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Very little is known regarding John Carter’s history before the Civil War. This article will attempt to fill some blurred shades into at least one of the blanks from that period.
Carter says about his former life: “Fighting has been my profession during all the life that I can recall. I fought all during the Civil War in the Confederate Army. I fought in other wars before that. I will not bore you with my autobiography.” (LG-1/13) Well, I for one would not have been bored, but be that as it may.
One interesting thing that Carter mentions from his previous life is “the honors bestowed upon me by three republics and the decorations and friendships of an old and powerful emperor and several lesser kings, in whose service my sword has been red many a time.” (PM/1) Two of the republics, of course, are the United States of America and the Confederate States of America. The identity of the third republic does not let itself be revealed, since there were a multitude of republics in Carter’s time, both in America and in Europe.
I will, however, discuss the identity of the emperor that Carter mentions. First, I am going to assume that Carter did not have time or opportunity to meet with any emperors during his life back on Earth during the period 1876 – 1886. Further, although it is possible that Carter is talking about Martian kings and emperors (jeds and jeddaks), I have a gut feeling that Burroughs, at that early point of his story, was not speaking of events in Carter’s future. It follows that he did not meet this emperor during his visit to Mars 1866 – 1876.
We further know Carter’s whereabouts fairly well during the period 1861 – 1866. He fought in the Civil War, after which he went gold prospecting and then straight off to Mars. We also know that Carter was in Virginia for a few months “just prior to the opening of the civil war.” (PM/Foreword) This establishes the last date for when he could have met his emperor to 1860.
Carter also says about his age: “Possibly I am a hundred, possibly more;” (PM/1) which must logically mean that he does not have any memories before about 1785 – one hundred years before he wrote his manuscript in 1885 (PM/Foreword). An exciting possibility is that his earliest memories are from the American Revolutionary War (1775 – 1783). At any rate I would like to think that he fought in that war, in which no emperors were overly involved.
So we are going to look for our emperor in the span of 1783 – 1860. The emperor in question has to be old, let us say at least 60. Any emperor that either did not reach the age of 60 during his reign, or who turned 60 after 1860, is not the one we seek. This limitation disqualifies some otherwise very interesting emperors, such as Alexander I of Russia, Napoleon I of France, Nicholas I of Russia and Francis Joseph I of Austria.
Of those that remain, we want to look for three important criteria. First, Burroughs tells us that the emperor is powerful. Second, since John Carter proclaims himself a “soldier of fortune” (PM/1), the emperor’s country probably saw wars or some other kind of violent action during the period. Finally, Carter, with his enormous integrity, would not accept the decorations or friendship of just any old emperor. It has to be someone special.
Qianlong of China
China has been one of the world’s greatest nations practically through all of recorded history. During this period, it was ruled by the Qing dynasty. One of the mightiest emperors of that dynasty was Qianlong (1711 – 1799; emperor 1735 – 1796).
Qianlong was himself a skilled fighter and personally acted as general during military campaigns. During his time, China’s territory was expanded to one of its greatest sizes throughout history.
Qianlong was also a cultural benefactor, but did less well when it came to economy and administration. His military campaigns and the expansion of China depleted the country’s economy. In addition to that, corruption increased and put further strains upon the financial situation. This could probably have been partially offset by trade with England and Holland, but since Qianlong disliked all foreigners, he refused to take part in potentially valuable trade agreements with the Europeans.
In terms of age, power, and military accomplishment, Qianlong would be an excellent candidate for John Carter’s emperor. However, his condescending attitude towards anything from outside of China makes it doubtful if he would employ a foreign mercenary, let alone make friends with one (even though he did occasionally hire architects and artists from France and Italy).
Abdul Hamid I of Turkey
The rulers of the Ottoman Empire (today’s Turkey) were usually referred to as “sultans.” However, the title emperor was sometimes applied to them in the west and would have been appropriate for Carter to use.
Abdul Hamid I (1725 – 1789; sultan 1774 – 1789) was a pacifist at heart, and his greatest achievements were made in the areas of religion and state administration. Several conflicts with Russia resulted in defeats, accelerating the decline in Ottoman political power which had been going on throughout the 18th century. He did, however, deal successfully with some minor uprisings within the country.
While Abdul Hamid was the leader of what was still one of the mightiest nations in the world, he does not seem to be the kind of emperor with whom John Carter would want to associate himself. It would be quite conceivable for Carter to end up on the losing side of a conflict, but it is doubtful if he would fight for a bureaucratic pacifist. Nor is the infidel Carter one whom the religious zealot Abdul Hamid would be likely to befriend.
Francis II of the Holy Roman Empire; Francis I of Austria
Emperor Francis (1768 – 1835; emperor 1792 – 1835) is an interesting historical person; not only because he ruled for a very long time, but also because he was emperor of two different nations.
The Holy Roman Empire was a forerunner of today’s Germany, although during much of its history it encompassed many other European territories. In 1792, the new Holy Roman Emperor, Francis II, was to be the last to hold that title. Indeed, Francis himself saw that his empire was crumbling under the onslaught of Napoleon, and in 1804, two years before he formally dissolved the Holy Roman Empire, he created for himself the title emperor Francis I of Austria. This position he was to retain until his death.
During much of his reign, Francis was involved in a long struggle against Napoleon, beginning during the French Revolutionary Wars in the late 18th century. After being defeated in 1809, Austria was forced into a coalition with France, but in 1813, Francis again turned against his arch enemy, and contributed to Napoleon’s defeat in 1815.
Francis would appear the perfect fit for John Carter’s emperor. He was himself a military man and a skilled strategist. He was one of the most powerful men in Europe, and he had a reputation of being harsh but fair. The only problem is that when he fought his last war in 1815, he was only 47. If John Carter fought for him at that time, he would not remember him as the old man that he was twenty years later at the end of his reign.
Daoguang of China
Daoguang (1782 – 1850; emperor 1820 – 1850), Qianlong’s grandson, inherited a China in decline.
One of the greatest problems he had to face was the vast amounts of opium that was imported from the British against the will of the Chinese government. Daoguang’s attempts to stop the trade resulted in the First Opium War against the British in 1839 – 1842, a war which the Chinese lost. Britain thereby came into possession of Hong Kong, the first territory that had ever been lost by a Qing emperor.
Daoguang was probably somewhat more favourably inclined towards foreigners than his grandfather, but it is still questionable whether a white man would have been accepted into the Chinese armed forces.
It is noteworthy that, even in Britain, the opium trade, along with the resulting war, were considered unjust and met with considerable popular resistance. It would thus seem possible that the heroic and righteous John Carter could have been potentially interested in fighting for China and Daoguang.
Gigar of Ethiopia
Gigar (c. 1745 – 1832; emperor 1821 – 1830) represents a long row of Ethiopian emperors during the period. The year of birth is not known for most of them, but even assuming that they were of the right age, they are not very interesting to us. Ethiopia was not a powerful nation during the period and many of its emperors, like Gigar, were merely figureheads for others who ruled in their names. Besides, it is difficult to see why John Carter would go to Ethiopia in the first place.
Faustin I of Haiti
The Carribean nation of Haiti must be one of the shortest-lived empires in the history of mankind. In 1849, president Faustin-Èlie Soulouque (1782 – 1867; emperor 1849 – 1859), who during his life had risen from slavery through the military ranks and into the presidential office, proclaimed himself emperor Faustin I. He thereby reinstated the empire of Haiti, which had previously existed during two years, and went on to create all the necessary imperial ceremony, as well as an entire Haitian nobility. After only ten years as emperor, Faustin was overthrown.
While it is conceivable that John Carter may have fought for Faustin in the Dominican Republic, Faustin cannot be called a “powerful” emperor. After all, his em¬pire was about the size of Massachusetts or Luxembourg.
I am guessing that, when he wrote the passage about republics, kings and an emperor, Burroughs had someone like Francis Joseph I of Austria in mind. Francis Joseph was still alive and ruling in 1911, when Under the Moons of Mars was written, as he was in 1860. But, of course, back in 1860, he was too young for our purposes.
It is tempting to replace Francis Joseph with his grandfather Francis I, but the lack of military activity during Francis’ later reign is disturbing.
The Chinese emperors, on the other hand, seem to have everything going for them, except that foreigners were generally not welcome into their ranks.
No matter who we favour as Carter’s emperor, some conjecture must be made. Did Carter fight for Francis I around 1814, returning decades later to renew the friendship? Did the charismatic Carter manage to win Qianlong’s or Daoguang’s favour? Burroughs, probably, had no opinion. We can only make our own assumptions.
Primary sources (by Edgar Rice Burroughs):
• A Princess of Mars [PM]
• Llana of Gathol [LG]
I blame any inaccuracies in this article on my single source for historical facts.
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