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ART. VIII.—Sketches of Algiers, Political, Historical, and Civil;
containing an Account of the Geography, Population, Government,
Revenues, Commerce, Agriculture, Arts, Manufactures, Tribes, Manners, Languages, and recent Political Events of that Country. By WILLIAM SHALER, American Consul General at Algiers. Boston. Cummings, Hilliard, and Co. 1826. 8vo. pp. 308. DURING the last three centuries, the Algerine government has exercised no small degree of influence in the affairs of Europe; and yet few countries on the globe, visited by civilized men, have been less known, than that region on the south shore of the Mediterranean, denominated the Kingdom of Algiers. A hundred years ago, Dr Shaw resided twelve years in the city of Algiers, as Chaplain to the English factory there, and his learned book of travels affords almost the only source of information, which has since been resorted to. As a work illustrating the classical history and antiquities of the country, this is undoubtedly most accurate and judicious; but it throws very little light on the origin, progress, and character of the Algerine government, its maxims, policy, and aims, its sustaining force and effects; nor on the manners and habitudes of the people, their social and moral condition, their agriculture and commerce, institutions, intelligence, and pursuits. Dr Shaw was a scholar and antiquarian, but not a practised observer of human affairs, nor a politician. This may be said, without detracting from his great merits in the departments of learning, and branches of inquiry, in which he is universally acknowledged to have excelled.
But since the time of Dr Shaw, many changes have occurred in Algiers, of which history has taken but an imperfect record, and which have operated with a decided influence on the people and the forms of government. Nor, indeed, is it too much to say, that there has been as little known to the world at large, down to the present day, about the internal state of Algiers, as of its condition when the chief power was usurped by the elder Barbarossa, or when the romantic enterprise of Charles the Fifth, in attacking the city, met with so signal and ruinous a defeat. In the midst of this poverty of knowledge respecting a nation, which, however unjustly, with whatever violation of the sacred laws of humanity, has been allowed to play a conspicuous part for centuries in European politics, it is gratifying, that a gentleman of Mr Shaler's qualifications and opportunities should have given his thoughts to the subject, and laid before the world the results of his observations and long experience. He has resided ten years in Algiers, as Consul General from the United States, and in that capacity been engaged in important negotiations with the government, and enjoyed every possible advantage for acquiring information. His work was written on the spot. He has studied the policy of the civilized governments, in their intercourse with the Barbary powers, and become familiar with the springs, which have moved the Christian nations to their extraordinary and persevering alliances with these hordes of pirates, and professional plunderers of the human race. Mr Shaler has drawn aside the veil, which concealed these dark and disgraceful proceedings, and shown, that the piratical states themselves have always existed, as a mere mockery of properly and legally organized governments, the deep reproach of a civilized age ; and he has, moreover, shown, that the European powers, in courting and sustaining treaties of alliance with them, have been actuated, could be actuated, by no other than the lowest motives of selfishness, jealousy of rival influence, and mercenary aims.
There never was a time, when any one of the great maritime powers of Europe could not have routed these bands of pirates from their strong holds, driven them into the deserts, or expelled them, as enemies of the human kind, from the face of the earth. Yet they have been suffered to exist, to assume rights, to claim the dignity and privilege of civilized governments, to make treaties and break them at will, to prey upon the commerce of every nation, to enslave their prisoners, exact tribute, levy exorbitant contributions, impose degrading terms of submission, and, in short, to commit every act of infamy and injustice, to which their cupidity and daring spirit of evil prompted them. All these things have been quietly endured, nay, winked at, encouraged, promoted, by the nations themselves who were the subjects of these shameless insults, and whose duty it was for their own honor, and the honor of human nature, to punish such gross infractions of right, and crush the audacious power that dared commit them.
The existence of the piratical states of Barbary, as governments tolerated by civilized nations, is an anomaly in the history of the world. They have never, till very recently, made any pretensions to an observance of the laws of nations. Their
primary political maxim has been, that they were naturally at war with all Christian nations, who did not purchase a peace at a heavy price, and maintain it by a degrading annual tribute. This was the way the United States first made peace with them, and to our shame be it spoken, we were tributaries to these despicable robbers till within the last twelve years. But not only did they trample on the laws of nations, in this fundamental article of peace and war, but they made slaves of their prisoners, and demanded for them an exorbitant ransom. Treaties they regarded not, any longer than it suited their convenience. A pretext for breaking a treaty was always at hand, and from that moment war was understood to exist, without any previous declaration or notice to the other party concerned. Then the Corsairs began their depredations, scoured the Mediterranean, seized every vessel that came in their reach, and brought it into port, where the cargo was confiscated, and the crew condemned to slavery. Instead of chastising such an outrage, as its infamy deserved, the insulted nation deemed it policy to sue again for peace, to pay an enormous sum by special agreement and in presents as the price of conciliation, to redeem the prisoners in slavery, and submit to the humilating condition of sending an annual tribute to a band of freebooters. Thus were treaties made and broken merely as a means of plunder, and thus did the mutual jealousies, the contemptible policy, of the European powers, not only give countenance to each other in such humbling practices, but maintain in their consequence for ages these bloodthirsty enemies of the human family.
Mr Shaler's work is confined to the kingdom of Algiers, touching on the other Barbary states only as they bear a general analogy to this. He begins with a geographical view of the country ; its soil, productions, and population. He then comes to its history and form of government; political and civil institutions; finances, army, and navy; its piratical character, and political relations with foreign powers. Next we have a description of the city of Algiers, its topography, fortifications, public edifices, private dwellings, and streets; its commerce, wealth, and police; the character and manners of the people, their arts and manufactures, and the condition of the Christian and Jewish residents. Then follows a description of the various tribes inhabiting the kingdom of Algiers, their peculiarities, religion, and languages; and also a very animated sketch of the history of the Algerine government during the last fifteen years. The main body of the work is closed by some interesting reflections of the author on the probable destiny of that country, as highly favored by nature, as it is miserably degraded by its government. A supplementary chapter contains extracts from the American Consular Journal kept at Algiers, narrating a series of curious events, illustrative of the genius of the government, and its habits of intercourse with foreigners. In the Appendix are thrown together several documents of value.
The territory usually known as the Kingdom of Algiers, stretches along the south shore of the Mediterranean about five hundred miles, from the eastern border of the Empire of Morocco, to the western boundary of Tunis. Its breadth inland from the sca is very uncertain, but is supposed to vary from forty to a hundred miles. The surface thus included, by Mr Shaler's estimate, is in extent about thirty thousand square miles, being not quite half as large as the state of Virginia. The amount of population is not known, as no enumeration has been taken, but our author considers it not far from a million. This would make thirtythree persons to a square mile, or about the average of the state of Delaware. This region embraces ancient Numidia, and that part of Mauritania Tingitana, which, after its conquest by Cæsar, was called Mauritania Cæsariensis. It was the land of heroic deeds, the domain of powerful kings, renowned for its opulent cities, and brave, though artful and treacherous inhabitants. At length it was subdued by the arms of Rome, and became a dependent province of that empire. It was here that the Romans fought and conquered
Numidia’s hardy troops,
Of curbs and bits, and fleeter than the winds. Sallust, the historian, was once governor of this province; and to this circumstance, probably, we are indebted for his beautiful history of the wars in Africa. The celebrated Christian Father, Augustin, was also born in this region, and resided, as bishop of Hippo, in the eastern part of Algiers, near the present site of Bona.
Nature has been bountiful here; the climate is agreeable and salubrious; the surface of the country is variegated with hills and valleys; the soil is fertile, yielding abundantly the products of the most favored climes. The industry and moral energies of man, and a government giving scope to these, are all that is wanting to build up communities of prosperous and happy people. Internal protection, and external commerce, inshackled by monopolies and vexatious restrictions, would make this belt of land between Mount Atlas and the Mediterranean sea, one of the most productive, wealthy, and populous portions of the globe. Wheat and barley are cultivated with success; olives and dates are abundant, and of the best quality; and also the walnut and chesnut, figs, pomegranates, grapes, and other fruits of temperate climates. The only metallic products as yet discovered are iron and lead. Fossil salt is found in the mountains. As the country is well watered by springs and small streams, though not abounding in rivers, 'it affords excellent pasturage and facilities for the rearing of camels, horses, neat cattle, sheep, goats, and other domestic animals. Wool is now an important article of commerce. The various species of the winged tribe and of game, usual in similar climates of other countries, are common here. But on this topic we need not enlarge; Numidia is famed in ancient story for its fine climato and productive soil; nor, during the long ages in which this soil has been defiled with human bloodshed, and disgraced by the monsters nourished by it, has nature withdrawn her gifts, or turned away her smiles.
Man seems the only growth that dwindles here. Little profit would be gained in pursuing the thread of Algerine history from the Romans downward. These proud conquerors of the world were driven from their African possessions by the Vandals, and these again were expelled by the great general, Belisarius, under the Emperor Justinian, about the middle of the sixth century. A hundred years afterward another revolution was effected by the Saracens. From that time till the beginning of the sixteenth century, a veil of darkness is spread over human events in the north of Africa, through which we dimly discover various tribes of Arabs, the Zinhagians, the Zeneti, and the Marabouts, contending with the Saracens and with one another, for the mastery of the country. Meantime the Spaniards made incursions, and established themselves at Oran, and other cities in the neighborhood of that place; and this period, that is, the early part of the sixteenth century, presents an important era in Algerine history.
Among the renowned personages of that day were Horuc and Hayradin, sons of a potter in the Isle of Lesbos, whose restless spirit drove them to the perilous and thrifty occupation
VOL. XXII.-NO. 51.