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SECURITY OF PROPERTY.
These mysterious hints of the Hadji had immediately confirmed the Circassians in their original surmises, that the goods were intended as presents to themselves from Sultan Mahmoud or King William: a council had been held on the subject, but the decision it had come to was, that nothing could be done with the merchandize without my sanction. My Greek had also manfully asserted the authority with which I had invested him, and which he offered to maintain in single combat against anybody who should dispute it. There was, however, not the least necessity for violence; the Circassians were disposed to do justice to all parties; and their conduct in this instance, and subsequently, when the invasion of Pchat by the Russians had thrown everything into confusion and tumult, was beyond all praise. It is on occasions like these, and in the general wreck of their property, that, in the most civilized countries, the people recklessly abandon themselves to pillage; but I found, notwithstanding the doubts that existed as to the destination of the merchandize, and though, on the advances of the Russians, it had frequently to be removed in arabas, not an article was plundered. The most remarkable feature in the affair was, that the Konag Bey in whose hands it was left was personally a knave, but he knew well enough that if he robbed me, he would not
SECURITY OF PROPERTY.
only have to make restitution, but would also be heavily fined.
These are circumstances well worthy of attention; and before I proceed with my narrative, and take the reader back with me once more to Pchat, and the head quarters of the Circassians, which this occurrence had determined me to visit, he will perhaps, not only for the elucidation of these matters, but for the sake of the inquiry itself, one of considerable interest, deem it not irrelevant to the subject if I devote the next chapter to an examination of the institutions, social and judicial, of Circassia.
Account of the institutions of the Circassians-Pshees or princes
-Ouzdens or nobles-Tokums or tribes—Illustrations of their judicial institutions.
THE circumstance which of all others is calculated to surprise the stranger in the Caucasus is, the general security of life and property. His imagination, as he wanders through its narrow defiles and gloomy forests, “a boundless contiguity of shade,” would naturally people the whole with banditti, and present to him the lurking brigand at every turn and obscuration of the road. A journey of a few weeks will undeceive him; having obtained a domicile, and the name of his host, or konag, for a passport, he will encounter little danger, and meet with a cheerful welcome
PEACE AND ORDER.
wherever he goes, travelling through the wilds o Circassia as unconcerned as over the most fre quented thoroughfare of Europe; and if of an adventurous disposition, disappointed that he is neither attacked, circumvented, nor waylaid. But though a twelvemonth's experience of the country has confirmed me in this opinion of it, I must at the same time admit that there are exceptions to be made, and that, in some districts of it, the character of the people is more in keeping with its natural wildness, and that the spirit of enterprise, though checked and regulated by the national institutions, is nowhere entirely suppressed by them. Still their influence, on the whole, is most salutary, and as (except in a few letters which I addressed to the newspapers during my stay there, no attempt has hitherto been made to describe them.) they wholly differ from thos which exist in any other part of the world, I flatter myself that the present inquiry will not prove uninteresting to the reader.
It may appear extraordinary that no writers considered as authorities in this country, such as Pallas, Klaproth, or Marigny, should have made any mention of these fundamental laws. But the fact is, the two former were never in Circassia at all, and the last, who was only there for a few days, and who certainly availed himself admirably
PSHEES OR PRINCES.
of his opportunities, could have had little time to ascertain their existence, and less to comprehend their bearing and operation.
The conclusion at which all these writers have arrived, and which anybody labouring under similar disadvantages would come to when informed that there were princes and nobles in the land, is, that the peace and order established there must be owing to their administration. The inference would, however, be altogether unfounded. I have already demonstrated that, in the three provinces now at war with Russia, the authority of the Pshees, or princes, is either for good or for evil actually null; and where it still prevails, is rather, as it was in the middle ages, when uncontrolled by crown or crosier, an element of turbulence than security. Their authority, founded, like that of our feudal aristocracy, on enterprise, can, in a mountainous region, unfavourable to tyranny in any shape, be maintained by it alone, and is speedily dissolved by inaction.
As far back as the days of Justinian, we find, in the descriptions of Procopius, the same disorders and the same revolutions taking place. The princes, he tells us, were constantly seizing on the children of the country—then, as at present, its chief riches — to supply the Byzantine slave