Tancred : Or, The New Crusade, by Benjamin Disraeli

Chapter 42.

Strange Ceremonies.

IT HAS been long decreed that no poet may introduce the Phoenix. Scylla and Charybdis are both successfully avoided even by provincial rhetoric. The performance of Hamlet with the part of Hamlet omitted, and Mahomet’s unhappy coffin, these are illustrations that have long been the prerogative of dolts and dullards. It is not for a moment to be tolerated that an oasis should be met with anywhere except in the desert.

We sadly lack a new stock of public images. The current similes, if not absolutely counterfeit, are quite worn out. They have no intrinsic value, and serve only as counters to represent the absence of ideas. The critics should really call them in. In the good old days, when the superscription was fresh, and the mint mark bright upon the metal, we should have compared the friendship of two young men to that of Damon and Pythias. These were individuals then still well known in polite society. If their examples have ceased to influence, it cannot be pretended that the extinction of their authority has been the consequence of competition. Our enlightened age has not produced them any rivals.

Of all the differences between the ancients and ourselves, none more striking than our respective ideas of friendship. Grecian friendship was indeed so ethereal, that it is difficult to define its essential qualities. They must be sought rather in the pages of Plato, or the moral essays of Plutarch perhaps, and in some other books not quite as well known, but not less interesting and curious. As for modern friendship, it will be found in clubs. It is violent at a house dinner, fervent in a cigar shop, full of devotion at a cricket or a pigeon-match, or in the gathering of a steeple-chase. The nineteenth century is not entirely sceptical on the head of friendship, but fears ’tis rare. A man may have friends, but then, are they sincere ones? Do not they abuse you behind your back, and blackball you at societies where they have had the honour to propose you? It might philosophically be suggested that it is more agreeable to be abused behind one’s back than to one’s face; and, as for the second catastrophe, it should not be forgotten that if the sincere friend may occasionally put a successful veto on your election, he is always ready to propose you again. Generally speaking, among sensible persons it would seem that a rich man deems that friend a sincere one who does not want to borrow his money; while, among the less favoured with fortune’s gifts, the sincere friend is generally esteemed to be the individual who is ready to lend it.

As we must not compare Tancred and Fakredeen to Damon and Pythias, and as we cannot easily find in Pall Mall or Park Lane a parallel more modish, we must be content to say, that youth, sympathy, and occasion combined to create between them that intimacy which each was prompt to recognise as one of the principal sources of his happiness, and which the young Emir, at any rate, was persuaded must be as lasting as it was fervent and profound.

Fakredeen was seen to great advantage among his mountains. He was an object of universal regard, and, anxious to maintain the repute of which he was proud, and which was to be the basis of his future power, it seemed that he was always in a gracious and engaging position. Brilliant, sumptuous, and hospitable, always doing something kind, or saying something that pleased, the Emirs and Sheikhs, both Maronite and Druse, were proud of the princely scion of their greatest house, and hastened to repair to Ca-nobia, where they were welcome to ride any of his two hundred steeds, feast on his flocks, quaff his golden wine of Lebanon, or smoke the delicate tobaccos of his celebrated slopes.

As for Tancred, his life was novel, interesting, and exciting. The mountain breezes soon restored his habitual health; his wound entirely healed; each day brought new scenes, new objects, new characters; and there was ever at his side a captivating companion, who lent additional interest to all he saw and heard by perpetually dwelling on the great drama which they were preparing, and in which all these personages and circumstances were to perform their part and advance their purpose.

At this moment Fakredeen proposed to himself two objects: the first was, to bring together the principal chiefs of the mountain, both Maronite and Druse, and virtually to carry into effect at Ca-nobia that reconciliation between the two races which had been formally effected at Beiroot, in the preceding month of June, by the diplomatic interference of the Great Powers, and through the signature of certain articles of peace to which we have alluded. His second object was to increase his already considerable influence with these personages, by exhibiting to them, as his guest and familiar friend, an English prince, whose presence could only be accounted for by duties too grave for ordinary envoys, and who was understood to represent, in their fullest sense, the wealth and authority of the richest and most potent of nations.

The credulous air of Syria was favourable to the great mystification in which Lord Montacute was an unconscious agent. It was as fully believed in the mountain, by all the Habeishes and the Eldadahs, the Kazins and the Elvasuds, the Elheires, and the Hai-dars, great Maronite families, as well as by the Druse Djinblats and their rivals, the House of Yezbeck, or the House of Talhook, or the House of Abuneked, that the brother of the Queen of England was a guest at Canobia as it was in the stony wilderness of Petrsea. Ahmet Raslan the Druse and Butros Kerauney the Maronite, who agreed upon no other point, were resolved on this. And was it wonderful, for Butros had already received privately two hundred muskets since the arrival of Tancred, and Raslan had been promised in confidence a slice of the impending English loan by Fakredeen?

The extraordinary attention, almost homage, which the Emir paid his guest entirely authorised these convictions, although they could justify no suspicion on the part of Tancred. The natural simplicity of his manners, indeed, and his constitutional reserve, recoiled from the state and ceremony with which he found himself frequently surrounded and too often treated; but Fakredeen peremptorily stopped his remonstrances by assuring him that it was the custom of the country, and that every one present would be offended if a guest of distinction were not entertained with this extreme respect. It is impossible to argue against the customs of a country with which you are not acquainted, but coming home one day from a hawking party, a large assembly of the most influential chieftains, Fakredeen himself bounding on a Kochlani steed, and arrayed in a dress that would have become Solyman the Magnificent, Tancred about to dismount, the Lord of Canobia pushed forward, and, springing from his saddle, insisted on holding the stirrup of Lord Montacute.

‘I cannot permit this,’ said Tancred, reddening, and keeping his seat.

‘If you do not, there is not a man here who will not take it as a personal insult,’ said the Emir, speaking rapidly between his teeth, yet affecting to smile. ‘It has been the custom of the mountain for more than seven hundred years.’

‘Very strange,’ thought Tancred, as he complied and dismounted.

All Syria, from Gaza to the Euphrates, is feudal. The system, generally prevalent, flourishes in the mountain region even with intenseness. An attempt to destroy feudalism occasioned the revolt against the Egyptians in 1840, and drove Mehemet Ali from the country which had cost him so much blood and treasure. Every disorder that has subsequently occurred in Syria since the Turkish restoration may be traced to some officious interposition or hostile encroachment in this respect. The lands of Lebanon are divided into fifteen Mookatas, or feudal provinces, and the rights of the mookatadgis, or landlords, in these provinces, are power of punishment not extending to death, service in war, and labour in peace, and the collection of the imperial revenue from the population, who are in fact their vassals, on which they receive a percentage from the Porte. The administration of police, of the revenue, and indeed the whole internal government of Lebanon, are in the hands of the mookatadgis, or rather of the most powerful individuals of this class, who bear the titles of Emirs and Sheikhs, some of whom are proprietors to a very great extent, and many of whom, in point of race and antiquity of established family, are superior to the aristocracy of Europe.

There is no doubt that the founders of this privileged and territorial class, whatever may be the present creeds of its members, Moslemin, Maronite, or Druse, were the old Arabian conquerors of Syria. The Turks, conquerors in their turn, have succeeded in some degree in the plain to the estates and immunities of the followers of the first caliphs; but the Ottomans never substantially prevailed in the Highlands, and their authority has been recognised mainly by management, and as a convenient compromise amid the rivalries of so many local ambitions.

Always conspicuous among the great families of the Lebanon, during the last century and a half preeminent, has been the House of Shehaab, possessing entirely one of the provinces, and widely disseminated and powerfully endowed in several of the others. Since the commencement of the eighteenth century, the virtual sovereignty of the country has been exercised by a prince of this family, under the title of Chief Emir. The chiefs of all the different races have kissed the hand of a Shehaab; he had the power of life and death, could proclaim war and confer honours. Of all this family, none were so supreme as the Emir Bescheer, who governed Lebanon during the Egyptian invasion, and to whose subdolous career and its consequences we have already referred. When the Turks triumphed in 1840, the Emir Bescheer was deposed, and with his sons sent prisoner to Constantinople. The Porte, warned at that time by the too easy invasion of Syria and the imminent peril which it had escaped, wished itself to assume the government of Lebanon, and to garrison the passes with its troops; but the Christian Powers would not consent to this proposition, and therefore Kassim Shehaab was called to the Chief Emirate. Acted upon by the patriarch of the Maronites, Kassim, who was a Christian Shehaab, countenanced the attempts of his holiness to destroy the feudal privileges of the Druse mookatadgis, while those of the Maronites were to be retained. This produced the civil war of 1841 in Lebanon, which so perplexed and scandalised England, and which was triumphantly appealed to by France as indubitable evidence of the weakness and unpopularity of the Turks, and the fruitlessness of our previous interference. The Turks had as little to do with it as M. Guizot or Lord Palmerston; but so limited is our knowledge upon these subjects that the cry was successful, and many who had warmly supported the English minister during the previous year, and probably in equal ignorance of the real merits of the question, began now to shake their heads and fear that we had perhaps been too precipitate.

The Porte adroitly took advantage of the general anarchy to enforce the expediency of its original proposition, to which the Great Powers, however, would not assent. Kassim was deposed, after a reign of a few months, amid burning villages and their slaughtered inhabitants; and, as the Porte was resolved not to try another Shehaab, and the Great Powers were resolved not to trust the Porte, diplomacy was obliged again to interfere, and undertake to provide Lebanon with a government.

It was the interest of two parties, whose cooperation was highly essential to the settlement of this question, to prevent the desired adjustment, and these were the Turkish government and the family of Shehaab and their numerous adherents. Anarchy was an argument in the mouth of each, that the Lebanon must be governed by the Porte, or that there never could be tranquillity without a Shehaab prince. The Porte in general contented itself with being passive and watching the fray, while the agents of the Great Powers planned and promulgated their scheme of polity. The Shehaabs were more active, and their efforts were greatly assisted by the European project which was announced.

The principal feature of this administrative design was the institution of two governors of Lebanon, called Caimacams, one of whom was to be a Maronite and govern the Maronites, and the other a Druse and govern his fellow-countrymen. Superficially, this seemed fair enough, but reduced into practice the machinery would not work. For instance, the populations in many places were blended. Was a Druse Caimacam to govern the Christians in his district? Was the government of the two Caimacams to be sectarian or geographical? Should the Christian Caimacam govern all the Christians, and the Druse Caimacam govern all the Druses of the Lebanon? Or should the Christian Caimacam govern the Christian Mook-atas, as well as such Druses as lived mixed with the Christians in the Christian Mookatas, and the Druse Caimacam in the Druse country exercise the same rights?

Hence arose the terms of mixed Druses and mixed Christians; mixed Druses meaning Druses living in the Christian country, and mixed Christians those living in the Druse country. Such was the origin of the mixed population question, which entirely upset the project of Downing Street; happy spot, where they draw up constitutions for Syria and treaties for China with the same self-complacency and the same success!

Downing Street (1842) decided upon the sectarian government of the Lebanon. It was simple, and probably satisfactory, to Exeter Hall; but Downing Street was quite unaware, or had quite forgotten, that the feudal system prevailed throughout Lebanon. The Christians in the Druse districts were vassals of Druse lords. The direct rule of a Christian Caimacam was an infringement on all the feudal rights of the Djinblats and Yezbecks, of the Talhooks and the Abdel–Maleks. It would be equally fatal to the feudal rights of the Christian chiefs, the Kazins and the El-dadahs, the Elheires and the El Dahers, as regarded their Druse tenantry, unless the impossible plan of the patriarch of the Maronites, which had already produced a civil war, had been adopted. Diplomacy, therefore, seemed on the point of at length succeeding in uniting the whole population of Lebanon in one harmonious action, but unfortunately against its own project.

The Shehaab party availed themselves of these circumstances with great dexterity and vigour. The party was powerful. The whole of the Maronites, a population of more than 150,000, were enrolled in their ranks. The Emir Bescheer was of their faith; so was the unfortunate Kassim. True, there were several Shehaab princes who were Moslemin, but they might become Christians, and they were not Druses, at least only two or three of them. The Maronite clergy exercised an unquestioned influence over their flocks. It was powerfully organised: a patriarch, numerous monasteries, nine prelates, and an active country priesthood.

Previously to the civil war of 1841, the feeling of the Druses had been universally in favour of the Shehaabs. The peril in which feudalism was placed revived their ancient sentiments. A Shehaab committee was appointed, with perpetual sittings at Deir el Kamar, the most considerable place in the Lebanon; and, although it was chiefly composed of Christians, there were several Druses at least in correspondence with it. But the most remarkable institution which occurred about this time (1844) was that of ‘Young Syria.’ It flourishes: in every town and village of Lebanon there is a band of youth who acknowledge the title, and who profess nationality as their object, though, behind that plea, the restoration of the House of Shehaab generally peeps out.

Downing Street, frightened, gave up sectarian diplomacy, and announced the adoption of the geographical principle of government. The Druses, now that their feudal privileges were secured, cooled in their ardour for nationality. The Shehaabs, on the other hand, finding that the Druses were not to be depended on, changed their note. ‘Is it to be tolerated for a moment, that a Christian should be governed by a Druse? Were it a Moslem, one might bear it; these things will happen; but a Druse, who adores a golden calf, worshippers of Eblis! One might as well be governed by a Jew.’

The Maronite patriarch sent 200,000 piastres to his children to buy arms; the superior of the convent of Maashmooshi forwarded little less, saying it was much better to spend their treasure in helping the Christians than, in keeping it to be plundered by the Druses. Bishop Tubia gave his bond for a round sum, but afterwards recalled it; Bishop Joseph Djezini came into Sidon with his pockets full, and told the people that a prince of the House of Shehaab would soon be at their head, but explained on a subsequent occasion that he went thither merely to distribute charity.

In this state of affairs, in May, 1845, the civil war broke out. The Christians attacked the Druses in several districts on the same day. The attack was unprovoked, and eventually unsuccessful. Twenty villages were seen burning at the same time from Beiroot. The Druses repulsed the Christians and punished them sharply; the Turkish troops, at the instigation of the European authorities, marched into the mountain and vigorously interfered. The Maronites did not show as much courage in the field as in the standing committee at Deir el Kamar, but several of the Shehaab princes who headed them, especially the Emir Kais, maintained the reputation of their house and displayed a brilliant courage. The Emir Fakre-deen was at Canobia at the time of the outbreak, which, as it often happens, though not unpremeditated, was unexpected. He marched to the scene of action at the head of his troops, and, when he found that Kais had been outflanked and repulsed, that the Maronites were disheartened in proportion to their previous vanity and insolence, and that the Turkish forces had interfered, he assumed the character of mediator. Taking advantage of the circumstances and the alarm of all parties at the conjuncture and its yet unascertained consequences, he obtained for the Maronites a long-promised indemnity from the Porte for the ravages of the Druses in the civil war of 1841, which the Druses had been unable to pay, on condition that they should accept the geographical scheme of government; and, having signed, with other Emirs and Sheikhs, the ten articles of peace, he departed, as we have seen, on that visit to Jerusalem which exercised such control over the career of Lord Monta-cute, and led to such strange results and such singular adventures.

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Last updated Friday, March 7, 2014 at 15:19