The Dublin Review (1837), review of books

Posted on September 13th, 2009 by admin and filed under Dacia Felix, Danube Channel
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The Dublin Review, vol. III, July&October 1837

p. 215:

This, it must be avowed, is but a scanty description of the most ” magnificent horror” on the Danube. Our voyager affords us no temptation to delay with him until he arrives at Silistria, where the Danube becomes so broad, that to those who coast the Bulgarian side, the Wallachian shore is scarcely visible. The banks now became only a continued series of marshes, fertile, to an awful degree, of musquitoes, sand-flies, and hornets, who, sometimes alternately, sometimes en masse, attacked the unfortunate passengers. At night, the plagues were most numerous, and most tormenting. They entered the cabin in such clouds, as to extinguish all the lights. Their appetite for blood is insatiable. Woe ! to the untanned European who ventures beyond Silistria without a musquito net, for if he escape from their assaults, and the chorus of their hum, to which the weeping of Pandemonium is melody itself, by taking refuge on the deck, it is but passing from Scylla to Charybdis, for there he will probably catch the intermittent fever, another offspring of the
swamps.

Such was the rapidity of the current beyond Silistria, that even without the assistance of the engine, the steamer was borne onward with astonishing velocity to Hirsova, formerly a fortified town, constructed on a series of rocky eminences, which, in the last war, resisted the siege of the Russians for two months. It is now in ruins, the few habitations which are found there consisting entirely of mud. The rock on which the citadel stood, affords an extensive prospect over the vast plains of Wallachia and Bulgaria, to the chain of the Balkans, plains, blessed with a fine climate and a fertile soil, which industry might enrich with every species of useful produce, but which is now a wilderness. Pelicans and eagles are seen here in great abundance. Braila, the next port visited by the Pannonia, is
a commercial town of considerable importance in Wallachia. It has been recently resorted to by several English vessels. At a short distance beyond it is Galatz, in Moldavia, a town, which though chiefly consisting of mud houses, contains upwards of twenty thousand inhabitants, and has been rising rapidly in importance since the establishment of steam-boats on the Danube.

p. 216

Before that epoch, as we may justly style it, Galatz exhibited a picture of wretchedness. But Mr. Spencer mentions signs of improvement, which, though few, it is delightful to contemplate : an air of animation in the port pretty villas rising on the heights some eight or ten mercantile vessels, chiefly British, lying in the river and two Austrian steamers, one of which, the ” Ferdinando Primo,” trades between Galatz and Constantinople.

” In wandering through the town, I was more pleased with the aspect of the inhabitants than of their dwellings, as they formed a variety of groupes at once picturesque and interesting. In one place, under the verandah of a coffee-house, sat a crowd of Turks, languidly smoking the tchibouque: in another were to be seen, sauntering along the beach, a long range of most primitive-looking carriages, driven by Jews, Turks, Greeks or Moldavians, in their respective costumes, and attended by bare-legged footmen. Here the awkward military were attempting to perform their European evolutions ; and a stranger, on observing them, might deem they were afraid of gunpowder, as they never fired a salute without first making the sign of the cross on their foreheads. There Jews, in their long vestments and high fur caps, were selling their flimsy wares at a profit of cent, per cent., to the crew of an English vessel just released from quarantine ; and, to complete the picture, hundreds of men and boys were breasting the silvery current of the river, unencumbered with the superfluity of bathing dresses, beneath the eyes of numbers of fair ladies, who nevertheless seemed to regard the matter with the most perfect nonchalance.” vol. i. 84-5.

Mr. Spencer embarked on board the Ferdinando for Constantinople. Below Ismael, in the palmy days of Ottoman ascendancy one of the most beautiful and commercial towns in the empire, but now scarcely entitled to a dot on the map, commences the Delta of the Danube a vast sea, thickly studded with swampy islands covered with bulrushes the very type of extreme desolation. Among these islands, the river divides itself into various arms. some say seven, some six five four. The principal is the Suline, which mariners generally use, and the central line of which, according to the treaty of Adrianople, divides the Russian from the Turkish dominions.
Along this arm the Ferdinando was hurried with amazing velocity into the Euxine; the river still preserving its yellow turbid character for an immense distance, as it rolled through the clear dark-blue waters of the sea. It happened that at the moment a thunderstorm came on : the waves rose in mountains the tempest drove the steamer, like a feather, through the surge but she rode gallantly through, and, in a short time, reached Varna. The following morning her voyage to Stamboul was accomplished. Mr. Spencer states, that exclusive of table charges, which are

p. 217

rather high, the sum of eleven pounds sterling would cover the whole of his expenses from Vienna to Constantinople ; and that casting anchor each night at sunset, the tourist might perform the voyage, from one capital to the other, with the greatest ease,
in eight days. In the still imperfect state of things, he may, however, allow four days more for accidents.

The British trade to the Danube is as yet confined to sailing vessels, which proceed no higher than Galatz and Braila. Such is the force of the current, that no wind can contend against it; and it therefore becomes necessary to employ a considerable number of men to drag the vessels to their destination. The shore, unfortunately, is so marshy, and, where it ceases to be a swamp, so rocky, that the labour of these men is tremendous. The Russian authorities afford little encouragement to our enterprise in that quarter ; indeed, at first, they attempted, under the various pretexts of tolls and quarantine laws, to exclude us altogether from the Danube. But, a well-timed and vigorous remonstrance from Lord Palmerston, has put an end to those manoeuvres. Still the upward navigation of the Danube, especially through the embouchures, must be attended with many difficulties, which steam-power alone can overcome. It is certainly possible to cut a canal, or rather as some say, to re-open an old arm of the Danube, now filled up with sand, which, in ancient times, connected that river with the Euxine at Kustendji. The map shews, a little below Silistria, the lake of Rassova, extending thirteen miles in length, communicating with the Danube. From the eastern extremity of that lake to the
coast of the Black Sea, the direct distance does not appear to be quite twenty miles a distance not to be compared to that
through which the Dutch have cut from Amsterdam to the Helder, for their frigates and East India ships, merely to avoid the intricacies of the Zuyderzee. Such a canal, if executed upon an adequate scale, would be attended with great advantages. To
the merchant proceeding from the Bosphorus, it would shorten the way into the Danube by more than two hundred miles ; it would give him solid towing-ground, and would save him altogether from the necessity of passing near the frontiers of Russia. He might go up to George va, or even to Gladova, with ease, or descend to Braila and Galatz, with still more facility. That this great work will be achieved one day, we entertain little doubt ; but that day must be still distant, unless the undertaking be confided to British enterprise, capital, and skill. The natural riches of Moldavia, Wallachia, Servia, and Hungary, not to go farther, would alone justify such a labour, and even repay it, ” beyond the dreams of avarice.”

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