Bulgaria is a country about as large as Scotland, which it resembles somewhat in its varied scenery, being divided into highlands and low-lands, broad plains alternating with lofty mountains. To the south lies the famous Balkan range, which figures so largely in all the wars which have been waged for the possession of Southeastern Europe. It is a rugged chain, pierced by narrow defiles which, tho not attaining so high an elevation, have the wild and savage character of the passes of the Alps. From this mountain range numerous spurs project into the lowlands, giving to the country an endless variety of surface. Had our course today been in that direction, we should have been very soon among these hills and valleys. But as our route lay toward the Danube, the country kept the same monotonous character from the coast to the valley of the great river. Thus we saw only the tamer features of Bulgaria, with none of its grand sceneryno high mountains, nor even great forests, such as one finds in South-ern Russia. It was an open, rolling country, sometimes suggesting a resemblance to our West-ern prairies, that would be the riches of an agricultural population. But the villages that were sprinkled over the plains indicated anything but wealth. The houses, with their mud-walls and thatched roofs, resembled the cabins and hovels of Ireland; nor was the condition of the people at all superior to that of the Irish peasantry. They have but little plots of ground, on which they keep a few sheep, which supply them with clothing as well as food, a covering of sheepskin being the usual dress of the Bulgarian peasant.
And yet this people, so poor in appearance, come of a powerful race, and have had a great history. Whoever reads of the wars of the Middle Ages, will see how often Bulgarian armies figured in the front of battle. More than once they carried their victorious arms to the gates of Constantinople. But in later centuries the people suffered from wars not their own, in which they could not fight for glory, in the issue of which they had no military pride or ambition. This was the period of the Turkish domination, under the burden of which the country suffered for more than four hundred years.
As Turkey was master of Southeastern Europe, and Russia was mastcr in the North, the two powers became rivals for dominion, and thus “natural enemies,” and poor Bulgaria was crusht between them. Lying near the frontier, it became the battleground of the two countries. Here they pitched their camps; here they fought their battles. Like Belgium, it might be said to be “the cock-pit of Europe.” Whichever way the tide of battle flowed, it came very close to the villages and the homes of this stricken people. Their fields were trampled down by great armies; their towns were besieged; and in the conflict of arms, they were reduced to the extreme of suffering.
Aftcr so many wars, and after ages of oppression, it would not have been strange if the Bulgarian nation had been blotted out of existence. The wonder is that, in spite of all, it has retained any degree of vitality. And yet the race is one of remarkable vigor. Physically, there is not a better peasantry in Europe; they are strong, able-bodied, and patient of labor; and only ask for a fair chance to show what is in them, and to work out their own destiny. To this the way is now opened for the first time in hundreds of years. The re-awakening of Bulgaria dates from the Crimean War, which brought to its shores the armies of France and England, and gave some little idea of what was going on in other parts of the world. The Bulgarians had never forgotten their proud history; and now, as they looked upon the armies of Western Europe, they recalled the deeds of their ancestors; “they remembered the days of old,” and longed to see “the Bulgarian nation” again appear among the powers of Europe.
It was in her dreams, as it was in the vast designs of Russia, that Bulgaria should be erected into an independent State of grand proportions, including all of the great Bulgarian family on both sides of the Balkans. It was even to have a port on the Aegean Sea, from which to send out ships to all parts of the Mediterranean. This would have been a territory large enough for a kingdom. Such a free and Christian State in Southeastern Europe would have been the best safeguard against the Turk, even if he were permitted for a time longer to keep up a show of power on the Bosporus. Such would have been the Bulgaria of to-day but for the persistent op-position of England. Greece, too, was jealous of a power which might grow so great as to overshadow her, and dispute her succession to Constantinople whenever the Turk should depart into Asia. Austria, also, had her eye on those rich territories which might come within the sweep of her imperial ambition, if she were to be crowded out of Central Europe by Germany, and pushed farther to the East. And so when the Congress of Berlin* came together, a piece of Bulgaria was given to Servia, and another to Roumania, while all south of the Balkans was cut off, like an amputated limb, from the body to which it belonged.
This was a great taking down of the Bulgarian expectations. It reduced its territory by one-half, and by so much its prestige and its power. But it left the State more compact, lying between the Balkans and the Danube, and with a population more homogeneous than before by the exodus of the Turks. Thus Bulgaria was left to the Bulgariansa people of one race, bound together by the memory of common sufferings; two millions in number, with a country as large as Scotland; a territory and a population quite large enough for the experiment of self-government which they were about to undertake. So was the work begun.