to Mr. Fish.
Vienna, August 14, 1876. (Received August 31.)
Sir: Since my arrival in Europe a month ago I have diligently endeavored to inform myself of the average opinion of the people in relation to the present outlook of the various countries interested in the war of Turkey and Servia, which threatens to involve the entire continent in its results.
In looking for this public opinion I have sought chiefly to get at the ideas of that strong and vigorous middle class, whose views on political subjects are justly to be regarded as of great importance and weight from the deep interest so large a portion of the population must have in the welfare of the countries in which they live.
Pursuing this inquiry I have been surprised at the unanimity of expression of a religious sentiment which, in my judgment, is likely to overbear all other considerations, and in the end involve these nations in a disastrous war; for such a war, even to the final victors, can scarcely fail to prove a disaster.
Wherever I have asked I have found, without exception, that the deeply-rooted aversion to the Turks expressed by every one, arose not from well argued political objection, but from the religion of that nation. In England this has been so evidently the case that I think it probable the departure of Great Britain from her general policy in regard to Turkey may be a recognition of the evident feeling of her people on the religious question involved.
In a discussion, one of many, with a very intelligent citizen of that country, and after I had, for the sake of eliciting’ his views, taken the Turkish side of the argument, he said, finally “I am surprised that you, coming as you do from a God-fearing and church-respecting people, can look without indignation at the prospect of the religion of Mahomet triumphing over that of Christ.” I replied that all this was equally true at the time of the Crimean war, which had cost England so many valuable lives and so much treasure. To which he answered, “Yes; but we are wiser now, and public opinion has advanced immensely since that time, and I can tell you the people of this country will not permit the outrageous policy of neutrality between our Christian brothers and the followers of Mahomet.”
In France I had a similar experience with a gentleman on this subject. He said, after considerable discussion, “What have the Turks ever done to advance civilization?” For argument’s sake I said, “What have the Greeks done; or the Servians’?” He replied, with great warmth, “They are Christians, sir, and that alone is enough; but the Turks with their abominable religion must be driven out of Europe.”
In Vienna I have heard the same sentiments expressed with equal emphasis on the religious point; all of which satisfies me that it is a question of faith which will govern public opinion in Europe, and that a crusade is quite as possible now as when Peter the Hermit preached so many centuries ago; for now, as then, the priest marches with uplifted cross at the head of the Christian army in Servia.[Page 15]
There is but one thing which may prevent this for the present, and that is the division of the spoils of Turkish Europe; but even this will, in my opinion, only secure a temporary postponement of the final struggle.
Should Turkey be successful through conquest of arms, I do not doubt that religious sympathy in Europe will compel the nations to interfere in favor of Servia, in spite of the evident policy of peace at this time. I think Turkey herself sees this, and is therefore desirous of conducting the war on as civilized a scale as possible; for, as a nation, I do not at all believe the massacres reported as having taken place were authorized, or countenanced, by the government, but were rather an ebullition of feeling, breaking out in places where the government was too weak to control the people, and carried on by a few of the most ignorant and fanatical of the populace. It is probable this, too, is the cause of the very slow advance of the Turks into Servia.
Servia lies perfectly open to invasion from Turkey along her entire southern border, and however strong the patriotism of her people, inflamed and added to by religious belief, it is difficult to see ho how the disciplined arms and unquestioned courage of the Turks can be successfully resisted by the less disciplined, less numerous, and less effective troops of the Servians.
Certainly the whole of Europe is to day in a very feverish and restless condition, and fully alive to the possibility of war at any moment, and in spite of the reiterated expressions of a peaceful intention, every nationality is busily preparing for the time when some unexpected sparks may awaken into flame the combustible material with which the “Eastern question” is laden.
With all this we have, happily, as a nation, no immediate concern, and I only report it with whatever interest it may have, for the information of the Department of State, and as it presents itself to my understanding from the opportunities I have had of making up my judgment on the present condition of affairs.
I have, &c.,