The private streets and houses of Marseilles are very regular and well built, nor did we see any portion of the town of a very inferior description. I should have liked much to have remained a few weeks in it, and indeed regretted the rapidity of my journey through France, not being able to imagine any thing more delightful than a leisure survey of the country through which we passed. I had been so strongly determined to make the overland trip to India, that I would have undertaken it quite alone, had I not met with a party to accompany me; some kind friends would not allow me, however, to make the experiment; nor do I recommend ladies, unless they are very well acquainted with the country, to travel through it without the protection of a gentleman, a courier, or a good servant. Miss E. and myself performed the whole distance without a care or a thought beyond the objects on the road; but this we owed entirely to the attention of the gentleman who put us safely on board the Malta steamer, and who managed every thing for us upon the way, so that we were never in one single instance subjected to the slightest annoyance.
* * * * *
MARSEILLES TO ALEXANDRIA.
* * * * *
Venations at the Custom-house—Embarkation on the Malta Steamer—Difficulties of exit from the Harbour—Storm—Disagreeable Motion of the Steam-vessel—Passengers—Arrival at Malta—Description of the City—Vehicles—Dress of the Maltese Women—State of Society—Church of St. John—The Palace—The Cemetery of the Capuchin Convent—Intolerance of the Roman Catholic Priesthood—Shops, Cafes, and Hotels—Manufactures and Products of Malta—Heat of the Island—Embarkation on board an English Government Steamer—Passengers—A young Egyptian—Arrival at Alexandria—Turkish and Egyptian Fleets—Aspect of the City from the Sea—Landing.
At twelve o'clock on the morning of the 21st of September, we were informed that the English Government-mails had not arrived, and that the probabilities were in favour of their not reaching Marseilles until five o'clock; in which event, the steamer could not leave the harbour that night. We, therefore, anticipated another day in our pleasant quarters; but thought it prudent to take our baggage on board. Upon getting down to the quay, we were stopped by a gens-d'armes, who desired to have our keys, which we of course immediately surrendered. On the previous day, while driving about the town, our progress had been suddenly arrested by one of these officials, with an inquiry whether we had any thing to declare. He was satisfied with our reply in the negative, and allowed us to proceed. A gentleman afterwards asked me whether, in my travels through France, I had not observed that the police was a mere political agent, established for the purpose of strengthening the hands of the government, and not, as in England, intended for the protection of the people? I could only reply, that we had lost nothing in France, and that property there appeared to be as secure as at home. Certainly, the interference of the gens-d'armes about the baggage, and the continual demand for our passports, were very vexatious, detracting in a great degree from the pleasure of the journey.
We found the rate of porterage excessively high; the conveyance of our baggage to and fro, as we passed from steam-boats to hotels, proving, in the aggregate, enormous; the whole went upon a truck, which one man drew, with apparent ease, and for a very short distance, we paid nearly double the sum demanded for the hire of a horse and cart in London, from Baker Street, Portman Square, to the Custom House.
Upon getting on board the Megara, we found that the mails were in the act of delivery, and that the vessel would start without delay. We had now to take leave of the friend who had seen us so far upon our journey, and to rely wholly upon ourselves, or the chance civilities we might meet with on the road. Our spirits, which had been so gay, were much damped by the loss of a companion so cheerful and ready to afford us every enjoyment within our reach, and we in consequence thought less of the danger to which we were shortly afterwards exposed, the pain of parting being the paramount feeling.
There is always some difficulty in getting out of the harbour of Marseilles, and the natural obstacles are heightened by the want of a superintending power. There is no harbour-master, to regulate the movements of vessels, and to appoint their respective places; consequently, there is generally a great deal of confusion; while serious accidents are not unfrequent.
Before we got under weigh, I saw my old acquaintance, Hussein Khan, the Persian ambassador, go on board the French steamer, which was anchored within a short distance of us. He was received with all the honours due to his rank; which, by the way, was not acknowledged in England; and his suite, whom we had seen lounging at the doors of the cafes the evening before, made a gay appearance on the deck.
We got foul of one or two ships as we went out, and just as we left the harbour, the clouds, which had threatened all the morning, burst upon us in a tremendous storm, accompanied by thunder and lightning. The rain came down in torrents, sweeping along the decks, while a heavy squall threatened to drive us upon the rocks, which we had admired so much as the guardians of the port. In this emergency, we were compelled to drop our anchor, and remain quiescent until the fury of the elements had abated. The storm passed away about midnight, and getting the steam up, we were far away from Marseilles and la belle France before morning.
The Megara belonged to a class of steamers built for the government upon some new-fangled principle, and which have the art of rolling in any sea. Though the waters of the Mediterranean were scarcely ruffled by the breeze, which was in our favour, there was so much motion in the vessel, that it was impossible to employ ourselves in any way except in reading. In other respects, the Megara was commodious enough; the stern cabin, with smaller ones opening into it, and each containing two bed-places, was appropriated to the ladies, the whole being neatly fitted up. We found some agreeable fellow-passengers; the only drawback being a family of three children. In consequence of the cabins being thus occupied, we could not preserve the neatness and order which are so essential to comfort, and which need not be dispensed with even in a short voyage.
Our commandant, Mr. Goldsmith, a descendant of the brother of the poet, and who appeared to have inherited the benevolence of his distinguished relative, was indefatigable in his exertions to render us happy. He had procured abundant supplies for the table, which was every day spread with a profusion of good things, while eight or ten different kinds of wine, in addition to ale and porter, were placed at the disposal of the guests. Nothing, indeed, was wanting, except a French cook. No single meal had ever disagreed with us in France; but though partaking sparingly, we felt the inconvenience of the heavy English mode of cookery.
Amongst the attendants at table was one who speedily grew into the good graces of all the passengers. A little fellow, eight years old, but who did not look more than seven, placed himself at the commandant's elbow, who immediately upon seeing him exclaimed, with a benevolent smile, "What, are you here, Jemmy? then we are all right." Jemmy, it seems, was the boatswain's son, and no diminutive page belonging to a spoiled lady of quality, or Lilliputian tiger in the service of a fashionable aspirant, could have been dressed in more accurate costume. Jemmy was every inch a sailor; but, while preserving the true nautical cut, his garments were fashioned with somewhat coxcombical nicety, and he could have made his appearance upon any stage as a specimen of aquatic dandyism. Jemmy would be invaluable on board a yacht. His services at table were rewarded by a plateful of pudding, which he ate standing at the captain's right hand, after having, with great propriety, said grace. The little fellow had been afloat for a year and a half; but during this period his education had not been neglected, and he could read as well as any person in the ship.
Amongst our passengers was a French gentleman, the commandant and owner of an Indiaman, which had sailed from Bordeaux to Bombay under the charge of the first officer. He had previously made twelve voyages to India; but now availed himself of the shorter route, and proposed to join his vessel at Bombay, dispose of the cargo, and, after taking in a new freight, return through Egypt. The only coasts in sight, during our voyage from Marseilles to Malta, were those of Sardinia and Africa, Sicily being too far off to be visible. We were not near enough to Sardinia to see more than a long succession of irregular hills, which looked very beautiful under the lights and shades of a lovely summer sky. The weather was warm, without being sultry, and nothing was wanting excepting a few books. Mr. Goldsmith regretted the absence of a library on board, but expressed his intention of making a collection as speedily as possible.
The excessive and continual motion of the vessel caused me to suffer very severely from seasickness; the exertion of dressing in the morning always brought on a paroxysm, but I determined to struggle against it as much as possible, and was only one day so completely overpowered as to be unable to rise from the sofa. This sickness was the more provoking, since there was no swell to occasion it, the inconvenience entirely arising from Sir Somebody Symonds' (I believe that is the name) method of building. What the Megara would be in a heavy sea, there is no saying, and I should be very sorry to make the experiment.
We found ourselves at Malta at an early hour of the morning of the 25th, having been only five nights and four days on board. Mr. Goldsmith celebrated our last dinner with a profusion of champaigne, and though glad to get out of the vessel, we felt unfeignedly sorry to take leave of our kind commandant. We were, of course, up by daylight, in order to lose nothing of the view.
Much as I had heard of the gay singularity of the appearance of Malta, I felt surprise as well as delight at the beautiful scene around; nor was I at all prepared for the extent of the city of Valetta. The excessive whiteness of the houses, built of the rock of which the island is composed, contrasted with the vivid green of their verandahs, gives to the whole landscape the air of a painting, in which the artist has employed the most brilliant colours for sea and sky, and habitations of a sort of fairy land. Nor does a nearer approach destroy this illusion; there are no prominently squalid features in Malta, the beggars, who crowd round every stranger, being the only evidence, at a cursory gaze, of its poverty.
Soon after the Megara had dropped anchor, a young officer from the Acheron, the steamer that had brought the mails from Gibraltar, came on board to inquire whether I was amongst the passengers, and gave me the pleasing intelligence that a lady, a friend of mine, who had left London a few days before me, was now in Malta, and would proceed to India in the vessel appointed to take the mails. She was staying at Durnsford's Hotel, a place to which I had been strongly recommended. Mr. Goldsmith was kind enough to promise to see our heavy baggage on board the Volcano, the vessel under sailing orders; and a clergyman and his wife, resident in Malta, who had gone to Marseilles for a change of scene and air, inviting Miss E. and myself to accompany them on shore, we gladly accepted their offer.
We found a caless in waiting for us; a very singular description of vehicle, but one common to the island. I had seen representations of these carriages in old engravings, but had not the least idea that they were still in use. They have only two wheels, placed behind, so that the horse has to bear the weight of the vehicle as well as to draw it; and there is something so inexpressibly odd in the whole arrangement, that it put me in mind of the equipages brought on the stage in a Christmas pantomime. Our caless held four persons very conveniently, and was really a handsome vehicle, gaily lined with scarlet leather, and having spring seats. We saw others plying for hire, of a very inferior description; some only calculated for two persons, and of a faded and dilapidated appearance. They seem to be dangerous conveyances, especially for the poor horse; we heard of one being upset, on a steep hill, and breaking the neck of the animal that drew it. In driving, we were obliged to take rather a circuitous route to our inn, though the distance, had we walked, would have been very inconsiderable. We were glad of the opportunity of seeing a little of the suburbs, and were almost sorry to arrive at the place of our destination.
As we came along we were delighted with the picturesque appearance of the Maltese women, whose national dress is at once nunlike and coquettish. A black petticoat envelopes the form from the waist, and over that is thrown a singular veil, gathered into a hood, and kept out with a piece of whalebone. This covering, which is called the faldetta, is capable of many arrangements, and is generally disposed so as to "keep one eye free to do its worst of witchery." When one of the poorer classes is enabled to clothe herself in a veil and petticoat of silk, she considers that she has gained the acme of respectability. The streets of the city of Valetta are extremely narrow, and the houses high; a great advantage in such a climate, as it ensures shade, while, as they generally run at right angles, they obtain all the breeze that is to be had.
The appearance of our hotel was prepossessing. We entered through a wide gateway into a hall opening upon a small court, in the centre of which stood a large vase, very well sculptured, from the stone of the island, and filled with flowers. A wide handsome staircase, also of stone, with richly-carved balustrades, and adorned with statues and vases, conducted us to a gallery, two sides of which were open, and the other two closed, running round the court-yard, and affording entrance to very good apartments. Every thing was perfectly clean; the bedsteads of iron, furnished with mosquito-curtains; and we were supplied immediately with every article that we required.
As the rolling of the Megara had prevented the possibility of forming a sentence, we sat down to write letters, and having despatched a few of the introductions to residents, with which my friends in England had supplied me, I was agreeably surprised by some visits which I had scarcely expected, as we found that we should be obliged to embark for Alexandria in the evening.
I did not hear very flattering accounts of the state of society at Malta, which, like that of all other confined places, is split into factions, and where there seems to be a perpetual struggle, by the least fortunate classes, to assert equality with those whose rank is acknowledged; thus every person attached to the government assumes eligibility for the entre into the best circles, while the magnates of the place are by no means inclined to admit them to these privileges. It appeared that the endeavours of the Commissioner to produce a greater degree of cordiality between the Maltese inhabitants and the English residents, so far from succeeding, had tended to widen the distance between them, and that the Maltese were by no means grateful for the efforts made for their improvement. However, though the fruits may not at present appear, the seed having been sown, we may entertain a strong hope that they will show themselves in time.
While an undertaking so gigantic as the diffusion of the English language throughout India has been attempted, it seems rather extraordinary that the efforts of the committee should not have been directed to the same result in Malta, and that the progress of education should not have been conducted in the language that promised to prove the most useful to subjects of the British crown; but it appears that the committee decided otherwise, and complaints are making, that the instruction now supplied at the schools is of the most superficial nature, and by no means calculated to produce the desired end.
Every object in Malta bears witness to the ingenuity and industry of its inhabitants. The softness of the stone renders it easily cut, and the Dowager Marchioness of Hastings (who has left imperishable marks of her desire to benefit those who came under her observation), in supplying the best designs, has filled the shops of Malta with a tasteful species of bijouterie, which is eagerly sought after by all the visitors. The carved work of Malta is sold very cheap; but the same quality, which renders it so easily cut, occasions it to chip, and, therefore, great care is necessary in packing these fragile articles.
As soon as possible, we sallied forth to inspect the far-famed church of St. John, and found our expectations more than gratified by the interior of this gorgeous edifice. It was not, however, without melancholy feelings, that we reflected on the miserable remnant of those valiant knights, who had made Malta celebrated throughout all history, and who, on the suppression of the order, were suffered to languish out the remainder of their existence in obscurity. Mass was performing at the time of our entrance, and seating ourselves in one of the side chapels until it should be over, we were at its conclusion accosted by a priest, who, finding that we did not speak Italian, sent another person to show the beauties of the church. Some Maltese ladies greeted us very courteously, and though, perhaps, we would rather have wandered about alone, indulging in our own recollections of the past, we could not help being pleased with the attentions which were paid us.
Upon returning to our inn, we met a gentleman with whom we were slightly acquainted, who, upon learning that I had a letter to Sir Henry Bouverie, the governor, recommended me to deliver it in person, the palace being close at hand. Our party met with a very courteous reception, and we were happy in the opportunity thus afforded of seeing the palace, which showed remains of former grandeur far more interesting than any modern improvements could have been. One apartment, in particular, hung round with tapestry, which, though brought from France 135 years ago, retains all the brilliancy of its original colouring, pleased us exceedingly.
There are some good paintings upon the walls; but the armoury is the most attractive feature in the palace. It consists of one splendid apartment, running the whole length of the building, and makes a very imposing appearance; the arms of various periods being well arranged. The collection of ancient weapons was not so great as I had expected; still there were very interesting specimens, and an intelligent corporal, belonging to one of the Queen's regiments, who acted as Cicerone, gave us all the information we could require.
Some of our party had the curiosity to visit the cemetery of the Capuchin convent, in which the monks who die, after having undergone a preserving process, are dressed in the habit of the order, and fastened up in niches; when the skeletons, from extreme age, actually fall to pieces, the skulls and bones are formed into funeral trophies for the decoration of the walls; and the whole is described as a most revolting and barbarous spectacle. The last occupant was said to have departed this life as late as 1835, adding, by the comparative newness of his inhumation, to the horrors of the scene.
The influence of the priesthood, though still very great, is represented to be upon the decline; they have lately, however, shown their power, by retarding the progress of the building of the Protestant church, to which the Dowager Queen Adelaide so munificently subscribed. All the workmen employed are obliged to have dispensations from the Pope, and every pretext is eagerly seized upon to delay the erection of the edifice. At present, the Protestant community, with few exceptions, are content to have service performed in an angle of the court-yard of the palace, formerly a cellar and kitchen, but now converted into an episcopal chapel and vestry-room. The members of the society have a small chapel, not adequate to the accommodation of those who desire to attend it, belonging to the Methodist persuasion; but its minister is afraid to encounter the difficulties and delays which would be consequent upon an attempt to enlarge it. There is a public library adjoining the palace, originally formed by the knights, but considered now to be more extensive than valuable.
The period which I spent upon the island was too brief to allow me to make any inquiries respecting its institutions, the novelties of the scene engaging my attention so completely, that I could give no thought to anything else. The shops and cafes of La Valetta have a very gay appearance, and the ingenuity of the inhabitants is displayed in several manufactures; the black lace mittens, now so fashionable, being particularly well made. Table-linen, also of superior quality, may be purchased, wrought in elegant patterns, and, if bespoken, with the coat-of-arms or crest worked into the centre or the corners. In the fashioning of the precious metals, the Maltese likewise excel, their filagree-work, both in gold and silver, being very beautiful: the Maltese chains have long enjoyed a reputation in Europe, and other ornaments may be purchased of equal excellence.
To the eye of a stranger, Malta, at this period of the year (the end of September), seems bare and destitute of verdure; yet, from the quantity of every kind of vegetables brought to market, it must be amazingly productive. The growth of cotton, lately introduced into Egypt, has been injurious to the trade and manufactures of Malta, and the attempt to supply its place with silk failed. In the opinion of some persons, the experiment made had not a fair trial. The mulberry trees flourished, and the silk produced was of an excellent quality; but the worms did not thrive, and in consequence the design was abandoned. Inquiry has shown, that the leaves from old trees are essential to the existence of the silk-worm, and that, had the projectors of the scheme been aware of a fact so necessary to be known, they would have awaited the result of a few more years, which seems all that was necessary for the success of the undertaking. How many goodly schemes have been ruined from the want of scientific knowledge upon the part of their projectors, and how frequently it happens that a moment of impatience will destroy the hopes of years!
Fruit is cheap, plentiful, and excellent at Malta, the figs and grapes being of very superior quality, while the island affords materials for the most luxurious table. The golden mullet and the Becca fica are abundant; and all the articles brought to market are procurable at low prices. I can scarcely imagine a more agreeable place to spend a winter in, and I promise myself much gratification in the sojourn of a few weeks at this delightful island upon my return to England. I can very strongly recommend Durnsford's Hotel as a place of residence, the accommodation being excellent and the terms moderate. In remaining any time, arrangement may be made for apartments and board, by which means the rate of living is much cheaper, while the style is equally good.
There is an opera at Malta, in which performances of various degrees of mediocrity are given. The gay period to a stranger is that of the carnival; but, at other times, the festivals of the church, celebrated in this isolated place with more of the mummeries of Roman Catholicism than obtain in many other countries professing the same faith, afford amusement to the lovers of the grotesque.
Though the thermometer at Malta seldom rises to 90 deg., yet the heat in the sultry season is very great. Every person, who is in the habit of studying the glass, becomes aware of the difference between the heat that is actually felt and that which is indicated by instruments; and in no place is this discrepancy more sensibly experienced than Malta, in which the state of the winds materially affects the comfort of the inhabitants. A good authority assures us, that "the heat of Malta is most oppressive, so much so, as to justify the term 'implacable,' which is often applied to it. The sun, in summer, remains so long above the horizon, and the stone walls absorb such an enormous quantity of heat, that they never have sufficient time to get cool; and during the short nights, this heat radiates from them so copiously, as to render the nights, in fact, as hot as the days, and much more oppressive to the feelings of those who are accustomed to associate the idea of coolness with darkness. I have seen the thermometer, in a very sheltered part of my house, steadily maintain, during the night, the same height to which it had arisen in the day, while I marked it with feelings of incalculably increased oppression, and this for three successive weeks in August and September, 1822."
At Malta, we were recommended, in consequence of the unsettled state of affairs between Mehemet Ali and the European powers, to proceed forthwith to Egypt, and though strongly tempted to prolong my stay in the island, I thought it advisable to make the best of my way to the Red Sea, and defer the pleasure, which a more protracted residence promised, until my return in the ensuing year. Lieut. Goldsmith, our kind commandant of the Megara, called upon us, according to promise, to conduct us on board the new steamer, the Volcano, the vessel appointed to carry the mails on to Alexandria. This ship was in quarantine, and it was consequently necessary to take some precautions in going on board. We proceeded, in the first instance, to a police station, where we took a second boat in tow, and a guadiano, an official appointed to see that no persons transgress the rules and regulations of the port instituted for the preservation of health.
Upon getting alongside of the Volcano, our baggage was placed in this boat; Miss E. and myself were then handed in, and cast adrift, to my great astonishment; for not having had any previous intimation of the method to be pursued, I was not at all prepared to hold on, as I believe it is called, without assistance. Miss E., however, who was more observant, hooked her parasol into one of the ropes, which she subsequently caught. We were now to be taught a new lesson—the extreme nonchalance with which the officers of a Government steamer treat the passengers who have the misfortune to choose these boats instead of making the voyage on board merchant vessels. Some minutes elapsed before any notice was taken of us, or any assistance afforded in getting up our baggage; our own people being obliged to look on and do nothing, since, had they touched the ship, they would have been obliged to perform eighteen days of quarantine.
Upon reaching the deck, we requested that our baggage might be taken down into the ladies' cabin, in order that we might get our small dormitories put to rights before the rest of the passengers came on board; but, though it could have made no earthly difference to the people employed, we met with a refusal, and the whole was deposited in the grand saloon, already encumbered with luggage, every quarter of an hour adding to the heap and the confusion, and the difficulty of each person recognizing the identical carpet-bag or portmanteau that he might claim as his property.[A]
Among our new fellow-passengers there was a young English gentleman, who intended to travel into Syria, and who, though looking scarcely twenty, had already spent some years in foreign countries. He was very modest and unassuming, and both agreeable and intelligent; and, having had a good deal of conversation together, I was sorry to lose sight of him at Alexandria.
We had also one of Mehemet Ali's proteges on board, a young Egyptian, who had been educated at the Pasha's expense in England, where he had resided for the last ten years, latterly in the neighbourhood of a dock-yard, in order to study the art of ship-building. This young man was a favourite with those persons on board who could make allowances for the circumstances in which he had been placed, and who did not expect acquirements which it was almost impossible for him to attain. His natural abilities were very good, and he had cultivated them to the utmost of his power. Strongly attached to European customs, manners, and institutions, he will lose no opportunity of improving the condition of his countrymen, or of inducing them to discard those prejudices which retard the progress of civilization. He was naturally very anxious concerning his future destiny, for the Pasha's favour is not always to be depended upon, while the salary of many of the appointments which he does bestow is by no means adequate to the support of men whom his liberality has enabled to live in great respectability and comfort in England. Our new acquaintance also felt that, in returning to his friends and relatives, he should shock all their prejudices by his entire abandonment of those customs and opinions by which they were still guided; he grieved especially at the distress which he should cause his mother, and determined not to enter into her presence until he had assumed the national dress, and could appear, outwardly at least, like an Egyptian.
The weather, during our short voyage, was remarkably favourable, although it got rather too warm, especially at night, for comfort. There are, however, great alleviations to heat in the Mediterranean steamers. The ladies can have a wind-sail in their cabin, which, together with the air from the stern windows, renders the temperature at all times very delightful. They enjoy another advantage in having a light burning all night, a comfort which cannot be too highly appreciated, since darkness on board ship increases every other annoyance.
We left Malta on the evening of the 25th, and arrived at Alexandria early in the morning of the 30th. Every eye was strained to catch the first view of the Egyptian coast, and especially of the Pharos, which in ancient time directed the mariners to its shores; but the great object of attraction at this period consisted of the united fleets, Turkish and Egyptian, which rode at anchor in the port. Our steamer threaded its way amid these fine-looking vessels, some of which we passed so closely, as to be able to look into the cabin-windows. To my unprofessional eye, these ships looked quite as efficient as any warlike armament of the same nature that I had yet seen. They all appeared to be well kept, and in good order, while the sailors were clean, neatly dressed, and actively engaged, some in boats, and others performing various duties. Though steamers are now very common sights, we in turn attracted attention, all eyes being directed to our deck.
Our Egyptian fellow-passenger was especially interested and agitated at his approach to his native shore, and the evidences which he saw before him of the power and political influence of the Pasha. From a gentleman who came on board, we learned that an apprehension had been entertained at Alexandria of the arrival of a hostile fleet from Europe, in which event a collision would in all probability have taken place. Mehemet Ali, it was said, was so foolishly elated by his successes, and by the attitude he had assumed, as to be perfectly unaware of his true position, and of the lesson which he would receive, should he persist in defying the remonstrances of his European allies. It was also said, that nothing but the favour shown by the French cabinet to the Pasha had hitherto prevented the commencement of hostilities, since the British Government, taking the view of its representative at Constantinople, felt strongly inclined to proceed to extremities. I merely, of course, state the rumour that prevailed; whether they carried the slightest authority or not, I do not pretend to determine.
Alexandria, from the sea, presents a very imposing appearance; long lines of handsome buildings, apparently of white stone, relieved by green Venetian blinds, afford evidence of increasing prosperity, and a wish to imitate the style of European cities. There is nothing, however, in the landing-place worthy of the approach to a place of importance; a confused crowd of camels, donkeys, and their drivers, congregated amidst heaps of rubbish, awaited us upon reaching the shore. We had been told that we should be almost torn to pieces by this rabble, in their eagerness to induce us to engage the services of themselves or their animals. Accustomed as we had been to the attacks of French waiters, we were astonished by the indifference of the people, who very contentedly permitted us to walk to the place of our destination.
The lady-passengers, who arrived in the steamer, agreed to prosecute the remainder of the journey in company; our party, therefore, consisted of four, with two servants, and a baby; the latter a beautiful little creature, of seven months old, the pet and delight of us all. This darling never cried, excepting when she was hungry, and she would eat any thing, and go to any body. One of the servants who attended upon her was a Mohammedan native of India, an excellent person, much attached to his little charge; and we were altogether a very agreeable party, quite ready to enjoy all the pleasures, and to encounter all the difficulties, which might come in our way.
Having formed my expectations of Alexandria from books of travels, which describe it as one of the most wretched places imaginable, I was agreeably disappointed by the reality. My own experience of Mohammedan cities had taught me to anticipate much more of squalor and dilapidation than I saw; though I confess, that both were sufficiently developed to strike an European eye. We wended our way through avenues ancle-deep in sand, and flanked on either side with various descriptions of native houses, some mere sheds, and others of more lofty and solid construction. We encountered in our progress several native parties belonging to the respectable classes; and one lady, very handsomely dressed, threw aside her outer covering, a dark silk robe, somewhat resembling a domino, and removing her veil, allowed us to see her dress and ornaments, which were very handsome. She was a fine-looking woman, with a very good-natured expression of countenance.
[Footnote A: The author followed up these remarks with others, still more severe, upon the treatment which she and her fellow-travellers experienced on board this vessel; but as these remarks seem to have caused pain, and as Miss Roberts, without retracting one particle of her statements, regretted that she had published them, it has been deemed right to omit them in this work.]
* * * * *
ALEXANDRIA TO BOULAK.
* * * * *
Description of Alexandria—Hotels—Houses—Streets—Frank Shops—Cafes—Equipages—Arrangements for the Journey to Suez—Pompey's Pillar—Turkish and Arab Burial-grounds—Preparations for the Journey to Cairo—Embarkation on the Canal—Bad accommodation in the Boat—Banks of the Canal—Varieties of Costume in Egypt—Collision during the night—Atfee—Its wretched appearance—The Pasha—Exchange of Boats—Disappointment at the Nile—Scarcity of Trees—Manners of the Boatmen—Aspect of the Villages—The Marquess of Waterford—The Mughreebee Magician—First sight of the Pyramids—Arrival at Boulak, the Port of Cairo.
There are several excellent hotels at Alexandria for the accommodation of European travellers. We were recommended to Rey's, in which we found every comfort we could desire. The house is large and handsome, and well situated, being at the end of a wide street, or rather place, in which the more wealthy of the Frank inhabitants reside, and where there are several houses belonging to the consuls of various nations. These latter are usually detached mansions, of a very handsome description, and one especially, facing the top, will be magnificent when finished.
All the houses in this quarter are very solidly constructed, lofty, and with flat roofs. The ground-floor seems to be appropriated to merchandize, or as domestic offices, the habitable apartments being above. The windows are supplied with outside Venetian blinds, usually painted green, which, together with the pure white of the walls, gives them a fresh and new appearance, which I had not expected to see. In fact, nothing could exceed the surprise with which I viewed a street that would have excited admiration in many of our European capitals. It will in a short time be embellished by a fountain, which was erecting at the period of my visit: could the residents get trees to grow, nothing more would be wanting to render it one of the most superb avenues of the kind extant; but, a few inches below the surface, the earth at Alexandria is so completely impregnated with briny particles, as to render the progress of vegetation very difficult at all times, and in some places impossible.
This portion of the city is quite modern; near it there is a more singular and more ancient series of buildings, called the Okella; a word, I believe, derived from castle. This consists of one large quadrangle, or square, entered by gateways at different sides. A terrace, approached by flights of steps, extends all round, forming a broad colonnade, supported upon arches. The houses belonging to the Franks open upon this terrace; they are large and commodious, but the look-out does not equal that from the newer quarter; the quadrangle below exhibiting any thing rather than neatness or order. Goods and utensils of various kinds, donkeys, camels, and horses, give it the appearance of the court of a native serai, though at the same time it may be said to be quite as well kept as many places of a similar description upon the continent of Europe. The Frank shopkeepers have their establishments in a narrower avenue at the end of the wide street before-mentioned. Here are several cafes, apparently for the accommodation of persons to whom the hotels might be too expensive; some of these are handsomely fitted up in their way: one, especially, being panelled with shewy French paper, in imitation of the Gobelins tapestry. I was not sufficiently near to discern the subject, but when lighted, the colours and figures produced a very gay effect. I observed a considerable number of druggists' shops; they were generally entirely open in front, so that the whole economy of the interior was revealed to view. The arrangements were very neat; the various articles for sale being disposed upon shelves all round. We did not make any purchases either here or in the Turkish bazaar, which, both morning and evening, was crowded with people. Several very good houses in the European style were pointed out to us as belonging to Turkish gentlemen, high in office and in the receipt of large incomes.
We had ordered dinner at seven o'clock, for the purpose of taking advantage of the cool part of the day to walk about. We confined our peregrinations to the Frank quarter and its immediate neighbourhood, and were amused by the singular figures of other European pedestrians whom we met with, but whose peculiar country it was difficult to discover by their dress. Several gentlemen made their appearance on horseback, but we did not see any females of the superior class. Two English carriages, filled with Turkish grandees, dashed along with the recklessness which usually distinguishes native driving; and other magnates of the land, mounted upon splendid chargers, came forth in all the pride of Oriental pomp. Having sufficiently fatigued ourselves with walking ancle-deep in dust and sand, we returned to our hotel, where we found an excellent dinner, which, among other good things, comprehended a dish of Beccaficos.
As I had not intended to reach Alexandria so soon, neither Miss E. nor myself had given notice of our approach; consequently, there was nothing in readiness. We had, notwithstanding, hoped to have found a boat prepared, a friend in London having promised to mention the possibility of our being in Egypt with the mails that left Marseilles on the 21st; but this precaution had been neglected, and the gentleman, who would have provided us with the best vessel procurable, was too busy with duties which the arrival of the steamer entailed upon him to do more than express his regret that he could not devote his whole attention to our comfort. In this emergency, we applied to Mr. Waghorn, who, in the expectation that I might wish to remain at Alexandria, had most kindly prepared an apartment for my reception at his own house. The aspect of affairs, however, did not admit of my running any risks, and I therefore determined to proceed to Suez without delay. Under these circumstances, he did the best that the nature of the case permitted; assured me that I should have his own boat, which, though small, was perfectly clean, when we got to the Nile, and provided me with all that I required for the passage. Mrs. Waghorn also recommended a servant, whose appearance we liked, and whom we instantly engaged for the trip to Suez.
I had brought letters to the consul-general, and to several residents in Alexandria, who immediately paid me visits at our hotel. Colonel Campbell was most particularly kind and attentive, offering one of the government janissaries as an escort to Cairo; an offer which we most readily accepted, and which proved of infinite service to us. We had no trouble whatever about our baggage; we left it on board, under the care of the trusty black servant. One of the officers of the ship, who had distinguished himself during the voyage by his polite attention to the passengers, had come on shore with us; he sent to the vessel for our goods and chattels, took our keys and the janissary with him to the custom-house, and we had speedily the pleasure of seeing them come upon a camel to the door of the hotel, the fees charged, and the hire of the animal, being very trifling. There was a large apartment on one side of the gateway, in which those boxes which we did not desire to open were deposited, the door being secured by a good lock; in fact, nothing could be better than the whole arrangements of the hotel. It was agreed that as little time as possible should be lost in getting to Suez, and we therefore determined to prosecute our journey as early in the afternoon of the next day as we could get every thing ready. Donkeys were to be in waiting at daylight, to convey the party to Pompey's Pillar, and we retired to rest, overcome by the fatigue and excitement we had undergone. It was sufficiently warm to render it pleasant to have some of the windows open; and once or twice in the night we were awakened by the furious barking of the houseless and ownerless dogs, which are to be found in great numbers throughout Egypt. In the day-time the prevailing sound at Alexandria is the braying of donkeys, diversified by the grunts and moans of the almost equally numerous camels.
Engravings have made every inquiring person well acquainted with the celebrated monument which goes by the name of "Pompey's Pillar," and the feelings with which we gazed upon it are much more easily imagined than described. It has the advantage of standing upon a rather considerable elevation, a ridge of sand, and below it are strewed vast numbers of more humble memorials of the dead. The Turkish and the Arab burial-grounds spread themselves at the feet of the Pillar: each grave is distinguished by a mound of earth and a stone. The piety of surviving relatives has, in some places, forced the stubborn sand to yield proofs of their affectionate remembrance of the deceased; occasionally, we see some single green plant struggling to shadow the last resting-place of one who slept below; and if any thing were wanting to add to the melancholy of the scene, it would have been the stunted and withering leaves thus mournfully enshrouding the silent dead. There is something so unnatural in the conjunction of a scanty vegetation with a soil cursed with hopeless aridity, that the gardens and few green spots, occurring in the neighbourhood of Alexandria, detract from, instead of embellishing, the scene. Though pleasant and beautiful as retreats to those who can command an entrance, these circumscribed patches of verdure offend rather than please the eye, when viewed from a distance.
The antiquities of Egypt have been too deeply studied by the erudite of all Christian countries, for an unlearned traveller to entertain a hope of being able to throw any additional light upon them. Modern tourists must, therefore, be content with the feelings which they excite, and to look, to the present state of things for subjects of any promise of interest to the readers of their journals.
After breakfast, we received a visit from the Egyptian gentleman who had been our fellow-passenger. He brought with him a friend, who, like himself, had been educated in England, and who had obtained a good appointment, together with the rank of a field officer, from the Pasha. The manners of the gentleman were good; modest, but not shy. He spoke excellent English, and conversed very happily upon all the subjects broached. Our friend was still in doubt and anxiety respecting his own destination. Mehemet Ali had left Alexandria for one of his country residences, on the plea of requiring change of air; but, in reality, it was said, to avoid the remonstrances of those who advocated a policy foreign to his wishes. The new arrival could not present himself to the minister until he should be equipped in an Egyptian dress. The friend who accompanied him gave us the pleasing intelligence, that a large handsome boat, with ladies' cabin detached, and capable of carrying forty passengers, had been built by the merchants of Alexandria, and when completed—and it only wanted painting and fitting up—would convey travellers up the canal to Atfee, a distance which, towed by horses, it would perform in twelve hours. Small iron steamers were expected from England, to ply upon the Nile, and with these accommodations, nothing would be more easy and pleasant than a journey which sometimes takes many days to accomplish, and which is frequently attended with inconvenience and difficulty.
We found that Mrs. Waghorn had provided Miss E. and myself with beds, consisting each of a good mattress stuffed with cotton, a pillow of the same, and a quilted coverlet, also stuffed with cotton. She lent us a very handsome canteen; for the party being obliged to separate, in consequence of the small accommodation afforded in the boats, we could not avail ourselves of that provided by the other ladies with whom we were to travel, until we should all meet again upon the desert. As there may be a danger of not meeting with a canteen, exactly suited to the wants of the traveller, for sale at Alexandria, it is advisable to procure one previously to leaving Europe; those fitted up with tin saucepans are necessary, for it is not easy to carry cooking apparatus in any other form. We did not encumber ourselves with either chair or table, but would afterwards have been glad of a couple of camp-stools. Our supplies consisted of tea, coffee, wine, wax-candles (employing a good glass lanthorn for a candlestick), fowls, bread, fruit, milk, eggs, and butter; a pair of fowls and a piece of beef being ready-roasted for the first meal. We also carried with us some bottles of filtered water. The baggage of the party was conveyed upon three camels and a donkey, and we formed a curious-looking cavalcade as we left the hotel.
In the first place, the native Indian servant bestrode a donkey, carrying at the same time our beautiful baby in his arms, who wore a pink silk bonnet, and had a parasol over her head. All the assistance he required from others was to urge on his beast, and by the application of sundry whacks and thumps, he soon got a-head. The ladies, in coloured muslin dresses, and black silk shawls, rode in a cluster, attended by the janissary, and two Arab servants also on donkey-back; a gentleman, who volunteered his escort, and the owners of the donkeys, who walked by our sides. As I had never rode any animal, excepting an elephant, until I landed at Alexandria, I did not feel perfectly at home on the back of a donkey, and therefore desired Mohammed, our new servant, to give directions to my attendant to take especial care of me. These injunctions he obeyed to the letter, keeping close at my side, and at every rough piece of road putting one hand on the donkey and the other in front of my waist. I could not help shrinking from such close contact with a class of persons not remarkable for cleanliness, either of garment or of skin; but the poor fellow meant well, and as I had really some occasion for his services, and his appearance was respectable, I thought it no time to be fastidious, and could not help laughing at the ridiculous figure I made.
We passed some fine buildings and baths; the latter very tempting in their external appearance, and, according to general repute, excellent of their kind. When we came to the gate of the wall of Alexandria, we encountered a funeral procession returning from the cemetery close to Pompey's Pillar. They were a large party, accompanied by many women, who, notwithstanding their grief, stopped to gratify their curiosity, by a minute inspection of our strange persons, and still stranger garb. We were all huddled together in the gateway, which, the walls being thick, took a few minutes to pass through, and thus had an opportunity of a very close examination of each other; the veils of the women, however, prevented us from scanning their countenances very distinctly; and as we passed on, we encountered a herd of buffaloes, animals quite new to Miss E., who had never seen one even as a zoological specimen. We passed the base of Pompey's Pillar, and through the burying-grounds; and in another quarter of an hour came to the banks of the canal, and got on board the boat, which had been engaged to take us to Atfee.
In the whole course of my travels, I had never seen any thing so forlorn and uncomfortable as this boat. The accommodation destined for us consisted of two cabins, or rather cribs, opening into each other, and so low in the roof as not to permit a full-grown person to stand upright in either. Some attempt had been formerly made at painting and carving, but dirt was now the predominant feature, while the holes and crannies on every side promised free egress to the vermin, apparently long tenants of the place. Although certain of remaining the night upon the canal, we would not suffer our beds to be unpacked; but, seating ourselves upon our boxes, took up a position near the door, in order to see as much as possible of the prospect.
The banks of the canal are very luxuriant; but, lying low, are infested with insects of various kinds; musquitoes came on board in clouds, and the flies were, if possible, more tormenting; it is, therefore, very desirable to get out of this channel as speedily as possible. We saw the vessel, a fine, large, handsome boat, which had been mentioned to us as building for the purpose of conveying passengers to Atfee; consequently, should the political questions now agitating be amicably settled, and Egypt still continue to be a high road for travellers to India, the inconveniences of which I now complain will soon cease to exist.
We passed some handsome houses, built after the European fashion, one of which we were told belonged to the Pasha's daughter, the wife of the dufturdar; it was surrounded by gardens, but had nothing very imposing in its appearance. We came also upon an encampment of the Pasha's troops, which consisted of numerous small round tents, huddled together, without the order displayed by an European army. The men themselves, though report speaks well of their discipline, had not the soldierlike look which I had seen and admired in the native troops of India. The impossibility of keeping their white garments clean, in such a country as Egypt, is very disadvantageous to their appearance, and it is unfortunate that something better adapted to withstand the effects of dust should not have been chosen. The janissary who accompanied us, and who was clothed in red, had a much more military air. He was a fine-looking fellow, tall, and well-made; and his dress, which was very becoming, was formed of fine materials. Our servant Mohammed had also a pleasing countenance, full of vivacity and good humour, which we found the general characteristics of the people of Egypt, especially those immediately above the lower class, and who enjoyed any degree of comfort.
There are several varieties of costume worn in Egypt, some consisting of long gowns or vests worn over the long trowser. The military dress, which was that worn by the janissary and our servant, is both graceful and becoming. It is rather difficult to describe the nether garment, which is wide to the knee, and very full and flowing behind; added to this, the janissary wore a light pantaloon, descending to the ancle; but Mohammed, excepting when he encased them in European stockings, had his legs bare: the waistcoat and jacket fit tight to the shape, and are of a tasteful cut, and together with a sash and the crimson cap with a dark blue tassel, almost universal, form a picturesque and handsome dress. That worn by our servant was made of fine blue stuff, embroidered, or rather braided, at the edges; and this kind of ornament is so general, that even some of the poorest fellahs, who possess but one coarse canvas shirt, will have that garnished with braiding in some scroll-pattern.
There was not much to be seen on the banks of the Mahmoudie: here and there, a priest at his devotions at the water-side, or a few miserable cottages, diversified the scene. We encountered, however, numerous boats; and so great was the carelessness of the navigators, that we had considerable difficulty in preventing a collision, which, but for the good look-out kept by the janissary, must have happened more than once. Whenever the breeze permitted, we hoisted a sail; at other times, the boatmen dragged the boat along; and in this manner we continued our voyage all night. We regretted much the absence of moonlight, since, the moment the day closed, all our amusement was at an end. Cock-roaches, as large as the top of a wine-glass, made their appearance; we heard the rats squeaking around, and found the musquitoes more desperate in their attacks than ever. The flies with one accord went to sleep, settling in such immense numbers on the ceiling immediately over my head, that I felt tempted to look for a lucifer-match, and put them all to death. The expectation, however, of leaving the boat early the next morning, deterred me from this wholesale slaughter; but I had no mercy on the musquitoes, as, attracted by the light, they settled on the glasses of the lanthorn.
It was a long and dismal night, the only accident that occurred being a concussion, which sent Miss E. and myself flying from our portmanteaus. We had run foul of another boat, or rather all the shouting of the Arab lungs on board our vessel had failed to arouse the sleepers in the craft coming down. At length, the day dawned, and we tried, by copious ablution and a change of dress, to refresh ourselves after our sleepless night.
Finding that we wanted milk for breakfast, we put a little boy, one of the crew, on shore, in order to procure some at a village; meanwhile, a breeze sprung up, and we went on at so quick a rate, that we thought we must have left him behind. Presently, however, we saw the poor fellow running as fast as possible, but still careful of his pannikin; and after a time we got him on board. In accomplishing this, the boy was completely ducked; but whether he was otherwise hurt, or this catastrophe occurring when out of breath or fatigued with over-exertion, I do not know; but he began to cry in a more piteous manner than could be justified by the cause alleged, namely, the wetting of his only garment, an old piece of sacking. I directed Mohammed to reward his services with a piastre, a small silver coin of the value of 2-1/2d.; and never, perhaps, did so trifling a sum of money produce so great an effect. In one moment, the cries were hushed, the tears dried, and in the contemplation of his newly-acquired riches, he lost the recollection of all his troubles.
It was nearly twelve o'clock in the day before we reached Atfee; and with all my previous experience of the wretched places inhabited by human beings, I was surprised by the desolation of the village at the head of the canal. The houses, if such they might be called, were huddled upon the side of a cliff; their mud walls, covered on the top with a few reeds or a little straw, looking like the cliff itself. A few irregular holes served for doors and windows; but more uncouth, miserable hovels could not have been seen amongst the wildest savages. Some of these places I perceived had a small court-yard attached, the hut being at the end, and only distinguishable by a poor attempt at a roof, the greater part of which had fallen in.
We were here obliged to leave our boat; landing on the opposite side to this village, and walking a short distance, we found ourselves upon the banks of the Nile. The place was in great confusion, in consequence of the actual presence of the Pasha, who, for himself and suite, we were told, had engaged every boat excepting the one belonging to Mr. Waghorn, in which the mails, entrusted to him, had been put. As it was impossible that four ladies, for our friends had now joined us, with their European female servant and the baby, could be accommodated in this small vessel, we despatched our janissary, with a letter in the Turkish language to the governor of Atfee, with which we had been provided at Alexandria, and we were immediately politely informed that the best boat attainable should be at our disposal.
The Pasha had taken up his quarters at a very mean-looking house, and he soon afterwards made his appearance in front of it. Those who had not become acquainted with his person by portraits, or other descriptions, were disappointed at seeing a common-looking man, short in stature, and very plainly clad, having formed a very different idea of the sovereign of Egypt. Not having any proper introductions, and knowing that the Pasha makes a great favour of granting an audience to European ladies, we made no attempt to address him; thus sacrificing our curiosity to our sense of decorum. There was of course a great crowd round the Pasha, and we embarked for the purpose of surveying it to greater advantage.
Our boat was moored in front of a narrow strip of ground between the river and a large dilapidated mansion, having, however, glass windows in it, which bore the ostentatious title of Hotel du Mahmoudie. This circumscribed space was crowded with camels and their drivers; great men and their retainers passing to and fro; market people endeavouring to sell their various commodities, together with a multitudinous collection of men, dogs, and donkeys. I observed that all the people surveyed the baby as she was carried through them, in her native servant's arms, with peculiar benignity. She was certainly a beautiful specimen of an English infant, and in her pretty white frock, lace cap, and drawn pink silk bonnet, would have attracted attention anywhere; such an apparition the people now assembled at Atfee had probably never seen before, and they were evidently delighted to look at her. She was equally pleased, crowing and spreading out her little arms to all who approached her.
The smallness of the boat rendered it necessary that I should open one of my portmanteaus, and take out a supply of clothes before it was sent away; while thus occupied, I found myself overlooked by two or three respectably-clad women, who were in a boat, with several men, alongside. I did not, of course, understand what they said, but by their gestures guessed that they were asking for some of the strange things which they saw. I had nothing that I could well spare, or that I thought would be useful to them, excepting a paper of needles, which I put into one of their hands, through the window of the cabin. The envelope being flourished over with gold, they at first thought that there was nothing more to be seen, but being directed by signs to open it, they were in ecstasy at the sight of the needles, which they proceeded forthwith to divide.
We now pushed off, and found that, in the narrow limits to which we were confined, we must only retain our carpet-bags and dressing-cases. The small cabin which occupies the stern was surrounded on three sides with lockers, which formed seats, but which were too narrow to hold our beds; moveable planks, of different dimensions, to suit the shape of the boat, fitted in, making the whole flush when requisite, and forming a space amply wide enough for our mattresses, but in which we could not stand upright. To our great joy, we found the whole extremely clean, and in perfect repair, so that we could easily submit to the minor evils that presented themselves.
We had found Mohammed very active, attentive, and ready in the departments in which we had hitherto employed him, but we were now about to put his culinary abilities to the test. He spoke very tolerable English, but surprised us a little by inquiring whether we should like an Irish stew for dinner. A fowl was killed and picked in a trice, and Mohammed had all his own way, excepting with regard to the onions, which were, in his opinion, woefully restricted. A fowl stewed with butter and potatoes, and garnished with boiled eggs, is no bad thing, especially when followed by a dessert of fresh dates, grapes, and pomegranates. A clerk of Mr. Waghorn's, an European, who had the charge of the mails, went up in the boat with us; but as we could not possibly afford him any accommodation in our cabin, his situation at the prow must have been very uncomfortable. He was attended by a servant; there were ten or twelve boatmen, which, together with Mohammed and the janissary, completely crowded the deck, so that it was impossible for them all to lie down at full length.
I have not said a word about the far-famed river, which I had so long and so anxiously desired to see; the late inundations had filled it to the brim, consequently it could not have been viewed at a more favourable period; but I was dreadfully disappointed. In a flat country, like Lower Egypt, I had not expected any thing beyond luxuriance of vegetation; but my imagination had been excited by ideas of groves of palms. I found the date trees so thinly scattered, as to be quite insignificant as a feature in the scene, and except when we came to a village, there were no other.
The wind being strong, we got on at first at a rapid rate, and as we carried a press of sail, the boat lay over completely, as to put the gunwale (as I believe it is called) in the water. We looked eagerly out, pleased when we saw some illustration of old customs with which the Bible had made us acquainted, or when the janissary, who was an intelligent person, pointed to a Bedouin on the banks. Miss E. flattered herself that she had caught sight of a crocodile, and as she described the huge jaws of some creature gaping out of the water, I thought that she was right, and envied her good fortune: however, afterwards, being assured that crocodiles never make their appearance below Cairo, I was convinced that, unaccustomed to see animals belonging to the Bovine group in a foreign element, she had taken the head of a buffalo emerging from the river, for one of the classic monsters of the flood. When weary of looking out, without seeing any thing but sky and water, and a few palm trees, I amused myself with reading Wordsworth, and thus the day passed away.
When evening came, we seated ourselves in front of the cabin, outside, to enjoy the sunset, and after our loss of rest on the preceding night, slept very comfortably. The next morning at noon, we had accomplished half the distance to Cairo, having some time passed every boat we saw upon the river. Arriving at a village, Mr. Waghorn's agent determined upon going on shore, and carrying the mails on the backs of donkeys, in order to ensure their arrival at Suez time enough to meet the steamer. He had been assured that we had passed the boat containing the Government mails in the night, but had not been able to ascertain the fact himself. I think it necessary to mention this, as a proof of the indefatigable endeavours made by Mr. Waghorn to ensure the speediest method of transit.
As the people had worked very hard, we directed Mohammed to purchase some meat for them in the bazaar, in order that they might indulge in a good meal; we also took the opportunity of purchasing a supply of eggs, fowls, and fruit, lest we should fall short before we reached Cairo. The fowls were so small, that, having our appetites sharpened by the fresh air of the river, we could easily manage one between us for breakfast, and another at dinner. We did not make trial of the unfiltered waters of the Nile, not drinking it until it had deposited its mud. Though previously informed that no beverage could be more delightful than that afforded by this queen of rivers in its unsophisticated state, I did not feel at all tempted to indulge; but am quite ready to do justice to its excellence when purified from the grosser element.
We were much pleased with the alacrity and good humour of our boatmen, and the untiring manner in which they performed their laborious duties. When a favouring breeze allowed them to rest, they seldom indulged in sleep, but, sitting round in a ring upon the narrow deck, either told stories, or were amused by the dancing of one of the group, who, without changing his place, contrived to shift his feet very vigorously to the music of his own voice, and that of two sticks struck together to keep the time. They frequently used their oars in parts of the river where they could not find a towing-path, and when rowing, invariably accompanied their labours with a song, which, though rude, was not unpleasant. The breeze, which had hitherto favoured us, dying away, the poor fellows were obliged to work harder than ever, dragging the boat up against the stream: upon these occasions, however, we enjoyed a very agreeable degree of quietude, and were, moreover, enabled to take a more accurate survey of the river's banks. Living objects were not numerous, excepting in the immediate vicinity of the villages. I was delighted when I caught sight of an ibis, but was surprised at the comparatively small number of birds; having been accustomed to the immense flocks which congregate on the banks of Indian rivers.
Our arrival at a village alone relieved the monotony of the landscape. Some of these places were prettily situated under groves of dates and wild fig trees, and they occasionally boasted houses of a decent description; the majority were, however, most wretched, and we were often surprized to see persons respectably dressed, and mounted upon good-looking donkeys, emerge from streets and lanes leading to the most squalid and poverty-stricken dwellings imaginable. The arrival of a boat caused all the beggars to hasten down to the river-side; these chiefly consisted of very old or blind persons. We had provided ourselves with paras, a small copper coin, for the purpose of giving alms to the miserable beings who solicited our charity, and the poor creatures always went away well satisfied with the trifling gift bestowed upon them.
Every morning, the janissary and the Arab captain of the boat came to the door of the cabin to pay their respects; with the latter we could not hold much communication, as he did not speak a word of English; we were, nevertheless, excellent friends. He was very good-humoured, and we were always laughing, so that a bond of union was established between us. He had once or twice come into such close contact with some of our crockery-ware, as to put me in a fright, and the comic look, with which he showed that he was aware of the mischief he had nearly done, amused me excessively. He was evidently a wag, and from the moment in which he discovered the congeniality of our feelings, when any droll incident occurred, he was sure to look at us and laugh.
The janissary spoke very tolerable English, and after sunset, when we seated ourselves outside the cabin-door, he came forward and entered into conversation. He told us that a quarrel having taken place between the boatmen of a small vessel and the people of a village, the former came on board in great numbers in the night, and murdered six of the boatmen; and that on the affair being represented to the Pasha, he sent three hundred soldiers to the village, and razed it to the ground. He said that he had been in the service of several English gentlemen, and had once an opportunity of going to England with a captain in the navy, but that his mother was alive at that time, and when he mentioned his wishes to her, she cried, and therefore he could not go. The captain had told him that he would always repent not having taken his offer; but though he wished to see England, he was glad he had not grieved his mother. He had been at Malta, but had taken a dislike to the Maltese, in consequence of a wrong he had received, as a stranger, upon his landing.
Amongst the noblemen and gentlemen whom he had served, he mentioned the Marquess of Waterford. We asked him what sort of a person he was, and he immediately replied, "A young devil." Mohammed, who had been in various services with English travellers, expressed a great desire to go to England; he said, that if he could once get there, he would "never return to this dirty country." Both he and the janissary apparently had formed magnificent ideas of the wealth of Great Britain, from the lavish manner in which the English are accustomed to part with their money while travelling.
We inquired of Mohammed concerning the magician, whose exploits Mr. Lane and other authors have recorded. At first, he did not understand what we meant; but, upon further explanation, told us that he thought the whole an imposture. He said, that when a boy, about the age of the Arab captain's son, who was on board, he was in the service of a lady who wished to witness the exhibition, and who selected him as the medium of communication, because she said that she knew he would tell her the truth. The ceremonies, therefore, commenced; but though anxiously looking into the magic mirror, he declared that he saw nothing: afterwards, he continued, "A boy was called out of the bazaar, who saw all that the man told him." But while Mohammed expressed his entire disbelief in the power of this celebrated person, he was not devoid of the superstition of his creed and country, for he told us that he knew of another who really did wonderful things. He then asked us what we had called the Mughreebee whom we had described to him: we replied, a magician; and he and the janissary repeated the word over many times, in order to make themselves thoroughly acquainted with it. In all cases, they were delighted with the acquisition of a new word, and were very thankful to me when I corrected their pronunciation. Thus, when the janissary showed me what he called kundergo, growing in the fields, and explained that it made a blue dye, and I told him that we called it indigo, he never rested until he had learned the word, which he repeated to Mohammed and Mohammed to him. I never met with two more intelligent men in their rank of life, or persons who would do greater credit to their teachers; and brief as has been my intercourse with the Egyptians, I feel persuaded, that a good method of imparting knowledge is all that is wanting to raise them in the scale of nations.
During our progress up the river, I had been schooling myself, and endeavouring to keep down my expectations, lest I should be disappointed at the sight of the Pyramids. We were told that we should see them at the distance of five-and-thirty miles; and when informed that they were in view, my heart beat audibly as I threw open the cabin door, and beheld them gleaming in the sun, pure and bright as the silvery clouds above them. Far from being disappointed, the vastness of their dimensions struck me at once, as they rose in lonely majesty on the bare plain, with nothing to detract from their grandeur, or to afford, by its littleness, a point of comparison. We were never tired of gazing upon these noble monuments of an age shrouded in impenetrable mystery. They were afterwards seen at less advantage, in consequence of the intervention of some rising ground; but from all points they created the strongest degree of interest.
We had a magnificent thunder-storm just as it was growing dark, and the red lightning lit up the pyramids, which came out, as it were, from the black masses of clouds behind them, while the broad waters of the Nile assumed a dark and troubled aspect. The scene was sublime, but of short duration; for the tempest speedily rolled off down the river; when, accompanied by a squall and heavy rain, it caught several boats, which were obliged to put into the shore. We did not experience the slightest inconvenience; and though the latter part of the voyage had been protracted from want of wind, arrived at the port of Boulak at half-past nine on the second evening of our embarkation.
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Arrival at Boulak—Description of the place—Moolid, or Religious Fair—Surprise of the People—The Hotel at Cairo—Description of the City—The Citadel—View from thence—The City—The Shops—The Streets—The interior of the Pasha's Palace—Pictures—Furniture—Military Band—Affray between a Man and Woman—Indifference of the Police to Street Broils—Natives beaten by Englishmen—Visit to an English Antiquary—By-ways of the City—Interior of the Houses—Nubian Slave-market—Gypsies—Preparations for Departure to Suez—Mode of driving in the Streets of Cairo—Leave the City—The Changes in travelling in Egypt—Attractions of Cairo.
It was half-past nine o'clock, on the evening of the 4th of October, 1839, that we arrived at the port of Boulak. We expected to find some person in waiting to give us the pass-word, and thus enable us to get into Cairo, the gates of the city being closed at nine o'clock. Depending upon the attendance of the hotel-keeper at Cairo, who had been apprised of our approach, we had not put the janissary on shore, as we ought to have done, at the British Consul's country-house, who would have furnished us with a talisman to pass the gates. We sent Mohammed and the janissary on shore, to see what could be done. Including the voyage up the canal, Miss E. and myself had passed (we could not say slept) three nights on board a boat, the first without an attempt at repose, the two latter lying down in our dressing-gowns upon thin mattresses, stretched upon hard boards; we, therefore, could not very easily relinquish the endeavour to procure a bed during the time which would intervene between the period (an hour before day-light) in which the gates of the city would be open.
I had a letter to the British Consul, which I gave Mohammed, telling him to try the effect of bribery upon the guardians of the city. During his absence, the Arab captain, feeling that we were left under his protection, came and seated himself beside us, outside the cabin-door. We conversed together without understanding each other's language; he had nothing to offer us except snuff, of which we each took a pinch, giving him in return, as he refused wine, a pomegranate, to which I added a five-franc piece from the remains of my French money. If any thing had been wanting to establish a good understanding between us, this would have accomplished it. The rais, or captain, took my hand in his, and pressed his own to his lips, in token of gratitude; and when upon the return of Mohammed he perceived that I was rather nervous at the idea of crossing the plank from the boat to the shore, he plunged at once into the water to assist me over it. The janissary brought word that there was a moolid, or religious fair, held at the opposite end of the city, and that if we would make a circuit of three miles round the walls, we might enter Cairo that night, as the gate was left open for the convenience of the people in the neighbourhood. Mohammed had aroused a donkey-man of his acquaintance, who was in attendance, with a youth his son, and two donkeys. To the boy was entrusted the care of the lanthorn, without which no person is allowed to traverse the streets after nightfall, and mounting, we set forward.
The streets of Boulak are narrow, but the houses appear to be lofty and substantially built. We were challenged by the soldiers at the gates, but allowed to pass without farther inquiry. The ride round the walls at night was dreary enough, over broken ground, occupied by bandogs barking at us as we passed. We met occasionally groups of people coming from the fair, who gave us the welcome intelligence that the gates were still open, and, pushing on, we came at length to the entrance, an archway of some magnitude. Upon turning an angle of this wall, we suddenly emerged upon a very singular scene. The tomb of the saint, in whose honour the moolid was held, was surrounded by devotees, engaged in the performance of some religious rite. Around, and in front, throughout the neighbouring streets, gleamed a strong illumination, produced by an assemblage of lamps and lanthorns of various kinds. Some of the shops boasted handsome cut-glass chandeliers, or Argand lamps, evidently of European manufacture; others were content with a circular frame, perforated with holes, in which all sorts of glass vessels, wine-glasses, tumblers, mustard-pots, &c., were placed, filled with oil, and having several wicks.
The articles displayed for sale at the fair were, as far as we could judge from the hasty glances we cast as we passed along, good of their kind, and of some value; the confectioners' shops made a gay appearance with their variously-coloured sweetmeats, piled up in tempting heaps, and we saw enough of embroidery and gold to form a very favourable idea of the taste and splendour of the native dress.
We were, of course, objects of great surprise and curiosity; the sudden appearance of two European ladies, the only women present, at eleven o'clock at night, riding on donkeys through the fair, could not fail to create a sensation. Our boy with the lanthorn walked first, followed by the janissary, who, flourishing his silver stick, made room for us through the crowd. Had we not been accompanied by this respectable official, we should scarcely have dared to venture in such a place, and at such a period. Mohammed and the donkey-man attended at the side of Miss E. and myself, and though some of the people could not help laughing at the oddity of our appearance, we met with no sort of insult or hinderance, but made our way through without the slightest difficulty, much more easily, in fact, than two Arabs in their native costume, even if attended by a policeman, would have traversed a fair in England.
The scene was altogether very singular, and we thought ourselves fortunate in having had an opportunity of witnessing a native fair under such novel circumstances. We could scarcely believe that we were in a Mohammedan city, noted for its intolerance, and could not help feeling grateful to the reigning power which had produced so striking a change in the manners and conduct of the people. Upon leaving the fair, we turned into dark streets, dimly illumined by the light of the lanthorn we carried; occasionally, but very seldom, we met some grave personage, preceded also by a lanthorn, who looked with great astonishment at our party as we passed. At length we came to the door of our hotel, and having knocked loudly, we were admitted into the court-yard, when, dismounting, we proceeded up a flight of stone steps to a verandah, which led into some very good-sized apartments. The principal one, a large dining-room, was furnished at the upper end in the Egyptian fashion, with divans all round; it was, however, also well supplied with European chairs and tables, and in a few minutes cold turkey and ham, and other good things, appeared upon the board.
Being the first arrivals from the steamer, we had to answer numerous questions before we could retire to bed. Upon asking to be conducted to our chamber, we were shown up another flight of stone stairs, leading to a second and much larger verandah, which was screened off in departments serving as ante-chambers to the bed-rooms. There was sufficient space on the terraces of this floor, for the descent of a few steps led to another platform, to afford a walk of some extent, but of this we were not aware until the morning. We found a very comfortable two-bedded room, supplied with glass windows, and everything belonging to it in excellent repair, and apparently free from vermin; most thankfully did we lie down to enjoy the repose which our late exertions had rendered so needful.
Our trusty Mohammed had engaged donkeys for us the next day, and promised to take us to every place worth seeing in the city. We were strongly tempted to visit the Pyramids, but were deterred by the danger of losing the steamer at Suez, and by the difficulties of the undertaking. We were told that the Nile was not sufficiently flooded to admit of our approach in a boat, and that we should be up to the donkey's knees in mud if we attempted to go upon the backs of those animals. We, therefore, reluctantly relinquished the idea, and contented ourselves with what we could see of Cairo.
Our first visit was directed to the Citadel, a place which, I do not scruple to say, was to me quite as interesting as any of the monuments of ancient art that Egypt contains. The remains of ages long past, and whose history is involved in unfathomable obscurity, excite our wonder and admiration, and fill us with an almost painful curiosity to draw aside the veil which time has thrown around them, and to learn secrets that all the learning of man has hitherto been unable to unfold. The citadel of Cairo, on the contrary, has been the theatre of comparatively recent events; it is filled with recollections of the hero whose exploits, narrated by the most eloquent pens, have charmed us in our childhood, and still continue to excite interest in our breasts—the Sultan Saladin. Here are the remains of a palace which he once inhabited, and here is a well which bears his name. Who could sit under the broken pillars of that roofless palace, or drink the water from the deep recesses of that well, without allowing their thoughts to wander back to the days of the Crusades, those chivalric times, in which love, and war, and religion, swayed the hearts and the actions of men; when all that was honoured and coveted was to be found in a soldier of the cross, and when half-frantic enthusiasts, pursuing the vainest of hopes, the recovery of the Holy Land, brought away with them what they did not go to seek, the arts, and learning, and science of the East! The janissary, who was with us, pointed out the direction in which Damietta now stands, and I was instantly filled with a desire to see Damietta, of which I had heard and read so much.
The most exciting romance of Oriental history is to be found amid the deserts that surround Egypt; and even if the most spirit-stirring tale of all, the Talisman, had not been written, the scenes in which our own lion-hearted Richard figured, and which witnessed the exploits of the Templars and the knights of St. John of Jerusalem, could not fail to create the highest degree of pleasurable feeling in minds capable of enjoying such brilliant reveries of the past. The Citadel of Cairo is also fraught with the recollections of an event which startled all Europe within the memory of many of the present generation—the massacre of the Mamelukes. We were shown the broken cleft in the wall from which the only one of the devoted men who escaped urged his gallant horse; it was, indeed, a fearful leap, and we gazed upon, the spot and thought of the carnage of that dreadful hour with an involuntary shudder.
The Citadel of Cairo has less the air of a regular fortification than any place of arms I ever recollect to have entered; it is, however, I believe, exceedingly strong by nature, the situation being very commanding. I regretted that I could not look upon these things with a professional eye, and that I had no military authority at hand to refer to. Near to the ruins of Saladin's palace, the Pasha is now constructing a mosque, which, when finished, will be one of the most splendid temples of the kind in all the Moslem land. It is to be lined and faced with marble, very elegantly carved, but it will take three years to complete it, and should any circumstances occur to delay the work during the lifetime of the present ruler of Egypt, the chances seem much in favour of its never being completed at all. Mounting on the embrasure of one of the guns, I feasted my eyes upon one of the finest and most interesting views I had ever beheld. The city, with its minarets, towers, kiosks, and stately palm-trees, lay at my feet, displaying, by its extent, the solidity, loftiness, and magnificence of its buildings, its title to the proud name of "Grand Cairo." Beyond, in one wide flood of silver, flowed the Nile, extending far as the eye could reach along a plain verdant with its fertilizing waters. To the left, the tombs of the caliphs spread themselves over a desert waste, looking, indeed, like a city of the dead. These monuments, though not equalling in size and grandeur the tombs which we find in India, are very striking; they are for the most part surmounted by cupolas, raised upon lofty pillars, with the spaces open between. Upon one of these buildings we were shown a vessel in the form of a boat, which upon a certain festival is filled with grain and water, for the service of the birds.