Schamyl II. Its History III. The War with Russia IV. His Birthplace V. His Parents, Atalik, and Teacher VI. His Early Education VII. His Horsemanship VIII. The Circassian Games IX. His Love of Nature X. Hunting XI. Camping Out XII. In the White Mountains XIII. Songs XIV. Dances XV. Festivals XVI. His Religious Education XVII. His Marriage XVIII. Maids XIX. Wives XX. Female Slave-Trade XXI. Form of Government XXII. Religious Belief XXIII. Occupations XXIV. Manners XXV. His Predecessors.—Mahomet-Mollah XXVI. Khasi-Mollah XXVII. Hamsad Bey XXVIII. Circassian Mode of Warfare XXIX. Russian Mode of Warfare XXX. His Personal Appearance XXXI. Becomes Imam, and Continues the War XXXII. Issues Proclamations XXXIII. His Head-Quarters at Akhulgo XXXIV. The Siege of Akhulgo XXXV. The Expedition against Dargo XXXVI. His Domestic Life XXXVII. Prince Woronzoff at Dargo XXXVIII. Schamyl's Proclamation to the Kabardians XXXIX. His Invasion of the Kabardas XL. His System of Government XLI. Recent Events




Circassia—under which name the country occupied by a great number of tribes of which the Circassians are one, is best known to foreigners—lies in the Caucasus, a range of mountains which, running in the direction between north-west and south-east, extends from the shores of the Black Sea to those of the Caspian, and divides by its wall of rock the two continents of Europe and Asia.

The traveller approaching these mountains from the steppes inhabited by the Cossacks subject to Russia, beholds at a distance of thirty miles a single white conical summit towering high above the otherwise level horizon. This is the peak of Elbrus, the loftiest in the Caucasian chain, and called by the natives the Dsching Padischah, or great spirit of the mountains. Next, is seen the no less solitary top of Kasbek, situated further eastward, and its snows tinged by the first red rays of the morning. Then, the whole line of summits, "the thousand peaked," rises to view; and finally, a lower range covered with forests, and hence called the Black Mountains, draws its dark and irregular outline against the higher snows beyond.

The waters shed from the northern declivities of the Caucasus, are received by two principal rivers, the Kuban and the Terek; while those which flow down on the south side are gathered into the Rion and the Kur, or ancient Cyrus. Of these streams the Kuban is the largest, and empties itself as does the Rion, into the Black Sea; the other two running eastward to the Caspian.

The western portion more especially of the Black Mountains is heavily wooded. Gigantic oaks spread their branches above cliffs and summits, where in less favored climes only the cold pine would be able to find a scanty subsistence; while the spray of the Black Sea is dashed against the immense stems of the blood-wooded taxus, and the red and almond-leaved willows sweep with their long branches the waves. The box here is a giant of the forest; the stern of the juniper measures often fifteen feet in circumference; and the vine climbing to the top of the lofty elm sends its tendrils across to the neighboring beech, hanging festoons from tree-top to tree-top, and almost making of the forest one far spreading arbor. Lower down the pomegranate hangs out its blossoms; the fig and wild pear their fruits; the laurel and the myrtle their green leaves; while an infinite variety of creepers entwine themselves around every form, and wild flowering plants, from gorgeous rhododendrons and azalias to the lowly violet and arbutus, fill the woods with sweet odors.

The distant view of the Caucasus, so bold in its outlines and varied in its forms, surpasses in grandeur that of the Alps; and if from the small number of lakes and glaciers, the interior aspects present less of that exceeding beauty which characterizes the Swiss landscapes above those of all other mountains, there is nevertheless a brilliancy of tints in this oriental air, a glory of nearly five hundred miles of snow peaks, a luxuriance of woods on the lower ranges, and a degree of cultivation in the valleys where the hand of man has been busy since times the most remote, which render this mountain land one of the fairest portions of the globe, and worthy of having been, as by some traditions is reported, the cradle of the human race.

The western portion of the mountains is fruitful to the height of five thousand feet, and the eastern is frequently terraced with gardens. The valleys, green with meadows or golden with many varieties of grain, are dotted over with villages and clusters of cottages. White sheep in great numbers and jet black goats crop the hill-sides; while in lower pastures feed the buffalo and the camel. Herds of tame or half-wild horses roam at large through the glades; wild boars house among the reeds on the river banks; and the chamois looks down from its rocks upon wild deer and gazelles grazing unscared in the vicinity of the habitations of man.



The Caucasus is celebrated as the scene of some of the most popular fables of Grecian antiquity, as well as of some of the earliest traditions of the race. For while the ark of Noah is said to have grounded on the top of Mount Elbrus before reaching its final resting-place on the neighboring Ararat, it was on Kasbek that Prometheus was chained to a rock for having stolen the fire of the gods and given it to mortals. In the mountain land of Colchis, Jason carried off the golden fleece, and Cadmus reaped a harvest of armed men from sowing serpent's teeth in furrows turned by the fire-breathing bulls of Vulcan. Hither wandered that primitive race of men who were driven by the Pelasgi from the regions of Olympus; on an island off the coast the poets located the palace of Aurora, wherein were kept up the perpetual dances and songs of the hours, and where was daily reborn the sun; and finally, between the present Little Kabarda and Svanethi existed, say the traditions, the gallant state of the Amazons, until the heart of their otherwise unconquerable prophetess was taken captive by Thoulme, chief of the Circassians, while long afterwards the famous Nina continued to rule over the heroic sisterhood in Immeritia.

The ancient Persians gave to the Caucasus the name of Seddi Iskender, or the barrier of Alexander, who here met with the first check in his attempt to subjugate the world. Rome early sent her conquering legions to bring under the yoke the prosperous colonies of Greece on the shores of the Euxine; and Pompey returning home from the East, after having chased Mithridates from the Euphrates to Colchis and Dioscurias, graced his triumphal entry into the city with the gigantic sons of these mountains. Genoa, in a later and more commercial age, made settlements on the Caucasian shore, whither she sent her argosies to be freighted with grain, skins, tallow, and the fruits of the hive, and where she has left to this day the foundations of her walls and towers, her carved stones and crosses, her sepulchres and a name. In more recent times, the princes of the dynasties of the White Horde and the Golden Camp have come from the Crimea to break their lances on the plains of the Kuma; Attila, Tamerlane, and Genghis Khan have swept in their victorious career along the base of these rocky ramparts of freedom; the Persian and the Turk have waged occasional war with some of the Caucasian tribes, though never with more than partial and temporary success; and it is the Muscovite empire alone which has ever succeeded in throwing the shadows of imminent subjugation over the landscape of these sunny vales.

Accordingly, the independence of most of these mountain tribes has been maintained from the earliest times to the present against all the attempts of their enemies of the plains. They have lived for generations, the memory of man runneth not to the end of, in the enjoyment of a large degree of natural liberty, in obedience to ancient laws and usages, in the respect of age, virtue, and superiority in arms, and now furnish the only specimen left of tribes of men still living in all the simplicity, and retaining, along with the practice of some of the semi-barbarous vices, all the heroism of the so-called age of gold.

Georgia, which lies on the southern declivities of the Caucasus, was nominally converted to Christianity in the days of Constantine the Great, when its heroic queen Thamar ruled over one of the most powerful empires of western Asia; but beautiful on these mountain tops as were the feet of those who brought the glad tidings and published peace, the doctrines of the cross made but little impression on the benighted minds of these worshippers in the temple of nature. Nor though Russia early endeavored to introduce the peaceful soldiers of the church into the fastnesses where she could not penetrate with her secular dragoons, the native heart continued to hold to the simple religious rites handed down by tradition from the fathers, and finally relinquished them only within the last hundred years in exchange for the doctrines of the Prophet, which, though introduced a couple of centuries before, at the point of the spears of the Crimean Khans, were then first made plain and acceptable by missionaries from Turkey.

For subsistence the Caucasian tribes have always relied mainly on pasturage and agriculture, also on the chase, on rapine and the spoils of war, and on the exchange of their natural products and slaves for the salt, gunpowder, and manufactured goods of foreigners. So constant for centuries has been their attachment to the mountains that they have never emigrated to the plains, the life of which they despise. Only the harems of Constantinople have an attraction for their females; and a few restless youth, wandering at different times into foreign parts, have furnished bodyguards to the sultans of Turkey and the Khans of the Crimea; have served under the name of Mamelukes in Egypt, where Mehemet Ali could not control but only massacre them; and latterly have graced the parade days of the Russian capital, where, treated like pet lions, their fiery spirit of independence and impatience of discipline have been but mildly restrained by the Czar, and where such is their haughty, imposing bearing, that whenever the vulgar crowd in the streets gives way for the coming of any one, it has become almost a proverb to say, it is either a general officer in the army or a Circassian.



The contest between the Circassians and the Russians may be said to have originated as far back as the middle ages. For it was in the tenth century that the grand duke Swtoslaff, overrunning a portion of the Bosphoric territories, came into collision with the inhabitants of the Caucasus; and in the sixteenth, the Russians under the grand duke Wassiljewitsch made their appearance on the Caspian, on the western coast of which they established garrisons as far south as Tarku. In the latter century also the Kabardian princes, whose territory consisting of open valleys was less defended by nature against the inroads of enemies, bowed their necks for a time in submission; and Georgia, on the Asiatic slope, took in the person of her king Alexander the oath of vassalage to the Muscovite, obtaining a master where she had asked only for a protector. But occupied during the next two hundred years with affairs at the north, the Russian princes lost their possessions and most of their influence in the Caucasus; and it was not until 1722 that the far-seeing ambition of the great Peter brought him to the "Albanian gates" of Derbend, and even within sight of the sacred fires of the promontory of Apsheron.

It was permitted to this most gifted of the czars to behold these mountains and get a glimpse of the fair Asiatic vales beyond, but not to possess them. In leaving, however, to his successors the legacy of his boundless ambition, he pointed with his dying hand to the peaks of Elbrus and Kasbek; and ever since his race, extending itself on all sides, has not ceased to press onward in this pathway to ward the rising of the sun.

Especially within the last quarter of a century has Russia occupied herself in earnest with the conquest of the Caucasus. During that period she has maintained there constantly a large force, and latterly as many as two hundred thousand men under arms. Year after year she has despatched her battalions to supply the places of those who had fallen by the shaskas of the Circassians or the still more deadly arrows of the fever, which in the most sickly seasons has cut off no less than one sixth of the whole army. She has sent thither also her best generals and administrators from Jermoloff to Paskiewitsch and Woronzoff. The emperor Nicholas went himself into these mountains at the risk of his life, to inspect and encourage by his presence the invading columns. Every system of attack which the ingenuity of the St. Petersburg cabinet could devise has in turn been tried; efforts have constantly been made to gain over by intrigue the tribes who could not be subjugated by force; the cross, joining its influence to the power of the sword, has endeavored to bring the native mind under the dominion of a system of religion more favorable to the aims of the autocrat; a superior civilization has held out to the comparatively rude barbarians, its hands full of gifts dazzling and fatal to liberty; but hitherto mostly, if not all, in vain. The inhabitants of the upper and more inaccessible mountains have held their independence above all price, fighting for their homes as the mountaineer only will; and the chieftains who have been tempted by preferment in the Russian army and the glitter of its epaulettes, by the honors of the parades at Tiflis, and even by the imperial champaign, and the sight of the ballet dancers of St. Petersburg, have disdained to sell a birthright of freedom inherited from a thousand generations in exchange for these high-flavored sops of an overreaching foreign despotism.

An intense interest of humanity, therefore, still hangs over this prolonged contest between the forces of civilization and those of the primitive state of nature, between the battalions of imperial authority and the bands of democratic liberty; and the more intense because this barrier of nature and wall of freemen once completely carried, there will remain no further hinderance to the victorious course eastward of that ambition which, possessing already the path to the orient by the northern snows, covets that also across the sands of the tropics.



Schamyl, the principal hero of this war of independence, was born in the year 1797. The place of his birth is Himri, an aoul or village in the district of Arrakan, and in the north-western part of Daghestan, a territory lying on the Caspian. It is situated on the river, called lower down where it approaches the sea, the Sulak, but here the Koissu; and at a point just above where the main stream throws off that one of its four branches which is termed the Andian Koissu.

All these waters flow down, on the south, from the main Caucasian range; on the west, from the Andian offshoot; and on the east, from that of the Kaitach; which two latter running, the one north-easterly and the other north-westerly until they meet, form the two sides of a triangle of mountains having for its base the high Caucasus. The apex is just below Himri, and consists of the escaped cliffs of two summits called the Touss-Tau and the Sala-Tau; while through a gorge between them is precipitated the whole volume of the united branches of the Koissu. Himri, accordingly, together with the neighboring fortified aoul of Akhulgo, is one of the keys of this triangular region of well-watered highlands, which is inhabited by a considerable number of warlike tribes known collectively as the Lesghians, and which, with the territory of Daghestan on the east, and that of Tchetchenia on the north, is the principal theatre of the great military achievements of Schamyl.

The aoul of Himri is placed like an eagle's nest high on a rock projecting from the mountain side. From the beautiful vale through which winds the Koissu, a narrow path cut out of the rock is carried zig-zag up a height of two or three hundred feet, and is exposed to be swept by stones let loose from above of any enemy that might be daring enough to attack this strong-hold. A triple wall supported by high towers adds the defences of art to those of nature; while above, the place is sheltered by the overhanging brow of the mountain.

Standing on one of these towers the native looks down upon the narrow but fertile valley, divided in twain by the fast-flowing river. Several of the surrounding mountains are laid out in terraced gardens; while some are partially covered with oaks and plane-trees; and others again are entirely bare, having instead of the drapery of foliage only the tints of gold or purple which the rising and the setting sun sheds over the ruggedness of the limestone and the porphyry. Near at hand are seen one or two heights which are clad with perpetual snows; while westward, far away beyond the lower highlands, the view is terminated by the white form of Mt. Kasbek.

The internal aspect of the aoul is less pleasing. Most of the streets are steep and crooked, though the scattered position of the dwellings in others, affords some sites both open and level. The roofs are generally flat; the walls, almost destitute of windows, are rough with unhewn stones; and many of the houses lie half buried under the rocky mountain side. These are without numbers as the streets are without names. Here, moreover, rises no village spire to point the thoughts of men heavenward; no church bell rings out its merry festal peals, or tolls the march to the grave; no sundial marks the succession of the hours which pass by unheeded all, save those of morning, noon, and evening; and in no public school-house is heard the low buzz of children conning their tasks. But the mollah calls to prayers from the minaret of a humble mosque; and in a dark corner illumined by aslant rays from a small high window in a wall, teaches to some half a dozen urchins the strange Arabic letters and the chants of the Koran. From the going down of the sun until early morn not a light is seen throughout the aoul, nor scarcely a sound heard, save the howling of the watch-dogs and the plaintive crying of the jackals in the forests. Indeed, the only hour in the day when there is any appearance of life in these streets is at noon, when the labors of the garden and the exercises of the games being suspended, many of the male inhabitants either sit about idle, or lie sleeping like Italian lazzaroni, or stand grouped together in long, light-colored surtouts with a negligent grace and natural dignity not surpassed in antique statues. Here and there one more diligent burnishes his arms, and another grooms his horse. A few veiled women come and go, bearing jars of water or other burdens, though most of the female population are occupied in their apartments with the preparation of food, and in the labors of the loom and spindle; while young children, half-naked, play around the house doors and through the lanes with an activity in strong contrast with the prevailing tone of grave and somnolent repose.



Of the parents of Schamyl nothing is known; nor is this lack of information greatly to be regretted, considering that they lived in a state of society where there is so little inequality of classes or diversity of external condition. His father not being probably a chief of the tribe, was a freeman and peer among his fellows, possessing like them a small, amphitheatrical house, the husband of but one wife, owning a war-horse, and arms, besides a few sheep and goats, and the proprietor of a garden supported by terraces on a neighboring mountain side.

Nor is it known who was his foster-father, or atalik; for according to the custom prevalent in western, and to some extent in eastern Circassia, he may at an early age have been adopted by some one in whose family he resided during the years spent in learning the rudiments of letters and the art of war, and who sustained a relation towards him even more intimate and affectionate than that of his own father. The atalik would have supplied the boy with food and clothing, instruction, and a home, without expecting any other compensation than such plunder as the latter during his pupilage might bring in from the enemy, together with the gratitude through life of both himself and his family. And this he could well afford to do, being possessed of means somewhat superior to those of the majority of his clansmen. If descended from a family among the first in the tribe and long illustrious in arms, he might own as many as fifteen hundred head of cattle, and an equal number of sheep, besides a small herd of horses and mares. Like the ancient patriarchs, he would have his wives and his servants, some of them captured in forays, and all living together as one family in a stone house of several stories and defended by a high tower.

This practice of transferring young children from the parental mansion to that of an atalik, seems to have had its origin in the same fear lest natural affection might lead to effeminacy of character which induced the Spartans to send their infants on a shield to be delivered over to the nursery of the State. In accordance with a similar custom, also, was the young Achilles intrusted by Peleus to the care of Chiron, the centaur. For among the Circassians, as among the early Greeks, the principal object of education is to form the accomplished warrior.

History has been fortunate enough, however, to get possession of the name of Schamyl's instructor, who is called Dschelal Eddin, and who, beginning the education of the future prophet by teaching him the Arabic language, completed it by initiating him into the doctrines of the Sufis. He still lives, a venerable man, and is said to be the only person to whom his pupil in after-life ever granted his entire confidence, and at whose feet he has been known ever to sit for counsel.

The learning of letters, however, was not the boy's first lesson in that course of training which prepared him to become a leader of the tribes; for as in the history of the race, so in the education of the warrior in these mountains, the practice of horsemanship comes before the study of books.



In the due course of Circassian education Schamyl could not have been four years old when he exchanged the amusement of building houses of mud and pebble-stones for that of backing horses. A couple of years later his atalik might even have presented him with a steed for the practice of those arts of horsemanship wherein the Circassians excel the most expert riders in the world. The Koissu must also have submitted to the triumph of his arms when their bone was still in the gristle, and during the warm season of the year have suffered, both at morning and evening, its torrent to be breasted by the daring young swimmer. To wrestle, the boy, without doubt, began almost as soon as he was able to stand alone; and to dance was learned without a master, whether according to the figures practised in the ring of pleasure, or the more active steps taken in the pantomimic fight. Shooting with the bow, the gun, and the pistol, is an exercise for Circassian boys at an age when those of countries more civilized are spelling, syllable by syllable, the lessons of the primer and the catechism. The art of thieving adroitly is also reckoned an accomplishment by these mountaineers, as formerly by the Spartans, when the despoiled is an enemy, or at least a member of another tribe. And as in their council-rings there is as often an opportunity for the display of eloquence as ever there was before the walls of ancient Troy, so the youth are taught both by observation and by direct lessons the art of persuasion.

In early childhood Schamyl is said to have enjoyed a somewhat less rugged health than his mates; and had the development of his mind been forced by the training to which the children of civilization are generally subjected, being compelled to sit by the hour upon a bench and breathe the unwholesome air of an over-heated school-room, very likely after having passed, during a brief season, for a youthful prodigy in the eyes of an admiring, but inconsiderate circle of friends, he would have closed his earthly career and been lamented as a genius for this world too brilliant and too good. But in this comparative state of barbarism, the boy's mind having been allowed more slowly and naturally to unfold itself; and his body meanwhile being strengthened by a life in the open air of the mountains, and by such athletic sports as well supplied the place of the games of the ancient Greeks and Romans, this fine spirit was saved from premature decay, to the honor of his country, and the illustration of humanity.

Nor could it have been long before these arts, all more or less having reference to the formation of the skilful warrior, were put to the test of practice in actual service. There are reliable accounts of Circassian boys who at the age of ten years have gone to the wars, as unable to eat or sleep on the approach of the enemy as in occidental countries are the rustic lads on the eve of a muster of the county militia, at which in addition to the show of red-coats and cocked hats there will be cakes, pop-beer, tumbling, and monkeys. Many a young mountaineer before he has got a beard has "bagged his five Russians." At first, indeed, the boy is allowed only, it may be, to pass the night with the sentinels on the hills, or to watch the horses of the sleeping warriors, and afterwards sees his first battlefield, going out on an expedition in the quality of page of some chieftain, taking charge of his steed when he alights, and attending upon his person.

In this preparatory training and the practice of these athletic sports the boy Schamyl must have passed the first dozen years of his life, living in the house of his atalik, and very rarely visiting that of his father. Nor even when he did so was it to sit, much less to eat in the paternal presence, but only with his back reverently turned and his head stuck in a corner.

But at the end of this period of discipline, having become more than a tyro, if not already an expert in all manly exercises and warlike arts, the lad must have been restored to his parents by his foster-father. The event is always celebrated by a feast at which all the relatives of the two families are invited, and from which the atalik returns loaded with presents, and with thanks. It is indeed a proud day for the youngster, because it is his putting on of the toga. Thenceforward, if not fully a man, he is at least a mad-cap or deli-kan.



Schamyl, now become a deli-kan, is said to have been so ambitious of the palm in all youthful games that whenever defeated he would brood for days together over his disgrace in silent chagrin. From his childhood he knew not how to brook a superior.

He therefore zealously continued his exercises, particularly those in horsemanship. Like that of all Circassian youth it was his ambition not only to sit his horse a perfect centaur, to dash at full speed up steeps and down precipices, to leap the chasm and to swim the torrent; but also on the gallop to discharge his weapons, in an instant unslinging his gun from behind his back, and as quickly returning it to its place; to hang suspended from the side of the horse so as to avoid the aim of an enemy; to spring to the ground for the purpose of picking up something and again vault into the saddle without halting; and to take aim with such precision as to hit the smallest and most inconveniently placed mark while going at full tilt.

The subduing of a half-wild horse in the herd which is allowed during a portion of the year to roam the woods and hills, is also a feat frequently practised by the Circassian cavalier, either for the sake of securing the animal, or simply as an exercise in horsemanship. A rider or two armed with lassos plunge into the midst of the herd, and selecting one of the wildest of the stallions—for mares are not used under the saddle—secure him by throwing over his head the noose. Then the cavalier who is to make trial of his skill springs upon the back of the animal, which with dilated eyes and smoking nostrils exhibits the greatest consternation. And now commences the contest between horse and rider. Furious as well as frightened the brute speeds like an arrow over the hills or down the valleys. He turns and doubles, halts suddenly, rolls on the ground, crawls on his belly, dashes into the midst of the herd, and tries in all possible ways to get rid of the burden he has no fancy for. But the intrepid rider, self possessed, and constantly on the alert, sits upon his back as if a part of the animal, waving his hand in triumph after every struggle terminated in his favor; and there he continues to sit and hold the mastery until the strong steed, finally exhausted by his efforts, covered with foam, out of breath, and cowed in spirit, acknowledges the superiority of his antagonist.

When tamed, however, the Circassian horse is both perfectly gentle and attached to his master. The pet brought up in the yard is as playful as a kitten. The children gambol with him. His master fondles him, patting his neck and kissing his head. On festal days and occasions of ceremony he is decked out with red-cloth trappings; his neck is wreathed with many-colored glass beads; ribands are tied in his mane; and bunches of wild flowers nod from his foretop. The stranger may not praise the Circassian's wife or child for fear of shedding over them the malign influence of the evil eye, or for other reasons less fanciful; but to the praises of his steed the warrior's ear is ever open. The faithful animal is his companion on all his excursions; he drinks with him the waters which flow through the plains of the enemy; he looks down as well as himself from the rock on the passing column and the squares of infantry; he shares with him the dangers of the bayonet and the bullet; and, neighing, participates too in the hurrah of the onset and the shouts of victory. Trained to take part in the ambuscade, he will creep after his master like a dog, and lie crouching at his feet in silence. No unkind word is ever spoken to him; nor is he ever beaten; so that his spirit is unbroken, and his attachment to his lord is manifested by the pleasure he takes in his caresses, the gladness with which, snorting and pawing the ground, he receives him on his back, the pride of step and eye with which he bears him off, the fury with which he dashes into the fight and pursues the enemy, and the intelligent fidelity with which he obeys every movement of the rein or the hand, dutiful until he falls bleeding at last on the field of battle, or at a very advanced age is relieved from further service, and with clipt tail and mane is turned out to graze the peaceful pastures until the day of his death.

There are a number of varieties of the Circassian horse, though without very marked differences. Those of Kabarda are among the most famed; and excellent cavalry horses are got by Pratof's stallions out of the Tartar and Kalmuck mares. These are valued at from two to three hundred roubles. The Turcoman breed also is highly esteemed, standing about fifteen hands high, in perfect training, and joining to the strength of a bull the spirit of a lion. But universally throughout the Caucasus the native horse is docile, fleet, capable of enduring very great fatigue, of supporting very great privations, possessed of the most undeniable mettle, and endowed with the largest measure of intelligence and affection within the capacity of the animal's nature. In the best breeds his pedigree is kept with care; and the mark of his master is branded in the shape of a horse-shoe, an arrow, or some similar device on his haunches.



Throwing the djerrid was perhaps the deli-kan's favorite equestrian amusement. To play this game a certain number of combatants, belonging often to two different aouls or districts, assemble at an appointed place, each mounted on his steed, and armed with a long white wand or staff. At a given signal they all set off at full gallop in pursuit of each other, the object of the race being to give blows and avoid receiving them. The staves accordingly are seen flying through the air in all directions. The dexterity with which the combatants manage to elude each other's blows, catch a stave thrown at them, pick up one from the ground, and that without alighting or losing a moment's time, is to the stranger who for the first time beholds the sport truly astonishing. When a horseman who happens to be without a djerrid gets entangled among his opponents, he will be seen twisting and turning with the activity of a wild-cat in order to elude the blows aimed at him; now completely screened under the belly of the horse, then lying at full length on his back, and again stretched by his side, until regaining a djerrid he becomes in turn the assailant. In this rough sport only the greatest agility and suppleness of limbs, combined with extraordinary physical strength, can secure the palm, while the less dexterous combatants may not escape without the disgrace of broken heads.

Another feat which only long practice will enable the young rider to perform, is one of archery. A mark is attached to the top of several lofty poles fastened together so as to elevate it to a considerable height. Then a horseman starting a short distance from the pole rides towards it at full speed, and just before reaching it, suddenly bends his bow, stoops to the left side of his horse the instant before the latter passes to the right of the pole, and then twisting himself around with his face turned back and looking almost directly upwards, lets fly the shaft perpendicularly. The difficulty of the position, joined to the speed of the horse, renders the hitting of the mark a proof of the highest skill; and even where the competition is spirited, the victors are few.

Running for the flag is a game in which the fleetness and bottom of the horse are tested perhaps more than the expertness of the rider. A number of cavaliers having assembled, one of them taking a small flag, or crimson scarf; or pistol cover embroidered by the fair hands of the belle of the aoul, starts off on the gallop, his prize streaming in the wind like a meteor. The others, after having given him the advantage in the start, pursue for the purpose of overtaking him; for whoever succeeds in coming up with the flag-bearer takes his place, and so to the end of the race. With grace and impetuosity they dash down the valley, over the hills, and along the mountain side. The flag-bearer aims to keep the lead not only by quick running but also by turning and doubling, by taking advantage of the ground and placing obstacles between himself and his pursuers. To the right, to the left, straightforward, over brooks and fences, across torrent and ravine, through woods and thickets, up hill and down dale, away sweeps the mad cavalcade. 'Tis neck or nothing, and leaps that only dares the devil. Overtaken, the bearer of the flag yields it up to his successful competitor, who shouting his triumphant vo-ri-ra-ka hurries onwards with the whole legion at his heels. So they race until the hardy horses, though eager as their riders for the victory, are obliged at last to halt for breath. But after an interval of rest, starting with another hurrah the troop go over the course again, and perhaps again, until the contest is ended, and some fortunate deli-kan is pronounced entitled to the prize.

It is a common occurrence during these games for a mounted horseman when particularly excited to throw up his cap; and this is always regarded as a challenge by any of his companions, unslinging, uncovering, and cocking his gun, to put a ball through it before it reaches the ground. Or a bonnet is purposely dropped, that some rider going at full speed may display his agility by picking it up without drawing rein. Again, there is the game in which two mounted cavaliers set off at full speed holding each other by the hand, and each endeavoring by main strength or dexterity to pull his antagonist from the saddle. And finally, a party of horsemen on arriving at a friendly aoul or place of general gathering, is met by a company of persons on foot who, bearing branches of trees, make a dash at the horses' heads in order if possible to frighten them. This tests the skill of the riders, and also trains the horses to rush without fear upon the enemy.



Schamyl in early youth exhibited a remarkable sensibility to the beauty and sublimity of nature. It is related of him by the aged men of Himri that he was fond of climbing the neighboring mountains, and that especially at the going down of the sun he might be seen sitting on a high point of rock whence he could survey at the same time the vale below and the fantastic summits which tower above it. There he would sit gazing at the snows red with the declining rays, and at the rocks glowing in the reflected purple of the clouds, until the valley and the glens connected with it were quite dark with the gathering twilight—gazing where far off to the westward the snow-clad peaks were still burning brightly as with altar fires that reached to heaven—gazing where blazed longest of all the top of Kasbek, until from its expiring spark the evening planet seemed to catch the light with which it flamed out in the sky above it, while gradually the lower mountains faded on the sight, and only the heavens and the highest peaks were bathed in the mild light of night.

This moreover was enchanted ground. For on one side of the loftiest and most grotesque of the heights around Himri, there leans against it a level table rock of considerable extent which is perfectly desolate, and which the superstitious imaginations of the inhabitants of this aoul have made the scene of almost as much witchery as was ever located on the top of the Brocken. Often in the dead of night, say the villagers, strange fires are lighted on this dancing floor of the spirits, and which reflect on all the mountain sides a lurid and unearthly glare. Then the great white eagle which for a thousand years has housed in the high Caucasus hastens hither on wings which shake the air like the sighing of the night wind, or the howling of the coming tempest; and then assemble here from fairy land the happy peris, who in this lighted chamber dance on fantastic toes until the day peeps over the mountain tops or the first cock crows in Himri.

But while no one dared to tread this haunted rock after the going down of the sun, it was precisely here that Schamyl, whose intellect, self-illumined, early pierced through the blind which superstition binds over the eyes of all mountaineers, often selected his seat and lingered through the twilight far into the darkness of the evening. With his trustful love of nature he feared no supernatural powers; and while the common mind was filled with dread in the presence of phenomena which, real or imaginary, it could not explain, he found therein only such subjects for reflection as fascinated his imagination and filled his soul with devout admiration of the creative spirit which pervades all things.

Once, some of his companions offended by some high, scornful words of his, let drop in the excitement of the games, resolved to waylay and maltreat him on his return from the heights in the edge of the evening. They accordingly set upon the enthusiast as descending from the mountain tops his thoughts still lingered behind, but who quickly recovering his presence of mind stood on the defensive. Numbers, however, overpowered him; and he fell bleeding from wounds on his head, arm, and body. But being still able to regain his home, though faint with the loss of blood, he bound up his wounds himself, and with the assistance of a doctoress skilled in simples, made such applications of herbs as at the end of several weeks restored him to health again. Ashamed, however, to acknowledge that he had been beaten even when the odds were greatly against him, he said not a word respecting his illness to any one, save to his revered teacher Dschelal Eddin, to whom he confidentially made known the circumstances of the encounter.



Schamyl's love for exploring the mountains would naturally make him fond of hunting, as are his countrymen generally, when not occupied with the higher game of war.

The larger kinds of game being abundant in these mountains, and the use of small shot being unknown, bird-shooting is but little practised, and the fowl fly in these heavens as unscared as in the original paradise. The nightingale sings in the thickets; the woodpecker makes the primeval woods resound with his chisel; crows of the pink and black species croak from the dead branches of the oaks; ravens with dark red legs and scarlet bills build their nests in the top of the elms; detachments of blue wood-pigeons cover the fields as numerous and as tame as sparrows; mergansers and golden-eyed ducks haunt in numerous flocks the running waters; and wild geese flying down in the month of December from the Russian wastes, halt on their way to the waters of Persia, and mixed with swans, float in stately fleets on the shores of both the Euxine and the Caspian. The falcon hawk also is constantly circling over the hills and swooping down into the valleys; the eagle may be seen soaring above his eyrie on Elbrus or Kasbek; the rapacious vulture watches from the high overhanging points of rock the lower woods and pastures; the melancholy owl hoots through the night around the hamlets; and by the side of the lowly mountain tarn stands silent and solitary the pelican of the wilderness. Only the wild turkey in the pinetree's top is a mark for the rifle; or the pheasant, darting up out of the path into the overhanging branches, tempts occasionally the sharpshooter; while, on the contrary, woodcock and snipe bore for worms in every marsh and mud-bank, undisturbed by setter or by pointer.

The wild boar hunt is the chief sport in Circassian venery. This animal frequents the banks of the rivers overgrown with reeds, and the ravines of the mountains filled with thickets. Both the valleys and the marshes adjacent are ploughed by his snout; nor is the farmer's stock-yard entirely secure from the crunching of his tusks. He is hunted with dogs, generally resembling a cross between the greyhound and the colley of the Scottish highlands. When found the furious beast will sometimes stand at bay, ripping up and tossing in the air a pack of enemies; but generally with horrid gruntings and snortings he plunges down the ravine or canters over the marsh, big almost as a Highland cow, driving aside the tall reeds or saplings as if simple spears of grass, a black monster, bristled, with projecting tusks, and eyes bloodshot. But the well-directed rifle ball pierces at last his tough flanks; the enormous mass reeling rolls over in the mire; and the unclean carcass is left to be feasted on by vultures and prowling wolves.

There are elk on the Kuban; but the following of the fallow deer in the hills is more common. The hunter searches for the beds of the roes with dogs, or stalking the forests steals upon the herd when browsing upon the tender twigs and the moss of trees, or cropping the herbs along the skirts of the pastures. There are several varieties of them, but all tolerably wild from being so much pursued in the chase; though the sight of this graceful animal is common enough in the farm-yards, where it has been tamed, and where when young it is a great pet.

A fine breed of greyhounds is kept for coursing the hares. These abound, burrowing in all the mountains, and everywhere nibbling with their sharp teeth the herbage. After a slight fall of snow they are easily tracked; and rarely does the hunter, on awaking in the morning, find the earth newly clad with this white mantle that he does not call his hounds and set off for the fields. The keen air of the morning late in autumn invites to active exercise as the rising sun pours its crimson flood over the hills, all changed in a single night by the witchery of the noiselessly fallen flakes. The dogs eye alternately the hills and their master as they run; and the hunter with overflowing spirits and every nerve drawn tight enters rejoicing into the race.



Occasionally in the autumnal months a party of huntsmen is made up for an excursion into the high Caucasus. Such expeditions constitute a memorable event in the life of the deli-kan; and it may well be believed that Schamyl must have embraced the opportunity thereby offered of beholding the grandeur of nature amidst "the thousand peaks."

There would be but little need of preparation. For the Circassian wears his cartouche pockets constantly on his breast; any extra ammunition, together with a scanty supply of provisions, is easily attached to the saddle-bow; the steed is always ready for service; the dogs are eager to set off; and so at short notice the whole party gallops out of the aoul with hurrahs and pistol-firing.

On the journey, however, they ride slowly. For the road is but a path in the mountains, narrow and rugged, often steep of ascent and descent, for the most part following by the side of the watercourses, and in the dry beds of the torrents, or winding around the mountain sides, by the edge of precipices, and across chasms bridged only by the leap. Indeed so great are the difficulties of the way that the rider is very often obliged to dismount and allow his horse to follow after him as best he can.

At mid-day they halt for a couple of hours for luncheon; and with the going down of the sun they pitch their tent for the night. For this purpose an opening in the forest beside a spring of water, or the bank of a running stream is selected, where the horses, relieved of their saddles, may find pasture. At morning and noon a little flour of millet and honey suffices for the meals. This in fact is the usual war-provision, and is said to be a diet which gives strength to both body and mind. Being carried in a skin hung at the saddle-bow it soon ferments, but is eaten afterwards with great relish, and may be kept in this condition for a considerable length of time. A cup to convey the water from the spring is made of the burdock leaf which also answers the purpose of a carpet for the saying of prayers, and even furnishes afterward a grateful repast for the horses. To this frugal fare, however, will very likely be added at evening a pheasant or hare, a turkey or a deer shot on the road, and cooked either by being roasted before the fire, or laid, cut in slices, on live embers. Whatever chance game the luck of the day may furnish for the supper, it will be sure to be eaten with a relish that will need no sauce; though even with nothing more than his unleavened bread and water the Circassian is perfectly contented, and adds thanks therefor in his prayers.

Supper finished, ablutions performed, and prayers said, the hunters unroll their blankets, placing one on the ground and the other over them, with their feet turned towards the fire blazing with large logs of wood; and so under the protection of the open heavens and the stars, which are the thousand watchful eyes of Allah, his simple children sleep.

In entering upon the region of the higher mountains the valleys grow narrower, showing only here and there a mere line of green, or oftener, the silver thread of torrents rushing headlong over the rocks. Strong was the contrast when in an opening between the mountains the hunter looked down upon the shepherd's cottage, with its shade of nut-bearing trees and its fold of white fleeces, or upon a patch of cultivated ground high among the rocks to which the husbandman climbs for the sake of a few handfuls of grain, or the pasture of his cow or goat; and when, on the other hand, he beheld around him, as was often the case, only the mountain tops sparsely covered with dwarfed oaks and planetrees, the rocks frequently naked save here and there the covering of moss, the immense masses broken up into clefts and chasms, piled on top of each other in forms the most shapeless and grotesque, an utter waste, and the more desolate from some wild bird of the mountains which occasionally flapped its wings overhead, or the wild goat which startled sprang away among the distant rocks.

Yet there are localities still higher up where from favorable exposure the mountaineer pushes an adventurous plough, tilling his slope with rifle slung at his back, and gathering his harvest full three months later than in the plains below. Here, too, blooms the Caucasian rose or rhododendron, and the azalia-pontica, from the blossoms of which is made the honey of that intoxicating quality mentioned by Strabo, and which, when mixed in small quantity with the ordinary mead, forms a beverage as potent as the alcoholic liquors of the north.

On reaching the snow-line of the Kasbek, at farthest, the progress of the hunters would be arrested. On their way hither they would have occasionally brought down a fallow deer or a fat bear, besides pheasants and the wild hens of the mountains, hares, and large grey squirrels. They might even have had a shot or two at a wild sheep or buffalo, which as well as horses sometimes roam untamed the mountains; and from time to time their rifles must have been tempted also by the porcupine crossing their path, by the fox surprised far from his hole, by the wild-cat driven into a tree, and even by the wolf prowling around their steps towards nightfall.

Here, with the never-melting snows not far overhead, they would find small stone houses erected expressly for the use of the chamois-hunter. For along these elevated crags runs and bounds the nimble rupicapra; in certain favorite tracts is occasionally met the ibex, roaming solitary over his scanty pastures; and on the very highest rocks, where in winter they lie with faces to the wind, insensible to the most intense cold, are seen herds of still another species of the wild goat resembling in shape the tamed one, but larger, having long beautiful horns, and flesh with the dainty flavor of venison.



But proud as is the returning hunter of the beautiful chamois horns hung upon his saddle-bow, it could scarcely be otherwise than that the soul of one so smitten with the love of natural scenery as was Schamyl, should here be more occupied with contemplating the grandeur of the mountain tops than in chasing the timid, graceful animals which thereupon find a home. If in the course of his ascent he had kept his eyes pretty steadily fixed upon the magnificent summits far off white with snows, but nearer blue with the ice which has led the Tartars to give to them the name of Ialbus or ice-mane; if lower down he had gazed with admiration at the oaks which for two centuries had grasped with their roots and overspread with their branches the rocks in situations to which upon the Alps and the Pyrenees only climbs the pine; and if higher up he had not passed by unnoticed even the lowly pink and rose of the mountains, blooming along the snow-line, but even there sought out by the bee and the butterfly of Apollo; how would he be overwhelmed with the sublimity of the scene on finding himself in the dread company of Kasbek and the hundred other peaks which are his vassals! Standing on the steps of the throne of this, like Elbrus, dsching padischah, or king of spirits, he would gaze around upon a host of cones and needles glittering in the sunlight, while far below lay the Black or wooded mountains, looking for the most part with the same face of precipices upon the remoter steppes as do the White mountains on themselves. Indeed there is wanting only the lakes of the Bernese Alps, glaciers as magnificent as those of Chamouni, and cascades like the Staubbach and the fall of the Aar to make this Caucasian range the most beautiful, as it probably is the most sublime, on the face of the earth.

Still the Caucasus boasts of more majestic woods and a more luxuriant flora than the Alps; and when to its scenery is added the coloring lent it by the rising and the setting sun, there can be no higher beauty in nature anywhere. Especially during the summer months travellers have noted a remarkable purity of atmosphere in these mountains, and represent them as being full of light a considerable time before the appearing of the sun on the horizon; while in autumn there is sufficient vapor to furnish the landscape with that drapery of blue mist and variously tinted clouds, so characteristic of the summer views of the Alps. In this long interval, between the break of day and the complete sunrise, it seems to the dullest observer as if nature were standing wrapt in adoration of the great Creator. Clad in snows and ice the thousand peaks are like white-robed priests ministering in a temple not made with hands; and when the loftiest tops are tipped with the purple of the coming day, it is as it were the incense-burning censers which they swing high in heaven. Then the lower mountains, too, receive an additional beauty when the level rays light up with a still brighter red the mighty masses of porphyry, and the dark granite glows with a vermilion not its own. Every variety and form of rock is transfigured by the new-born light from heaven. The white chalkstone glitters from afar; the light grey feldspar assumes a warm flesh tint; the limestone becomes straw color; the crystals of hornblende flash like fire-flies; and the veins of white quartz, running with their nodules of serpentine and chlorite through the dark clay-slate, gleam as do chain lightnings through the clouds.

At sight of the gathering tempest the superstitious huntsman is not entirely exempt from terror. Some of the calcareous mountains, like the Beschtau, for example, being a perfect barometer, he knows, when their top becomes covered with clouds as with a hat, and their entire form is gradually enveloped in a mantle of mists, that there will be foul weather. Even the degree of wind and rain may be calculated with a considerable degree of certainty from the extent and different tints of the vapors; and if the indications are exceedingly threatening the hunter immediately erects his tent, if he have one, as on the ocean the sailor furls his canvas; or, lacking this protection, he seeks for the shelter of some projecting rock, or the entrance of a cavern. There when the sun is shrouded in clouds, and the blackness almost of night falls like a pall over the mountains, when the wind howls around the summits, and the thunder with its infinity of reverberations rattles, and bounds from crag to crag throughout the chain, seeming to make the very rocks tremble and totter, then affrighted he hears in the winds the flapping of the wings of that monstrous bird of the mountains whose age is a thousand years; in the lightnings which play over the abyss he sees the glaring eyes and waving mane of the wild white horse who, issuing from his stall under the glaciers, races with the storm; and in the thunders hears the resounding wheels of the chariot of Elijah kept, say some of the ancient Christian traditions, in the Redeemer's palace on the top of Kasbek.

But in a brief hour the storm is overpast; for the changes of weather in this range of mountains, extending from one great sea to another, are sudden in all seasons of the year excepting summer. The clouds are rapidly rolled away to the eastward where the bow of promise spans the heavens as brilliant as when it was first bent over the neighboring Ararat, and where the accumulated piles of vapor are gorgeously burnished by the rays of the descending sun. Then rises over the broken ridge of the Black mountains the moon, just beginning, perhaps, to wane. How black indeed are they compared with the snow-white peaks which stand bathed in the silvery light. How black, too, is the abyss out of which rise the perpendicular cliffs, and the lofty conical shafts glittering with ice. The summits cast their long, sharply cut shadows athwart each other; every leaf on tree or plant which still holds its raindrop flashes as with a diamond; the night has not a breath of air; and nature lies entranced without a pulsation, save in the roar and trickling of everywhere falling waters.



It has been reported respecting the boy Schamyl that his parents being poor peasants he gained a livelihood by singing in the streets. But while this, not comporting well with Circassian manners and modes of life, is hardly to be credited, it is very probable that he began at an early age to sing the simpler popular airs, and might even when no more than four years old have amused his elders with his childish rendering of ballads above his comprehension. For the voice of song is often heard in these mountains; and, as in the days of Orpheus, the lyre still moves the rock of the Caucasian heart, taming with its gentle influences its wildness, and softening its asperity.

It is in songs that the Circassians, having no written language, have treasured up what little they possess of history; and by the constant singing of them have the traditions and myths of a very remote antiquity been handed down from generation to generation.

The wandering minstrel is the principal schoolmaster in the Caucasus. Wherever he arrives there is a friendly dispute in the hamlets as to who shall have the honor of rendering him the cup of hospitality. Every house in the aoul is open to receive him; he has always the best of entertainment; and his place in the social scale is, by general consent, fixed among the highest. He rehearses not only the legendary ballads to the listening circle of men and children, but conveys in song from tribe to tribe the chronicle of recent events, and the latest intelligence of the doings of the common enemy. His numbers describe how in some late foray the warriors, leaping down from the rocks, scattered the flax-haired Muscovites, and pillaged the stanitzas of the Cossacks. He wails the lament of the hero fallen in the battle field. He brands the coward and the traitor. He extols the green vales and strong rocks of the father-land; falls in every breast the love of independence; and celebrates in tenderer notes the praises of the fair.

His instrument is a kind of lyre not unlike our violin. It has but three strings which are made of horse-hair; the bow is almost an arc; and the head of the instrument rests, like that of the violoncello, on the ground or the divan.

Or the minstrel may accompany his strains upon the pipe, as is often done in the open air. Made of metal, even of silver, this instrument is one of considerable value; though more frequently it is a mere reed from the marshes of the Terek or the Kuban. It is usually about two feet in length; has three holes for the fingers near its lower extremity, and a short mouth-piece open at the sides. With something of the monotony of the bagpipe its notes are shrill; and when on the march among the hills the war-song is executed upon it, sometimes accompanied by the lyre, no "gathering" played to the pibroch ever more stirred the mountaineer heart in the highlands of Scotland.

The Circassians also beguile the way on their journeys with riding songs. These are sung in alternate strains, one being generally a clamorous recitative, and the other a kind of choral fugue, strange and romantic, and heard with pleasing effect in the mountains. Often when toiling at a foot-pace up the precipitous path of the torrent, or descending equally slow into the pass gloomy with impending rocks and drooping boughs, the travellers will burst involuntarily into a wild and plaintive lament over some fallen chieftain, one portion of the party singing in subdued tones a hurried chant like the English litany, and the other answering at the end of the stanzas with their full, mellow Ay! ay! a-rira! which, like the pealing organ through the aisles, swells and floats away between the rocky sides of the glen.

Similar are the boat-songs on the Euxine and the Caspian. Of these there is a great variety, and all are chanted to the measured movement of the oars, now stronger, now weaker, and each stanza followed by a chorus. Their A-ri-ra-cha always produces great effect on the rowers, and is mingled more or less with shouts, screams, and a mad-like laughter, while the long flat-bottomed canoe flies through the water driven by bending oars.

All festal occasions in Circassian life are enlivened by the presence of the minstrel. He is present when the warriors of the tribe assemble to sit in the council ring beneath the oaks; and in the intervals between the harangues of the orators who, sword in hand, urge the storming of a Russian fort or a raid upon the steppes, he fans the flame in their breasts by striking his lyre in praise of some hero illustrious in arms. When also a chieftain, desirous of raising a band of volunteers for some expedition against the enemy, rides from aoul to aoul summoning all good swords to follow, he transports along with him on the crupper of an attendant the aged minstrel, who at the gates sings the call to arms. His sightless eyeballs in frenzy roll, and the braves, both old and young, carried away now by his pathos and now by his rage, shout in chorus their ka-ri-ra, and spring into their saddles. And when at last the warrior's race finished, his companions bring him, lashed on his steed, back at night to the aoul from which he rode so gayly forth in the morning, and with arms locked around each other's necks stand encircling the bard, the latter commences a monotonous but beautifully plaintive wail, his voice subdued with sorrow, and running at the end of the lines upon the same note, which rapidly caught and prolonged is like an uncontrollable gust of anguish, until the brothers in arms, no less impassioned, break in with a chorus so sad, slow, and low that every eye would fill with tears were it ever permitted the Circassian to weep for the brave.

But besides the music heard on these extraordinary occasions, the singing of ballads coupled with the telling of stories is the common entertainment of the Circassian winter evening. Then when the large logs of oak blaze on the hearth of the apartment reserved in every house for the reception of guests, and the door of which remains hospitably open throughout the day, a little company is assembled at nightfall to while away with song an hour or two before retiring to rest. The professional minstrel, who is capable of extemporizing both words and melodies, may not be present, but there will be some one, perhaps an aged blind man, or a lad skilled in music beyond his fellows, who can touch the lyre. Any person, however, happening to be present, furore dulci plenes, is at liberty to volunteer a song.

It may be a humorous one, pointed with quaint wit, barbed with sarcasm, seasoned with homely proverbs, and acted out with singular powers of mimicry and even of ventriloquism. But more frequently it will treat of the adventures of the hunter or the traveller, and the still graver themes of war and love. If a solo, it will often be a rapid recitative, varied at short intervals by a few tenor and bass notes thrown in by three or four other voices, and producing an effect like the swell and fall of the organ. If a trio or quartette, there will still be added from time to time a heavy bass accompaniment, a sort of fugue, and in war-songs often resembling the moaning of the sea in a storm, or the wailing over the dead brought home from the battle field. Other ballads again will be more gay and lively, with responses executed by three different parties alternately. Let whatever be the theme and whoever the performers, as the song proceeds, and the feelings of all become wrought up to the highest pitch of enthusiasm by the recital of the great deeds done in battle, or gallant sacrifices dared in love, the voices of one or more of the listeners will be sure to break into the strain; the whole audience will join in the cheerful chirrup of hai-hai-cha! or the dirge-like wail of wai-wai-wai! and at the finale some deli-kan, inspired perhaps by the sight of maiden faces cautiously peering in at door or window, will scarcely be able to refrain from firing his pistol up the chimney, or even through the ceiling.

How untrue the representation that a people in whose hearts lives the love of songs like these are a race of freebooters! Listening constantly to the praise of heroes, whether famous in the legends of antiquity or still living surrounded with the respect of their fellows, the soul of the young warrior is early inspired with a love for war and glory. He, too, will be a hero. He will be the first in his district, the chief of his tribe, the praise of the mountains, and the terror of the plains. He therefore goes forth to distinguish himself in the fight, and bring home trophies of his prowess. If theft is held in esteem by the Circassian, as formerly by the Spartan warrior, it is so mainly for its adroitness, a quality so necessary in circumventing the enemy; and if he exults in stripping the discomfited Muscovite and Cossack of their arms and clothing, these are the tokens of his valor, and chiefly as such are prized by him.



Schamyl, though from boyhood exhibiting in manners and character a certain degree of thoughtful gravity beyond his years, was, like all his countrymen, a dancer. Nor does the Circassian dance require, for the most part, any levity of disposition in the performer; some varieties of it being practised as a martial exercise, and with a decorum bordering on seriousness. In the war-dance the Lesghian, more particularly, is imperious in look as well as animated in action. He carries himself haughtily through all the evolutions, moving with equal grace and rapidity, keeping perfect time in his complicated steps, exhibiting an elasticity of tread, a suppleness of limbs, and a vigor of body truly astonishing; while at the same time the fierce earnestness of his countenance and his noble bearing are, as it were, a challenge to his enemies. Among European dances this warlike figure most resembles the highland fling of Scotland.

The dancing of the women appears tame and monotonous in comparison. Theirs is a slow movement, the principal charm of which is in its grace, and which requires for its execution a certain undulating motion of the body rather than any extra exertion of the feet and legs.

At all public festivals the two sexes always dance together. Generally after supping on roasted sheep or sodden kid, together with cakes of pastry and the aromatic honey, followed on the part of the male portion of the company by brimming bowls of mead, they form a ring on the greensward for their favorite pastime and crowning pleasure of the feast. The circle is often a very large one, with a bonfire in the centre during the evening. The daughters unveiled, are led down from their tents, situated a little apart on the hill-side, by their carefully muffled mothers, who with a prudence characteristic of them in other lands, also generally select from the candidates for the estate of matrimony such partners as may best suit both the present proprieties and the future possibilities of the case. Without a trifle of coquetry there is no dancing even in Circassia. The pipers then having taken their places, strike up a merry measure, to which moves gracefully round the whole circle. The beaux are expected to look grave as judges or the council ring itself, but the movement allows of a good deal of jamming and squeezing; so much so, indeed, that the fair ones are not unfrequently taken off their feet and borne around for short distances by the force of the pressure. When they touch the ground, however, their robes being short and their trowsers tightly fastened above the ancle, the movement of their feet, which are almost always pretty, is shown off to advantage.

It is a truly pleasing sight, the dance on the green of the valley, by daytime beneath the wide spread shade of aged oaks, in the twilight by the light of the harvest moon at its full, or with only the stars of night aided by the blazing pile of logs to illumine the scenes; while the long frocks of the deli-kans wave in concert with the skirts of the maidens, and youthful pleasure trips on tiptoe around the ring.

There is also the clown's dance, generally executed at entertainments after the mead or boza has worked sufficiently on the brain to produce a moderate degree of hilarity. It commences with a measured clapping of hands; a few low notes succeed, which, as the audience joins in, swell into a lively air; when some wild-looking "ghilly" in a long, tattered coat springs into the centre of the circle and begins shuffling. As he proceeds the singing grows gradually louder, accompanied from time to time with a more violent clapping of hands. Even shouts and screams are occasionally added to spur him on. Excited to the highest pitch of enthusiasm he then hops about with vigor, springing on the very points of his toes, and spinning around with great velocity, until suddenly down he drops flat on the green with strange ventriloquial sounds, mingled with moans as if the fall had half killed him. Then he throws off a volley of witty impromptus which set the ring in a roar of laughter; to these are added comical imitations of the cries of various animals; next he addresses some chieftain present in a strain of mock eloquence; and finally, the laughing devil leaping out of his eye, ends his buffoonery with dealing a pretty good whack or two over the shoulders of the most reverend seignor in the company, who, if he himself is a serf, may be his own master.

Frequently the dancer accompanies his motions more or less with his voice, being assisted also by the audience, who beat the measure with their hands, and chant the chorus of A-ri-ra-ri-ra. And as from time to time holding up his long garment behind with both hands, and bending his body low, he watches exultingly the movement of his feet, he shouts aloud with plaintive voice as if undergoing severe pain instead of experiencing an ecstasy of delight.

When the song of the dancer runs on love and vaunts the praises of some maiden renowned for beauty, the young warriors present pledge their own sweethearts in bowls of boza, and every few minutes discharge their pistols or rifles in the air. This latter act is always regarded as a challenge to the whole company, and whoever has a charge of gunpowder left immediately burns it in honor of the superior charms of his lady-love.

The intervals of repose between the dances and songs are very naturally filled up by story-telling. For the Circassians are scarcely less fond of tales and fables than of music and the fling. Having no books they hang eagerly upon the lips of whoever is skilled in recounting story, legend, and adventure, with the gift perhaps of throwing in scraps of song, proverbs, and jests, together with occasional displays of mimicry, feats in ventriloquism, grimaces, whistling, chirruping, and ringing all the changes of laughter. The winter evening's log burns to embers while some clever, sweet-tongued narrator repeats some of the thousand and one tales of the war against the Russians, or recites the adventures of the chase on the Terek and in the higher Caucasus, or dwells in turn now upon the ancient traditions of the tribes, and now on the wonders which the recent traveller has beheld in Tiflis, Constantinople, or St. Petersburg. The imagination of the mountaineer is ardent, however simple may be his own manner of life, and he loves especially to hear of the marvels of either eastern or western magnificence; so that when after an evening spent in listening to such recitals he lays his head upon his mat or his saddle, it is full to bursting of hanging gardens and marble palaces, high towers and the minarets of mosques, the gorgeous ceremonies of courts, the array and glitter of parades, and the gaudy street-pageants and bustle of affairs in the great metropolitan capitals of the plains.



The Circassian year was pretty well crowded with festivals until recently, when the introduction of the Mahometan doctrines put an end to a good many of the merry usages of paganism. The hearts of the people continuing to cling with tenacity, however, to what was most pleasing in the ancient superstitions, there are still left a considerable number of the old festal ceremonies and observances. At new year, at the beginning and ending of the March moon, at the gathering of the harvest, as well as on many minor occasions throughout the year, the people assemble to hold their sacred feasts, when for lack of priests the aged and most revered warriors present to the divinities the prayers of the congregation; the goat, the sheep, or the ox is sacrificed, and afterward feasted upon; libations of mead are poured, though less upon the ground than down the throats of the worshippers; while unleavened bread and cheese-cakes are devoured with a voraciousness very little akin to devotion. Dances, songs, and stories are duly intermingled; also racing, wrestling, and leaping; and finally, the solemnity is closed with exercises in sharp-shooting, and the discharge of firearms in the air.

The season immediately following the harvest when the wheat, the millet, and the corn have been garnered up in the storehouses, and the winter's fodder for the cattle has been stacked in the fields, is especially a time of merry-making. An unusual joy also attends the labors of securing the crops. For the mowers sing their national airs in the meadows, and keep time with the sweep of their scythes. Sometimes at the commencement of the hay-harvest they may be seen going into the fields in parties of fifties; and any company of travellers happening then to be passing by will be good-naturedly attacked with both scythes and shouts, pulled from their horses, and carried off in triumph. For their ransom they will have to give at least a sheep to help out the evening's supper, besides honey enough to make mead for the whole company. And with such a prospect of feasting before them the laborers will return with increased zest to their work, swinging gaily their short scythes worn well-nigh to the backbone, roaming in parties hither and thither through the field, and attacking, amid songs and shoutings, the thickest masses of grass as if so many Russian corps d'arme.

A pleasing rural sight indeed it is, the green valley glowing in the warm sunlight, and its grass coarse, but savory to the cattle, lying in heavy swaths, or piled in stacks. Mixed with this are the juicy chicory-stalks eight or ten feet in height, and tipped with light blue flowers. The sweet clover also, of both the white and red varieties, is scattered more or less among the taller grasses; so that the meadow is as fragrant as a bank of wild flowers, or a parterre in a garden.

With rejoicings somewhat similar is the return of seed-time celebrated, except it is then the time for hopes instead of thanksgivings. And the joy felt at this season when, the time of the singing of birds having come and the voice of the turtle being heard in the land, the grain is committed in faith of increase to the earth, is the greater in consequence of a period of partial abstinence and renunciation of social pleasures, analogous to the Christian lent, having preceded it. For during the month of March the Circassian puts himself on a low diet, refraining especially from the eating of eggs, and will neither hire, lend, borrow, or receive any thing from another, not even a light from a neighbor's house. So general seems to be the prompting of nature in favor of a period of fasting at the commencement of the spring. But the March moon once set there is immediately held a feast, at which what few of the eggs laid by in the course of the month preceding have not already in the course of the day been devoured, are fired at as a mark, and when the skins of the victims slain at the festival become the reward of the conquerors.

There is no great variety in the Circassian festivals, for whatever be the object of them, there is the same roasting of sheep and oxen, the same singing and dancing, the same mark-firing, horse-racing, and athletic games. The private feasts, also, are accompanied with amusements very similar in character, excepting that there is generally a very long succession of dishes, with interchange of presents between hosts and guests, and also with the difference that religious ceremonies are practised only on the more public occasions, the Circassian having, at least before the introduction of Mahometanism, no domestic worship, nor guiding his personal conduct by any religious sentiments separate from his sense of duty in the domestic and social relations, his feeling of honor, and love of country.



The principal part of the early training of Schamyl consisted in daily practising the games and warlike exercises of his countrymen; but there was besides the important teaching received from Dschelal Eddin. The latter had begun when the boy was still of tender age giving him lessons in the Arabic tongue and grammar; and through a period of several years had continued expounding to him, probably in a class with others, the wisdom of the Koran, until he was sufficiently advanced in its knowledge to be appointed to chant it in the messdshed during divine service. Still later he instructed his intelligent pupil in the Mahometan literature and philosophy; no doubt, with acute elucidation of definitions and first principles, with learned comments on the maxims of the Sunnite and Sufite doctors, and with various illustrations of the character of the principal writers in oriental science and fiction, both Arabic and Persian. For the Daghestan teachers of theology, called ulemas or murschids, are not without repute for both subtilty and erudition; and Dschelal Eddin was one of the most learned among them.

Like most of these professors the sage of Himri was one of the sect of the Sufis; and it was their view of the Mahometan system of doctrine which he made it the burden of his lectures to explain and impress upon the mind of his pupil.

At first, the latter was indoctrinated in the law of externals which is called the Scharyat, and is to be observed alike by all Moslems. It prescribes prayers, almsgivings, fasting, pilgrimages, and ablutions, besides various rules to be observed in all the domestic and social relations. This is the common law of Mahometanism, the requirements of which are supposed to be universally known, and may be complied with, at least in the letter, without either learning or piety.

Next was explained to him the higher law of the Tarykat, or "path" to perfection. The knowledge of this is not for the common people, but for those only who endeavor to obey the commands of Allah, not as external ordinances and ceremonies, but because they appreciate their justness, and who practise virtue not merely for the promise of reward, but also from a sincere admiration of its nature, and delight in its exercise. These alone are worthy of being initiated into the mystery of the tarykat.

But the path to truth is not the truth itself. As only he who perseveres and pushes onward in a race finally arrives at the goal, so only by the continued and disinterested pursuit of truth is it finally found, and the Sufi attains to the third stage in the spiritual life which is called the Hakyat. To reach this exalted condition of humanity the disciple must restrain all his natural passions and moderate all his desires. In the denial of self he must labor for the good of others. Whatever contributes to refine the feelings, to exalt the thoughts, to extend the knowledge of the spiritual world, is to be desired; while the lust of the flesh, the lust of the eye, and the pride of life are to be as earnestly repressed and mortified. The seeker after the truth finds it only by frequent meditation amid the solitude of nature. Thither he will go both to study the pages of the sacred books and to decipher the scroll of his own inner consciousness. Thither also will he repair to commune with the one universal spirit which pervades all things, but which reveals itself especially to those who seek for it in the deep stillness of the forests, among the rocks of the mountains, and by the secluded waterfalls and fountains. In this high communion alone is it that man arrives at the perfection of which his nature is capable.

The state of the hakyat fully attained, man has to take but one step more and he is perfect even as God is perfect. This is the state called the Maarifat. For whoever has passed through the preceding degrees of perfection will at last be favored with intuitions in which, being in ecstasy, his spirit will mingle with the infinite spirit, and humanity will become divinity. To this condition of ecstasy the Sufis give the name of h'al. In it meditation having been carried so far as to result in apathy and a total loss of self-consciousness, the flesh having been to such a degree mortified and annihilated as to admit of a temporary separation of the spirit from the body, and the personal self being so completely relieved of the limitations of time and space that it returns to its normal condition of universality, then the soul of the Sufi and the soul of Allah are one. Both are infinite, all-knowing, impersonal, and the only reality. Whoever has thus beheld the unveiled face of God is ever after superior to the law of externals, and is guided entirely by the inner light of reason. He fears no punishment and is influenced by no hope of reward, save the sting and approval of his own conscience. When he gives alms it is not because the scharyat prescribes, but his own heart prompts it; if he practises washings it is also not because he is required so to do by the Koran, but from himself regarding cleanliness as next to godliness. Henceforth his soul is vexed by no doubts respecting spiritual truth; he is exposed to no errors of faith; he is elevated to a state of beatitude which is even independent of the performance of good works; and being made a partaker of the unity of the divine nature he knows no further distinction of sects, but regards the true believers of all creeds as brethren. "Whoso," say the Habistan, "does not acknowledge that it is indifferent whether he is a Mussulman or a Christian, has not raised himself to the truth, and knows not the essence of being."

Such in brief was the system of religious doctrine which Schamyl learned sitting at the feet of Dschelal Eddin. But that it was fully adopted by him in the heyday of youth and in possession of an intellect as penetrating as his feeling was ardent, is not to be believed. More or less of its influence, however, may be seen in the habits of temperance and frugality uniformly maintained by him, in his perfect self-control, in his love for contemplation amid the solitude of nature, as well as by his subsequently making it, at least theoretically, the rule of his life and the basis of his system of policy.



The age at which Schamyl took a wife is not known; but probably it was not over that of twenty-one. Nor, although later in life his harem consisted of three ladies, one of whom was a beautiful young Armenian, can any positive information be given respecting the character or person of the one espoused first. In accordance with Circassian usages she might have been selected by his atalik from the class of maidens in Himri whose circumstances in life were not unlike his own; or which is perhaps more likely to have been the case, she might have been one who was preferred by the young man himself from his having been smitten by her grace in the dance on the green, or having received from her fair hands the embroidered scarf won as a prize in the games.

However this might have been, the first step towards the marriage must have consisted in carrying off the girl, nothing loth doubtless, through the agency of a party of his friends. This feat successfully accomplished, though frequently it is no more than a formality and mere fiction in usage, the next thing to be done was to settle with her father or friends the price of her. The market value of a maid in Circassia depends upon both her rank and her charms. If a belle of the blood of the chieftains of a tribe in the western Caucasus, she may be worth as much as two hundred and fifty pieces of merchandise, valued at one dollar each, besides eight or ten horses and four or five serf-girls, which is more than the price formerly paid by Homer's heroes, as in the case of the

Daughter of Ops, the just Pisenor's son, For twenty beeves by great Laertes won.

But it is not probable that Schamyl gave for his wife more than a gun or a sabre, a horse or a couple of beeves. But this much it must certainly have cost him to get respectably married; for without gifts to her parents no Circassian young woman is ever given in marriage, unless in some such exceptional circumstances as when Agamemnon wishing to appease the wrath of Achilles after the robbery of Briseis proposed to replace her by one of his own daughters, and said that "far from exacting from him the accustomed presents he would endow the girl with immense riches."

This rule, however does not apply to widows, who being considered as the property of the fraternity to which belonged the deceased husband, are given away gratis to whoever will accept of them. And while a female of this class would not fetch so much as a cow or a buffalo in the market, no man of course would ever deem it worth his while to be at the pains of the elopement.

But in the case of a maid being carried off, unless a satisfactory dowry were promptly given, a feud would arise between the parties which could scarcely be settled without bloodshed. If, however, a young man being deeply smitten with love, or for any other reason, elopes with a fair one before he has accumulated a sufficient fortune to defray the expense of such a luxury, it is common enough for him to pay down what money or valuables he may have, and give security for the remainder. The transaction being like any other in business is done in plain words, and without any pretence on the part of the suitor of being actuated solely by disinterested affection.

Once the bargain struck there is a feast. When the parties have a sufficiency of means, the relatives and friends assemble to the number perhaps of several hundreds to celebrate the betrothals by a picnic and a dance from morning till night. A master of ceremonies with a long flat baton as a symbol of authority makes his proclamation calling upon all present to lay aside their feuds, if any they have, and take their places in the dance. The musicians with three-fingered pipes and two-stringed violins are drawn up in the centre of the ring, when each gallant placing his arms under those of the damsels on either side, and interlacing his fingers with theirs, they all move slowly around in the immense circle, singing at the same time a sort of accompaniment to the instrumental music, swinging the body gracefully backwards and forwards, and rising on the toes in such a way as to communicate an undulating motion to the whole ring as it goes round. Pistols would be fired every few minutes over the heads of the dancers, and mock onsets made upon the circle by mounted horsemen, who would be driven back in turn by parties armed with branches of trees and making the air ring with their shouts. There would also be the usual horse-racing, wrestling, and running, besides the entertainment of the feast itself, which would be served by waiters on horseback as well as on foot, and who together would keep up a brisk circulation of tables and trenchers.

When finally the marriage day arrives, all dues under the matrimonial compact having been paid or satisfactorily secured, the couple are joined together with still more feasting and the observance of additional ceremonies. A friend of the bridegroom mounting on horseback and taking on his crupper the maiden decked out in all her finery, and covered with a long white veil, gallops off with her to the house of some relative where the wedding is to be celebrated. Received at the door by the matron of the house, she is conducted with grave formality to the chamber set apart for her reception, where she awaits the arrival of her lord, and lights the nuptial torch of pine sticks in order to keep away any supernatural enemy who might be tempted to run off with her at this very nick of time.

An elderly dame also now performs the mystic ceremony of walking three times around the bridal couch, repeating the while the words of some Arabic charm, and afterwards placing by the bedside three earthen-ware pots filled with corn, and containing each a lighted lamp.

At last the hour of midnight arrived, the impatient bridegroom springing into his saddle gallops to the house of his friend, and conducted into the presence of his bride instantly rips open her corset with his poniard. This is the conclusion of the ceremony by which is rather cut than tied the Circassian knot of matrimony, there being neither priest nor magistrate employed to fasten it any more securely.

1  2  3  4     Next Part
Home - Random Browse