ASIA AND ITS INHABITANTS
If such an expression may be used in speaking of a rigid statement of facts, Volney attained to true beauty of expression—to an actual physical beauty, so to speak, recalling the touch of Hippocrates in his "De Aere, Aquis et Locis." Although no geographical discoveries can be imputed to him, we must none the less recognize in him one of the first travellers who had a true conception of the importance of their task. His aim was always to give a true impression of the places he visited; and this in itself was no small merit, at a time when other explorers did not hesitate to enliven their narratives with imaginary details, with no recognition whatever of their true responsibility.
The Abbé Barthélemy, who in 1788 was to publish his "Voyage du jeune Anacharsis," was already exercising a good deal of influence on public taste, by his popularity in society and position as a man of science, and drawing special attention to Greece and the neighbouring countries. It was evidently whilst attending his lessons that De Choiseul imbibed his love for history and archæology.
Nominated ambassador at Constantinople, De Choiseul determined to profit by the leisure he enjoyed in travelling as an artist and archæologist through the Greece of Homer and Herodotus. Such a journey was the very thing to complete the education of the young ambassador, who was only twenty-four years of age, and if he knew himself, could not be said to have any acquaintance with the ways of the world.
Sensible of his shortcomings, he surrounded himself with learned and scientific men, amongst them the Abbé Barthélemy, the Greek scholar, Ansse de Villoison, the poet Delille, the sculptor Fauvel, and the painter Cassas. In fact, in his "Picturesque History of Greece" he himself merely plays the rôle of Mæcenas.
M. de Choiseul Gouffier engaged as private secretary a professor, the Abbé Jean-Baptiste Le Chevalier, who spoke Greek fluently. The latter, after a journey to London, where M. de Choiseul's business detained him long enough for him to learn English, went to Italy, and was detained at Venice by severe illness for seven months. After this he joined M. de Choiseul Gouffier at Constantinople.
Le Chevalier occupied himself principally with the site of Troy. Well versed in the Iliad, he sought for, and believed he identified, the various localities mentioned in the Homeric poem.
His able geographical and historical book at once provoked plentiful criticism. Upon the one side learned men, such as Bryant, declared the discoveries made by Choiseul to be illusory, for the reason that Troy, and, as a matter of course, the Ten Years Siege, existed only in the imagination of the Greek poet; whilst others, and principally the English portion of his critics, adopted his conclusions. The whole question was almost forgotten, when the discoveries made quite recently by Schliemann reopened the discussion.
Guillaume-Antoine Olivier, who traversed the greater portion of the Western hemisphere, at the end of the last century, had a strange career. Employed by Berthier de Sauvigny to translate a statistical paper on Paris, he lost his patron and the payment for his labours in the first outburst of the Revolution. Wishing to employ his talent for natural history away from Paris, he was nominated, by the minister Roland, to a mission to the distant and little-known portions of the Ottoman Empire. A naturalist, named Bruguère, was associated with him.
The two friends left Paris at the end of 1792, and were delayed for four months at Versailles, until a suitable ship was found for them.
They only reached Constantinople at the end of the following May, carrying letters relating to their mission to M. de Semonville. But this ambassador had been recalled, and his successor, M. de Sainte Croix had heard nothing of their undertaking. What was the best thing to do whilst awaiting the reply to the inquiries sent to Paris by M. de Sainte Croix?
The two friends could not remain inactive. They therefore decided to visit the shores of Asia Minor, and some islands in the Egyptian Archipelago.
The French minister had excellent reasons for not supplying them with much money, and their own resources being limited, they were unable to do more than make a flying visit to these interesting countries.
Upon their return to Constantinople they found a new ambassador, named Verninac, who had received instructions to send them to Persia, where they were to endeavour to awaken the sympathy of the government for France, and to induce it to declare war against Russia.
At this time the most deplorable anarchy reigned in Persia. Usurpers succeeded each other upon the throne, to the great detriment of the welfare of the inhabitants. War was going on in Khorassan at the time that Olivier and Bruguère arrived. An opportunity occurred for them to join the shah in a country as yet unvisited by any European; but unfortunately Bruguère was in such bad health that they were not only forced to lose the chance, but were detained for four months in an obscure village buried amongst the mountains.
In September, 1796, Mehemet returned to Teheran. His first act was to order a hundred Russian sailors whom he had taken prisoners on the Caspian Sea, to be put to death, and their limbs to be nailed outside his palace walls—a disgusting trophy worthy of the butcher tyrant.
The following year Mehemet Ali was assassinated, and his nephew, Fehtah-Ali Shah, succeeded him, after a short struggle.