56 CONSTANTINOPLE AND ITS ENVIRONS ;
Circassia was formerly governed by its own wild but independent sovereigns ; it is
now almost all absorbed in the vast territories of Russia ; the people have but little
advanced in civilization since Jason first visited their shores; their habits are, as they
have always been, predatory and unsettled; they are a nation of robbers and man-stealers,
who trade in slaves, and add their own children, whom they bring up to sell. Like all
barbarous people, they are divided into tribes; the eldest of each becomes the leader, but
he is not allowed to possess any property except his horses and arms, and such tribute as
he can exact from his neighbours. Their element is war, during which only they have
authority. When it is at an end, they merge into obscurity, their dress, food, and
habitations being no way distinguished from those of the common people.
Next to these are the Usdens, who are the landholders and lawgivers of the community, and who alone display what little of civilization exists among them. They
govern by no written law, but certain hereditary usages, which are varied as the caprice
or will of the Usden determines; the great body of the people are vassals or slaves.
Their manufactures are rude and scanty, and their tillage insufficient to supply their
own wants. They have no written language, and no circulating medium of coin; all their
knowledge, then, is confined to traditionary fables, and all their commerce to exchange
and barter. The only commodities in which they can trade are two—horses, and
human beings. The former are well trained in all the discipline and instruction necessary
for their state, and a Circassian horse is a well educated and accomplished animal; the
latter are totally neglected, and, however attractive by personal comeliness, are altogether
ignorant, and seem to have no capability beyond the instinct of nature.
When females are not sold, but remain at home, and are married, they reside in huts
distinct from their husbands, and bring up a brood of children in no respects superior to
themselves. Their whole energies are exerted to stimulate the predatory habits of their
husbands, and their greatest gratification is in the plunder they are able to bring home.
They seem to have no ties of kindred, no domestic affections, no family attachments ;
the daughter, if she is found to have any personal attractions, is educated solely on the
speculation of selling her to advantage, and she frequently demands it from her parents
as a right to which she is entitled. From this cause it is that all kindly feelings are
obliterated, all love for others extinguished, and all passion is centred in self. Christian
missionaries early penetrated into this region, and converted the people to their faith,
and subsequently the followers of Mahomet entered it, and divided them between the
Koran and the Gospel; but they now seem to have little knowledge of either. A
nominal Moslem parent brings up her daughter in the seeming profession of that faith,
that it may recommend her to her future master at Constantinople; a nominal Christian
educates her child in no religion at all, that there may be no impediment to her conforming
to any other ; thus her natural passions are freed from all the restraints that religion would
impose on them. From these causes it is, that there is a certain ferocity and irreclaimable wildness observable in a Circassian beauty. She gratifies the sensuality, but
never secures the esteem, of him to whom she is afterwards consigned. She is an object
of desire, but never of regard, and always excites more fear than love.