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LASSIC mythology, and the incidental notices of Greek and Roman historians, have, from the earliest times, invested the Caucasian mountain-range with a certain degree of mystery and interest ; but since 1829, when the Russian emperor, arrested in his victorious march upon Constantinople by the
menacing tone and attitude of the Western powers, stipulated, by a clause in the treaty of Adrianople, that the Sublime Porte should cede to Russia the whole of the Caucasian territory, over which the sultan still claimed or exercised a doubtful sovereignty, and the czar commenced the perilous and gigantic task of converting the almost nominal authority thus transferred into a real and solid despotism, those picturesque and romantic regions have assumed a high degree of importance in the domain of European politics; and the possible results
of the desperate conflict so long maintained there, have been made the theme of conjectures, visions,
theories, fears, scarcely less wild and fantastical than the dreams of the old paganism. According to ancient myths, the loftiest of the snow and cloud-crowned mountains of the Caucasuswhich, reaching to Olympus, connected earth with heavenwas that whereon Prometheus, for stealing fire from the chariot of the sun, lay bound and tortured, till released by Hercules : from without their cavernous and frightful depths that Jason, with the help of the Colehian enchantress, bore off the Golden Fleece. These classical localities, moreover, Herodotus asserts, were peopled by motley races of barbarians, numbering, Strabo adds, from 70 to 300 nations-a latitude of enumeration, by the way, which scarcely impresses one with a very high respect in this particular instance for the authority of that eminent traveller and geographer. The same writer assures us, that gold was so plentiful in the torrents of the Caucasus that it was intercepted and collected by means of extended sheep-skins
an intelligible, if somewhat common-place version of the story of Jason and his Golden Fleece. Emerging into clearer day, we find that it was through the great Caucasian Pass of Dariel (Porta Caucasiæ) that Cimmerians and Scythians marched to desolate Asia Minor; by the Eastern or Caspian Way (Via Caspia), the tumultuous hosts of Huns swept to their attacks upon the Persian and Roman Empires. This variegated mass of fact and fiction has, it is quite evident, influenced the imagination and coloured the dreams of modern prophets and alarmists. For Prometheus writhing beneath the pitiless decree of Jupiter, we have civilisation (Circassian) fiercely, but vainly, struggling in the stilling embrace of the Russian Colossus, and calling piteously for help upon the English Hercules. Should that help be accorded, the fable of the Golden Fleece will be converted into a magnificent fact, by the rich commerce that must immediately spring up between the wealthy mountaineers of Caucasia and the teeming industries of Great Britain. But if the sea-Hercules, lulled in the vain dreams of a false security, refuses to perform, or too long neglects the solemn duty to which he is thus imperatively summoned—then, indeed, the desolating onrush of the Cimmerian, Scythian, and Hunnish hosts will be echoed in our own day by the tramp of the countless battalions of the czar. In one respect only, the travelled soothsayers of the present day entirely differ from the ancients: the inhabitants of the Caucasus are not barbarians. So far from being so, they are, on the contrary, a highly-civilised people; and, in the higher and nobler attributes of humanity-notwithstanding certain peculiarities which, at first view, may appear a little startling to unaccustomed eyes — present examples worthy of respectful imitation by the boasted nations of the West !
That we may obtain a sufficiently distinct view of the picturesque and majestic theatre in which the bold deeds we are about to narrate have been performed, let us for a few moments fancy ourselves standing with our faces towards the north, upon the
summit of Mount Ararat, in Armenia, about fifty miles south of the Caucasian territory, which, intersected by its magnificent mountain-range, will then lie right before us, bounded on this, the southern side, by the ancient kingdom of Georgia, now a province of Russia; on the east, by the Caspian Sea, whose tideless waters lave the north of Persia ; on the west, by the Euxine or Bad Black Sea (fanar gara denez) of the Turks, stretching northward to the Crimea and the Sea of Azov; and on the north itself, by the southern provinces of Russia Proper, in one of which the white stone obelisk erected by General Prestman, an English officer in the Russian service, over the grave of Howard the philanthropist, modestly uprears itself. The mountain-range, we perceive, commences by Anapa, a Russian settlement on the shore of the Black Sea, nearly opposite the Crimea, and in the northwest corner of the vast tract of territory thus shut in by Russia Proper, the Caspian and Black Seas, and Georgia, and the huge chain extends hítherward in a direction slanting towards the south of the Caspian on our right, leaving a gradually increasing margin between it and the Black Sea. At about midway, the range turns abruptly towards the east for some distance; then resumes and continues its south-easterly direction, till its termination at Cape Asheran, on the south-west shore of the Caspian. The length of this sinuous cordillera, from its northwestern point, in 44° 40' north latitude and 37° 10' east longitude, to the south-eastern limit, in 40° 30' of north latitude and 50° 20° east longitude, is estimated at 700 miles, and varies in breadth from 70 to 120 miles; an area of about 56,000 square miles, or pretty nearly the extent of England and Wales. The southern provinces of Russia Proper are separated from the Caucasian territory by the lower brauch of the Kuban River, which, rising from near the centre of the mountains, flows in a northerly direction, till about the parallel of 44° north latitude, where it takes a direct westerly course, and reaches the Black Sea in the vicinity of Anapa, enclosing from its source to its outflow the plains of Abasia, and the Great and Little Kabardahs. The Terek breaks out of the mountains on the same side, but considerably to the south-east of the Kuban, and flows in a north-easterly direction towards the Caspian, forming with that sea and the south-eastern chain an irregular triangle, comprising the steppes or plains of Daghistan, and the country of the Tchetchentzes, separated from each other by the rapid Koisu, which takes its rise in the Lesghian or eastern part of the chain, and issues also in the Caspian. This roughly-drawn outline encircles a country of the most varied grandeur and beauty. The plains on the north of the chain enclosed by the fort-dotted Kuban and Terek, are for the most part—the Kabardahs especially—of luxuriant fertility, carpeted with richest verdure, and strewed with woods and groves of level trees, odorous with the perfume of the myrtle and the rose, and vocal with the songs of innumerable nightingales. Georgia here