LORD  BYRON  and  his  TIMES
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The Life of Lord Byron
Chapter XIV

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Leave Joannina for Prevesa.—Land at Fanari.—Albania.—Byron’s character of the inhabitants.

Having gratified their curiosity with an inspection of every object of interest at Tepellené, the travellers returned Joannina, where they again resided several days, partaking of the hospitality of the principal inhabitants. On the 3d of November they bade it adieu, and returned to Salona, on the Golf of Arta; where, in consequence of hearing that the inhabitants of Carnia were up in arms, that numerous bands of robbers had descended from the mountains of Ziccola and Agrapha, and had made their appearance on the other side of the gulf, they resolved to proceed by water to Prevesa, and having presented an order which they had received from Ali Pashaw, for the use of his galliot, she was immediately fitted out to convey them. In the course of the voyage they suffered a great deal of alarm, ran some risk, and were obliged to land on the mainland of Albania, in a bay called Fanari, contiguous to the mountainous district of Sulli. There they procured horses, and rode to Volondorako, a town belonging to the vizier, by the primate of which and his highness’s garrison they were received with all imaginable civility. Having passed the night there, they departed in the morning, which proving
bright and beautiful, afforded them interesting views of the steep romantic environs of Sulli.

Land of Albania, where Iskander rose,
Theme of the young, and beacon of the wise,
And he his namesake whose oft-baffled foes
Shrunk from his deeds of chivalrous emprise;
Land of Albania! let me bend mine eyes
On thee, thou rugged nurse of savage men!
The Cross descends, thy minarets arise,
And the pale crescent sparkles in the glen,
Through many a cypress grove within each city’s ken.

Of the inhabitants of Albania—the Arnaouts or Albanese—Lord Byron says they reminded him strongly of the Highlanders of Scotland, whom they undoubtedly resemble in dress, figure, and manner of living. “The very mountains seemed Caledonian with a kinder climate. The kilt, though white, the spare active form, their dialect, Celtic in its sound, and their hardy habits, all carried me back to Morven. No nation are so detested and dreaded by their neighbours as the Albanese; the Greeks hardly regard them as Christians, or the Turks as Moslems, and in fact they are a mixture of both, and sometimes neither. Their habits are predatory: all are armed, and the red-shawled Arnaouts, the Montenegrins, Chimeriotes, and Gedges, are treacherous; the others differ somewhat in garb, and essentially in character. As far as my own experience goes, I can speak favourably. I was attended by two, an infidel and a Mussulman, to Constantinople and every other part of Turkey which came within my observations, and more faithful in peril and indefatigable in service are nowhere to be found. The infidel was named Basilius, the Moslem Dervish Tahiri; the former a man of middle age, and the latter about my own. Basili was strictly charged by Ali Pashaw in person to attend us, and Dervish was one of fifty who accompanied us through the forests of Acarnania, to the banks of the Achelous, and onward to
Missolonghi. There I took him into my own service, and never had occasion to repent it until the moment of my departure.

“When in 1810, after my friend, Mr. Hobhouse, left me for England, I was seized with a severe fever in the Morea, these men saved my life by frightening away my physician, whose throat they threatened to cut if I was not cured within a given time. To this consolatory assurance of posthumous retribution, and a resolute refusal of Dr. Romanelli’s prescriptions, I attributed my recovery. I had left my last remaining English servant at Athens; my dragoman was as ill as myself; and my poor Arnaouts nursed me with an attention which would have done honour to civilization.

“They had a variety of adventures, for the Moslem, Dervish, being a remarkably handsome man, was always squabbling with the husbands of Athens; insomuch that four of the principal Turks paid me a visit of remonstrance at the convent, on the subject of his having taken a woman to the bath—whom he had lawfully bought, however—a thing quite contrary to etiquette.

“Basili also was extremely gallant among his own persuasion, and had the greatest veneration for the Church, mixed with the highest contempt of Churchmen, whom he cuffed upon occasion in a most heterodox manner. Yet he never passed a church without crossing himself; and I remember the risk he ran on entering St. Sophia, in Stamboul, because it had once been a place of his worship. On remonstrating with him on his inconsistent proceedings, he invariably answered, ‘Our church is holy, our priests are thieves’; and then he crossed himself as usual, and boxed the ears of the first papas who refused to assist in any required operation, as was always found to be necessary where a priest had any influence with the Cogia Bashi of his village. Indeed, a more abandoned race of miscreants cannot exist than the lower orders of the Greek clergy.


“When preparations were made for my return, my Albanians were summoned to receive their pay. Basili took his with an awkward show of regret at my intended departure, and marched away to his quarters with his bag of piastres. I sent for Dervish, but for some time he was not to be found; at last he entered just as Signor Logotheti, father to the ci-devant Anglo-consul of Athens, and some other of my Greek acquaintances, paid me a visit. Dervish took the money, but on a sudden dashed it on the ground; and clasping his hands, which he raised to his forehead, rushed out of the room weeping bitterly. From that moment to the hour of my embarkation, he continued his lamentations, and all our efforts to console him only produced this answer, ‘He leaves me.’ Signor Logotheti, who never wept before for anything less than the loss of a paras, melted; the padre of the convent, my attendants, my visitors, and I verily believe that even Sterne’s foolish fat scullion would have left her fish-kettle to sympathise with the unaffected and unexpected sorrow of this barbarian.

“For my part, when I remembered that a short time before my departure from England, a noble and most intimate associate had excused himself from taking leave of me, because he had to attend a relation ‘to a milliner’s,’ I felt no less surprised than humiliated by the present occurrence and the past recollection.

“The Albanians in general (I do not mean the cultivators of the earth in the provinces, who have also that appellation, but the mountaineers) have a fine cast of countenance; and the most beautiful women I have ever beheld, in stature and in features, we saw levelling the road broken down by the torrents between Delvinaki and Libokavo. Their manner of walking is truly theatrical, but this strut is probably the effect of the capote or cloak depending from one shoulder. Their long hair reminds you of the Spartans, and their courage in desultory warfare is unquestionable. Though
they have some cavalry among the Gedges, I never saw a good Arnaout horseman, but on foot they are never to be subdued.”

The travellers having left Volondorako proceeded southward until they came near to the seaside, and passing along the shore, under a castle belonging to Ali Pashaw, on the lofty summit of a steep rock, they at last reached Nicopolis again, the ruins of which they revisited.

On their arrival at Prevesa, they had no choice left but that of crossing Carnia, and the country being, as already mentioned, overrun with robbers, they provided themselves with a guard of thirty-seven soldiers, and procured another galliot to take them down the Gulf of Arta, to the place whence they were to commence their land journey.

Having embarked, they continued sailing with very little wind until they reached the fortress of Vonitza, where they waited all night for the freshening of the morning breeze, with which they again set sail, and about four o’clock in the afternoon arrived at Utraikee.

At this place there was only a custom house and a barrack for troops close to each other, and surrounded, except towards the water, by a high wall. In the evening the gates were secured, and preparations made for feeding their Albanian guards; a goat was killed and roasted whole, and four fires were kindled in the yard, around which the soldiers seated themselves in parties. After eating and drinking, the greater part of them assembled at the largest of the fires, and, while the travellers were themselves with the elders of the party seated on the ground, danced round the blaze to their own songs, with astonishing Highland energy.

Childe Harold at a little distance stood,
And view’d, but not displeased, the revelry,
Nor hated harmless mirth, however rude;
In sooth, it was no vulgar sight to see
Their barbarous, yet their not indecent glee;
And as the flames along their faces gleam’d,
Their gestures nimble, dark eyes flashing free,
The long wild locks that to their girdles stream’d,
While thus in concert they this lay half sang, half scream’d.
“I talk not of mercy, I talk not of fear;
He neither must know who would serve the vizier;
Since the days of our prophet, the crescent ne’er saw
A chief ever glorious like Ali Pashaw.