IN THE HOLY LAND.
WE have obtained some months of generous release from a
laborious but pleasant city pastorate, and are on our way to the Holy Land. We
have resolved to take a glance at Egypt on our route, the partial opening of
the Suez Canal having made this practicable without any serious divergence from
On the afternoon of Saturday, March 13, 1869, we steam into the harbour of Alexandria, and wait for a landing. The long line of waving and picturesque palm-trees in front of the Khedivé's palace tells us that we are out of Europe; and Pompey's Pillar and Cleopatra's Needle, seen at some distance in the clear atmosphere, and familiar to us from our boyhood by many an engraving and picture, assure us that we are looking on the great sea-port and emporium of Egypt. One principal difficulty in landing consists in getting our luggage all stowed into one boat, while probably ten half-naked and deafening Arabs are contending for each package; and they are a light-fingered race, needing to be watched. But in a few minutes we are in the Custom-house, with all safe. A very innocent box, carefully nailed and roped, carrying a saddle and bridle for use in Palestine, is the only part of our luggage that awakens the suspicion of its containing something contraband; but while we are doing our best to open it in an orthodox way from the top with a screw-driver, one rude tawny fellow lays it open with two violent strokes of an adze from the bottom, and all its contents tumble confusedly out.
It is our first lesson in patience, of which we are to receive a good many more in our journeyings over the East; but while we are annoyed, the man is evidently disappointed, for there is nothing that can be either seized or taxed, and we have shown ourselves impervious to the wish for a little bribery and corruption. And now we are on our way to our hotel in one of the queerest and most nondescript of omnibuses, piloted by one of the noisiest of drivers, through some of the most Oriental parts of Alexandria. The contrast in our experience which a single hour has made is very striking. We had left behind us in the good ship Poonak a polished English society, with every form of English comfort; and now we were passing through streets that. were narrow, dirty, yet strangely picturesque withal, - looking down into shops open to their full extent in front, with all their varied merchandise exposed, their proprietors sitting cross- legged, and smoking gravely or dreamily in a corner, - meeting long lines of men and boys, and of women seated after the manner of men, riding upon nimble donkeys - streams of laden camels, with their outstretched necks and ungainly pace, filling up the picture at some distance at the end of the street; while street-cries in many tongues, most lustily sounded, rent the air.
In one of these street-calls we found a Biblical illustration that interested us. It was a shrill Arab cry, Water, water, 0 ye thirsty! reminding us of those grand words of gospel invitation in Isaiah, Ho, every one that thirsteth, come ye to the waters. But the resemblance stopped here, for even a cup of cold water cannot be obtained in a city of Egypt without paying for it, while the richest blessings of the Christian salvation are proclaimed to all the world without money and without price.
We eschew in these Notes, once and for all, the fashion of complaining about the discomfort of hotels. Judging from personal experience, we should say that there has often been a good deal of exaggeration in this kind of complaints, partly arising from the wish to say a smart thing, and often appearing to have been written immediately after paying a rather highly- charged bill. After travelling through many lands, we do not remember to have suffered even once either from vermin or from filth. We sallied forth early in the evening, wishing to have glimpses into the social habits of the people; and we visited several of the native cafes. Sherbet and coffee were the common beverage; and what a blessing it is for a country when its popular drinks are not intoxicating! Surely this was one plague of Egypt less. There was usually in each cafe a band of native musicians, seated on a fixed platform a little above the heads of the people. Their instruments were of a very primitive description, such as we may conceive to have been used in the times of the Pharaohs, and as we have seen represented in old woodcuts of sackbuts and psalteries in the days of the sweet singer of Israel ; and we thought we could trace in some of them the rude original of some of our own instruments, especially the violin and the guitar. One man sang; all joined in the refrain; and altogether the execution was far from contemptible. I enjoyed the enthusiasm with which, swaying and bending their bodies and closing their eyes, the performers threw themselves into the more emotional parts of the music
But we were most interested by what we saw in one of these houses of entertainment - a man reading aloud from the Arabian Nights to a fascinated audience. He sat in an elevated place on a sort of dais, was turbaned and clothed in white muslin, and read uncommonly well, suiting the changes in his voice to changes in the story: at times swinging his body to and fro; now raising one hand and now another, - occasionally even using his feet to aid the effect; and, at the close of some passage in which he had warmed, looking round for an applause which was never withheld, but which came up with a loud Ha, ha, ha I from the multitude. We noticed two Egyptian soldiers come in and sip their coffee and enjoy the reading. May not a time come when Bunyan's Pilgrim shall be read in this manner in Eastern cafes? The greater part of the following day, which was the Sabbath, was spent by us with Mr. Yule, the excellent minister of the Scotch Church in Alexandria, to whose house we found our way early in the morning.
And here let us bear our passing testimony to the importance of placing men of his stamp - educated, prudent, and earnestly pious - at all the great seaports of the world at which English ships in any great numbers touch and trade. There is always a certain number of resident English families whom commerce has settled in such places, that need, and many of whom will gladly appreciate, the pulpit ministrations and pastoral care of a good Christian minister. The consequences have been widely mischievous when these little colonies have been permanently left as sheep without a shepherd. Not only his labours as a minister, but the indirect influence of his character, is above all price; while it would be difficult to estimate the amount of benefit derived by British and American sailors that enter the port, especially in circumstances of temptation and in seasons of sickness. To travellers like ourselves, who were as birds on the wing, the refreshment of public worship, when it could be enjoyed, was greatly welcome. How many have found it retracing in their hearts the fading lines of duty; amid the distraction of mind occasioned by crowding incidents and exciting novelties, restoring the sense of the unseen and eternal; and, in Leighton's beautiful words, winding up the soul, which the body had poised down, to a higher degree of heavenliness.
On our way to morning worship in the Scotch Church, we looked in on what we may term the cathedral-churches of two very different communions. One of these was the Greek Church, in which we were disappointed to find the worshippers had not yet assembled. It blazed with a non-ecclesiastical splendour, on which, it was evident, vast expense had been lavished, but which seemed to us out of taste, because out of all harmony with the solemnity of Christian worship. There were massive silver lamps, a marble pulpit with most elaborate carvings, two gorgeous thrones - one for the Greek patriarch and the other for the Russian consul - while the walls were adorned with highly - coloured paintings of scriptural and apocryphal subjects. The whole looked as if it were designed to represent architecturally not only one of the dominant faiths, but one of the dominant powers, of the East.
The Coptic Cathedral was in many respects the opposite of all this - dark and dirty, with an old-world look about everything in it. When we entered it, it was crowded almost to suffocation, the smell of burning candles and of incense adding every moment to the poison of the already exhausted air. The building had its inner shrine, its holy place, and its outer court, somewhat like an old Jewish temple in miniature; into the first part of which the officiating priest alone entered, and from which the sound of liturgical reading issued. As the language in which the liturgy was written is now obsolete, it is unintelligi~le to the modern Copts; there was therefore some excuse for the manifest inattention of the poor people.
The Copts do not admit of images in their places of worship, but their temple was hung round with pictures which age as well as smoke and incense had made very dim; and to these, in common with their brethren of the more gorgeous Greek communion, they give a superstitious amount of veneration. They claim to be the aboriginal Egyptians, - the descendants, therefore, through hundreds of generations, of those embalmed ancestors who have been transferred to so many of the museums of Europe, or who still slumber in their mummy-coffins up the Nile. There is no doubt that they are the degenerate descendants, ecclesiastically, of the early Christian Church of Egypt. In common with the Abyssinian Church, though not in the same degree, their forms of worship and their religious customs show an incongruous mixture of Christian with Papal, and even Jewish and Mohammedan elements. The evangelist Mark is asserted to have been their first patriarch, and is honoured as their tutelary saint. They believe that his body rests beneath the altar in their church at Alexandria; though, if contemporary historians are to be credited, it was removed, centuries ago, to the famous Cathedral of St. Mark at Venice. It is a curious fact that there are certain posts in Egypt, such as that of scribes, which for many generations have been held almost exclusively by Copts, for they are a quiet, ingenious, plodding race. We have seen them compared as a Church to one of their own shrivelled mummies, wrapped in old linen and adorned with faded jewels. But they have not resisted light as their sister-communion in the West has done, and there is a deference to the authority of the Bible, and a spirit of inquiry showing itself in many of their people, and even in some of their priests, which dispose us to say of the Coptic Church, There is hope concerning this tree that it shall yet bud and flourish.
It is mainly to the revival and reformation of this degenerate branch of the Eastern Churches that the American mission in Egypt has nobly consecrated its energies. We spent several hours of the same day at the church and station of the American missionaries. The natives present did not exceed forty; but their numbers had been greater in the morning. The two sexes were carefully curtained off from each other. The whole service was conducted in Arabic. The stations and sub-stations connected with this mission are numerous, and extend up the Nile 5o0 miles above Alexandria, within a short distance from the ruins of ancient Thebes. Their largest amount of visible success has been at Osioot, 250 miles above Cairo, where they have a theological academy for the training of native students for the ministry. They add to preaching, schools and Scripture-reading, the vigorous instrumentality of the printing-press and the colporteur.
We found a very large edition of the Book of Proverbs in Arabic, ready for cir~ulation among a people who love proverbs as they love the delicious fruit of their own date-palms. The design of these Notes is not archaeological, but it seems scarcely possible even to name Alexandria without referring to Cleopatra's Needle, forming, with its twin obelisk, a rejected gift to England, now buried four feet underground, the majestic entrance to what was once Caesar's Temple, - that beautiful misnamed monolith, Pompey's Pillar, the silent record of Diocletian's capture of this great city - the far-extending Catacombs of Old Alexandria, originally formed for sepulture, but used, perhaps, in times of hot persecution, as a refuge for the early Christians, - and Caesar's Camp, with its old fountains and skilfully-constructed water-pipes, the scene of one of the victories of Augustus Caesar over the partizans of Mark Antony, and of a more recent passage of arms between the forces of France and Britain, when our country lost her Abercrombie and liberated Egypt.
We remember that, as we walked among it's shapeless stones and scrubby grass, we came upon an enormous yellow snake, which fled from us with a precipitation which we did not regret. It seemed to us, as we wandered over this former scene of disciplined armies and bloody conflicts, and looked on the few black Bedouin tents that were here and there scattered around, that we beheld a vivid emblem of the Egypt that is, as compared with the Egypt that once had been.
But, in reality, the greatest of all the antiquities that we saw was Alexandria itself; for it is one of the old cities of the world. What a long and strangely-chequered history passed before us, as, looking down from the base of Pompey's Pillar, we first thought of the great Macedonian himself, its founder, whose genius foresaw in it, as he laid its first stone, and engraved his name on it, the link between Europe, Asia, and Africa, and the key to the golden East; and then, as we traced its course down through the periods of the Ptolemies, the Romans, the Turks, the Mamalukes, the Bonapartes, to the subtle-minded, strong-willed, strong-armed Mahomet Au of these modern days.
To a Christian visitor, not the least interesting recollection was, that this was the place where, three hundred years before Christ, consecrated learning had produced the Old Testament Greek version of the Seventy; and that it was the birth-place and centre of that Neoplatonic school of theologians with which the names of Aristobulus and Philo are identified, which gave system and popularity to the allegorizing or mystical method of Biblical interpretation, and in vainly trying to harmonize Christianity with Platonism, corrupted its divine simplicity, and in the same degree bereft it of its divine power. The mischief of that Alexandrian school is working yet.
Two things especially struck us when looking on the Alexandria of our own times. One of these was the marked influence of France upon this city, as, indeed, upon the whole of Egypt. There was a French quarter in Alexandria; the French language was familiar to a much larger portion of the population than any other foreign tongue; French customs were on the increase; French amusements were popular, not always to the advantage of Egyptian economy or morality. Even the chief of police was a Frenchman; and statuettes of Louis Napoleon were everywhere - in the hotels and in other public places. But this influence is likely to weaken and wither now over Egypt and all the East, when the right arm of France is broken, and her honour laid in the dust. Nations never long worship setting suns. Shall England next be in the ascendant in Egypt, and thus keep her pathway to India broad and clear, and her hold of India firmer?
And the other fact was, - what is true, indeed, of all great seaports, but pre-eminently true of Alexandria, - the exceedingly mixed nature of its population, as indicated not only by the varied contour and colour of the countenances, but by the differences in the dress. Walk along one of its crowded thoroughfares, or stand in one of its old bazaars, and how many nationalities will you witness in a quarter of an hour! Not only the blue-turbaned Copt, and the poor Arab with his almost colourless tunic of serge, but the white-muslined Hindu, the kilted Albanian, the gorgeous Greek, the Turk with his hybrid rainient between that of the Frank and the Asiatic, and the plain, unpicturesque American or Englishman.
One dress that especially caught our notice was that of the running courier, who runs before a chariot at its full speed, warning passers-by to keep out of the way, as well as adding state and style to the whole equipage. His dress is entirely white, folded gracefully around his person, but so as to leave his lithe limbs entirely free; he carries a long wand or rod in his hand; and, apparently without strain or effort, keeps ahead of the chariot when it is at its full speed.
It gave us another Bible illustration which carried our thoughts back through. thousands of years; for it brought up the picture of Elijah, with all the vigour of a strong-limbed mountaineer from his native hills of Gilead, across the Jordan, running before the chariot of Ahab all the way from the sublime scene of the sacrifice on Carmel to the entrance into Jezreel.
There is one subject on which, before leaving Alexandria, we wish to touch once for all, though it needs to be handled with delicacy. Before departing from home, we had met with more than one English book in which a comparison was made between polygamy as it is found in Egypt and other Mohammedan countries, and single married life as it exists in such countries as our own; and in which it was attempted to be shown that the Mohammedan system was, on the whole, more favourable to continence and to conjugal fidelity. One writer in a well-known popular Review, and with evidently strong infidel leanings, emboldened by the assertions of these authors, actually went so far as to suggest that the whole question ought still to be considered an open one, as between polygamy and monogamy; that the balance trembled between the two systems; and that, with the light of modern statistics shining on it, the entire subject ought speedily to be reconsidered. We felt confident at the time that these assertions were grievously one-sided, as the conclusions drawn from them were groundless; and that the information of missionaries, physicians, and merchants who had long been resident in the East, would lead to a far different issue.
And so we found it, beginning our inquiries at Alexandria, and ending them three months afterwards at Constantinople. Polygamy does not produce continence or foster conjugal fidelity, but tends to brutify those who live in it. Is there marriage indeed in the high and divine sense in any case in which there are more wives than one? Let any one visit the precincts of a divorce court in any great Eastern city where the religion of the Crescent dominates, and see what multitudes are every day clamouring for a separation; how brittle is the bond with which polygamy binds the husband to his wife; on what frivolous pretext wives are cast aside and cast out; and how ready witnesses are to swear anything for a bribe against a woman when she has ceased to please.
The truth is, however that these writers utterly miss the point of the entire case. The charge we have to bring against the Mohammedan system is not simply that it fails to foster conjugal virtue, but that it wrongs and degrades the whole female sex. This is the foul spot of its dishonour that will never wash out. Where, indeed, except within the sphere of Christian influence, shall we find woman as Heaven destined her to be, - cultured into an equality with her protector, moving round a humbler but not a lower circle of duties, refining and softening the ruggedness of the other sex, and, with the hallowed light of undissembled affection, or with the stillness of consecrated friendship, giving out many of the sweetest elements which we associate with home?
On our journey by railway to Cairo, for which we set oft early on the morning of Tuesday, March 13, we crossed several branches of the Nile, whose presence accounted for the surrounding fertility of many places; for, as an old historian has said, the river of Nile is the happy genius of the Egyptian soil. We passed a great number of mud-villages, on the flat roofs of whose houses there was uniformly a pigeon-house built of the same material, and perforated with many openings - the flight of the pigeons to them and from them appearing incessant. Who are these that are as clouds, and that fly like doves unto their windows? With those mud-houses before us, we could understand how natural was the Eastern style of robbery, more than once alluded to in Scripture, of digging through to steal
Nor was this the only circumstance which caught our observation as illustrating Scripture, on our drive up to Cairo. Large fields of onions and garlic, literally scenting the morning air, were under cultivation, reminding us of the tastes, of the oppressed Hebrews when in their bitter bondage, and of their subsequent rebellious longings in the wilderness. Oxen, buffaloes, camels, and mules were all.seen by us engaged in ploughing. In some cases a mule and a camel were ill assorted under the same yoke, and dragging at the same plough - the connecting-pole grazing painfully on the neck of the taller animal. Is it possible to doubt that such a spectacle as this, seen by Paul on the plains of Ephesus or on the fields around his native Tarsus, must have given shape to his admonition of, Be not unequally yoked with unbelievers?
Egypt, however, affords us an illustration in respect to marriage of a different kind in one of her hieroglyphics, in which a single millstone is represented as in useless motion, which some ingenious interpreters of their pictorial language insist in regarding as an emblem of the comparative unprofitableness of a celibate life! Late in the afternoon we reached Cairo, passing into it through a long avenue of waving palms-a city not so ancient or so rich in historical recollections as the Alexandria we had left behind us, but greatly more populous,, the seat and centre of Egyptian government, and "of the East, Eastern." It seemed to us like a violent anachronism that the hissing of a railway steam engine should be heard on the scene of Addison's Vision of Mirza, and within sight of the Pyramids.
Go to Chapter Two
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