Bucharest And Roumania
( Originally Published Early 1900's )
Whether Bucharest quite deserves the name of the Paris of the East, one quickly perceives the Parisian touch and color in this as in many other European capitals, and even in Africa, from Algiers to Cairo. It is a city in which the Orient meets the Occidental. The cause of this predominance of French manners and French ideas, is easily discovered. The richer classes in Roumania travel a good deal; they make the European tour, and becoming fascinated by the gaieties of Paris, linger longer there than anywhere else. Hence Paris, with its mingling of all nations, has always a considerable representation of Roumanians, who, with much that is good which they bring home—such as liberal political ideas, or a scientific education, for which no capital of Europe affords better opportunitics-bring home also its luxuries and frivolities; ape French fashions in dress and in style of living; must have their French theater and opera; lay out the new parts of their capital in the French style, and build their more pretentious houses after the French architecture. A stranger who sees the number of gay equipages turning out for a drive in their favorite park, might fancy he was seeing a turnout for the Bois de Boulogne; and if at evening he saunters along the brilliantly lighted streets, and looks in at the shops and cafes, and observes how much of the conversation is in French, he may easily imagine himself on the Boulevards.
Of the society of Bucharest, a strangcr can know but little; but one can not doubt that in a city of 250,000 inhabitants,* the capital of a kingdom of five millions, there must be—in the official classes, those connected with the Government; as also in the ranks of the professions, lawyers and judges; and in men of science, professors in institutions of learning—the materials of a society which, tho, of course, in very much smaller number, has the attraction of the society of Vienna. It is the best encouragement to a social life that is pure and elevated, that at the head of society, as well as of the Government, is a king who is as worthy of honor in peace as in war.
But the charm of Roumania is more in the country than in the capital; for once out of city streets, one is freed from the sight of that foreign color, or rather foreign varnish, which disturbs the impression of that which is purely Roumanian. When Bucharest has sunk below the horizon, the eye of the traveler, as he looks out of the window of his railway-carriage, beholds a country which has had a great history. Roumania was a far more important part of the ancient than it is of the modern world. When the Romans, crossing the Alps, carried their arms to the east, they cast longing eyes on the rich valley of the Danube, held by the Dacian tribes, which opposed a fierce resistance to the invaders, but were at last conquered by Trajan, whose Column at Rome is covered with figures representing his victories over them. Byron's description of the Dying Gladiator makes him a Dacian captive.
Trajan, however, was not only a conqueror, but a civilizer. If he tore up the earth in his march, it was to plant it with the seeds of a new civilization. His wars with the Dacians were in-deed terribly destructive, so that he almost rooted out the native inhabitants of the country; but he immediately re-peopled it, in the words of the historian, "from the whole Roman world." Traces of these Roman colonies in the valley of the Danube remain to this day. The very name of Roumania is the Roman stamp upon the country; while its language, which is in part kindred to the Russian, is also kindred to the Latin—an unmistakable proof that its people are partly descended from the ancient masters of the world.
As I am still looking out of the window, my eye ranges over an extent of country fitted to sup-port millions of inhabitants. For nearly the whole day we were passing over an almost bound-less plain. Nature has done everything for the country. In fertility of soil, it has no superior in Europe. The valley of the Danube is as in-exhaustible as the valley of the Nile. It ought to be the home of a prosperous and happy people.
Altho we had been all day in the valley of the Danube, yet the valley is so broad that we were many miles from the river itself, of which we did not get a glimpse till late in the afternoon, when we found the mountains closing in on the river; and toward sunset were rushing along its bank, by the very side of the Iron Gates, where the Danube, like the Rhine, "nobly foams and flows," as it dashes over its rocky bed. On the other side were the Servian mountains. The Iron Gates are but two rocks, which commonly show their heads above the surface, but were now hidden by the swollen stream. The grouping of mountains and river is very much like that at West Point, tho the Danube here is not so wide as the Hudson, nor the mountains so bold as Storm-King. But in the midst of the river is an island, once fortified to guard the pass, which has upon it still the remains of the old fortification, and a church and small village. How beautiful they all looked, as the sunset, which touched the mountain tops sent a glow down into this gorge, so quiet and peaceful in the deep shadow, with its silence broken only by the rush and roar of the waters. I have seldom seen a more romantic spot, in which more of beauty was nestled in the rugged strength of the mountains.