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The Pamphlet Collection of Sir Robert Stout: Volume 33


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The letters comprised in the following collection were written from Bulgaria by Mr. J. A. MacGahan, the gentleman who visited that province on behalf of the Daily News in July and August last, and made a special inquiry into the atrocities alleged to have been committed there by agents of the Turkish Government. As they have already been not only published in the Daily News, but re-published more extensively than any letters ever were before by the daily and weekly press; as they have stirred the public mind to its depths, and as, further, they, together with the letters of the Constantinople correspondent of the Daily News, have been acknowledged by the Government, not only to have made it aware of important facts of which, until their publication, it was ignorant, but to have changed the conditions under which its diplomacy must henceforth be exercised, it will not be necessary to describe in this place their character or contents. Now, however, that, to meet a want that has been expressed, these are brought together and re-published as a whole, it may be useful to give a very brief account of the circumstances under which the special inquiry was undertaken. Such a statement, which may not be without its use to the future historian of the press, will also serve to correct some current misapprehensions.

The Bulgarian atrocities are no longer spoken of as a "lucky find" on the part of the conductors of the Daily News, but the praise of "extraordinary enterprise," which, when fairly awarded, they do not decline, has been occasionally conceded to them in terms which ignore the peculiar relation in which they stood to the facts transmitted from page iv Bulgaria in the month of June, and of which enough was known to awaken painful misgivings on the part of the British public. If a simple recital should show that it was a Correspondent of the Daily News who, in the ordinary discharge of his duties at Constantinople, and without leaving his post, but by giving due heed to the information which came within his reach, first made known the facts which, as subsequently verified on the spot, have electrified the country, then the visit of an independent inquirer to Bulgaria to investigate the grounds of the terrible allegations made against the Turkish Government will not seem that gratuitous undertaking which it has been some-times represented to be. The institution of such an inquiry was a task which the conductors of the Daily News had not contemplated; it was imposed upon them, as will be seen, by circumstances—especially by the default of official persons—which they could not have foreseen; but when once their duty was made clear, they did not hesitate for a moment to accept it.

It was on the 23rd of June, barely six weeks before the publication of its Special Commissioner's telegrams from Tatar Bazardjik, which startled England like a peal of thunder, that the Daily News published a letter from its Own Correspondent resident at Constantinople, of which the following are the opening sentences:—

"Dark rumours have been whispered about Constantinople during the last month of horrible atrocities committed in Bulgaria. The local newspapers have given mysterious hints about correspondence from the interior which they have been obliged to suppress. I have hitherto refrained from mentioning these rumours, or from stating what I have heard, but they are now gradually assuming definiteness and consistency, and cruelties are being revealed which place those committed in Herzegovina and Bosnia altogether in the background."

In the same letter the names were given of thirty-four villages that had been destroyed, of a party of Bulgarian girls burnt, and of a hundred more killed in a village school. During the next fortnight other letters of the same Corre- page v spondent were published, amplifying details of the atrocities and extending their area. In the same correspondence were incorporated several columns of letters from towns and villages in Bulgaria, describing murders and the vilest outrages with a most impressive distinctness.

It may be affirmed without hesitation that no letters dealing with facts of a painful character were ever published which bore such evident marks of the scrupulous care of their author, and his anxiety in deciding between vague reports and ascertained facts. But while these letters arrested the attention of the public, and excited a desire for fuller information, in official quarters they met with a far different reception. That the statements contained in them should be encountered with a certain degree of scepticism is a fact creditable to humanity, and if it had been objected to them that they were such as could not be received without corroboration, there would have been nothing to complain of. But counter-statements were made professing to be based upon more accurate knowledge. The Turkish Government met the case boldly, and by its foreign ministers denounced the Constantinople correspondence of the Daily News as monstrous exaggerations. The English Government, which ought to have been in possession of authentic information from Constantinople, could only say that the reports of the Daily News were without official confirmation, while by a certain portion of the press the disclosures of Turkish atrocities were described as sensational and unworthy of notice.

It was in these circumstances that a further and wholly independent inquiry into the events in Bulgaria was deemed necessary, if the light which had been kindled by the Correspondent of the Daily News at Constantinople was not to be suffered to be extinguished. The special inquiry conducted by Mr. MacGahan, and of which the following letters are the result, was rendered necessary by the evident want of information on the part of the English Government. The first time that Sir Henry Elliot mentioned the atrocities in Bulgaria in his correspondence with the Foreign Office, appears to have been on the 19th of page vi June, three days after the letter of the Constantinople Correspondent above quoted, and in it he speaks of "the cruelties with which the suppression of the Bulgarian insurrection has been accompanied," and he adds, with reference to Consul Reade's report, "the accounts from other sources are still more distressing." For weeks the Turkish capital had been full of reports of these occurrences, and it seems extraordinary that an Ambassador, residing within twenty-four hours' journey of Bulgaria, should have taken no pains to inform himself respecting them.

Mr. MacGahan reached Philippopolis, the centre of the district in which the atrocities were perpetrated, on the 23d of July, and at once commenced his inquiries, in company with Mr. Eugene Schuyler, American Consul-General for Turkey. It will appear sufficiently, in the course of the following letters, how much the Special Commissioner of the Daily News was indebted to Mr. Schuyler for assistance in the course of his inquiry under circumstances the difficulty of which must be obvious. The inquiry was independent. It owed nothing either to the British Embassy at Constantinople or to the Turkish Government. That evident independence opened to the Commission sources of information which would have remained closed to persons suspected by the injured population. The people came forward, and showed the sad evidence of their wrongs, but they were not the only witnesses. Foreign consuls, Greek residents, Germans in the employ of the Turkish Government, and Americans occupied in the work of education in Bulgaria, besides Turks themselves, testified freely, and to one and the same effect. The result is before the world. It has been said by the principal organ of Ministerialist Conservatism, that the "enterprise of searching out and dwelling upon atrocities has itself become an atrocity of a most disgusting kind."* But Ministers themselves have not endorsed the opinion. On the 11th of August, Mr. Bourke, Under-Secretary of State for Foreign Affairs, said in the House of Commons—"He felt bound page vii to admit that the Government really had no idea of the events which had been going on in Bulgaria, until attention was called to them in the House, and he gladly took that opportunity of saying that the Government and the country were very much indebted to the newspaper correspondents through whom these events had become known." The public has abundantly confirmed the judgment of Mr. Bourke on these letters; and it now only remains for the conductors of the Daily News to acknowledge, as they do with the utmost pleasure, the great service rendered by their Constantinople Correspondent as well as the courage and perseverance of Mr. MacGahan in the prosecution of his arduous task; and to express the hope that the publication of these letters may hasten the redemption of the Christian races of South-eastern Europe from the degrading tyranny by which they have so long been oppressed.

September 6, 1876.

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* Standard, Aug. 31, 1876.