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The Continental Monthly, Vol 3 No 3, March 1863 Devoted To Literature And National Policy   By:

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VOL. III. MARCH, 1863. No. III.


The decline of the Turkish Empire has furnished an eloquent theme for historians, who have ever made it the 'point and commendation of their tale.' Judging from its decline, they have predicted its fall. Half a century ago, the historian of the middle ages expected with an assurance that 'none can deem extravagant,' the approaching subversion of the Ottoman power. Although deprived of some of its richest possessions and defeated in many a well fought field, the house of Othman still stands amid crumbling monarchies and subjugated countries; the crescent still glitters on the Bosphorus, and still the 'tottering arch of conquest spans the ample region from Bagdad to Belgrade.'

Yet, how sadly changed is Turkey from her former self how varied the fortunes of her classic fields! The physical features of the country are the same as in the days of Solyman the Magnificent; the same noble rivers water the fertile valleys, and the same torrents sweep down the mountain sides; the waves of the Ægean and Mediterranean wash the same shores, fertile in vines and olive trees; the same heaven smiles over the tombs of the storied brave but here no longer is the abode of the rulers and lawgivers of one half the world.

It has been said, and with some degree of truth, that the Turks are encamped, not settled in Europe. In their political and social institutions they have never comported themselves as if they anticipated to make it their continuing home. Their oriental legends relate how the belief arose in the very hour of conquest that the standard of the Cross should at some future day be carried to the Bosphorus, and that the European portion of the empire would he regained by Christians. From this superstitious belief they selected the Asiatic shore for the burial of true Mussulmans; nor was it altogether a fanciful belief, for in the sudden rise of Russia, Turkey foresaw the harbinger of her fall, and recognized in Muscovite warriors the antagonists of fate.

A nation to be long lived must rise higher and higher in the scale of civilization; must approach nearer and nearer its meridian, but never culminate. The Athenians reached the zenith of their glory in the age of Pericles, and lost in fifty years what they had acquired in centuries. The Turks attained their meridian greatness in the reign of Solyman the Magnificent from which time dates their decline.

If we make a comparison between Turkey and her formidable neighbor, Russia, we shall find that the latter adopted, while the former resisted reforms. Turkey was in the fulness of her power when Russia had not yet a name. The spirit of the Ottomans was remarkably exclusive. They regarded themselves as a separate and distinct people; they were conquerors, and as such thought themselves a superior race men who were to teach and not to learn. In their intercourse with other nations, they borrowed nothing, and out of themselves looked for nothing. Their feeling of national glory was not extinguished by national degradation, but cherished through ages of slavery and shame. But the world is a world of progress. A nation cannot remain stationary; she must advance or retrograde. Turkey is not what she was, while Russia, with the rest of Christendom, has advanced; her faults grew with her strength, but did not die with her decay. It will not be sufficient for her merely to regain her former power; she must overtake Christendom in the progress made during her decadence. Her spirit of vitality is not yet extinct; it wants guidance and development to strengthen and elevate it. There is still hope of reforming the Turkish empire without that baptism of blood which many have urged and are still urging. Indeed, Lord Palmerston declared in Parliament that Turkey has made a more rapid advance and been improved more during the last ten years (he made this statement in 1854, and Turkey has been rapidly progressing since) than any other country in Europe... Continue reading book >>

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