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The Life of Lord Byron By John Galt Characters: 8719

Updated: 2017-11-30 00:05


The Effect of Ali Pasha's Character on Lord Byron-Sketch of the Career of Ali, and the Perseverance with which he pursued the Objects of his Ambition

Although many traits and lineaments of Lord Byron's own character may be traced in the portraits of his heroes, I have yet often thought that Ali Pasha was the model from which he drew several of their most remarkable features; and on this account it may be expedient to give a sketch of that bold and stern personage-if I am correct in my conjecture-and the reader can judge for himself when the picture is before him-it would be a great defect, according to the plan of this work, not to do so.

Ali Pasha was born at Tepellené, about the year 1750. His father was a pasha of two tails, but possessed of little influence. At his death Ali succeeded to no inheritance but the house in which he was born; and it was his boast, in the plenitude of his power, that he began his fortune with sixty paras, about eighteen pence sterling, and a musket. At that time the country was much infested with cattle-stealers, and the flocks and herds of the neighbouring villages were often plundered.

Ali collected a few followers from among the retainers of his father, made himself master, first of one village, then of another, amassed money, increased his power, and at last found himself at the head of a considerable body of Albanians, whom he paid by plunder; for he was then only a great robber-the Rob Roy of Albania: in a word, one of those independent freebooters who divide among themselves so much of the riches and revenues of the Ottoman dominions.

In following up this career, he met with many adventures and reverses, but his course was still onwards, and uniformly distinguished by enterprise and cruelty. His enemies expected no mercy when vanquished in the field; and when accidentally seized in private, they were treated with equal rigour. It is reported that he even roasted alive on spits some of his most distinguished adversaries.

When he had collected money enough, he bought a pashalic; and being invested with that dignity, he became still more eager to enlarge his possessions. He continued in constant war with the neighbouring pashas; and cultivating, by adroit agents, the most influential interest at Constantinople, he finally obtained possession of Joannina, and was confirmed pasha of the territory attached to it, by an imperial firman. He then went to war with the pashas of Arta, of Delvino, and of Ocrida, whom he subdued, together with that of Triccala, and established a predominant influence over the agas of Thessaly. The pasha of Vallona he poisoned in a bath at Sophia; and strengthened his power by marrying his two sons, Mouctar and Velhi, to the daughters of the successor and brother of the man whom he had murdered. In The Bride of Abydos, Lord Byron describes the assassination, but applies it to another party.

Reclined and feverish in the bath,

He, when the hunter's sport was up,

But little deem'd a brother's wrath

To quench his thirst had such a cup:

The bowl a bribed attendant bore-

He drank one draught, nor needed more.

During this progression of his fortunes, he had been more than once called upon to furnish his quota of troops to the imperial armies, and had served at their head with distinction against the Russians. He knew his countrymen, however, too well ever to trust himself at Constantinople. It was reported that he had frequently been offered some of the highest offices in the empire, but he always declined them and sought for power only among the fastnesses of his native region. Stories of the skill and courage with which he counteracted several machinations to procure his head were current and popular throughout the country, and among the Greeks in general he was certainly regarded as inferior only to the Grand Vizier himself. But though distrusting and distrusted, he always in the field fought for the Sultan with great bravery, particularly against the famous rebel Paswan Oglou. On his return from that war in 1798, he was, in consequence, made a pasha of three tails, or vizier, and was more than once offered the ultimate dignity of Grand Vizier, but he still declined all the honours of the metropolis. The object of his ambition was not temporary power, but to found a kingdom.

He procured,

however, pashalics for his two sons, the younger of whom, Velhi, saved sufficient money in his first government to buy the pashalic of the Morea, with the dignity of vizier, for which he paid seventy-five thousand pounds sterling. His eldest son, Mouctar, was of a more warlike turn, with less ambition than his brother. At the epoch of which I am speaking, he supplied his father's place at the head of the Albanians in the armies of the Sultan, in which he greatly distinguished himself in the campaign of 1809 against the Russians.

The difficulties which Ali Pasha had to encounter in establishing his ascendancy, did not arise so much from the opposition he met with from the neighbouring pashas as from the nature of the people, and of the country of which he was determined to make himself master. Many of the plains and valleys which composed his dominions were occupied by inhabitants who had been always in rebellion, and were never entirely conquered by the Turks, such as the Chimeriotes, the Sulliotes, and the nations living among the mountains adjacent to the coast of the Ionian Sea. Besides this, the woods and hills of every part of his dominions were in a great degree possessed by formidable bands of robbers, who, recruited and protected by the villages, and commanded by chiefs as brave and as enterprising as himself, laid extensive tracts under contribution, burning and plundering regardless of his jurisdiction. Against these he proceeded with the most iron severity; they were burned, hanged, beheaded, and impaled, in all parts of the country, until they were either exterminated or expelled.

A short time before the arrival of Lord Byron at Joannina, a large body of insurgents who infested the mountains between that city and Triccala, were defeated and dispersed by Mouctar Pasha, who cut to pieces a hundred of them on the spot. These robbers had been headed by a Greek priest, who, after the defeat, went to Constantinople and procured a firman of protection, with which he ventured to return to Joannina, where the Vizier invited him to a conference, and made him a prisoner. In deference to the firman, Ali confined him in prison, but used him well until a messenger could bring from Constantinople a permission from the Porte to authorise him to do what he pleased with the rebel. It was the arm of this man which Byron beheld suspended from the bough on entering Joannina.

By these vigorous measures, Ali Pasha rendered the greater part of Albania and the contiguous districts safely accessible, which were before overrun by bandits and freebooters; and consequently, by opening the country to merchants, and securing their persons and goods, not only increased his own revenues, but improved the condition of his subjects. He built bridges over the rivers, raised causeways over the marshes, opened roads, adorned the country and the towns with new buildings, and by many salutary regulations, acted the part of a just, though a merciless, prince.

In private life he was no less distinguished for the same unmitigated cruelty, but he afforded many examples of strong affection. The wife of his son Mouctar was a great favourite with the old man. Upon paying her a visit one morning, he found her in tears. He questioned her several times as to the cause of her grief; she at last reluctantly acknowledged that it arose from the diminution of her husband's regard. He inquired if she thought he paid attention to other women; the reply was in the affirmative; and she related that a lady of the name of Phrosynè, the wife of a rich Jew, had beguiled her of her husband's love; for she had seen at the bath, upon the finger of Phrosynè, a rich ring, which had belonged to Mouctar, and which she had often in vain entreated him to give to her. Ali immediately ordered the lady to be seized, and to be tied up in a sack, and cast into the lake. Various versions of this tragical tale are met with in all parts of the country, and the fate of Phrosynè is embodied in a ballad of touching pathos and melody.

That the character of this intrepid and ruthless warrior made a deep impression on the mind of Byron cannot be questioned. The scenes in which he acted were, as the poet traversed the country, everywhere around him; and his achievements, bloody, dark, and brave, had become themes of song and admiration.

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