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priest and the bride were sober and the best man kicked the sacristan, who was prostrating himself before an icon, so that he rolled head over heels in the middle of the service.
The Georgians, it may be mentioned, are doughty if not unrivalled trenchermen. They can sit at table, eating, drinking, and singing, for an unlimited number of hours (I know of a well-authenticated case of thirtysix); and it is no unusual accomplishment for a man to floor at a draught a drinking-horn holding five or six bottles of wine. They have, indeed, good justification for their prowess in this direction, for Georgian wines and Georgian cooking need fear no comparisons. In Lake Gokcha or Sevanga, a large lake on the Armenian side of the Armeno-Georgian frontier, is caught a noble kind of salmon-trout known locally by the name of Ishkhan, an Armenian word meaning prince.' This well-named Ishkhan, served up with horse-radish sauce à la Georgienne, followed by boned turkey embedded in a mixture of crushed fresh walnuts and cream, the whole washed down with kruchon made of excellent Kakhetian wine, is a typical if minute fragment of a Georgian meal, and one not to be despised. Kruchon is the 'cup of the country, differing from ours in the far greater quantity of fruit that is put into it. Peach kruchon is perhaps the most popular form among the Georgians, although, for myself, I confess to a preference for that made with the wild strawberries that grow so abundantly on the mountain sides.
The principal hotels, restaurants, theatres, and public buildings of Tiflis are situated in the street called by the Russians the Golovinski, but by the Georgians renamed the Rustaveli Prospekt. The Golovinski is one of the widest thoroughfares in-I had almost said Europe, for it is difficult to associate with Asia this noble avenue, which would be an ornament to any Western capital. The former Viceroy's palace—now the Georgian House of Parliament-ministries, museums, churches, a fine operahouse displaying the picturesque Georgian coat of arms, clubs, private palaces, handsome shops, compose the street; while to watch the people who frequent it is an education in ethnology. The Caucasus, as is well known, is a mosaic of races, for there has remained behind, in its deep valleys and remote recesses, a residue of all the peoples who in the course of ages have crossed it to pass from Asia into Europe. Thus there are found in close contiguity specimens of races and languages often belonging to the early ages of the world; especially is this the case in Daghestan, where the inhabitants of adjacent valleys are apt to speak entirely different tongues. On the other hand, a language is sometimes confined to a mere handful of people. I should hesitate to estimate the number of languages habitually spoken in Tiflis, for Tiflis, in addition to its permanent population of Georgians and kindred peoples, of Russians and other Europeans, of Armenians, Tatars, and Persians, and of Nestorians, who wander up from Kurdistan and Urumiah to work as masons, always harbours a certain number of representatives of the mountain races.
Let us for a moment take our stand under the trees that front the Parliament House and observe this very remarkable throng as it passes backwards and forwards. First the Georgians, lean, lithe, and handsome, in their Cherkesski of grey or brown or claret, prince distinguishable from peasant only by the quality of the arms he carries. Sometimes, in fact, prince and peasant are one. An inquiring Frenchman, ignorant of the East, once asked a friend to explain to him the significance of the term Effendi.' 'Oh,' said the friend, c'est à peu près comme prince en Russie.' The reply would have been yet truer if he had said 'comme prince en Georgie,' for the Georgian title which is translated 'prince' includes both grande and petite noblesse, and the latter, under the Georgian feudal system, was often merged with the class of peasant proprietors. Then there are lusty Abkhazes and Circassians from the Black Sea Coast, fierce-looking Svanetians or Svans, the Soanes' of Strabo, from the
" southern slopes of Elbruz. The Svanetians' mountain home, wild and rugged like themselves, is so high' that it is accessible to the outer world for not more than four months in the year; and the isolation in which they live has kept them one of the most primitive of Caucasian peoples. Nominally Christians, they have a vague hereditary priesthood, and worship Queen Tamara and sundry pagan divinities under Christian designations. Another primitive folk are the Khevsurs, who inhabit
the mountains south-east of Kazbek. The Khevsurs still dress in armour and chain mail, and for this reason claim to be descended from the Crusaders. Be this as it may, one is afforded a very distinct glimpse into the past when one sees some of these stalwarts, armed cap-à-pie and complete with shield and spear, taking the air on the Golovinski among a fashionably dressed assembly.
Equally interesting in many respects are the Ossetes or Ossetins, who dwell on both slopes of the Caucasus between Kazbek and the territory of the Svanetians. Unlike these and the Khevsurs, the Ossetes are not members of the Karthlian race; neither, however, are they of Germanic origin, as some ingenious persons have endeavoured to deduce from their taste for beer and the chance similarity with German of a few words of their language. In religion they are divided between Islam and the Orthodox Church, but a strong foundation of paganism is common to both branches, and in their
; valleys, as well as on the higher sections of the Georgian and Ossetin military roads, may still be seen their sacrificial altars, adorned with the horns of the wild goat. The Ossetes are represented in Tiflis chiefly by nursemaids, but under the Russian Empire they furnished a portion of the Imperial bodyguard ; and many Ossetes have risen to high command in the Russian army. Despite the lack of definiteness in their religious beliefs, they are a people capable of considerable civilisation, and in Tiflis publish a newspaper in their own tongue, printed in the curious combination of Cyrillic and Roman characters which they affect. The peasant may be recognised by his round white felt hat, identical in shape with the petasus of Hermes; and there is no doubt that the race is of extreme antiquity. The Kabardans and the Ingushes complete the tale of the principal tribes of the central Caucasus; and then we come to the fierce Moslem peoples of Daghestan, who, under the brilliant leadership of Sheikh Shamyl, were for so long a thorn in the side of Russia. Avars, Chechens, Lesghians—these are names that, until the Russians pacified the Caucasus, struck terror into the more peaceful races of the plains. Vigorous and passionate men they are, impatient of authority and alien rule, lawless, ruthless, predatory, and fanatical, yet with a certain nobility of character, and not altogether lacking in accomplishments lighter than shooting, burning, plundering, and savage warfare. For example, they have not forgotten their friend and benefactor, David Urquhart, whom they revere under the name of Sheikh Daud; while all Caucasians, irrespective of race and creed, dance to the plaintive melody of the Lesghinka. Tiflis was built by the Persians in 379 A.D.,
and was made the capital of Georgia by King Vakhtang Gurgarslan about a hundred years later. According to Transcaucasian standards, it is, therefore, a mere upstart among capitals, and a city of mushroom growth compared with MTZKHET, which preceded it as the capital. This euphoniously named town claims to have been founded by Mtzkhethos, the son of Karthlos, and hence fifth in descent from Noah, It also claims, probably with some show of justification, to be the oldest continuously inhabited town in the world. It lies twelve miles northwest of Tiflis, on the Georgian military road, occupying a peninsula or triangle of land formed by the confluence of the Kura and the Aragwa. On the right bank of the Kura, overhanging Mtzkhet from the south, are densely wooded hills, higher and steeper than those above Tiflis; while to the north there opens up the lovely valley of the Aragwa, green and smiling in the river's lower reaches, of surpassing beauty between Ananur and Pasanaur, but narrower and more austere as one nears the Aragwa's source at Kazbek and the pass of Darial of savage grandeur, Mtzkhet is now scarcely more than a village; and its lowly peasant houses look strangely dwarfed by the tall and stately cathedral, which entirely dominates the place and is the principal relic of its former glory.
In the noble cathedral of Mtzkhet is epitomised much of the history of the land of Georgia. Many of the graves of her great men have been rifled and destroyed in the course of successive invasions, but before the iconostasis still lie her last two kings, the valiant Irakli and the luckless George ; and the floor of the nave is well-nigh paved with the tombstones of lesser members of the house of Bagration. These display, in all its picturesque details, the coat of arms which associates the Bagratids with their ancestor David. The
four quarters bear the sling that killed Goliath, the harp of the Psalmist, the scales of Solomon, and the Lion of Judah ; in pretence is an escutcheon with our Lord's tunic, encompassed by the inscription : "Now the coat was without seam, woven from the top throughout. The motto is taken from Psalm cxxxii: - The Lord hath sworn in truth unto David ; he will not turn from it; Of the fruit of thy body will I set upon thy seat.' From the lofty and narrow apse a fresco of the Saviour, reminiscent in its dignity of the Christ in the apse of Monreale, looks down with Byzantine austerity upon the dust of these princes whose descendants are still numerous in the land, links with a past of which most other living traces have long since ceased to be.
Not far from the cathedral is the ancient walled nunnery of Samtavr, with two frescoed churches, a delightful isolated belfry, and the cell of St Nino, a holy woman of Cappadocia, who brought Christianity to the Georgians. An aged Georgian princess presides over this venerable but impoverished foundation, next to the cathedral the most interesting object in Mtzkhet, and one of the best specimens of medieval Georgian architecture extant. In the graveyard beside the principal church I once took tea with the abbess, tea consisting of pieces of fillet of beef spitted and roasted in the open behind the apse, capsicums, pickled cucumbers, cheese, eggs, and wine. On the other side of the Aragwa, topping a high conical hill overlooking the town, is a fortified monastery called Mtziri, where St Nino is said to have watched the pagan rites of the people of Mtzkhet and to have prayed for their conversion. Mtziri is still inhabited by a single monk, who comes into Mtzkhet once a week to buy his scanty provisions. Numerous other monasteries and churches, castles and palaces, wholly or partially in ruins, are scattered along the banks of the Kura and Aragwa, silent witnesses to the past greatness of the ancient city of Mtzkhet.
A notable contribution to the medley of contrasts comes, too, from the region which has been known since 1918 as the Republic of Azerbaijan. The name which this State has assumed to itself is in truth somewhat of a misnomer, and is ever causing confusion with the older Azerbaijan, to wit, the north-western province of Persia,