Laurence Oliphant.

The land of Gilead, with excursions in the Lebanon; online

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here to make the Consul -General acquainted with
their views in regard to certain questions of internal
politics in which they were interested. Ever since
the Druse nation was saved from extinction by
British intervention and the firmness and skill of
Lord Dufferin, they have looked upon the English
as their natural protectors and allies. I have met
individual Druses travelling in other parts of Syria
who, finding I was an Englishman, at once called
themselves countrymen ; and they are generally con-
sidered, both by Christians and Moslems, to be
identified to a peculiar extent with the British :
hence the influence of the British Consul, if judi-


ciously wielded, can be all-powerful ; and they nat-
urally come to him as their guide, philosopher, and
friend, to expound their grievances if they have any,
to make known their wishes, and if there is any
internal question or difference of opinion among
themselves, to endeavour to enlist him on their side.
The matter which on this occasion they came to
discuss was evidently one which interested them
warmly ; but they approached it somewhat circuit-
ously, and only after a long preamble consisting
chiefly of compliments. Three or four of the prin-
cipal speakers rang the changes on these for some
time, skilfully drawing nearer to the point by de-
grees, like the sportsman who tries to approach
an animal by going round it with constantly dimin-
ishing circles, hoping thereby to lull the suspicions
of his prey until he has got within shot. With a
little practice these Druses would make first- rate
diplomats ; and I would suggest to the Foreign
Office whether, considering how much need there is
in that department of the special qualities which the
Druses possess in so eminent a degree, it might
not be advantageously recruited from this source.
Under a bold, frank, manly exterior, they conceal
the utmost subtlety and cunning, and have a cap-
tivating way of deceiving which quite redeems it
from anything base or unworthy. They are in-
debted to their religion for this art, and from early
youth are trained to economise truth, and to dis-


semble both with Moslem and Christian in respect
to their creed. They have one moral standard in
their dealings with each other, and another which
governs their intercourse with the rest of the world.
Dissimulation is recognised by their religion as a
laudable acquirement, and the necessity for it has
doubtless been forced upon them by the peculiarity
of their position. A mere handful of believers in
tenets which, if they were generally known, would
expose them to attack and persecution, they have
learnt to become all things to all men, and even
profess a sort of Mohammedanism among Moslems,
just as they would with equal readiness profess
Christianity did circumstances require it, whilst they
were secretly nourishing a supreme contempt for
both religions. They have a proverb which exactly
expresses this tendency : " A man's shirt," they say,
" does not change the colour of his skin." Hence
they can transform the seeming of the outward man
with great facility ; but it is very difficult to see
beneath the shirts and to discover the colour of the
moral epidermis. From the extremely bold and
independent character of the race, it is probable
that, were they powerful enough, they would scorn
the devices to which an instinct of self-preservation
has driven them to resort. Their Jesuitism, not
having proselytism for its object, is not so much
an inherent trait of their character as a growth upon
it, and differs from that of Christians who practise


arts of this description in the name of religion, as
the cunning of the wild animal does from that of the
poacher who is setting snares for him. We can
excuse, and even admire, the one, while we have no
sympathy with the other. Thus a Druse, though
he may be as wily as a fox, is the very opposite
of a sneak ; and his bold eye, and open and almost
defiant countenance, are evidence that he attaches
no idea of shame to proficiency in the arts of decep-
tion which he practises.

Our friends at Ain Anub, when they did get to
the point, seemed to think that a great deal was
to be done by a constant reiteration of it. After
one chief had made his statement, which you felt
meant something more than it openly expressed,
another one would suddenly seem struck with an
entirely new notion, and make identically the same
statement in slightly varied language, with the
same innuendo at the back of it ; and this would
go all round the circle, until, out of the slight varia-
tions, it dawned upon one what the hidden idea, to
which none of them had given plain utterance, really
was. As I listened to them, it occurred to me that
these men would not only do for diplomatists, but
would make excellent members of Parliament, and
even Cabinet Ministers. Their faculty for saying
one thing while meaning another, or for meaning
more or less than they said as circumstances might
require, was equal to anything I ever heard from the


Treasury bench ; while they possessed that impertur-
babiHty of countenance and immobiHty of expression
which so many distinguished parHamentary leaders
have vainly struggled to acquire.

I was for some time a most interested listener,
and was peculiarly struck by the fine physique and
proud bearing of many of the sheikhs. They kept
hammering away at the same point so much, that
latterly I got somewhat bored ; but possibly that
was the best way of carrying it. The patience of
our Consul-General seemed, however, inexhaustible ;
and as his experience in " the mountain " has been
great, he understood exactly what they were driving
at, and they probably obtained as much satisfaction
as was deemed desirable. We sat down ten to
dinner, which our host served to us in European
style, his chef evidently being an artist of some
pretensions ; and our sleeping accommodation was
equally civilised. Unfortunately it came on to blow
a khamsin in the night, and the heat was insuffer-
able the hot wind whistling through every crevice,
and so withering us up, that in the morning we felt
disinclined for any exertion, and decided upon post-
poning our departure till next day. This was a
great opportunity for the sheikhs, who came and
rehearsed the scene of the evening before over
again. The only way to pass the day was to lie
and pant in the shade, and look at the view ; but in
the afternoon I mustered energy enough to mount


my horse and ride up to the village of Shimlan, sit-
uated near the top of the range, about 3000 feet
above the sea-level, and commanding a still more
magnificent prospect. Here one of the largest silk
factories in the Lebanon is in full operation, and I
was glad of the opportunity of examining the pro-
cess. Unfortunately, the cocoon, which once gave
the Lebanon silk its great superiority, no longer ex-
ists, and has been replaced by those introduced from
Japan, which are larger in size but inferior in tex-
ture to those which have suffered extinction. Still,
the silk industry is almost the only one in the pro-
vince which is flourishing, and is indeed the staple
product of the country. Its manufacture furnishes
employment to some 6000 hands, to say nothing of
the agricultural labour involved in the growth of
mulberry-trees, the picking of the leaves, and so

Our road next morning lay across the ridge down
into the valley of the Damur, which flows through a
wild gorge towards the sea. We now lost sight of
the coast, and our gaze wandered instead over the
lovely valley beneath us, with villages nestling amid
brightly varied foliage, or clinging to the sides of
rugged rocks, their flat roofs sometimes supported
by pillars and resting on arches, which gave them
a peculiar and often elegant appearance. We de-
scended into the gorge by a steep and very bad
road, and then crossed the river which here wildly


dashes between overhanging crags by a picturesque
bridge called Jisr el Kadi. We met an old lady on
it closely veiled, riding astride on a donkey, who,
recognising the leader of our party, screamed out
in a cracked voice, " God bless the Father of the
Druses ! God bless England and give her victory !"
with many other warm expressions of goodwill. In-
deed I found the Druse women far more eager poli-
ticians than Eastern females usually are, and very
demonstrative in their way of expressing their sym-
pathies. The hillsides were carpeted with wild
flowers, among the most beautiful and conspicuous
of which was the cyclamen in various shades, and
growing in great abundance. Anemones, asphodel,
iris, broom, and many other flowers were in full
bloom, and the air was fragrant with scent. Near
the river I observed a quantity of myrtle. Clamber-
ing up the side of the opposite hill, we soon reached
a spring in an olive -grove, which had been fixed
upon as our mid-day resting-place ; and here we en-
joyed that delightful hour of repose, the pleasures of
which are familiar to every traveller who has ridden
much in hot countries. The only drawback to it is
that it has an end, and that a moment comes when
one has once more to face the sun and the fatigue.
We climbed another ridge, and descended upon a
valley more thickly populated and richly cultivated
than the one we had left one of the most beautiful,
as it is one of the most fertile, districts in the Leb-


anon. When one has been riding, as I had for
some weeks previously, over the barren hills and
wretched cultivation of thinly populated Western
Palestine, it is impossible not to be struck by the
contrast which the Lebanon presents, and which
points its own moral.

The comparative prosperity which the country
enjoys is clearly to be attributed to the administra-
tive concessions which were granted to the Lebanon
after the massacres. No doubt the population is
more civilised and enterprising than in many other
parts of the Turkish empire, and their industrious
habits are largely due to the fact that the area is so
limited, and so thickly peopled, that every foot of
land has to be cultivated ; but apart from this, there
is a material wellbeing apparent, which is the result
of the special privileges which have been granted to
the people, and which exempts them from that vexa-
tious interference from Constantinople that paralyses
good government in so many of the other provinces
of Turkey. The baleful influence of the corrupt
centre thus extends to the extremities, and all efforts
of the local authorities, however well intended, to
reform abuses, are neutralised by the intrigues of
those who fatten upon such abuses, and share the
plunder which they derive from them with influen-
tial politicians at Constantinople. No sooner is this
most unhealthy bond of union severed than the pro-
vince thus disconnected begins to improve. Under


the rule of even a tolerably good governor, its indus-
tries begin to revive ; flagrant abuses, no longer pro-
tected at headquarters, are remedied ; and the people,
masters to some extent of their own destinies, enjoy
a security of life and property to which they have
heretofore been strangers, and which encourages
their spirit of enterprise. These signs of prosperity
were conspicuously apparent as we approached the
large town of Der el Kamr, which lays claim to the
distinction of being the capital of the Lebanon. It
is situated on a steep hillside, but every inch of the
slope is terraced and cultivated with vines, mul-
berries, fig and other fruit trees, and grain. There
is not enough corn raised, however, to supply the
wants of the population. The town contains from
7000 to 8000 inhabitants, and the houses were su-
perior in construction and architecture generally to
anything I had yet seen in the Lebanon. In former
days Der el Kamr was a great Druse centre; but
the Druses were driven out of it at the time of the
massacres, and have now established their head-
quarters at Baaklin, a village six or seven miles
distant, and just hidden from view by the ridge of
the other side of the valley.

Although in the middle of a Druse district, Der el
Kamr is almost exclusively Maronite, and was in a
great state of ferment on the day of our arrival, for
news had just been received of the pardon, under
very humiliating conditions, of one of their leading



bishops, who had been exiled about a year before by
the Governor-General, Rustem Pasha, for intriguing
against his Government, and making himself generally
obnoxious. As the entire Maronite population in the
Lebanon only numbers about 150,000 souls, and as
their spiritual welfare is confided to one patriarch, ten
bishops, and some 7000 or 8000 monks and priests,
it may be readily imagined that the ecclesiastical pot
is kept perpetually on the boil, and that a large sup-
ply of hot water is always gushing forth from this dis-
proportionately large clerical reservoir. It is an in-
disputable fact, and one susceptible of verification by
any one who likes to take the trouble, that through-
out both European and Asiatic Turkey, just in pro-
portion as the clerical element preponderates in a
Christian community, whether it be Catholic or
Greek, are intrigues rampant, are quarrels instigated,
and atrocities perpetrated. Where the proportion
is so very large as in the Lebanon, even a massacre
becomes possible ; and although upon the last occa-
sion the slaughter recoiled upon those who instigated
it, the instigators do not seem to have taken warning.
The old fanatical influences are still at work, and are
a source of endless trouble and difficulty to the un-
fortunate Governor-General, even though, as in the
case of the Lebanon, he must be himself a Christian.
When he manifests impartiality, he is accused of
impiety; while his attempts to control the passions
of his fellow-Christians are stigmatised as treachery


to a religion which professes to be one of brotherly-

There has not for some time been a Governor-
General of the Lebanon who has displayed greater
firmness, tact, and impartiality than Rustem Pasha,
the present occupant of that high office, and he has
consequently to struggle against the whole clerical in-
fluence of the country. His task is rendered doubly
difficult from the fact that the Maronites are under a
special French protectorate ; and although the pres-
ent Government of France is not disposed to exercise
its influence in favour of clericalism, the whole Cath-
olic party in France is always ready to espouse the
cause of the Maronite priesthood, doubtless from con-
scientious though mistaken motives ; and this strong
sympathy is apt to develop political consequences
which call for the exercise of the greatest tact and
moderation on the part of the diplomatic agents both
of France and England in this quarter. Fortunately,
when a healthy understanding exists, as has been the
case for some time past, between the Governor-Gen-
eral of the Lebanon and the Consuls - General of
England and France, these disturbing influences can
be controlled, for the population, when not worked
upon by their priests, desire nothing more than to
be allowed to live in peace and harmony with their
Druse and Moslem neighbours ; and it is wonderful,
considering the violence of the passions which were
aroused less than twenty years ago, and the scenes


of bloodshed to which they gave rise, how much
good feeling existed among the peasantry, in spite
of the never-ceasing efforts of their spiritual advisers
to destroy it. This arises possibly from the fact that,
with an increase of prosperity, the influence of the
priesthood is somewhat on the wane ; while the un-
blushing effrontery with which they amass wealth
and drain the country for the maintenance of their
ecclesiastical establishments, does not tend to increase
their popularity. In Der el Kamr there was a de-
cided clerical and anti-clerical party ; and although
the clerical party was the strongest for the residence
of the aggrieved bishop was in the immediate neigh-
bourhood of the town, and his local influence was
therefore considerable I was surprised, on convers-
ing on the matter with some of its inhabitants, to
find how very decidedly his conduct was condemned,
and how warmly the action of the Governor-General
was supported.

We were met before entering the town by a
mounted deputation, who formed an escort. Among
the notables were several who spoke French, and
there was altogether an air of civilisation about the
place which one hardly expected to find in a remote
valley of the Lebanon. A good carriage-road, about
two miles long, connects Der el Kamr with the palace
of Beteddin, the summer residence of the Governor-
General, who, unfortunately for us, was absent on the
occasion of our visit. The town and the palace stand


facing each other on opposite sides of the valley.
Both are about 3000 feet above the level of the sea,
and the view of each from the other is strikingly
picturesque. The rambling palace of Beteddin is
perched on a projecting promontory, and forms an
imposing object as one ascends to it from the bottom
of the valley. As we clattered up to the gateway we
received quite a magnificent reception : two hundred
men all Lebanon militia, but as well set up and
uniformed as any line regiment were drawn up, and
presented arms as we passed into the large outer
court, which is at once a parade-ground and prin-
cipal entrance to the palace ; round it are barracks
for 600 men, prisons, the military store departments,
and various offices. Passing through a gateway
ornamented with frescoes and mosaic-work, we enter
another courtyard, and here I was strongly reminded
of the old palace of the Tartar Khans at Baktshi
Serai, in the Crimea. It was surrounded by apart-
ments and galleries, and a fountain played in the
middle indeed there was a wealth of water every-
where throughout the palace. Then we passed
through still another gateway, more elaborately
decorated with carving and Arabesque work, which
led us into an inner court. This had formerly been
the harem, but the Governor-General had made it
his private apartments and reception-rooms. Here
we were entertained with coffee and sherbet by the
officer in command of the troops, and we talked over


the politics of the Lebanon past and present, and of
the history of the palace, and its builder in particular.
As it is little more than fifty years since it was com-
pleted, this history does not go very far back, and
the influence of the stirring events of which it was
the scene still strongly colours the politics of " the
Mountain." The Druses, like the Highlanders of
Scotland, with whom they have many national char-
acteristics in common, are essentially feudal, and
their history resolves itself into a record of perpet-
ual struggles for supremacy between rival chiefs or
heads of clans.

During the last century the two most powerful
families in the Lebanon were the Shehab and the
Jumbelat. In those days it used to be said that the
Shehab were the brains, the Jumbelat the purse,
and another family, distinguished for its valour in
war, the sword of the Druses. The Shehab are
said originally to have come from the Hauran in the
time of the Crusaders, and to have settled at Has-
beya, on the slopes of Mount Hermon, where they
acquired great power and influence. About 200
years ago they moved to this part of the Lebanon,
and took an active share in the clan warfare which
was continually going on between the principal
families. By degrees they acquired an almost para-
mount influence, and in 1789 the since celebrated
Emir Beshir, then chief of the family, was chosen as
head Sheikh of the Druses. At this time the author-


ity of the Porte in the Lebanon was little more
than nominal, and the Christians were unable to
compete in warlike prowess with the Druses, who
practically governed the country. As, however, the
Druses were constantly fighting among themselves,
the Maronites could always make their influence felt
by allying themselves with one side or the other ;
and the Emir Beshir, in order the better to conciliate
them, professed to have strong Christian tendencies,
and allowed it even to be supposed that he was a thor-
ough Christian at heart. His great rival was the
Sheikh Beshir, of the Jumbelat family a man who,
in addition to his great natural gifts, possessed im-
mense wealth, and wielded a corresponding influence.
At first the Emir Beshir found it to be for his
interest to keep on good terms with his powerful
rival, the Sheikh Beshir, waiting for the day to come
when his schemes were so far matured, and his power
sufficiently consolidated, that he might take a line of
his own. In furtherance of his project, he went to
Egypt to seek the alliance of Ibrahim Pasha; and
when this was secured, and he found himself able to
defy his rival, the smouldering fire burst forth, and^
a fierce contest ensued, which was decided on a
plain which I afterwards crossed and the Emir
Beshir, assisted by the Egyptians, was victorious,
and succeeded in capturing the Sheikh Beshir,
whom he sent as a prisoner to Acre, where he was
strangled, and his property confiscated.


The Egyptians having thus, with the aid of the
Emir Beshir, obtained a foothold in the Lebanon,
proceeded, in order to secure themselves there, to
disarm the Druses ; for although the Sheikh Beshir
had been conquered, a large party remained faithful
to his cause, and vehemently opposed to the allies
of the Emir Beshir. In order to keep them in check,
Ibrahim Pasha armed the Maronites, while the
Turks instigated the Druses to revolt against the
Egyptians, and the allies of Turkey supplied them
with arms for this purpose. When the final struggle
between the Turks and Egyptians culminated in the
defeat of the latter, owing to the assistance rendered
to the Sultan by England, the Emir Beshir, who had
remained faithful to the Egyptians, was captured
and sent as a prisoner to Malta in an English man-
of-war. After this the Maronites and Druses took to
murdering each other, which they continued to do
with more or less energy until i860, when the great
massacres took place, and caused that intervention
on the part of the Western Powers which resulted
in the administrative autonomy of the Lebanon, and
in the arrangement which has secured to this once
turbulent region twenty years of comparative peace
and prosperity. It was in the palmy days of the
Emir Beshir's rule that he built the palace of Be-
teddin, which, however, he only occupied for a few
years after its completion, and soon after his capture
it began to fall into disrepair. His widow had no



funds to keep it in order, and it was bought not
very long ago by the Turkish Government, and con-
verted into the residence of the Governor-General.
The beautiful decorations in some of the rooms
prove the Emir Beshir to have been a man of taste.
The marble carvings of the wainscotings are most
elaborate and highly finished, bordered with Arab-
esques and mosaic -work ; while the ceilings are
supported by light, graceful columns. At one end
of the garden, cypresses and wee'ping-willows indi-
cate the spot where the first wife of the Emir lies
buried ; and near it is the Turkish bath, all in marble,
now out of repair, but equal in decoration to any-
thing of the kind to be found elsewhere. The gar-
den and terraces command a magnificent view of the
broad winding valley, clothed with wood or terraced
with vineyards. The extensive stables under the
palace would afford luxurious accommodation for
a whole cavalry regiment, though at present they
are only occupied by about fifty dragoons. All the
military accoutrements are home made ; and I saw
some tailors actively at work on sewing-machines
in the store department, which also contained the
arms and ammunition for the force. It was a pleas-
ure to be in a country where life and property are
protected by the people themselves. The hateful
Kurdish zaptieh and lawless Bashi-Bazouk are here
unknown. All the mounted police are furnished by
the Lebanon itself, are properly paid, and kept in


Strict discipline by the present Governor- General.
The taxes are so very much too light that the

Online LibraryLaurence OliphantThe land of Gilead, with excursions in the Lebanon; → online text (page 23 of 35)