HotFreeBooks.com
De Quincey's Revolt of the Tartars
by Thomas De Quincey
1  2  3     Next Part
Home - Random Browse

DE QUINCEY'S REVOLT OF THE TARTARS

Edited with Introduction and Notes

by

WILLIAM EDWARD SIMONDS, PH.D. Professor of the English Language and Literature in Knox College

Boston, U.S.A. Ginn & Company, Publishers The Athenaeum Press

1899



"In addition to the general impression of his diminutiveness and fragility, one was struck with the peculiar beauty of his head and forehead, rising disproportionately high over his small wrinkly visage and gentle deep-set eyes." DAVID MASSON.



PREFACE.

In editing an English classic for use in the secondary schools, there is always opportunity for the expression of personal convictions and personal taste; nevertheless, where one has predecessors in the task of preparing such a text, it is difficult always, occasionally impossible, to avoid treading on their heels. The present editor, therefore, hastens to acknowledge his indebtedness to the various school editions of the Revolt of the Tartars, already in existence. The notes by Masson are so authoritative and so essential that their quotation needs no comment. De Quincey's footnotes are retained in their original form and appear embodied in the text. The other annotations suggest the method which the editor would follow in class-room work upon this essay.

The student's attention is called frequently to the form of expression; the discriminating use of epithets, the employment of foreign phrases, the allusions to Milton and the Bible, the structure of paragraphs, the treatment of incident, the development of feeling, the impressiveness of a present personality; all this, however, is with the purpose, not of mechanic exercise, nor merely to illustrate "rhetoric," but to illuminate De Quincey. It is with this intention, presumably, that the text is prescribed. There is little attractiveness, after all, in the idea of a style so colorless and so impersonal that the individuality of its victim is lost in its own perfection; this was certainly not the Opium-Eater's mind concerning literary form, nor does it appear to have been the aim of any of our masters. Indeed, it may be well in passing to point out to pupils how fatal to success in writing is the attempt to imitate the style of any man, De Quincey included; it is always in order to emphasize the naturalness and spontaneity of the "grand style" wherever it is found. The teacher should not inculcate a blind admiration of all that De Quincey has said or done; there is opportunity, even in this brief essay, to exercise the pupil in applying the commonplace tests of criticism, although it should be seen to as well that a true appreciation is awakened for the real excellences of this little masterpiece.



CONTENTS.

PAGE

INTRODUCTION:

CRITICAL APPRECIATION vii

BIOGRAPHICAL SKETCH x

AUTHORITIES AND REFERENCES xxii

THE REVOLT OF THE TARTARS 1

APPENDED NOTES BY MASSON 67

NOTES, EXPLANATORY AND CRITICAL 74



INTRODUCTION.

Thomas De Quincey is one of the eccentric figures in English literature. Popularly he is known as the English Opium-Eater and as the subject of numerous anecdotes which emphasize the oddities of his temperament and the unconventionality of his habits. That this man of distinguished genius was the victim—pitifully the victim—of opium is the lamentable fact; that he was morbidly shy and shunned intercourse with all except a few intimate, congenial friends; that he was comically indifferent to the fashion of his dress; that he was the most unpractical and childlike of men; that he was often betrayed, because of these peculiarities, into many ridiculous embarrassments, such as are described by Mr. Findlay, Mr. Hogg, and Mr. Burton,—of all this there can be no doubt; but these idiosyncrasies are, after all, of minor importance, the accidents, not the essentials in the life and personality of this remarkable man. The points that should attract our notice, the qualities that really give distinction to De Quincey, are the broad sweep of his knowledge, almost unlimited in its scope and singularly accurate in its details, a facility of phrasing and a word supply that transformed the mere power of discriminating expression into a fine art, and a style that, while it lapsed occasionally from the standard of its own excellence, was generally self-corrective and frequently forsook the levels of commonplace excellence for the highest reaches of impassioned prose. Nor is this all. His pages do not lack in humor—humor of the truest and most delicate type; and if De Quincey is at times impelled beyond the bounds of taste, even these excursions demonstrate his power, at least in handling the grotesque. His sympathies, however, are always genuine, and often are profound. The pages of his autobiographic essays reveal the strength of his affections, while in the interpretation of such a character as that of Joan of Arc, or in allusions like those to the pariahs,—defenceless outcasts from society, by whose wretched lot his heart was often wrung,—he writes in truest pathos.

Now sympathy is own child of the imagination, whether expressed in the language of laughter or in the vernacular of tears; and the most distinctive quality in the mental make-up of De Quincey was, after all, this dominant imagination which was characteristic of the man from childhood to old age. The Opium-Eater once defined the great scholar as "not one who depends simply on an infinite memory, but also on an infinite and electrical power of combination, bringing together from the four winds, like the angel of the resurrection, what else were dust from dead men's bones, into the unity of breathing life." Such was De Quincey himself. He was a scholar born, gifted with a mind apt for the subtleties of metaphysics, a memory well-nigh inexhaustible in the recovery of facts; in one respect, at least, he was a great scholar, for his mind was dominated by an imagination as vigorous as that which created Macaulay's England, almost as sensitive to dramatic effect as that which painted Carlyle's French Revolution. Therefore when he wrote narrative, historical narrative, or reminiscence, he lived in the experiences he pictured, as great historians do; perhaps living over again the scenes of the past, or for the first time making real the details of occurrences with which he was only recently familiar.

The Revolt of the Tartars is a good illustration of his power. Attracted by the chance reading of an obscure French missionary and traveller to the dramatic possibilities of an episode in Russian history, De Quincey built from the bare notes thus discovered, supplemented by others drawn from a matter-of-fact German archaeologist, a narrative which for vividness of detail and truthfulness of local color belongs among the best of those classics in which fancy helps to illuminate fact, and where the imagination is invoked to recreate what one feels intuitively must have been real.

The Revolt of the Tartars, while not exhibiting the highest achievement of the author's power, nevertheless belongs in the group of writings wherein his peculiar excellences are fairly manifested. The obvious quality of its realism has been pointed out already; the masterly use of the principles of suspense and stimulated interest will hardly pass unnoticed. A negative excellence is the absence of that discursiveness in composition, that tendency to digress into superfluous comment, which is this author's one prevailing fault. De Quincey was gifted with a fine appreciation of harmonious sound, and in those passages where his spirit soars highest not the least of their beauties is found in the melodiousness of their tone and the rhythmic sweetness of their motion.

It is as a master of rhetoric that De Quincey is distinguished among writers. Some hints of his ability are seen in the opening and closing passages of this essay, but to find him at his best one must turn to the Confessions and to the other papers which describe his life, particularly those which recount his marvellous dreams. In these papers we find the passages where De Quincey's passion rises to the heights which few other writers have ever reached in prose, a loftiness and grandeur which is technically denominated as "sublime." In his Essay on Style, published in Blackwood's, 1840, he deprecates the usual indifference to form, on the part of English writers, "the tendency of the national mind to value the matter of a book not only as paramount to the manner, but even as distinct from it and as capable of a separate insulation." As one of the great masters of prose style in this century, De Quincey has so served the interests of art in this regard, that in his own case the charge is sometimes reversed: his own works are read rather to observe his manner than to absorb his thought. Yet when this is said, it is not to imply that the material is unworthy or the ideas unsound; on the contrary, his sentiment is true and his ideas are wholesome; but many of the topics treated lie outside the deeper interests of ordinary life, and fail to appeal to us so practically as do the writings of some lesser men. Of the "one hundred and fifty magazine articles" which comprise his works, there are many that will not claim the general interest, yet his writings as a whole will always be recognized by students of rhetoric as containing excellences which place their author among the English classics. Nor can De Quincey be accused of subordinating matter to manner; in spite of his taste for the theatrical and a tendency to extravagance, his expression is in keeping with his thought, and the material of those passages which contain his most splendid flights is appropriate to the treatment it receives. One effective reason, certainly, why we take pleasure in the mere style of De Quincey's work is because that work is so thoroughly inspired with the Opium-Eater's own genial personality, because it so unmistakably suggests that inevitable "smack of individuality" which gives to the productions of all great authors their truest distinction if not their greatest worth.

Thomas De Quincey was born in Manchester, August 15, 1785. His father was a well-to-do merchant of literary taste, but of him the children of the household scarcely knew; he was an invalid, a prey to consumption, and during their childhood made his residence mostly in the milder climate of Lisbon or the West Indies. Thomas was seven years old when his father was brought home to die, and the lad, though sensitively impressed by the event, felt little of the significance of relationship between them. Mrs. De Quincey was a somewhat stately lady, rather strict in discipline and rigid in her views. There does not seem to have been the most complete sympathy between mother and son, yet De Quincey was always reverent in his attitude, and certainly entertained a genuine respect for her intelligence and character. There were eight children in the home, four sons and four daughters; Thomas was the fifth in age, and his relations to the other members of this little community are set forth most interestingly in the opening chapters of his Autobiographic Sketches.

De Quincey's child life was spent in the country; first at a pretty rustic dwelling known as "The Farm," and after 1792 at a larger country house near Manchester, built by his father, and given by his mother the pleasantly suggestive name of "Greenhay," hay meaning hedge, or hedgerow. The early boyhood of Thomas De Quincey is of more than ordinary interest, because of the clear light it throws upon the peculiar temperament and endowments of the man. Moreover, we have the best of authority in our study of this period, namely, the author himself, who in the Sketches already mentioned, and in his most noted work, The Confessions of an English Opium-Eater, has told the story of these early years in considerable detail and with apparent sincerity. De Quincey was not a sturdy boy. Shy and dreamy, exquisitely sensitive to impressions of melancholy and mystery, he was endowed with an imagination abnormally active even for a child. It is customary to give prominence to De Quincey's pernicious habit of opium-eating, in attempting to explain the grotesque fancies and weird flights of his marvellous mind in later years; yet it is only fair to emphasize the fact that the later achievements of that strange creative faculty were clearly foreshadowed in youth. For example, the earliest incident in his life that he could afterwards recall, he describes as "a remarkable dream of terrific grandeur about a favorite nurse, which is interesting to myself for this reason—that it demonstrates my dreaming tendencies to have been constitutional, and not dependent upon laudanum."[1] Again he tells us how, when six years old, upon the death of a favorite sister three years older, he stole unobserved upstairs to the death chamber; unlocking the door and entering silently, he stood for a moment gazing through the open window toward the bright sunlight of a cloudless day, then turned to behold the angel face upon the pillow. Awed in the presence of death, the meaning of which he began vaguely to understand, he stood listening to a "solemn wind" that began to blow—"the saddest that ear ever heard." What followed should appear in De Quincey's own words: "A vault seemed to open in the zenith of the far blue sky, a shaft which ran up forever. I, in spirit, rose as if on billows that also ran up the shaft forever; and the billows seemed to pursue the throne of God; but that also ran on before us and fled away continually. The flight and the pursuit seemed to go on forever and ever. Frost gathering frost, some sarsar wind of death, seemed to repel me; some mighty relation between God and death dimly struggled to evolve itself from the dreadful antagonism between them; shadowy meanings even yet continued to exercise and torment, in dreams, the deciphering oracle within me. I slept—for how long I cannot say: slowly I recovered my self-possession; and, when I woke, found myself standing as before, close to my sister's bed."[2] Somewhat similar in effect were the fancies that came to this dreamy boy on Sunday mornings during service in the fine old English church. Through the wide central field of uncolored glass, set in a rich framework of gorgeous color,—for the side panes of the great windows were pictured with the stories of saints and martyrs,—the lad saw "white fleecy clouds sailing over the azure depths of the sky." Straightway the picture changed in his imagination, and visions of young children, lying on white beds of sickness and of death, rose before his eyes, ascending slowly and softly into heaven, God's arms descending from the heavens that He might the sooner take them to Himself and grant release. Such are not infrequently the dreams of children. De Quincey's experience is not unique; but with him imagination, the imagination of childhood, remained unimpaired through life. It was not wholly opium that made him the great dreamer of our literature, any more than it was the effect of a drug that brought from his dying lips the cry of "Sister, sister, sister!"—an echo from this sacred chamber of death, where he had stood awed and entranced nearly seventy years before.

Not all of De Quincey's boyhood, however, was passed under influences so serious and mystical as these. He was early compelled to undergo what he is pleased to call his "introduction to the world of strife." His brother William, five years the senior of Thomas, appears to have been endowed with an imagination as remarkable as his own. "His genius for mischief," says Thomas, "amounted to inspiration." Very amusing are the chronicles of the little autocracy thus despotized by William. The assumption of the young tyrant was magnificent. Along with the prerogatives and privileges of seniority, he took upon himself as well certain responsibilities more galling to his half-dozen uneasy subordinates, doubtless, than the undisputed hereditary rights of age. William constituted himself the educational guide of the nursery, proclaiming theories, delivering lectures, performing experiments, asserting opinions upon subjects diverse and erudite. Indeed, a vigorous spirit was housed in William's body, and but for his early death, this lad also might have brought lustre to the family name.

A real introduction to the world of strife came with the development of a lively feud between the two brothers on the one side, and on the other a crowd of young belligerents employed in a cotton factory on the road between Greenhay and Manchester, where the boys now attended school. Active hostilities occurred daily when the two "aristocrats" passed the factory on their way home at the hour when its inmates emerged from their labor. The dread of this encounter hung like a cloud over Thomas, yet he followed William loyally, and served with all the spirit of a cadet of the house. Imagination played an important part in this campaign, and it is for that reason primarily that to this and the other incidents of De Quincey's childhood prominence is here given; in no better way can we come to an understanding of the real nature of this singular man.

In 1796 the home at Greenhay was broken up. The irrepressible William was sent to London to study art; Mrs. De Quincey removed to Bath, and Thomas was placed in the grammar school of that town; a younger brother, Richard, in all respects a pleasing contrast to William, was a sympathetic comrade and schoolmate. For two years De Quincey remained in this school, achieving a great reputation in the study of Latin, and living a congenial, comfortable life. This was followed by a year in a private school at Winkfield, which was terminated by an invitation to travel in Ireland with young Lord Westport, a lad of De Quincey's own age, an intimacy having sprung up between them a year earlier at Bath. It was in 1800 that the trip was made, and the period of the visit extended over four or five months. After this long recess De Quincey was placed in the grammar school at Manchester, his guardians expecting that a three years' course in this school would bring him a scholarship at Oxford. However, the new environment proved wholly uncongenial, and the sensitive boy who, in spite of his shyness and his slender frame, possessed grit in abundance, and who was through life more or less a law to himself, made up his mind to run away. His flight was significant. Early on a July morning he slipped quietly off—in one pocket a copy of an English poet, a volume of Euripides in the other. His first move was toward Chester, the seventeen-year-old runaway deeming it proper that he should report at once to his mother, who was now living in that town. So he trudged overland forty miles and faced his astonished and indignant parent. At the suggestion of a kind-hearted uncle, just home from India, Thomas was let off easily; indeed, he was given an allowance of a guinea a week, with permission to go on a tramp through North Wales, a proposition which he hailed with delight. The next three months were spent in a rather pleasant ramble, although the weekly allowance was scarcely sufficient to supply all the comforts desired. The trip ended strangely. Some sudden fancy seizing him, the boy broke off all connection with his friends and went to London. Unknown, unprovided for, he buried himself in the vast life of the metropolis. He lived a precarious existence for several months, suffering from exposure, reduced to the verge of starvation, his whereabouts a mystery to his friends. The cloud of this experience hung darkly over his spirit, even in later manhood; perceptions of a true world of strife were vivid; impressions of these wretched months formed the material of his most sombre dreams.

Rescued at last, providentially, De Quincey spent the next period of his life, covering the years 1803-7, in residence at Oxford. His career as a student at the university is obscure. He was a member of Worcester College, was known as a quiet, studious man, and lived an isolated if not a solitary life. With a German student, who taught him Hebrew, De Quincey seems to have had some intimacy, but his circle of acquaintance was small, and no contemporary has thrown much light on his stay. In 1807 he disappeared from Oxford, having taken the written tests for his degree, but failing to present himself for the necessary oral examination.

The year of his departure from Oxford brought to De Quincey a long-coveted pleasure—acquaintance with two famous contemporaries whom he greatly admired, Coleridge and Wordsworth. Characteristic of De Quincey in many ways was his gift, anonymously made, of L300 to his hero, Coleridge. This was in 1807, when De Quincey was twenty-two, and was master of his inheritance. The acquaintance ripened into intimacy, and in 1809 the young man, himself gifted with talents which were to make him equally famous with these, took up his residence at Grasmere, in the Lake country, occupying for many years the cottage which Wordsworth had given up on his removal to ampler quarters at Rydal Mount. Here he spent much of his time in the society of the men who were then grouped in distinguished neighborhood; besides Wordsworth and Coleridge, the poet Southey was accessible, and a frequent visitor was John Wilson, later widely known as the "Christopher North" of Blackwood's Magazine. Nor was De Quincey idle; his habits of study were confirmed; indeed, he was already a philosopher at twenty-four. These were years of hard reading and industrious thought, wherein he accumulated much of that metaphysical wisdom which was afterward to win admiring recognition.

In 1816 De Quincey married Margaret Simpson, a farmer's daughter living near. There is a pretty scene painted by the author himself,[3] in which he gives us a glimpse of his domestic life at this time. Therein he pictures the cottage, standing in a valley, eighteen miles from any town; no spacious valley, but about two miles long by three-quarters of a mile in average width. The mountains are real mountains, between 3000 and 4000 feet high, and the cottage a real cottage, white, embowered with flowering shrubs, so chosen as to unfold a succession of flowers upon the walls, and clustering around the windows, through all the months of spring, summer, and autumn, beginning, in fact, with May roses and ending with jasmine. It is in the winter season, however, that De Quincey paints his picture, and so he describes a room, seventeen feet by twelve, and not more than seven and one-half feet high. This is the drawing-room, although it might more justly be termed the library, for it happens that books are the one form of property in which the owner is wealthy. Of these he has about 5000, collected gradually since his eighteenth year. The room is, therefore, populous with books. There is a good fire on the hearth. The furniture is plain and modest, befitting the unpretending cottage of a scholar. Near the fire stands a tea table; there are only two cups and saucers on the tray. It is an "eternal" teapot that the artist would like us to imagine, for he usually drinks tea from eight o'clock at night to four in the morning. There is, of course, a companion at the tea table, and very lovingly does the husband suggest the pleasant personality of his young wife. One other important feature is included in the scene; upon the table there rests also a decanter, in which sparkles the ruby-colored laudanum.

De Quincey's experience with opium had begun while he was a student at the university, in 1804. It was first taken to obtain relief from neuralgia, and his use of the drug did not at once become habitual. During the period of residence at Grasmere, however, De Quincey became confirmed in the habit, and so thoroughly was he its victim that for a season his intellectual powers were well-nigh paralyzed; his mind sank under such a cloud of depression and gloom that his condition was pitiful in the extreme. Just before his marriage, in 1816, De Quincey, by a vigorous effort, partially regained his self-control and succeeded in materially reducing his daily allowance of the drug; but in the following year he fell more deeply than ever under its baneful power, until in 1818-19 his consumption of opium was something almost incredible. Thus he became truly enough the great English Opium-Eater, whose Confessions were later to fill a unique place in English literature. It was finally the absolute need of bettering his financial condition that compelled De Quincey to shake off the shackles of his vice; this he practically accomplished, although perhaps he was never entirely free from the habit. The event is coincident with the beginning of his career as a public writer. In 1820 he became a man of letters.

As a professional writer it is to be noted that De Quincey was throughout a contributor to the periodicals. With one or two exceptions all his works found their way to the public through the pages of the magazines, and he was associated as contributor with most of those that were prominent in his time. From 1821 to 1825 we find him residing for the most part in London, and here his public career began. It was De Quincey's most distinctive work which first appeared. The London Magazine, in its issue for September, 1821, contained the first paper of the Confessions of an English Opium-Eater. The novelty of the subject was sufficient to obtain for the new writer an interested hearing, and there was much discussion as to whether his apparent frankness was genuine or assumed. All united in applause of the masterly style which distinguished the essay, also of the profundity and value of the interesting material it contained. A second part was included in the magazine for October. Other articles by the Opium-Eater followed, in which the wide scholarship of the author was abundantly shown, although the topics were of less general interest.

In 1826 De Quincey became an occasional contributor to Blackwood's Magazine, and this connection drew him to Edinburgh, where he remained, either in the city itself or in its vicinity, for the rest of his life. The grotesquely humorous Essay on Murder Considered as One of the Fine Arts appeared in Blackwood's in 1827. In 1832 he published a series of articles on Roman History, entitled The Caesars. It was in July, 1837, that the Revolt of the Tartars appeared; in 1840 his critical paper upon The Essenes. Meanwhile De Quincey had begun contributions to Tait's Magazine, another Edinburgh publication, and it was in that periodical that the Sketches of Life and Manners from the Autobiography of an English Opium-Eater began to appear in 1834, running on through several years. These sketches include the chapters on Wordsworth, Coleridge, Lamb, and Southey as well as those Autobiographic Sketches which form such a charming and illuminating portion of his complete works.

The family life was sadly broken in 1837 by the death of De Quincey's wife. He who was now left as guardian of the little household of six children, was himself so helpless in all practical matters that it seemed as though he were in their childish care rather than protector of them. Scores of anecdotes are related of his odd and unpractical behavior. One of his curious habits had been the multiplication of lodgings; as books and manuscripts accumulated about him so that there remained room for no more, he would turn the key upon his possessions and migrate elsewhere to repeat the performance later on. It is known that as many as four separate rents were at one and the same time being paid by this odd, shy little man, rather than allow the disturbance or contraction of his domain. Sometimes an anxious journey in search of a manuscript had to be made by author and publisher in conjunction before the missing paper could be located. The home life of this eccentric yet lovable man of genius seems to have been always affectionate and tender in spite even of his bondage to opium; it was especially beautiful and childlike in his latest years. His eldest daughter, Margaret, assumed quietly the place of headship, and with a discretion equal to her devotion she watched over her father's welfare. With reference to De Quincey's circumstances at this time, his biographer, Mr. Masson, says: "Very soon, if left to himself, he would have taken possession of every room in the house, one after another, and 'snowed up' each with his papers; but, that having been gently prevented, he had one room to work in all day and all night to his heart's content. The evenings, or the intervals between his daily working time and his nightly working time, or stroll, he generally spent in the drawing-room with his daughters, either alone or in company with any friends that chanced to be with him. At such times, we are told, he was unusually charming. 'The newspaper was brought out, and he, telling in his own delightful way, rather than reading, the news, would, on questions from this one or that one of the party, often including young friends of his children, neighbors, or visitors from distant places, illuminate the subject with such a wealth of memories, of old stories of past or present experiences, of humor, of suggestion, even of prophecy, as by its very wealth makes it impossible to give any taste of it.' The description is by one of his daughters; and she adds a touch which is inimitable in its fidelity and tenderness. 'He was not,' she says, 'a reassuring man for nervous people to live with, as those nights were exceptional on which he did not set something on fire, the commonest incident being for some one to look up from book or work, to say casually, Papa, your hair is on fire; of which a calm Is it, my love? and a hand rubbing out the blaze was all the notice taken.'"[4]

Of his personal appearance Professor Minto says:

"He was a slender little man, with small, clearly chiselled features, a large head, and a remarkably high, square forehead. There was a peculiarly high and regular arch in the wrinkles of his brow, which was also slightly contracted. The lines of his countenance fell naturally into an expression of mild suffering, of endurance sweetened by benevolence, or, according to the fancy of the interpreter, of gentle, melancholy sweetness. All that met him seem to have been struck with the measured, silvery, yet somewhat hollow and unearthly tones of his voice, the more impressive that the flow of his talk was unhesitating and unbroken."

* * * * *

The literary labors were continuous. In 1845 the beautiful Suspiria de Profundis (Sighs from the Depths) appeared in Blackwood's; The English Mail Coach and The Vision of Sudden Death, in 1849. Among other papers contributed to Tait's Magazine, the Joan of Arc appeared in 1847. During the last ten years of his life, De Quincey was occupied chiefly in preparing for the publishers a complete edition of his works. Ticknor & Fields, of Boston, the most distinguished of our American publishing firms, had put forth, 1851-55, the first edition of De Quincey's collected writings, in twenty volumes. The first British edition was undertaken by Mr. James Hogg, of Edinburgh, in 1853, with the co-operation of the author, and under his direction; the final volume of this edition was not issued until the year following De Quincey's death.

In the autumn of 1859 the frail physique of the now famous Opium-Eater grew gradually feeble, although suffering from no definite disease. It became evident that his life was drawing to its end. On December 8, his two daughters standing by his side, he fell into a doze. His mind had been wandering amid the scenes of his childhood, and his last utterance was the cry, "Sister, sister, sister!" as if in recognition of one awaiting him, one who had been often in his dreams, the beloved Elizabeth, whose death had made so profound and lasting an impression on his imagination as a child.

* * * * *

The authoritative edition of De Quincey's Works is that edited by David Masson and published in fourteen volumes by Adam and Charles Black (Edinburgh). For American students the Riverside Edition, in twelve volumes (Houghton, Mifflin & Co., Boston), will be found convenient. The most satisfactory Life of De Quincey is the one by Masson in the English Men of Letters series. Of a more anecdotal type are the Life of De Quincey, by H.A. Page, whose real name is Alexander H. Japp (2 vols., New York, 1877), and De Quincey Memorials (New York, 1891), by the same author. Very interesting is the brief volume, Recollections of Thomas De Quincey, by John R. Findlay (Edinburgh, 1886), who also contributes the paper on De Quincey to the Encyclopaedia Britannica. De Quincey and his Friends, by James Hogg (London, 1895), is another volume of recollections, souvenirs, and anecdotes, which help to make real their subject's personality. Besides the editor, other writers contribute to this volume: Richard Woodhouse, John R. Findlay, and John Hill Burton, who has given under the name "Papaverius," a picturesque description of the Opium-Eater. The student should always remember that De Quincey's own chapters in the Autobiographic Sketches, and the Confessions of an English Opium-Eater, which are among the most charming and important of his writings, are also the most authoritative and most valuable sources of our information concerning him. In reading about De Quincey, do not fail to read De Quincey himself.

The best criticism of the Opium-Eater's work is found in William Minto's Manual of English Prose Literature (Ginn & Co.). A shorter essay is contained in Saintsbury's History of Nineteenth Century Literature. A very valuable list of all De Quincey's writings, in chronological order, is given by Fred N. Scott, in his edition of De Quincey's essays on Style, Rhetoric, and Language (Allyn & Bacon). Numerous magazine articles may be found by referring to Poole's Index.

FOOTNOTES:

[1] Autobiographic Sketches, Chap. I.

[2] Ibid.

[3] Confessions of an English Opium-Eater, Part II.

[4] De Quincey (English Men of Letters), David Masson, p. 110.



HOW TO READ DE QUINCEY.

"De Quincey's sixteen volumes of magazine articles are full of brain from beginning to end. At the rate of about half a volume a day, they would serve for a month's reading, and a month continuously might be worse expended. There are few courses of reading from which a young man of good natural intelligence would come away more instructed, charmed, and stimulated, or, to express the matter as definitely as possible, with his mind more stretched. Good natural intelligence, a certain fineness of fibre, and some amount of scholarly education, have to be presupposed, indeed, in all readers of De Quincey. But, even for the fittest readers, a month's complete and continuous course of De Quincey would be too much. Better have him on the shelf, and take down a volume at intervals for one or two of the articles to which there may be an immediate attraction. An evening with De Quincey in this manner will always be profitable."

DAVID MASSON, Life of De Quincey, Chap. XI.



REVOLT OF THE TARTARS;

OR, FLIGHT OF THE KALMUCK KHAN AND HIS PEOPLE FROM THE RUSSIAN TERRITORIES TO THE FRONTIERS OF CHINA.

There is no great event in modern history, or, perhaps it may be said more broadly, none in all history, from its earliest records, less generally known, or more striking to the imagination, than the flight eastwards of a principal Tartar nation across the boundless steppes of Asia in the 5 latter half of the last century. The terminus a quo of this flight and the terminus ad quem are equally magnificent—the mightiest of Christian thrones being the one, the mightiest of pagan the other; and the grandeur of these two terminal objects is harmoniously supported by the 10 romantic circumstances of the flight. In the abruptness of its commencement and the fierce velocity of its execution we read an expression of the wild, barbaric character of the agents. In the unity of purpose connecting this myriad of wills, and in the blind but unerring aim at a 15 mark so remote, there is something which recalls to the mind those almighty instincts that propel the migrations of the swallow and the leeming or the life-withering marches of the locust. Then, again, in the gloomy vengeance of Russia and her vast artillery, which hung upon the rear 20 and the skirts of the fugitive vassals, we are reminded of Miltonic images—such, for instance, as that of the solitary hand pursuing through desert spaces and through ancient chaos a rebellious host, and overtaking with volleying thunders those who believed themselves already within the security of darkness and of distance.

I shall have occasion, farther on, to compare this event with other great national catastrophes as to the magnitude 5 of the suffering. But it may also challenge a comparison with similar events under another relation,—viz. as to its dramatic capabilities. Few cases, perhaps, in romance or history, can sustain a close collation with this as to the complexity of its separate interests. The great outline of 10 the enterprise, taken in connection with the operative motives, hidden or avowed, and the religious sanctions under which it was pursued, give to the case a triple character: 1st, That of a conspiracy, with as close a unity in the incidents, and as much of a personal interest in 15 the moving characters, with fine dramatic contrasts, as belongs to "Venice Preserved" or to the "Fiesco" of Schiller. 2dly, That of a great military expedition offering the same romantic features of vast distances to be traversed, vast reverses to be sustained, untried routes, 20 enemies obscurely ascertained, and hardships too vaguely prefigured, which mark the Egyptian expedition of Cambyses—the anabasis of the younger Cyrus, and the subsequent retreat of the ten thousand, the Parthian expeditions of the Romans, especially those of Crassus 25 and Julian—or (as more disastrous than any of them, and, in point of space, as well as in amount of forces, more extensive) the Russian anabasis and katabasis of Napoleon. 3dly, That of a religious Exodus, authorized by an oracle venerated throughout many nations of Asia, 30 —an Exodus, therefore, in so far resembling the great Scriptural Exodus of the Israelites, under Moses and Joshua, as well as in the very peculiar distinction of carrying along with them their entire families, women, children, slaves, their herd of cattle and of sheep, their horses and their camels.

This triple character of the enterprise naturally invests it with a more comprehensive interest; but the dramatic interest which we ascribed to it, or its fitness for a stage 5 representation, depends partly upon the marked variety and the strength of the personal agencies concerned, and partly upon the succession of scenical situations. Even the steppes, the camels, the tents, the snowy and the sandy deserts are not beyond the scale of our modern representative 10 powers, as often called into action in the theatres both of Paris and London; and the series of situations unfolded,—beginning with the general conflagration on the Wolga—passing thence to the disastrous scenes of the flight (as it literally was in its commencement)—to 15 the Tartar siege of the Russian fortress Koulagina—the bloody engagement with the Cossacks in the mountain passes at Ouchim—the surprisal by the Bashkirs and the advanced posts of the Russian army at Torgau—the private conspiracy at this point against the Khan—the 20 long succession of running fights—the parting massacres at the Lake of Tengis under the eyes of the Chinese—and, finally, the tragical retribution to Zebek-Dorchi at the hunting lodge of the Chinese Emperor;—all these situations communicate a scenical animation to the wild 25 romance, if treated dramatically; whilst a higher and a philosophic interest belongs to it as a case of authentic history, commemorating a great revolution, for good and for evil, in the fortunes of a whole people—a people semi-barbarous, but simple-hearted, and of ancient descent. 30

* * * * *

On the 21st of January, 1761, the young Prince Oubacha assumed the sceptre of the Kalmucks upon the death of his father. Some part of the power attached to this dignity he had already wielded since his fourteenth year, in quality of Vice-Khan, by the express appointment and with the avowed support of the Russian Government. He was now about eighteen years of age, amiable in his personal character, and not without titles to respect in his 5 public character as a sovereign prince. In times more peaceable, and amongst a people more entirely civilized or more humanized by religion, it is even probable that he might have discharged his high duties with considerable distinction; but his lot was thrown upon stormy 10 times, and a most difficult crisis amongst tribes whose native ferocity was exasperated by debasing forms of superstition, and by a nationality as well as an inflated conceit of their own merit absolutely unparalleled; whilst the circumstances of their hard and trying position under 15 the jealous surveillance of an irresistible lord paramount, in the person of the Russian Czar, gave a fiercer edge to the natural unamiableness of the Kalmuck disposition, and irritated its gloomier qualities into action under the restless impulses of suspicion and permanent distrust. No 20 prince could hope for a cordial allegiance from his subjects or a peaceful reign under the circumstances of the case; for the dilemma in which a Kalmuck ruler stood at present was of this nature: wanting the support and sanction of the Czar, he was inevitably too weak from 25 without to command confidence from his subjects or resistance to his competitors. On the other hand, with this kind of support, and deriving his title in any degree from the favor of the Imperial Court, he became almost in that extent an object of hatred at home and within the 30 whole compass of his own territory. He was at once an object of hatred for the past, being a living monument of national independence ignominiously surrendered; and an object of jealousy for the future, as one who had already advertised himself to be a fitting tool for the ultimate purposes (whatsoever those might prove to be) of the Russian Court. Coming himself to the Kalmuck sceptre under the heaviest weight of prejudice from the unfortunate circumstances of his position, it might have been 5 expected that Oubacha would have been pre-eminently an object of detestation; for, besides his known dependence upon the Cabinet of St. Petersburg, the direct line of succession had been set aside, and the principle of inheritance violently suspended, in favor of his own 10 father, so recently as nineteen years before the era of his own accession, consequently within the lively remembrance of the existing generation. He, therefore, almost equally with his father, stood within the full current of the national prejudices, and might have anticipated the 15 most pointed hostility. But it was not so: such are the caprices in human affairs that he was even, in a moderate sense, popular—a benefit which wore the more cheering aspect and the promises of permanence, inasmuch as he owed it exclusively to his personal qualities of kindness 20 and affability, as well as to the beneficence of his government. On the other hand, to balance this unlooked-for prosperity at the outset of his reign, he met with a rival in popular favor—almost a competitor—in the person of Zebek-Dorchi, a prince with considerable pretensions to 25 the throne, and, perhaps it might be said, with equal pretensions. Zebek-Dorchi was a direct descendant of the same royal house as himself, through a different branch. On public grounds, his claim stood, perhaps, on a footing equally good with that of Oubacha, whilst his personal 30 qualities, even in those aspects which seemed to a philosophical observer most odious and repulsive, promised the most effectual aid to the dark purposes of an intriguer or a conspirator, and were generally fitted to win a popular support precisely in those points where Oubacha was most defective. He was much superior in external appearance to his rival on the throne, and so far better qualified to win the good opinion of a semi-barbarous people; whilst his dark intellectual qualities of Machiavelian 5 dissimulation, profound hypocrisy, and perfidy which knew no touch of remorse, were admirably calculated to sustain any ground which he might win from the simple-hearted people with whom he had to deal and from the frank carelessness of his unconscious competitor. 10

At the very outset of his treacherous career, Zebek-Dorchi was sagacious enough to perceive that nothing could be gained by open declaration of hostility to the reigning prince: the choice had been a deliberate act on the part of Russia, and Elizabeth Petrowna was not the 15 person to recall her own favors with levity or upon slight grounds. Openly, therefore, to have declared his enmity toward his relative on the throne, could have had no effect but that of arming suspicions against his own ulterior purposes in a quarter where it was most essential to his 20 interest that, for the present, all suspicions should be hoodwinked. Accordingly, after much meditation, the course he took for opening his snares was this:—He raised a rumor that his own life was in danger from the plots of several Saissang (that is, Kalmuck nobles), who 25 were leagued together under an oath to assassinate him; and immediately after, assuming a well-counterfeited alarm, he fled to Tcherkask, followed by sixty-five tents. From this place he kept up a correspondence with the Imperial Court, and, by way of soliciting his cause more 30 effectually, he soon repaired in person to St. Petersburg. Once admitted to personal conferences with the cabinet, he found no difficulty in winning over the Russian councils to a concurrence with some of his political views, and thus covertly introducing the point of that wedge which was finally to accomplish his purposes. In particular, he persuaded the Russian Government to make a very important alteration in the constitution of the Kalmuck State Council which in effect reorganized the whole 5 political condition of the state and disturbed the balance of power as previously adjusted. Of this council—in the Kalmuck language called Sarga—there were eight members, called Sargatchi; and hitherto it had been the custom that these eight members should be entirely subordinate 10 to the Khan; holding, in fact, the ministerial character of secretaries and assistants, but in no respect ranking as co-ordinate authorities. That had produced some inconveniences in former reigns; and it was easy for Zebek-Dorchi to point the jealousy of the Russian 15 Court to others more serious which might arise in future circumstances of war or other contingencies. It was resolved, therefore, to place the Sargatchi henceforward on a footing of perfect independence, and, therefore (as regarded responsibility), on a footing of equality with the 20 Khan. Their independence, however, had respect only to their own sovereign; for toward Russia they were placed in a new attitude of direct duty and accountability by the creation in their favor of small pensions (300 roubles a year), which, however, to a Kalmuck of that 25 day were more considerable than might be supposed, and had a further value as marks of honorary distinction emanating from a great empress. Thus far the purposes of Zebek-Dorchi were served effectually for the moment: but, apparently, it was only for the moment; since, in 30 the further development of his plots, this very dependency upon Russian influence would be the most serious obstacle in his way. There was, however, another point carried, which outweighed all inferior considerations, as it gave him a power of setting aside discretionally whatsoever should arise to disturb his plots: he was himself appointed President and Controller of the Sargatchi. The Russian Court had been aware of his high pretensions 5 by birth, and hoped by this promotion to satisfy the ambition which, in some degree, was acknowledged to be a reasonable passion for any man occupying his situation.

Having thus completely blindfolded the Cabinet of Russia, Zebek-Dorchi proceeded in his new character to 10 fulfil his political mission with the Khan of the Kalmucks. So artfully did he prepare the road for his favorable reception at the court of this prince that he was at once and universally welcomed as a public benefactor. The pensions of the councillors were so much additional wealth 15 poured into the Tartar exchequer; as to the ties of dependency thus created, experience had not yet enlightened these simple tribes as to that result. And that he himself should be the chief of these mercenary councillors was so far from being charged upon Zebek as any offence or any 20 ground of suspicion, that his relative the Khan returned him hearty thanks for his services, under the belief that he could have accepted this appointment only with a view to keep out other and more unwelcome pretenders, who would not have had the same motives of consanguinity or 25 friendship for executing its duties in a spirit of kindness to the Kalmucks. The first use which he made of his new functions about the Khan's person was to attack the Court of Russia, by a romantic villainy not easily to be credited, for those very acts of interference with the 30 council which he himself had prompted. This was a dangerous step: but it was indispensable to his farther advance upon the gloomy path which he had traced out for himself. A triple vengeance was what he meditated: 1, upon the Russian Cabinet, for having undervalued his own pretensions to the throne; 2, upon his amiable rival, for having supplanted him; and 3, upon all those of the nobility who had manifested their sense of his weakness by their neglect or their sense of his perfidious character 5 by their suspicions. Here was a colossal outline of wickedness; and by one in his situation, feeble (as it might seem) for the accomplishment of its humblest parts, how was the total edifice to be reared in its comprehensive grandeur? He, a worm as he was, could he venture to 10 assail the mighty behemoth of Muscovy, the potentate who counted three hundred languages around the footsteps of his throne, and from whose "lion ramp" recoiled alike "baptized and infidel"—Christendom on the one side, strong by her intellect and her organization, and the 15 "barbaric East" on the other, with her unnumbered numbers? The match was a monstrous one; but in its very monstrosity there lay this germ of encouragement—that it could not be suspected. The very hopelessness of the scheme grounded his hope; and he resolved to 20 execute a vengeance which should involve as it were, in the unity of a well-laid tragic fable, all whom he judged to be his enemies. That vengeance lay in detaching from the Russian empire the whole Kalmuck nation and breaking up that system of intercourse which had thus far been 25 beneficial to both. This last was a consideration which moved him but little. True it was that Russia to the Kalmucks had secured lands and extensive pasturage; true it was that the Kalmucks reciprocally to Russia had furnished a powerful cavalry; but the latter loss would be 30 part of his triumph, and the former might be more than compensated in other climates, under other sovereigns. Here was a scheme which, in its final accomplishment, would avenge him bitterly on the Czarina, and in the course of its accomplishment might furnish him with ample occasions for removing his other enemies. It may be readily supposed, indeed, that he who could deliberately raise his eyes to the Russian autocrat as an antagonist 5 in single duel with himself was not likely to feel much anxiety about Kalmuck enemies of whatever rank. He took his resolution, therefore, sternly and irrevocably, to effect this astonishing translation of an ancient people across the pathless deserts of Central Asia, intersected continually by rapid rivers rarely furnished with bridges, 10 and of which the fords were known only to those who might think it for their interest to conceal them, through many nations inhospitable or hostile: frost and snow around them (from the necessity of commencing their flight in winter), famine in their front, and the sabre, or 15 even the artillery of an offended and mighty empress hanging upon their rear for thousands of miles. But what was to be their final mark—the port of shelter after so fearful a course of wandering? Two things were evident: it must be some power at a great distance from Russia, 20 so as to make return even in that view hopeless, and it must be a power of sufficient rank to insure them protection from any hostile efforts on the part of the Czarina for reclaiming them or for chastising their revolt. Both conditions were united obviously in the person of Kien 25 Long, the reigning Emperor of China, who was further recommended to them by his respect for the head of their religion. To China, therefore, and, as their first rendezvous, to the shadow of the Great Chinese Wall, it was settled by Zebek that they should direct their flight. 30

Next came the question of time—when should the flight commence? and, finally, the more delicate question as to the choice of accomplices. To extend the knowledge of the conspiracy too far was to insure its betrayal to the Russian Government. Yet, at some stage of the preparations, it was evident that a very extensive confidence must be made, because in no other way could the mass of the Kalmuck population be persuaded to furnish their families with the requisite equipments for so long a 5 migration. This critical step, however, it was resolved to defer up to the latest possible moment, and, at all events, to make no general communication on the subject until the time of departure should be definitely settled. In the meantime, Zebek admitted only three 10 persons to his confidence; of whom Oubacha, the reigning prince, was almost necessarily one; but him, for his yielding and somewhat feeble character, he viewed rather in the light of a tool than as one of his active accomplices. Those whom (if anybody) he admitted to an unreserved 15 participation in his counsels were two only: the great Lama among the Kalmucks, and his own father-in-law, Erempel, a ruling prince of some tribe in the neighborhood of the Caspian Sea, recommended to his favor not so much by any strength of talent corresponding to 20 the occasion as by his blind devotion to himself and his passionate anxiety to promote the elevation of his daughter and his son-in-law to the throne of a sovereign prince. A titular prince Zebek already was: but this dignity, without the substantial accompaniment of a sceptre, 25 seemed but an empty sound to both of these ambitious rebels. The other accomplice, whose name was Loosang-Dchaltzan, and whose rank was that of Lama, or Kalmuck pontiff, was a person of far more distinguished pretensions; he had something of the same 30 gloomy and terrific pride which marked the character of Zebek himself, manifesting also the same energy, accompanied by the same unfaltering cruelty, and a natural facility of dissimulation even more profound. It was by this man that the other question was settled as to the time for giving effect to their designs. His own pontifical character had suggested to him that, in order to strengthen their influence with the vast mob of simple-minded 5 men whom they were to lead into a howling wilderness, after persuading them to lay desolate their own ancient hearths, it was indispensable that they should be able, in cases of extremity, to plead the express sanction of God for their entire enterprise. This could only be done by addressing themselves to the great head of 10 their religion, the Dalai-Lama of Tibet. Him they easily persuaded to countenance their schemes: and an oracle was delivered solemnly at Tibet, to the effect that no ultimate prosperity would attend this great Exodus unless it were pursued through the years of the tiger and the 15 hare. Now the Kalmuck custom is to distinguish their years by attaching to each a denomination taken from one of twelve animals, the exact order of succession being absolutely fixed, so that the cycle revolves of course through a period of a dozen years. Consequently, if the 20 approaching year of the tiger were suffered to escape them, in that case the expedition must be delayed for twelve years more; within which period, even were no other unfavorable changes to arise, it was pretty well foreseen that the Russian Government would take most 25 effectual means for bridling their vagrant propensities by a ring-fence of forts or military posts; to say nothing of the still readier plan for securing their fidelity (a plan already talked of in all quarters) by exacting a large body of hostages selected from the families of the most influential 30 nobles. On these cogent considerations, it was solemnly determined that this terrific experiment should be made in the next year of the tiger, which happened to fall upon the Christian year 1771. With respect to the month, there was, unhappily for the Kalmucks, even less latitude allowed to their choice than with respect to the year. It was absolutely necessary, or it was thought so, that the different divisions of the nation, which pastured their flocks on both banks of the Wolga, should have the 5 means of effecting an instantaneous junction, because the danger of being intercepted by flying columns of the imperial armies was precisely the greatest at the outset. Now, from the want of bridges or sufficient river craft for transporting so vast a body of men, the sole means 10 which could be depended upon (especially where so many women, children, and camels were concerned) was ice; and this, in a state of sufficient firmness, could not be absolutely counted upon before the month of January. Hence it happened that this astonishing Exodus of a 15 whole nation, before so much as a whisper of the design had begun to circulate amongst those whom it most interested, before it was even suspected that any man's wishes pointed in that direction, had been definitely appointed for January of the year 1771. And almost up to the 20 Christmas of 1770 the poor simple Kalmuck herdsmen and their families were going nightly to their peaceful beds without even dreaming that the fiat had already gone forth from their rulers which consigned those quiet abodes, together with the peace and comfort which reigned 25 within them, to a withering desolation, now close at hand.

Meantime war raged on a great scale between Russia and the Sultan; and, until the time arrived for throwing off their vassalage, it was necessary that Oubacha should 30 contribute his usual contingent of martial aid. Nay, it had unfortunately become prudent that he should contribute much more than his usual aid. Human experience gives ample evidence that in some mysterious and unaccountable way no great design is ever agitated, no matter how few or how faithful may be the participators, but that some presentiment—some dim misgiving—is kindled amongst those whom it is chiefly important to blind. And, however it might have happened, certain it 5 is that already, when as yet no syllable of the conspiracy had been breathed to any man whose very existence was not staked upon its concealment, nevertheless some vague and uneasy jealousy had arisen in the Russian Cabinet as to the future schemes of the Kalmuck Khan: and 10 very probable it is that, but for the war then raging, and the consequent prudence of conciliating a very important vassal, or, at least, of abstaining from what would powerfully alienate him, even at that moment such measures would have been adopted as must forever have intercepted 15 the Kalmuck schemes. Slight as were the jealousies of the Imperial Court, they had not escaped the Machiavelian eyes of Zebek and the Lama. And under their guidance, Oubacha, bending to the circumstances of the moment, and meeting the jealousy of the Russian 20 Court with a policy corresponding to their own, strove by unusual zeal to efface the Czarina's unfavorable impressions. He enlarged the scale of his contributions, and that so prodigiously that he absolutely carried to headquarters a force of 35,000 cavalry, fully equipped: some 25 go further, and rate the amount beyond 40,000; but the smaller estimate is, at all events, within the truth.

With this magnificent array of cavalry, heavy as well as light, the Khan went into the field under great expectations; and these he more than realized. Having the 30 good fortune to be concerned with so ill-organized and disorderly a description of force as that which at all times composed the bulk of a Turkish army, he carried victory along with his banners; gained many partial successes; and at last, in a pitched battle, overthrew the Turkish force opposed to him, with a loss of 5000 men left upon the field.

These splendid achievements seemed likely to operate in various ways against the impending revolt. Oubacha 5 had now a strong motive, in the martial glory acquired, for continuing his connection with the empire in whose service he had won it, and by whom only it could be fully appreciated. He was now a great marshal of a great empire, one of the Paladins around the imperial throne; 10 in China he would be nobody, or (worse than that) a mendicant alien, prostrate at the feet, and soliciting the precarious alms, of a prince with whom he had no connection. Besides, it might reasonably be expected that the Czarina, grateful for the really efficient aid given by the Tartar 15 prince, would confer upon him such eminent rewards as might be sufficient to anchor his hopes upon Russia, and to wean him from every possible seduction. These were the obvious suggestions of prudence and good sense to every man who stood neutral in the case. But they were 20 disappointed. The Czarina knew her obligations to the Khan, but she did not acknowledge them. Wherefore? That is a mystery perhaps never to be explained. So it was, however. The Khan went unhonored; no ukase ever proclaimed his merits; and, perhaps, had he even 25 been abundantly recompensed by Russia, there were others who would have defeated these tendencies to reconciliation. Erempel, Zebek, and Loosang the Lama were pledged life-deep to prevent any accommodation; and their efforts were unfortunately seconded by those of 30 their deadliest enemies. In the Russian Court there were at that time some great nobles preoccupied with feelings of hatred and blind malice toward the Kalmucks quite as strong as any which the Kalmucks could harbor toward Russia, and not, perhaps, so well founded. Just as much as the Kalmucks hated the Russian yoke, their galling assumption of authority, the marked air of disdain, as toward a nation of ugly, stupid, and filthy barbarians, which too generally marked the Russian bearing and 5 language, but, above all, the insolent contempt, or even outrages, which the Russian governors or great military commandants tolerated in their followers toward the barbarous religion and superstitious mummeries of the Kalmuck priesthood—precisely in that extent did the ferocity 10 of the Russian resentment, and their wrath at seeing the trampled worm turn or attempt a feeble retaliation, react upon the unfortunate Kalmucks. At this crisis, it is probable that envy and wounded pride, upon witnessing the splendid victories of Oubacha and Momotbacha over the 15 Turks and Bashkirs, contributed strength to the Russian irritation. And it must have been through the intrigues of those nobles about her person who chiefly smarted under these feelings that the Czarina could ever have lent herself to the unwise and ungrateful policy pursued 20 at this critical period toward the Kalmuck Khan. That Czarina was no longer Elizabeth Petrowna; it was Catharine II.—a princess who did not often err so injuriously (injuriously for herself as much as for others) in the measures of her government. She had soon ample reason for 25 repenting of her false policy. Meantime, how much it must have co-operated with the other motives previously acting upon Oubacha in sustaining his determination to revolt, and how powerfully it must have assisted the efforts of all the Tartar chieftains in preparing the minds of their 30 people to feel the necessity of this difficult enterprise, by arming their pride and their suspicions against the Russian Government, through the keenness of their sympathy with the wrongs of their insulted prince, may be readily imagined. It is a fact, and it has been confessed by candid Russians themselves when treating of this great dismemberment, that the conduct of the Russian Cabinet throughout the period of suspense, and during the crisis of hesitation in the Kalmuck Council, was exactly such 5 as was most desirable for the purposes of the conspirators; it was such, in fact, as to set the seal to all their machinations, by supplying distinct evidences and official vouchers for what could otherwise have been at the most matters of doubtful suspicion and indirect presumption. 10

Nevertheless, in the face of all these arguments, and even allowing their weight so far as not at all to deny the injustice or the impolicy of the imperial ministers, it is contended by many persons who have reviewed the affair with a command of all the documents bearing on the case, 15 more especially the letters or minutes of council subsequently discovered in the handwriting of Zebek-Dorchi, and the important evidence of the Russian captive, Weseloff, who was carried off by the Kalmucks in their flight, that beyond all doubt Oubacha was powerless for any 20 purpose of impeding or even of delaying the revolt. He himself, indeed, was under religious obligations of the most terrific solemnity never to flinch from the enterprise or even to slacken in his zeal; for Zebek-Dorchi, distrusting the firmness of his resolution under any unusual 25 pressure of alarm or difficulty, had, in the very earliest stage of the conspiracy, availed himself of the Khan's well-known superstition, to engage him, by means of previous concert with the priests and their head, the Lama, in some dark and mysterious rites of consecration, terminating 30 in oaths under such terrific sanctions as no Kalmuck would have courage to violate. As far, therefore, as regarded the personal share of the Khan in what was to come, Zebek was entirely at his ease; he knew him to be so deeply pledged by religious terrors to the prosecution of the conspiracy that no honors within the Czarina's gift could have possibly shaken his adhesion; and then, as to threats from the same quarter, he knew him to be sealed against those fears by others of a gloomier character, 5 and better adapted to his peculiar temperament. For Oubacha was a brave man, as respected all bodily enemies or the dangers of human warfare, but was as sensitive and timid as the most superstitious of old women in facing the frowns of a priest or under the vague anticipations 10 of ghostly retributions. But had it been otherwise, and had there been any reason to apprehend an unsteady demeanor on the part of this prince at the approach of the critical moment, such were the changes already effected in the state of their domestic politics amongst 15 the Tartars by the undermining arts of Zebek-Dorchi, and his ally the Lama, that very little importance would have attached to that doubt. All power was now effectually lodged in the hands of Zebek-Dorchi. He was the true and absolute wielder of the Kalmuck sceptre; all measures 20 of importance were submitted to his discretion, and nothing was finally resolved but under his dictation. This result he had brought about, in a year or two, by means sufficiently simple: first of all, by availing himself of the prejudice in his favor, so largely diffused amongst 25 the lowest of the Kalmucks, that his own title to the throne in quality of great-grandson in a direct line from Ajouka, the most illustrious of all the Kalmuck Khans, stood upon a better basis than that of Oubacha, who derived from a collateral branch; secondly, with respect 30 to the sole advantage which Oubacha possessed above himself in the ratification of his title, by improving this difference between their situations to the disadvantage of his competitor, as one who had not scrupled to accept that triumph from an alien power at the price of his independence, which he himself (as he would have it understood) disdained to court; thirdly, by his own talents and address, coupled with the ferocious energy of his moral character; fourthly—and perhaps in an equal 5 degree—by the criminal facility and good nature of Oubacha; finally (which is remarkable enough, as illustrating the character of the man), by that very new modelling of the Sarga, or Privy Council, which he had used as a principal topic of abuse and malicious insinuation 10 against the Russian Government, whilst, in reality, he first had suggested the alteration to the Empress, and he chiefly appropriated the political advantages which it was fitted to yield. For, as he was himself appointed the chief of the Sargatchi, and as the pensions of the inferior 15 Sargatchi passed through his hands, whilst in effect they owed their appointments to his nomination, it may be easily supposed that, whatever power existed in the state capable of controlling the Khan, being held by the Sarga under its new organization, and this body being completely 20 under his influence, the final result was to throw all the functions of the state, whether nominally in the prince or in the council, substantially into the hands of this one man; whilst, at the same time, from the strict league which he maintained with the Lama, all the thunders 25 of the spiritual power were always ready to come in aid of the magistrate, or to supply his incapacity in cases which he could not reach.

But the time was now rapidly approaching for the mighty experiment. The day was drawing near on which 30 the signal was to be given for raising the standard of revolt, and, by a combined movement on both sides of the Wolga, for spreading the smoke of one vast conflagration that should wrap in a common blaze their own huts and the stately cities of their enemies over the breadth and length of those great provinces in which their flocks were dispersed. The year of the tiger was now within one little month of its commencement; the fifth morning of that year was fixed for the fatal day when the fortunes 5 and happiness of a whole nation were to be put upon the hazard of a dicer's throw; and as yet that nation was in profound ignorance of the whole plan. The Khan, such was the kindness of his nature, could not bring himself to make the revelation so urgently required. It was clear, 10 however, that this could not be delayed; and Zebek-Dorchi took the task willingly upon himself. But where or how should this notification be made, so as to exclude Russian hearers? After some deliberation the following plan was adopted:—Couriers, it was contrived, should 15 arrive in furious haste, one upon the heels of another, reporting a sudden inroad of the Kirghises and Bashkirs upon the Kalmuck lands, at a point distant about 120 miles. Thither all the Kalmuck families, according to immemorial custom, were required to send a separate representative; 20 and there, accordingly, within three days, all appeared. The distance, the solitary ground appointed for the rendezvous, the rapidity of the march, all tended to make it almost certain that no Russian could be present. Zebek-Dorchi then came forward. He did 25 not waste many words upon rhetoric. He unfurled an immense sheet of parchment, visible from the outermost distance at which any of this vast crowd could stand; the total number amounted to 80,000; all saw, and many heard. They were told of the oppressions of Russia; 30 of her pride and haughty disdain, evidenced toward them by a thousand acts; of her contempt for their religion; of her determination to reduce them to absolute slavery; of the preliminary measures she had already taken by erecting forts upon many of the great rivers of their neighborhood; of the ulterior intentions she thus announced to circumscribe their pastoral lands, until they would all be obliged to renounce their flocks, and to collect in towns like Sarepta, there to pursue mechanical and servile 5 trades of shoemaker, tailor, and weaver, such as the free-born Tartar had always disdained. "Then again," said the subtle prince, "she increases her military levies upon our population every year. We pour out our blood as young men in her defence, or, more often, in support of 10 her insolent aggressions; and, as old men, we reap nothing from our sufferings nor benefit by our survivorship where so many are sacrificed." At this point of his harangue Zebek produced several papers (forged, as it is generally believed, by himself and the Lama), containing 15 projects of the Russian Court for a general transfer of the eldest sons, taken en masse from the greatest Kalmuck families, to the Imperial Court. "Now, let this be once accomplished," he argued, "and there is an end of all useful resistance from that day forwards. Petitions we 20 might make, or even remonstrances; as men of words, we might play a bold part; but for deeds; for that sort of language by which our ancestors were used to speak—holding us by such a chain, Russia would make a jest of our wishes, knowing full well that we should not dare to 25 make any effectual movement."

Having thus sufficiently roused the angry passions of his vast audience, and having alarmed their fears by this pretended scheme against their firstborn (an artifice which was indispensable to his purpose, because it met 30 beforehand every form of amendment to his proposal coming from the more moderate nobles, who would not otherwise have failed to insist upon trying the effect of bold addresses to the Empress before resorting to any desperate extremity), Zebek-Dorchi opened his scheme of revolt, and, if so, of instant revolt; since any preparations reported at St. Petersburg would be a signal for the armies of Russia to cross into such positions from all parts of Asia as would effectually intercept their march. 5 It is remarkable, however, that with all his audacity and his reliance upon the momentary excitement of the Kalmucks, the subtle prince did not venture, at this stage of his seduction, to make so startling a proposal as that of a flight to China. All that he held out for the present 10 was a rapid march to the Temba or some other great river, which they were to cross, and to take up a strong position on the farther bank, from which, as from a post of conscious security, they could hold a bolder language to the Czarina, and one which would have a better chance 15 of winning a favorable audience.

These things, in the irritated condition of the simple Tartars, passed by acclamation; and all returned homeward to push forward with the most furious speed the preparations for their awful undertaking. Rapid and 20 energetic these of necessity were; and in that degree they became noticeable and manifest to the Russians who happened to be intermingled with the different hordes, either on commercial errands, or as agents officially from the Russian Government, some in a financial, others in a 25 diplomatic character.

Among these last (indeed, at the head of them) was a Russian of some distinction, by name Kichinskoi—a man memorable for his vanity, and memorable also as one of the many victims to the Tartar revolution. This Kichinskoi 30 had been sent by the Empress as her envoy to overlook the conduct of the Kalmucks. He was styled the Grand Pristaw, or Great Commissioner, and was universally known amongst the Tartar tribes by this title. His mixed character of ambassador and of political surveillant, combined with the dependent state of the Kalmucks, gave him a real weight in the Tartar councils, and might have given him a far greater had not his outrageous self-conceit and his arrogant confidence in his own 5 authority, as due chiefly to his personal qualities for command, led him into such harsh displays of power, and menaces so odious to the Tartar pride, as very soon made him an object of their profoundest malice. He had publicly insulted the Khan; and, upon making a communication 10 to him to the effect that some reports began to circulate, and even to reach the Empress, of a design in agitation to fly from the imperial dominions, he had ventured to say, "But this you dare not attempt; I laugh at such rumors; yes, Khan, I laugh at them to the Empress; 15 for you are a chained bear, and that you know." The Khan turned away on his heel with marked disdain; and the Pristaw, foaming at the mouth, continued to utter, amongst those of the Khan's attendants who stayed behind to catch his real sentiments in a moment of unguarded 20 passion, all that the blindest frenzy of rage could suggest to the most presumptuous of fools. It was now ascertained that suspicion had arisen; but, at the same time, it was ascertained that the Pristaw spoke no more than the truth in representing himself to have discredited 25 these suspicions. The fact was that the mere infatuation of vanity made him believe that nothing could go on undetected by his all-piercing sagacity, and that no rebellion could prosper when rebuked by his commanding presence. The Tartars, therefore, pursued their preparations, confiding 30 in the obstinate blindness of the Grand Pristaw as in their perfect safeguard, and such it proved—to his own ruin as well as that of myriads beside.

Christmas arrived; and, a little before that time, courier upon courier came dropping in, one upon the very heels of another, to St. Petersburg, assuring the Czarina that beyond all doubt the Kalmucks were in the very crisis of departure. These dispatches came from the Governor of Astrachan, and copies were instantly forwarded to 5 Kichinskoi. Now, it happened that between this governor—a Russian named Beketoff—and the Pristaw had been an ancient feud. The very name of Beketoff inflamed his resentment; and no sooner did he see that hated name attached to the dispatch than he felt himself 10 confirmed in his former views with tenfold bigotry, and wrote instantly, in terms of the most pointed ridicule, against the new alarmist, pledging his own head upon the visionariness of his alarms. Beketoff, however, was not to be put down by a few hard words, or by ridicule: he 15 persisted in his statements; the Russian ministry were confounded by the obstinacy of the disputants; and some were beginning even to treat the Governor of Astrachan as a bore, and as the dupe of his own nervous terrors, when the memorable day arrived, the fatal 5th of January, 20 which forever terminated the dispute and put a seal upon the earthly hopes and fortunes of unnumbered myriads. The Governor of Astrachan was the first to hear the news. Stung by the mixed furies of jealousy, of triumphant vengeance, and of anxious ambition, he sprang into his 25 sledge, and, at the rate of 300 miles a day, pursued his route to St. Petersburg—rushed into the Imperial presence—announced the total realization of his worst predictions; and, upon the confirmation of this intelligence by subsequent dispatches from many different posts on 30 the Wolga, he received an imperial commission to seize the person of his deluded enemy and to keep him in strict captivity. These orders were eagerly fulfilled; and the unfortunate Kichinskoi soon afterwards expired of grief and mortification in the gloomy solitude of a dungeon—a victim to his own immeasurable vanity and the blinding self-delusions of a presumption that refused all warning.

The Governor of Astrachan had been but too faithful a prophet. Perhaps even he was surprised at the suddenness 5 with which the verification followed his reports. Precisely on the 5th of January, the day so solemnly appointed under religious sanctions by the Lama, the Kalmucks on the east bank of the Wolga were seen at the earliest dawn of day assembling by troops and 10 squadrons and in the tumultuous movement of some great morning of battle. Tens of thousands continued moving off the ground at every half hour's interval. Women and children, to the amount of two hundred thousand and upward, were placed upon wagons or upon camels, and 15 drew off by masses of twenty thousand at once—placed under suitable escorts, and continually swelled in numbers by other outlying bodies of the horde,—who kept falling in at various distances upon the first and second day's march. From sixty to eighty thousand of those who 20 were the best mounted stayed behind the rest of the tribes, with purposes of devastation and plunder more violent than prudence justified or the amiable character of the Khan could be supposed to approve. But in this, as in other instances, he was completely overruled by the 25 malignant counsels of Zebek-Dorchi. The first tempest of the desolating fury of the Tartars discharged itself upon their own habitations. But this, as cutting off all infirm looking backward from the hardships of their march, had been thought so necessary a measure by all 30 the chieftains that even Oubacha himself was the first to authorize the act by his own example. He seized a torch previously prepared with materials the most durable as well as combustible, and steadily applied it to the timbers of his own palace. Nothing was saved from the general wreck except the portable part of the domestic utensils and that part of the woodwork which could be applied to the manufacture of the long Tartar lances. This chapter in their memorable day's work being finished, 5 and the whole of their villages throughout a district of ten thousand square miles in one simultaneous blaze, the Tartars waited for further orders.

These, it was intended, should have taken a character of valedictory vengeance, and thus have left behind to the 10 Czarina a dreadful commentary upon the main motives of their flight. It was the purpose of Zebek-Dorchi that all the Russian towns, churches, and buildings of every description should be given up to pillage and destruction, and such treatment applied to the defenceless inhabitants 15 as might naturally be expected from a fierce people already infuriated by the spectacle of their own outrages, and by the bloody retaliations which they must necessarily have provoked. This part of the tragedy, however, was happily intercepted by a providential disappointment at 20 the very crisis of departure. It has been mentioned already that the motive for selecting the depth of winter as the season of flight (which otherwise was obviously the very worst possible) had been the impossibility of effecting a junction sufficiently rapid with the tribes on 25 the west of the Wolga, in the absence of bridges, unless by a natural bridge of ice. For this one advantage the Kalmuck leaders had consented to aggravate by a thousand-fold the calamities inevitable to a rapid flight over boundless tracts of country with women, children, and 30 herds of cattle—for this one single advantage; and yet, after all, it was lost. The reason never has been explained satisfactorily, but the fact was such. Some have said that the signals were not properly concerted for marking the moment of absolute departure—that is, for signifying whether the settled intention of the Eastern Kalmucks might not have been suddenly interrupted by adverse intelligence. Others have supposed that the ice might not be equally strong on both sides of the river, and 5 might even be generally insecure for the treading of heavy and heavily laden animals such as camels. But the prevailing notion is that some accidental movements on the 3d and 4th of January of Russian troops in the neighborhood of the Western Kalmucks, though really 10 having no reference to them or their plans, had been construed into certain signs that all was discovered, and that the prudence of the Western chieftains, who, from situation, had never been exposed to those intrigues by which Zebek-Dorchi had practised upon the pride of the Eastern 15 tribes, now stepped in to save their people from ruin. Be the cause what it might, it is certain that the Western Kalmucks were in some way prevented from forming the intended junction with their brethren of the opposite bank; and the result was that at least one hundred 20 thousand of these Tartars were left behind in Russia. This accident it was which saved their Russian neighbors universally from the desolation which else awaited them. One general massacre and conflagration would assuredly have surprised them, to the utter extermination of their 25 property, their houses, and themselves, had it not been for this disappointment. But the Eastern chieftains did not dare to put to hazard the safety of their brethren under the first impulse of the Czarina's vengeance for so dreadful a tragedy; for, as they were well aware of too many 30 circumstances by which she might discover the concurrence of the Western people in the general scheme of revolt, they justly feared that she would thence infer their concurrence also in the bloody events which marked its outset.

1  2  3     Next Part
Home - Random Browse