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KING JOHN OF ABYSSINIA.

If we look at the map of Africa, we see that the plains of the Egyptian Soudan are bounded on the S.E. by a long chain of highlands stretching S.W. from Massowah to the Abai, or Upper Blue Nile. Let us glance up the course of this river and its tributary the Jamma, E.S.E. as far as Ankober, the capital of Shoa, whence another great range of bills, overlooking the vast plains of Danakil and Adal, extends back north to Massowal, and we shall have seen the three natural frontier lines of Abyssinia. These three great mountain chains, which, roughly speaking, may be said to form a triangle, with its base resting on the Abai and the Jamma, and its apex at Massowah, are the boundaries of an immense elevated plateau, upheaved by volcanic action from the sultry plains of tropical Africa, but blessed with a climate as fresh and healthy as any in Europe. Indeed, the table-lands of Abyssinia, bounded on the N.W. by the arid deserts of the Soudan, on the S.S.W. by the country of the ferocious Gallas, and on the E. by Danakil, Adal, and the great salt plains of Arrhoo, may be likened to some rocky island rising in the midst of the ocean, rich with verdant plains, bubbling streams, and shady woods, but seldom visited by the mariner owing to its isolated position. I wrote these lines not quite twelve years ago, after I had returned from a visit to King John, the present ruler of this ancient Christian kingdom ; and now that it has been decided to withdraw the Egyptian garrisons from the Soudan, and to place the different provinces under the governorship of petty native sultans, it may be interesting to inquire into the character of this Ethiopic prince, the influence he is likely to exercise over the future development of civilisation and commerce in South-Eastern Africa, and the claims he may reasonably put forward to a rectification of his frontier.

As I shall presently show, he is a man of ability far above the common order, and not only are the vast table-lands of his country salubrious and fertile, but the people who inhabit them are eminently fitted to take the impress of a higher civilisation, a fact proved by the readiness with which they acquired many arts from the ld Portuguese settlers; but, unfortunately, circumstances, which I propose briefly to review, have, during the last two decades, prevented these latent capabilities from being developed.

It will be remembered that in 1868, a king sat on the throne of Ethiopia, possessed of much ability and some noble qualities, but whose mind was distraught by awful storm-gusts of passion which swept across his brain with irresistible fury, blinding him to all sense of justice or mercy while they lasted. For a brief space he loomed a dark and picturesque figure across the pages of our history, only to vanish from the scene, after bequeathing to us the charge of his only son, and a new title in the British peerage, as a legacy. There is no doubt, from the accounts of the Abyssinians themselves, that Theodore was mad; and when, believing himself slighted by the English Government, he committed the arbitrary acts which justly brought chastisement on his head, he found, to his cost, that he had alienated the allegiance of his most powerful chiefs, and that, even those followers who fed on his bounty now dreaded the ever-increasing violence of his temper, and were ready to desert him. In this strait, the threatened monarch sought safety in his mountain stronghold of Magdala, and cried despairingly to be permitted to decide his quarrel by a single-handed combat with the leader of the British forces, after the ancient custom of bis country, without further bloodshed to the faithful few who yet remained true to him; but this, of course, he was not allowed to do, and when he saw the strong arm of England had surely reached him in his rocky eyrie, disdaining, with a last noble instinct, to destroy his defenceless captives, he raised his desperate hand against his own life, rather than become a prisoner himself.

About this time a prince named Kassa governed the province of Tigre--a quiet, unassuming man, who appears to have been considered by the English as of but small mental capacity, for Markham speaks of him as a poor weak creature. Yet, to a close observer, the well-moulded brow, the high cheek-bones, and deep-set penetrating eyes, the aquiline nose, and sharply chiselled mouth and chin, might have given some indication that, even at this time, when he was little more than twenty-eight years of age, the young prince was possessed of a reserve of latent, though undeveloped, power. Kassa was in revolt against Theodore, and rendered assistance to the English forces, in return for which, he begged that he might be presented with some muskets; for at that time the Abyssinians were only armed with shields and spears, and a few Portuguese matchlocks, dating from the days of Vasco de Gama. Having succeeded in procuring from General Napier a number of old service · Brown Besses, the prince armed a certain portion of his followers with them, and resolutely applied himself to the difficult task of bringing the great kingdom, which had been broken up by the death of Theodore and the departure of the British, under his supreme control.

Other chiefs, more powerful than himself, also aspired to the vacant

throne, but Kassa knew no discouragement, and only saw in difficulty something to be overcome. Claiming, like Theodore, to be descended from the royal house, which, according to Abyssinian tradition, sprang from the loins of Solomon and the Queen of Sheba, he gained the favour of the priests by his sober life and rigid observance of the ordinances of the Church ; well skilled, also like Theodore, in every martial exercise, he won the affection of the warlike laity by his successful daring as a warrior and a leader of men, while, by his shrewdness and diplomatic tact, he gained not a few bloodless victories over neighbouring chiefs, who were undecided which side to espouse ; above all, he was merciful to the conquered, and thus, in course of time, either awed into subjection, or won over to affection, the hearts of his most powerful adversaries.

When I visited him in 1873 he had at last placed the triple crown of Abyssinia firmly on bis brow, assuming at his coronation the title of Johannes, or John, II., King of Kings of Ethiopia. At that time he was encamped with his army at Ambachara, a day's ride from Gondar, having shortly before brought into subjection Warrenia, the warlike ruler of Amhara. I can well remember the striking picture this conquered prince-a tall and handsome man--presented, as he strode up between the dusky line of courtiers, to pay homage to his Sovereign at the Easter feast, clad in a robe of the richest silk, his silver shield on his left arm, his rifle in his right hand, the wrist of which was adorned with a curiously wrought gauntlet flashing with gems, and a magnificent black leopard-skin studded with bosses of gold filigree thrown over his broad shoulders, which as yet seemed all unused to bow before the royal master, who now strove to treat his fallen foe with every mark of distinction.

It was not, however, internal troubles alone that taxed King John's energies to the uttermost ten years ago. The policy of Egypt had ever been to regard with jealousy the Christian African kingdom seated on the mountains, which tower above the plains of the southeastern Soudan, a jealousy which will be found to exist even at the present moment in the council chambers at Cairo. The ambition of Ismail Pasha, the ex-Khedive, led him to aspire to nothing less than the total subjugation of Abyssinia, and for some years he had pursued a policy of steady encroachment on her low-lying frontier lands, making every quarrel which arose therefrom a pretext for a fresh advance towards the foot of the mountains. In 1873 King John told me that the Khedive had taken from him beyond the river Mareb, his ancient boundary, Halhal, Kayekh-barea, Tsellim-barea, Bogos, Taander, Henbub, Mennsa, Ailet, Asgede-bukgala, Zula, Tora, Sembali, Amphilla, and all the lands from the highlands to the sea called Hamasen; besides which, he had struck at the commercial development of the country by charging a duty on all exports equal to twice their market value, and seizing Galabat; which Sir Samuel Baker

described in 1862 as an important frontier market town of Abyssinia, governed by Sheik Jemma, where most of the commerce between that country and Egypt was carried on. Eleven years later, when I rode into Galabat, Sheik Jemma was a prisoner in Egypt, and the town garrisoned by Egyptian troops, who had erected a fortified camp, beneath the very guns of which a public slave market was held twice a week, where horrors were enacted that even now it makes my blood boil to think of. Gordon himself admitted, when later he become governor-general of the Soudan, that he dared not interfere with the slave merchants of Galabat, but it is worthy of note that, when the town was under Abyssinian rule, Sir Samuel Baker makes no mention of a slave market, nor have I ever seen one in any Abyssinian town.

It is not to be wondered at that King John chafed bitterly to find himself thus hemmed in and isolated by the steady encroachments of Egypt on every side ; but the attitude he assumed was one of dignified remonstrance, and be steadily refused to precipitate a quarrel ; above all, he did not wish to offend England, the friend of Egypt. Again and again he wrote to the European Powers begging for their arbitration. “I will fight to the last if so it must be,' he said to me, 6 but I do not wish that the blood of thousands should be shed if the intervention of the European Powers can prevent it. Let them determine the true frontiers of my country, and by their decision I am content to abide." But, at this time, Egypt appeared to be advancing the cause of civilisation so rapidly in the interior of Africa, by opening up telegraphic and steam communication with the higher regions of the Nile, and advancing her outposts into the very heart of the Dark Continent, that popular sympathy was entirely on her side; and, even when Ismail Pasha threw off the mask, and openly invaded Abyssinia, most people supposed that the Abyssinians must be themselves to blame, and felt wonderfully little shocked at the spectacle of a Mahometan power attempting to subjugate her free Christian neighbour. That the price of this callousness has now to be paid will at once be seen. King John kept his word and did fight, handling his mountain warriors so ably that he beat his assailants at every point, and took one army corps prisoner. Yet still the king was merciful as well as strong; he did not, after the old barbaric custom, slay his prisoners, but gave them to eat, and sent them down to Massowah wiser, if sadder, men. It is true a story was whispered that he had a cross tattooed on Prince Hassan's arm, and ordered him and his staff to pass before the throne on all fours; but I know not if it has any foundation in fact, though it is certain that, grave and reserved as is his general demeanour, King John is fond of a practical joke, and it may have tickled his fancy to place this indelible mark on his Mussulman adversary, as a lasting memento of the ill-starred expedition. That the cost of the war was ruinous to Egypt is well known, and we are only to-day reaping the full harvest of the blow that it struck to Egyptian prestige in the Soudan.

1 Nile Tributaries of Abyssinia, p. 313. 2 The Cradle of the Blue Nile, vol. ii. p. 42.

It may now be worth while to consider whether the time has not arrived for frankly extending the hand of friendship to the ancient Kushite race who, surrounded by foes, and long cut off by Mahometan jealousy from communication with the Western world, have yet maintained their independence and preserved their religion, from the third century till the present time. Their king, who for twelve years has so gallantly overcome every difficulty which beset him, and so steadily expressed his friendship for England, has certainly as good a claim as any Soudan chief that his lost territory should be restored to him; and I believe that he would feel deeply such an act of justice, if carried out by England in a generous spirit. The French bave long sought, and are seeking now, to establish their influence in Abyssinia; but, strange though it may seem, I believe King John bas never lost a feeling of gratitude to England for having given him that timely gift of old muskets, which first placed him in a position to cope with his adversaries, and rise to bis present position; and it is to England that he would prefer to owe the opening of his country to the advantages of civilisation and

commerce.

It must be remembered, however, that the character of the Abyssinians is different to that of most other Orientals, many of whom consider it is lucky to commence the day with a successful lie. Whether it be from peculiarity of race, or from the bracing influence of the rugged mountains among which they dwell, they possess some chivalrous notions of frankness and loyalty, and the king would be quick to resent any attempt either to coerce or to treat him with distrust. A good Mussulman feels that his religion would justify him in doing almost anything which would bring an unbeliever to confusion, if he only had the power; and when he is obliged to carry out the wishes of the infidel, he merely submits to superior force—he does not act from conviction.

With the Christian Abyssinian it is different; his religion may be rude, but it is founded on the same truths as our own, and you can argue with him from the same starting-point. This was illustrated when I spoke to King John about the slave trade. After telling me that Abyssinian Christians were only permitted by an old, though often evaded, law to buy slaves as domestic servants, and not to sell them; he went on to say that he had thought gravely over the matter, and that it was true that slavery was distasteful to him as a Christian sovereign, but that no European Power had requested him to abolish it, and he afterwards formally declared that he would be willing to do so at the instance of England. At the present VOL. XV.-No. 86.

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