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List Of Contents | Contents of Ali Pacha, by Dumas, Pere
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By Alexander Dumas, pere



The beginning of the nineteenth century was a time of audacious
enterprises and strange vicissitudes of fortune.  Whilst Western
Europe in turn submitted and struggled against a sub-lieutenant who
made himself an emperor, who at his pleasure made kings and destroyed
kingdoms, the ancient eastern part of the Continent; like mummies
which preserve but the semblance of life, was gradually tumbling to
pieces, and getting parcelled out amongst bold adventurers who
skirmished over its ruins.  Without mentioning local revolts which
produced only short-lived struggles and trifling changes, of
administration, such as that of Djezzar Pacha, who refused to pay
tribute because he thought himself impregnable in his citadel of
Saint-Jean-d'Acre, or that of Passevend-Oglou Pacha, who planted
himself on the walls of Widdin as defender of the Janissaries against
the institution of the regular militia decreed by Sultan Selim at
Stamboul, there were wider spread rebellions which attacked the
constitution of the Turkish Empire and diminished its extent; amongst
them that of Czerni-Georges, which raised Servia to the position of a
free state; of Mahomet Ali, who made his pachalik of Egypt into a
kingdom; and finally that of the man whose, history we are about to
narrate, Ali Tepeleni, Pacha of Janina, whose long resistance to the
suzerain power preceded and brought about the regeneration of Greece.

Ali's own will counted for nothing in this important movement.  He
foresaw it, but without ever seeking to aid it, and was powerless to
arrest it.  He was not one of those men who place their lives and
services at the disposal of any cause indiscriminately; and his sole
aim was to acquire and increase a power of which he was both the
guiding influence, and the end and object.  His nature contained the
seeds of every human passion, and he devoted all his long life to
their development and gratification.  This explains his whole
temperament; his actions were merely the natural outcome of his
character confronted with circumstances.  Few men have understood
themselves better or been on better terms with the orbit of their
existence, and as the personality of an individual is all the more
striking, in proportion as it reflects the manners and ideas of the
time and country in which he has lived, so the figure of Ali Pacha
stands out, if not one of the most brilliant, at least one of the
most singular in contemporary history.

From the middle of the eighteenth century Turkey had been a prey to
the political gangrene of which she is vainly trying to cure herself
to-day, and which, before long, will dismember her in the sight of
all Europe.  Anarchy and disorder reigned from one end of the empire
to the other.  The Osmanli race, bred on conquest alone, proved good
for nothing when conquest failed.  It naturally therefore came to
pass when Sobieski, who saved Christianity under the walls of Vienna,
as before his time Charles Martel had saved it on the plains of
Poitiers, had set bounds to the wave of Mussulman westward invasion,
and definitely fixed a limit which it should not pass, that the
Osmanli warlike instincts recoiled upon themselves.  The haughty
descendants of Ortogrul, who considered themselves born to command,
seeing victory forsake them, fell back upon tyranny.  Vainly did
reason expostulate that oppression could not long be exercised by
hands which had lost their strength, and that peace imposed new and
different labours on those who no longer triumphed in war; they would
listen to nothing; and, as fatalistic when condemned to a state of
peace as when they marched forth conquering and to conquer, they
cowered down in magnificent listlessness, leaving the whole burden of
their support on conquered peoples.  Like ignorant farmers, who
exhaust fertile fields by forcing crops; they rapidly ruined their
vast and rich empire by exorbitant exactions.  Inexorable conquerors
and insatiable masters, with one hand they flogged their slaves and
with the other plundered them.  Nothing was superior to their
insolence, nothing on a level with their greed.  They were never
glutted, and never relaxed their extortions.  But in proportion as
their needs increased on the one hand, so did their resources
diminish on the other.  Their oppressed subjects soon found that they
must escape at any cost from oppressors whom they could neither
appease nor satisfy.  Each population took the steps best suited to
its position and character; some chose inertia, others violence.  The
inhabitants of the plains, powerless and shelterless, bent like reeds
before the storm and evaded the shock against which they were unable
to stand.  The mountaineers planted themselves like rocks in a
torrent, and dammed its course with all their might.  On both sides
arose a determined resistance, different in method, similar in
result.  In the case of the peasants labour came to a stand-still; in
that of the hill folk open war broke out.  The grasping exactions of
the tyrant dominant body produced nothing from waste lands and armed
mountaineers; destitution and revolt were equally beyond their power
to cope with; and all that was left for tyranny to govern was a
desert enclosed by a wall.

But, all the same, the wants of a magnificent sultan, descendant of
the Prophet and distributor of crowns, must be supplied; and to do
this, the Sublime Porte needed money.  Unconsciously imitating the
Roman Senate, the Turkish Divan put up the empire for sale by public
auction.  All employments were sold to the highest bidder; pachas,
beys, cadis, ministers of every rank, and clerks of every class had
to buy their posts from their sovereign and get the money back out of
his subjects.  They spent their money in the capital, and recuperated
themselves in the provinces.  And as there was no other law than
their master's pleasure, so there, was no other guarantee than his
caprice.  They had therefore to set quickly to work; the post might
be lost before its cost had been recovered.  Thus all the science of
administration resolved itself into plundering as much and as quickly
as possible.  To this end, the delegate of imperial power delegated
in his turn, on similar conditions, other agents to seize for him and
for themselves all they could lay their hands on; so that the
inhabitants of the empire might be divided into three classes--those
who were striving to seize everything; those who were trying to save
a little; and those who, having nothing and hoping for nothing, took
no interest in affairs at all.

Albania was one of the most difficult provinces to manage.  Its
inhabitants were poor, brave, and, the nature of the country was
mountainous and inaccessible.  The pashas had great difficulty in
collecting tribute, because the people were given to fighting for
their bread.  Whether Mahomedans or Christians, the Albanians were
above all soldiers.  Descended on the one side from the unconquerable
Scythians, on the other from the ancient Macedonians, not long since
masters of the world; crossed with Norman adventurers brought
eastwards by the great movement of the Crusades; they felt the blood
of warriors flow in their veins, and that war was their element.
Sometimes at feud with one another, canton against canton, village
against village, often even house against house; sometimes rebelling
against the government their sanjaks; sometimes in league with these
against the sultan; they never rested from combat except in an armed
peace.  Each tribe had its military organisation, each family its
fortified stronghold, each man his gun on his shoulder.  When they
had nothing better to do, they tilled their fields, or mowed their
neighbours', carrying off, it should be noted, the crop; or pastured
their, flocks, watching the opportunity to trespass over pasture
limits.  This was the normal and regular life of the population of
Epirus, Thesprotia, Thessaly, and Upper Albania.  Lower Albania, less
strong, was also less active and bold; and there, as in many other
parts of Turkey, the dalesman was often the prey of the mountaineer.
It was in the mountain districts where were preserved the
recollections of Scander Beg, and where the manners of ancient
Laconia prevailed; the deeds of the brave soldier were sung on the
lyre, and the skilful robber quoted as an example to the children by
the father of the family.  Village feasts were held on the booty
taken from strangers; and the favourite dish was always a stolen
sheep.  Every man was esteemed in proportion to his skill and
courage, and a man's chances of making a good match were greatly
enhanced when he acquired the reputation of being an agile
mountaineer and a good bandit.

The Albanians proudly called this anarchy liberty, and religiously
guarded a state of disorder bequeathed by their ancestors, which
always assured the first place to the most valiant.

It was amidst men and manners such as these that Ali Tepeleni was
born.  He boasted that he belonged to the conquering race, and that
he descended from an ancient Anatolian family which had crossed into
Albania with the troops of Bajazet Ilderim.  But it is made certain
by the learned researches of M. de Pouqueville that he sprang from a
native stock, and not an Asiatic one, as he pretended.  His ancestors
were Christian Skipetars, who became Mussulmans after the Turkish
invasion, and his ancestry certainly cannot be traced farther back
than the end of the sixteenth century.

Mouktar Tepeleni, his grandfather, perished in the Turkish expedition
against Corfu, in 1716.  Marshal Schullemburg, who defended the
island, having repulsed the enemy with loss, took Mouktar prisoner on
Mount San Salvador, where he was in charge of a signalling party, and
with a barbarity worthy of his adversaries, hung him without trial.
It must be admitted that the memory of this murder must have had the
effect of rendering Ali badly disposed towards Christians.

Mouktar left three sons, two of whom, Salik and Mahomet, were born of

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