From the Pyramids to Joppa.
We have spoken of Cairo as of the East, Eastern. But this
quality is gradually diminishing. The influence of Europe is telling on its
architecture, its customs, and its costumes, and turning the picturesque into
the prosaic. The wave from the West is sweeping over everything and modifying
everything. When shall the wave of a pure Christianity sweep away its false
religion and a hundred other evils with it, and, like the waters of
Egypts beneficent river, deposit in the minds of its people the elements
of a renewed life, the germs of highest blessing?
Still, Cairo continues to be the most Oriental of all the great cities of Egypt, and our knowledge of this soon drew us out from our hotel to a stroll among its bazaars. Generally, the streets which contain these shops of Eastern traffic are very narrow so much so, that it is often with great difficulty and much need for mutual accommodation that two persons riding on donkeys can pass each other. The storeys of the houses as they ascend project more and more, and at length the highest storeys on the opposite sides come so near, that, on looking up, you can only see the narrowest line of sky; a custom which, though perhaps not so favourable to ventilation, effectually protects both the inhabitants and the passengers from the terrible rays of a vertical sun.
We noticed the same apparent unconsciousness of the march of time and want of push in those cross-legged merchants as in their brethren of Alexandria; though when we sat down near them in their own posture, and proceeded to bargain- making, their dreamy eyes speedily opened, and they made it very evident that they were wide awake. The practice referred to in certain of the books of the Prophets also drew our attention, - as it afterwards did in other large cities of the East. - of whole streets being devoted to one particular kind of artisanship and merchandise. One was entirely occupied with tailors; another with the making of brazen utensils; a third was engrossed with the manufacture and sale of rude, quaint mirrors; while in a fourth, innumerable nimble fingers were busy almost at the same moment with, the making and selling of silken tassels.
It will not greatly surprise our readers that, amid the noise of shouting camel-drivers and donkey-boys, of curiously varied street-calls, and the incessant importunity of beggars with their everlasting bucksheesh, and wandering, without an interpreter or guide, in tortuous streets that seemed to obey no law but that of confusion, we soon found ourselves in an inextricable labyrinth. But the donkey is the cheap and popular conveyance of Cairo; and throwing ourselves on to the back of the first we met, and simply naming our hotel to the quick-witted boy-driver, we left the rest to him. .It is a mode of conveyance, however, which, in such narrow, crowded streets, requires skilful pilotage; for your legs are in much danger of getting entangled with some passing object when you are at your full speed, and of either doing harm or getting harm. There is often an impish love of mischief, too, about the boy who is driving the animal from behind, which makes him indifferent about the rider, if he can only save his donkey. He leaves it to the rider to see all dangers ahead. We remember how an admired friend, some years before, when cantering along one of these streets at full speed, found himself and his donkey suddenly landed in a deep pit which had been opened, an hour or two before, in the middle of the street. Our friends irritation was increased when, on extricating himself from the ugly hole, he found all the interest and sympathy of the driver and the passers-by given to the ass, which they kindly examined and stroked, while he was left to gather himself up as he best might. We suspect the Koran contains no parable like that of the Good Samaritan.
We were told, in one of our walks about Cairo, of some curious features in its police arrangements which worked effectually in preventing deeds of violence. Each of the principal crafts has a sheikh or chief who keeps his eye on the members of his own fraternity, and, knowing them all, secures the detection and punishment of offenders among them. Moreover, the whole city is divided into eight wards, under a separate police inspection; and as the greater number of the streets have no thoroughfare, and have gates guarded by a sentinel, which are closed at an early hour of the night, escape is next to impossible. Then the administration of justice, though corrupt in civil cases, is pure in criminal matters; while punishment is certain, prompt, and terrible. The consequence is, that Cairo, whatever may be the measure of its offences in other respects, is more free from deeds of violence than many European cities.
In the case of some of our greatest cities, there is no elevated point from which we can look on them so as to include them in one view; they can only be seen in detail. But in Cairo, its lofty Citadel gives you this advantage. It was built by the famous Saladin of the Crusades on a lateral ridge of the Mokattam hills, at an elevation of about two hundred and fifty feet above the level of the city, which it is more fitted to command than to protect, - as Mohammed Ali more than once discovered during his energetic but turbulent reign. Certainly the view from this grand eminence is the noblest in Egypt, and one of the most memorable in all the East The vast city, with its population of more than three hundred thousand persons, lies mapped at your feet, every object distinctly defined and clear in its colouring in the singularly pure atmosphere. Breaking the monotony of the brown flat-roofed surface, there are spacious and verdant gardens; gorgeous palaces; beautifully adorned public fountains; tombs of the mighty dead, as large, in some instances, as had been their habitations when living; occasional sycamores and palms casting their welcome shadows; and, most characteristic of all, four hundred mosques scattered over the city and rising high with their swelling domes and tall, white, airy minarets. Looking westward, fields of Indian-corn, groves of palms, gardens of orange-trees, intermixed with sweet-scented limes and feathery bananas, spread away in the direction of Old Cairo, and down towards the banks of the great river. And there is the resplendent river itself, the mysterious, beneficent Nile, dotted with verdant islets; while little boats, winged with white lateen sails, are steering their way in the midst of them, up the stream. Villages gleaming out here and there from an ambush of trees give life to the landscape beyond the river. And yonder, at the distance of five miles, are the mighty Pyramids, the different courses of stones which compose the enormous. structures, with the Sphinx rising from the sand near them, traceable with the naked eye; and beyond these, closing up the view, are the Libyan mountains, stretching away into the illimitable Libyan wilderness.
"Beyond the decay
of that colossal wreck, boundless and bare,
the lone and level sands stretch far away."
Looking to the eastward of Cairo, there is nothing but
sandy waste, - dreary desolation.
There was one object of much interest within the inclosure of the Citadel - the Mosque of Mohammed Ali, a structure not so remarkable for the purity or beauty of its architectural style, as for the costliness of its material, every part of it, except its outer wall, consisting of Oriental alabaster. We were informed that while Mohammed Ali occupied twenty years in its erection, he would never allow it to be entirely finished, from the dread produced by a popular prophecy that when the last stone was laid he should die. We found afterwards that this is a common form of popular superstition among rulers all over the East - the Sultan of Turkey not excepted - and that they therefore always keep on hand some unfinished building. At the time when we entered this gorgeous structure, the worshippers were few, probably not more than six scattered over a place that was capable of containing as many thousands. We walked silently over the richly carpeted floor to the Caaba-stone which indicates the direction of Mecca, such as is to be found in every mosque, and towards which every Moslem worshipper present has his eye and his body turned. In all likelihood, this is a practice borrowed by the Mohammedans from the ancient Jewish worship, for it is now well known that there was a stone in every synagogue - both in Judea itself and in foreign countries - which pointed the worshipper in the direction of Jerusalem and its temple; and it would almost appear as if the noble exile Daniel must have had some provision of this kind in his dwelling in Babylon, where he prayed and gave thanks before his God three times a day, with his window open and his face turned towards Jerusalem.
There was one other mosque which stood out very prominently before us as beheld from the Citadel, remarkable for the elegance of its proportions and the elaborate beauty of its decorations, the pride of every Moslem heart in Cairo, which we visited later in the day - the Mosque of Sultan Hassan. It was built of stones brought from the Pyramids, and adorned at an expense sufficient to have drained the resources of a province. Two majestic fountains in front of this thing of beauty - at which, when we saw them, many Moslem votaries were performing their sacred washings and purifications - were equal in elegance to the mosque itself, and in admirable keeping with it. There was a kind of aristocracy or inner sect among those engaged in their ablutions, who monopolized the purer fountain. For sanitary reasons, we should certainly have joined them in their preference. We were also struck with the fact here, as in many other places seen by us subsequently, that amusement jostled and elbowed devotion - for the open space around the sacred house, the square of the Roumaylee, was the favourite resort of half the idlers of Cairo, who never wearied in looking on the exploits of native tumblers and the tricks of magicians and Syrian jugglers, or in listening to the songs of Nubian musicians and the improvised tales of Arabian storytellers.
All the time since we had entered Cairo, we had been fretting with a secret impatience to visit the oldest of all human monuments; and the next morning we gave the reins to our impatience, and were off to the Pyramids. The presence of the Prince of Wales in Cairo had been the occasion of greatly increasing the facilities and comforts of this pilgrimage. In honour of the heir to Englands throne, the Khedive had improvised a carriage-road all the way from his capital to the Pyramids. Instead of the old system of donkeys and drivers and dragomen, with a stock of provisions, and even, in some instances, a company of armed followers, we set off in an open carriage with one fine, dark, tall Nubian for our guide. Crossing the Nile by a bridge of boats, we hurried on, sometimes on open, exposed parts of the road, and sometimes through long and shady avenues of acacia-trees. At some points on the way the road was still in course of being improved, and men were in the act of planting and watering young trees on either side of it. We observed that every gang of workers had a task-master over them with a thick cudgel in his hand, which was not a mere idle badge of office, but meant for use; and we thought of the Hebrew bondsmen toiling thus under a broiling sun, making bricks of mud such as that around us, and their lives made bitter to them under a far heavier bondage and more unrelenting task-masters. We were able to drive up so near that, sitting in our vehicle, we could touch the lowest stones of the Pyramid. But the eye of our Nubian guide was turned to another object than the wonderful pile. Among that motley jabbering multitude scattered at its base, he saw a Nubian dark as himself; a native of the same mud-village a thousand miles up the Nile. The recognition was simultaneous, and the next moment the two brothers had fallen on each others neck, and were locked in each others embrace. There was another Bible reminiscence here.
And those were the Pyramids of Egypt, the oldest and most stupendous human structures in the world! The most competent authorities on such matters have fixed the date of the erection of the principal Pyramid - that of Cheops - at 2500 years b.c., which carries us back to within a few generations of the Deluge; so that the builders may be imagined to have shaken hands with the sons of Noah. The Pyramid of Chephren bears the marks of greater skill in its masonry, and therefore probably arose a few ages later; and though it is not quite so broad at its base as its neighbour of Cheops, yet, from being built on a loftier natural platform, it appears, when seen from certain points, to be higher than the other. But the chief notice of pilgrims is generally turned to the older pile, as being the first that is approached from Cairo, and, like the eldet brother in an Eastern family, having the excellency of dignity and the excellency of power. At first we had the experience common to most visitors, of finding some difficulty in believing in the vast proportions assigned to it, as covering at its base twelve acres; but, as we walked round it, and leaned upon its lower blocks and looked up to its apex, our incredulity melted away without our needing the additional test of mensuration. We walked aside a little to the famous Sphinx, which, indicating equal boldness of conception with those great Pyramids, gave evidence not only of masonic skill, but of the genius of the sculptor. In length it is 143 feet, while it measures 102 feet round the forehead; the whole - with the exception of the paws and a portion of the back - being chiselled out of the solid rock. Was that colossal figure, with its human head and lions body, an object of worship? Or was it an emblematic representation of the king, as uniting in himself the highest wisdom and power? The fact that under its breast and between its enormous paws there is a little temple with its altar, from which incense must have ascended into the expanded nostrils of the image, seems rather to favour the former conjecture, though it is not inconsistent with the other; while the emblematic theory receives countenance from the long avenues of sphinxes that have been discovered in other parts of Egypt. Imagine those heaps of stones and debris, the accumulation of more than four millenniums, to have been carried away from around the base of the two great Pyramids, that they are again encased in gray granite from Sinai, or in red porphyry from the Mokattam hills, and a second Sphinx placed on the other side of the broad path leading up to them, and we approach nearer to the spectacle of those enormous masses as the first generations looked on them.
And who built those Titanic structures, and what was the design of their builders? These are questions that have been repeated since the Father of history, more than two thousand years ago, looked up on those same time-defying piles, and thought them old. Even could it be shown that certain astronomical principles had been recognized in their erection, this, we humbly suggest, would not warrant the conclusion that they had been built for astronomical uses, any more than the placing of a sun-dial on the corner of some modern mansion would prove that the house had been built for the measuring of time. We have listened to Professor Smyths singularly ingenious exposition of his theory - which represents the Pyramid of Cheops as reared for a half sacred use, as the depository of the standard measure both for liquids and for solid bodies - with admiration, but without conviction. The old and popular supposition which regards them as royal tombs or monuments continues by far the most probable, especially when it is considered that human remains have actually been found in some of the smaller Pyramids. Perhaps the ambitious structure on the plain of Shinar may have supplied the first hint to the men who planned them, in which case, as quaint Fuller has remarked, they are the younger brethren of the Tower of Babel On this supposition, with the name of the monarch that erected them to his own glory buried in impenetrable oblivion, what a monument are they at once of human power, folly, and crime.
Yet these mountain structures, which were almost contemporaneous in their erection with the beginning of human history, and may very possibly be standing at its close, suggest more than one conclusion. They prove at how early a period human rule assumed the form of gigantic despotisms. We learn from Herodotus that twenty thousand men, relieved every three months, were employed for twenty years in erecting the one Pyramid of Cheops. The energies of a whole nation were bent for so long a period, and its resources drained, to gratify the mad ambition of one of the earliest of the Pharaohs. And they also place it beyond doubt that Egypt must have been one of the first peopled countries, as well as one of the earliest cradles of the arts. There must have been something more than mere brute strength - a considerable knowledge of some of the great mechanical laws, as well as of the rules of masonry - to be able to raise those huge blocks to their appointed place, and to rear those Pyramids. And when we find among Egypts earliest tomb-paintings and imperishable frescoes, pictures of the shoemakers knife, of the weavers hand-shuttle, and of the whitesmiths blowpipe as it is used in our own days, we cannot admit that there is a shade of extravagance in those lines of the old bard,
"Eye yet the heroes of Deucalion's blood
Pelasgia peopled with a glorious brood,
The fertile plains of Egypt flourished then,
Productive cradle of the first of men.
And now looking down from the Pyramids upon Egypt, it was
impossible not to be struck with its unique position in the religious history
of the world. From the earliest times, down through that long series of ages in
which a divine revelation was being given to the world through the medium of
the chosen people, Egypt stands forth in history as the chief antagonist and
the unchanging enemy of the Church of God. We except the period of Joseph, when
the patriarch Jacob and his family found a sunny refuge in Goshen; but how few
generations elapsed before their house of refuge became their house of bondage,
and Israel in the brick-kilns became the most cruelly oppressed and
down-trodden of slaves. Egypt, in consequence, became the vast theatre on which
the more awful attributes of God were manifested, just as Palestine became the
selected scene in which the wonders of his grace should be revealed. Those ten
plagues in which a whole nation was punished, and shame put upon their false
divinities through the very form of the miraculous judgments, awfully
culminating in the death of every first-born in the land and in the destruction
of the proud Pharaoh and his armed charioteers in the Red Sea, were
unapproached in their terrific scale of retribution in any of the older nations
of the world. And yet this long line of ever darkening and deepening judgments
taught the guilty people and their rulers no lesson of repentance. All through
the centuries of the Jewish Church and the periods of the prophetic revelation,
Egypt appears either as the tempter or as the persecutor of Israel, dividing
the guilt, in this respect, with the Babylonian and Assyrian monarchies to the
east of the sacred land.
No burden therefore reads more darkly in the books of the Prophets than that of Egypt. There is a minuteness of detail, a graphic picturing, an intensity of colouring, an adaptation to the characteristic customs of the people and to the characteristic features of Egyptian scenery, in such elaborate predictions as those in the nineteenth chapter of Isaiah and in certain passages of Ezekiel, that cannot be exceeded. These were spoken and placed on record when Egypt was still in the meridian of her power, and contending with the great monarchies on the banks of the Euphrates and the Tigris for the supremacy of the nations. And yet they have all been fulfilled. With Gibbon and Volney as involuntary witnesses, and modern Egypt looked down upon by us from the Pyramids, we behold events corresponding not only to, every line but to every letter of the inspired oracles. The harmony is startling. When we read in those prophets that Egypt should become the basest of nations, that there should no more be a prince of the land of Egypt, that the country should become destitute of that whereof it was full ; and when we place side by side with these oracles the facts that during the long ages of the Mamaluke supremacy her rulers were imported strangers and slaves - that for two thousand years no native prince has ever sat upon her throne, but its sovereignty has often been sold to the highest bidder - that the papyrus and the flax and the manufacture of fine linen which were once her glory have now vanished, and the land which was once, with Sicily, the granary of the Roman empire, is scarcely able to supply bread to its own inhabitants, - it would be madness to call such things as these accidental coincidences. Reason says, Here are the words and the working of Him who knoweth the end from the beginning.
It would, however, be an utter mistake to say that this state of things has been produced by a direct curse from Heaven upon the land. God usually punishes nations, and accomplishes his prophecies regarding them, by allowing their sins to work out their own natural consequences. The curse lies in the ignorance, the false religion, the profound moral debasement, and the exhausted energies of the people. They are so debased as not to be conscious of their debasement. All the natural resources of the country are just what they were when Pharaohs daughter and her maidens came down to glass themselves in the great river. We turn from gazing on those useless Pyramids to look down on that munificent gift of God to Egypt - the mysterious, silent, solitary Nile. It is this which creates Egypt, annually renews it, fecundates it, saves it from being swallowed up by the all-encircling ocean of sand. This makes it as unique in its physical geography as we have seen it to be in its history. The singularity does not consist in the mere fact of the annual inundations of the life-giving stream, for the same thing takes place with the La Plata, the Amazon, and indeed with all great rivers whose source is within the tropics; but in this further fact, that as there is scarcely any rain-fall in Egypt, its fertility entirely depends on the Nile. Wherever it reaches, there are verdure and abundance, and
Egypt joys beneath the spreading wave.
Beyond its influence is the reign of desolation. But then, by the increase and extension of canals for inland conveyance, and still more for irrigation, and by the use of machinery for raising the water above its natural level, whole sandy provinces might be reclaimed, and dreary deserts turned into smiling Goshens. There is an almost miraculously exuberant fertility in the mud of the Nile when it is shone upon by an Egyptian sun. It is scarcely extravagant to say that the river is a solution of Ethiopias richest regions, and the vast country is merely a precipitate. The cucumber and the melon-shoot have sometimes been known to grow twenty-four inches in as many hours. There are extensive districts which cheerfully yield a rotation of four crops in the same year. The date-palm alone is to the Egyptian what the reindeer is. to the poor Lap- lander; supplying him at once with milk and food, cordage and fuel, basket-work and clothing. And there are budding prophecies which keep alive the hope that temporal prosperity will return to this land when her people have welcomed the higher blessing. The Lord shall smite and heal it; and they shall return to the Lord, and he shall be entreated of them, and shall heal them.
Early on the following morning, we were off by railway to Suez, a long journey of 180 miles, through a region that was almost entirely desert. The old camel-road must have been drearier still, for there isonly one tree visible in its long track of desolation. The railways of Egypt are the property of the Khedive, and are under his entire management; and we had an experience of his railway rule on this journey that did not increase our love for absolute and irresponsible government. It so happened that he was to cross our line some time on that day, and no train was allowed to approach his point of transit until he had passed. The consequence was, that we were kept sitting for hours under a burning Egyptian sun, at a station whose neighbourhood was so infested by reptiles that we could almost believe that Cleopatra must have obtained from it her deadly asp.
Suez stands at the head of the Red Sea, on its western shore. There is nothing beautiful about it, looking out, as it does, upon a broad ocean of yellow sands and a narrow stripe of green water. But it has an interest to Englishmen as the point of embarkation or of landing for passengers to or from our Indian possessions; and we confess to having had a feeling of greater nearness to home when, on looking two miles down the gulf, we saw a little fleet of ships at anchor, with the unmistakable British build about them.
Our principal object in diverging thus far out of our way to Palestine, was to enjoy a days ride into the desert on the route to Sinai, so far as the traditional wells of Moses. We crossed in a boat a little arm of the Red Sea, taking mules and muleteers with us for our trackless desert-ride.
On our right, about a mile and a half distant, the sea stretched itself out before us, gradually swelling into a breadth of apparently about six miles, mountains of considerable elevation and abruptness rising on its further side. Immediately in front of us, and towards the east, as far as the eye could reach, there spread an illimitable sea of sand. Our sure-footed animals carried us forward with a fair amount of speed, the sandy path beneath their feet sounding crisp as snow when the frost has been keen. There was no appearance of vegetation, save, at intervals, a little tuft of coarse grass struggling to live, and scarcely succeeding. An occasional lizard, yellow as the sand, and sickly, made us wonder how it contrived to pick up a living under such disadvantages. But our ride was diversified by something more exciting. Twice, in the course of four hours, we were so fortunate as to see a mirage of the desert. There appeared to rise suddenly before us at some distance, as if by an enchanters wand, a blue sparkling lake, with men riding on camels at its brink. At times the riders advanced a little way into the lake, and the water splashed around the camels feet. The deception seemed so beautifully real, that it was with difficulty we could reason ourselves into the belief of its unreality. We knew how science had accounted for the phenomenon even in such remarkable instances as the Fata Morgana of the Strait of Messina and the Spectre of the Brocken in Germany. But it was only by our riding up to the spot that the illusion was entirely dispelled.
At length, after four hours riding, a green oasis appeared at no great distance, at the sight of which our little mules pricked up their ears and quickened their pace. We found it to consist of two inclosures, probably about five acres in extent, surrounded by hedges woven with dried palm-leaves. It contained palms and fig-trees, pomegranates and tamarisks; and in the midst of these, and shaded by them, several fountains, in one of which, especially, the water bubbled up in great force, helping to irrigate and keep green a large space around it. Were these the fountains to which Moses came with his emancipated pilgrims on the third day after their wondrous passage through the neighbouring gulf, and where, by a miracle, he turned the waters into sweetness? The answer to this question depends upon another which, in spite of all that has been written on the subject, remains to this hour unsettled, Where is the point of the miraculous passage of the Hebrew host and their emergence on the sandy wilderness? The opinion has for a good while been gaining ground, that this branch of the Red Sea extended, at the period of the Exodus, much further inland and eastward. M. De Lesseps, the latest writer on the subject, believes that he traced convincing evidence of the presence of this sea a long way eastward in the line of his canal, and even professes to have identified, on the margin of the Bitter Lakes, the scene of the miraculous deliverance. Should this theory turn out to be correct, it will rather increase the likelihood that these are the actual Marah fountains.
The little spot was curious, however, apart from those sacred associations which are supposed by many to hang around it. We found human enterprise and domestic life even here. One family lives in a house principally built of palm-branches and thatched with palm-leaves - partially thatched only, for in the middle of the house there was an acacia flourishing and rising through the roof, with a beautiful white dove perched on one of it's topmost branches, and a musket hanging from another. The master is a Levantine, has a wife and a pretty boy, and contrives to gain a precarious livelihood from such visits as ours, and also from hunting gazelles and other game over the surrounding desert.
Outside the inclosure, on a sandy eminence about a hundred yards distant, there was a large fountain with a majestic old palm bending over it. When we got up to it, a company of Bedouins were standing on its further side giving their camels drink. The salutations between them and ourselves had all the grave elaboration of the days of the patriarchs. It happened rather strangely that all the four quarters of the globe were at that moment represented at this well in the desert. Those swarthy Bedouins represented Asia, the muleteers whom we had brought from Suez were children of Africa, our companion and ourself stood sponsors for Europe, and an American artist, who had joined our group, for America. The fountain became to us an emblem of Christs gospel with its inestimable blessings, for there was ample room around it for all, and there was water enough a thousand times over to slake the thirst of the whole many-coloured company.
On our return to Suez, we kept nearer to the sea, and tried to imagine the scene of the miraculous passage of the Israelites. In the mountains opposite, rising like a wall near to the shore, we could see openings or gorges hemmed in by hills and precipices on either side, along which the bannered multitude, guided and guarded by the pillar of fire, may have advanced towards the swelling sea. We could imagine the Israelites, at the word of Moses, advancing towards the pebbly sand, when the waves opened before them, and the myriad hosts marched through as on a rocky pavement, the obedient waters rising high like walls of crystal on either side. The feet of the last pilgrim have scarcely touched the sand of the Arabian desert, when the waters close on the pursuing chariots of Egypt with their horses and riders, and the whole army of Egypt perishes with its king in one watery grave. We could imagine Miriam and her maidens sounding the loud timbrel and moving in the sacred dance on the neighbouring sands, and singing their song of triumph in praise of that most stupendous miracle which wrote itself indelibly in the poetry of the Hebrews, and struck terror into the hearts of the surrounding nations at the thought of a God who was able to deliver after this sort.
On the following morning, we left Suez for Port Said, hoping to find an early opportunity of crossing from thence to the Holy Land. The first three hours of our journey were by rail to Ismailia, where, entering a small steamer, we sailed across the Bitter Lakes, and proceeded along the Grand Suez Canal towards the Mediterranean shore. We naturally looked with much interest upon this stupendous triumph of engineering skill, which public opinion is rapidly coming to regard as not only a grand feat of modern enterprise, but an immense benefit to the world. It is impossible to withhold high admiration from the man whose genius planned it, whose energy accomplished it in the face of a thousand difficulties, physical, political, and financial, and whose hopeful enthusiasm never sank when prophecies of failure were at the loudest. In length nearly 100 miles, in depth 26 feet, in width at the bottom 72 feet, and on the surface 196 feet, it links the Mediterranean with the Red Sea, and shortens the sea-path between England and the East 7500 miles. With India, as so vast and rich a portion of the British empire, to no country in the world is it so important commercially and politically as our own. When we look back upon those useless Pyramids, the work of despotism, the monument of an ambition that outwitted and befooled itself, and compare them with a grand human work like this, whose tendency is to expand the commerce and increase the wealth of the world and to promote the brotherhood of nations, it is impossible not to feel that in the two we have a measure of human progress, and that in the long interval the world has been becoming wiser and better.
But nothing can ever make this canal picturesque. The ugliest canal in Holland has now and then a redeeming feature, but this is the veriest realization of dreariness and monotony. On either side it is sand - all sand. One traveller describes certain places on its banks as rendered gay and brilliant by innumerable flocks of rosy pelicans, scarlet flamingoes, and snow-white spoonbills. And we do not question his accuracy. But on the day of our voyage, we had experience of a phenomenon which made the dreariness more dreary,- and drove every bird in nature to a distance. This was a sand-storm, in which the sand blew and drifted all around us, as in a violent fall of snow when the wind has risen to a gale. We are now writing with a snow-storm beating against our windows, but this is nothing to the blinding, choking, stupefying effect of a storm when the sands of the desert are rained pitilessly upon us. Eyes and ears, nose and mouth, all become foul or gritty. The pilot of our little vessel stood peering through the tempest, as we have seen shepherds in our own land when the snow was played with by a whirlwind, often at a loss to know where he was. Had this state of things continued for a fortnight, M. Lesseps would have needed to commence digging his canal anew. Travellers on their way through the Arabian desert to Mount Sinai, on some rare occasions encounter such storms. The best-equipped caravan finds difficulty in toiling on against it. The Bedouins, with their heads covered with shawls and their backs turned to the storm, leave the camels to their own guidance, and the patient animals continue moving straight forward, now and then throwing their long necks sideways to avoid the tempest. The whole thing was unpleasant enough while it lasted, but what was this to the experience of travellers when that angel of death, the fiery simoom, spreads his wings on the blast! Before we reached Port Said the evening had become beautifully calm, and the Egyptian moon looked down upon us in most serene brightness from a cloudless sky.
Port Said is the rapid creation of the same enterprise that has produced the canal, Ten years since, it consisted of a few miserable shanties, and all its fresh water was brought from a place thirty miles distant across the lake Menzaleh in little Arab boats; now, its water is brought in pipes, and it has many other of the conveniences of a European city, with a population exceeding 10,000.
To-morrow, March 21st, was the Sabbath-day, and we had hoped to find our pension, which looked out so pleasantly on the bright sea, turned into a little sanctuary; but the long fast and the wearisome sail through that howling wilderness laid us prostrate with dysentery. Those were the first hours of sadness since we had left home. But a good Samaritan appeared in the afternoon, in the person of a generous M. P., a member of the Wesleyan Church, who had been our fellow-passenger on the previous day, and who brought us a native medicine which he had obtained in Cairo. This soon restored us, and proved invaluable to many others in our subsequent wanderings. At noon on the Monday a Russian steamer hove in view, and in a few hours later had us out of sight of Egypt, promising to land us at Joppa early on the next day. The ship was crowded with a many-tongued and motley company. Pilgrims from many countries were on their way to Jerusalem to celebrate the Latin Easter. Jews reclining on the deck on little strips of carpet, were going up to keep the Passover. They could easily have taken up their bed and walked. It was a calm clear night; but the captain lost his way, and in the morning we were considerably north of our landing-place. We could see not far off the ruined harbour of the Roman Caesarea; beyond, the forest-crowned promontory of Carmel, and that broad, white, majestic mountain, rising like a wall many thousand feet to the sky, was the snowy Hermon - a grand, welcome, unexpected vision. It was therefore near mid-day before we cast anchor and lay off Joppa.
Go To Chapter Three
Home | Links | Literature | Biography