From Egypt to Japan
Henry M. Field
From Egypt to Japan
CROSSING THE MEDITERRANEAN – ALEXANDRIA – CAIRO – THE PYRAMIDS
On the Bosphorus there are birds which the Turks call "lost souls," as they are never at rest. They are always on the wing, like stormy petrels, flying swift and low, just skimming the waters, yet darting like arrows, as if seeking for something which they could not find on land or sea. This spirit of unrest sometimes enters into other wanderers than those of the air. One feels it strongly as he comes to the end of one continent, and "casts off" for another; as he leaves the firm, familiar ground, and sails away to the distant and the unknown.
So felt a couple of travellers who had left America to go around the world, and after six months in Europe, were now to push on to the farthest East. It was an autumn afternoon near the close of the year 1875, that they left Constantinople, and sailed down the Marmora, and through the Dardanelles, between the Castles of Europe and Asia, whose very names suggested the continents that they were leaving behind, and set their faces towards Africa.
They could not go to Palestine. An alarm of cholera in Damascus had caused a cordon sanitaire to be drawn along the Syrian coast; and though they might get in, they could not so easily get away; or would be detained ten days in a Lazaretto before they could pass into Egypt; and so they were obliged at the last moment to turn from the Holy Land, and sail direct for Alexandria; touching, however, at Mitylene and Scio; and passing a day at Smyrna and at Syra. With these detentions the voyage took nearly a week, almost as long as to cross the Atlantic.
But it was not without its compensations. There was a motley company in the cabin, made up of all nations and all religions: English and Americans, French and Germans and Russians, Greeks and Turks, Christians and Mohammedans. There was a grand old Turk, who was going out to be a judge in Mecca, and was travelling with his harem, eight women, who were carefully screened from the observation of profane eyes. And there were other Mussulmans of rank, gentlemen in manners and education, who would be addressed as Effendis or Beys, or perhaps as Pashas, who did not hesitate to spread their small Persian carpets in the cabin or on the deck at any hour, and kneel and prostrate themselves, and say their prayers.
Besides these, the whole forward part of the ship was packed with pilgrims (there were four hundred of them) going to Mecca: Turks in white turbans and baggy trousers; and Circassians in long overcoats, made of undressed sheepskins, with tall, shaggy hats, like the bear-skin shakos of Scotch grenadiers. Some of them had their belts stuck thick with knives and pistols, as if they expected to have to fight their way to the tomb of the Prophet. Altogether they were not an attractive set, and yet one could not view, without a certain respect, a body of men animated by a strong religious feeling which impelled them to undertake this long pilgrimage; it requires three months to go and return. Nor could one listen quite unmoved as at different hours of the day, at sunrise, or midday, or sunset, the muezzin climbed to the upper deck, and in a wailing voice called the hour of prayer, and the true believers, standing up, rank on rank, turned their faces towards Mecca, and reverently bowed themselves and worshipped.
On the afternoon of the sixth day we came in sight of a low-lying coast, with not a hill or elevation of any kind rising above the dreary waste, the sea of waters breaking on a sea of sand. The sun sinking in the west showed the lighthouse at Alexandria, but as the channel is narrow and intricate, ships are not allowed to enter after sunset; and so we lay outside all night, but as soon as the morning broke, steamed up and entered the harbor. Here was the same scene as at Constantinople – a crowd of boats around the ship, and boatmen shouting and yelling, jumping over one another in their eagerness to be first, climbing on board, and rushing on every unfortunate traveller as if they would tear him to pieces. But they are not so terrible as they appear, and so it always comes to pass, that whether "on boards or broken pieces of the ship," all come safe to land.
In spite of this wild uproar, it was not without a strange feeling of interest that we first set foot in Africa. A few days before we had touched the soil of Asia, on the other side of the Bosphorus – the oldest of the continents, the cradle of the human race. And now we were in Africa – in Egypt, the land of the Pharaohs, out of which Moses led the Israelites; the land of the Pyramids, the greatest monuments of ancient civilization.
As soon as one comes on shore, he perceives that he is in a different country. The climate is different, the aspects of nature are different, the people are different, the very animals are different. Caravans of camels are moving slowly through the streets, and outside of the city, coming up to its very walls, as if threatening to overwhelm it, is the "great and terrible" desert, a vast and billowy plain, whose ever-drifting sands would speedily bury all the works of man, if they were not kept back from destruction by the waters of the Nile, which is at once the creator and preserver of Egypt.
Alexandria, although founded by Alexander the Great, whose name it bears, and therefore more than two thousand years old – and although in its monuments, Cleopatra's Needle and Pompey's Pillar, it carries back the mind to the last of the Ptolemies, the proud daughter of kings, and to her Roman lovers and conquerors – has yet in many parts quite a modern aspect, and is almost a new city. It has felt, more than most places in the East, the influence of European civilization. Commerce is returning to its ancient seats along the Mediterranean, and the harbor of Alexandria is filled with a forest of ships, that reminds one of New York or Liverpool.
But as it becomes more European, it is less Oriental; and though more prosperous, is less picturesque than other parts of Egypt; and so, after a couple of days, we left for Cairo, and now for the first time struck the Nile, which reminds an American traveller of the Missouri, or the lower Mississippi. It is the same broad stream of turbid, yellow waters, flowing between low banks. This is the Great River which takes its rise in the heart of Africa, beyond the equator, at a point so remote that, though the Valley of the Nile was four thousand years ago the seat of the greatest empire of antiquity, yet to this day the source of the river is the problem of geographers. Formerly it was a three days' journey from Alexandria to Cairo, but the railroad shortens it to a ride of four hours, in which we crossed both branches of the Nile. Just at noon we came in sight of the Pyramids, and in half an hour were driving through the streets of the capital of Egypt.
We like Cairo, after two or three weeks, much better than Constantinople. It has another climate and atmosphere; and is altogether a gayer and brighter city. The new quarter occupied by foreigners is as handsomely built as any European city. The streets are wide and well paved, like the new streets and boulevards of Paris. We are at the "Grand New Hotel," fronting on the Ezbekieh gardens, a large square, filled with trees, with kiosks for music, and other entertainments. Our windows open on a broad balcony, from which we can hear the band playing every afternoon, while around us is the city, with its domes and minarets and palm trees.
The great charm of Egypt is the climate. It is truly the Land of the Sun. We landed on the first day of December, but we cannot realize that this is winter. The papers tell us that it is very cold in New York, and that the Hudson river is frozen over; but here every thing is in bloom, as in mid-summer, and I wear a straw hat to protect me from the heat of the sun. But it is not merely the warmth, but the exquisite purity of the atmosphere, that makes it so delicious. The great deserts on both sides drink up every drop of moisture, and every particle of miasm that is exhaled from the decaying vegetation of the Valley of the Nile, and send back into these streets the very air of Paradise.
Having thus the skies of Italy, and a much more balmy air, it is not strange that Egypt attracts travellers from France, and England, and America. It is becoming more and more a resort not only for invalids, but for that wealthy class who float about the world to find the place where they can pass existence with the most of languid ease. Many come here to escape the European winters, and to enjoy the delicious climate, and they are from so many countries, that Cairo has become a cosmopolitan city. As it is on the road to India, it is continually visited by English officers and civilians, going or returning. Of late years it has become a resort also for Americans. A number of our army officers have taken service under the Khedive, who rendezvous chiefly at this New Hotel, so that with the travellers of the same country, we can talk across the table of American affairs, as if we were at Newport or Saratoga. Owing to the influx of so many foreigners, this Hotel and "Shepheard's" seem like small colonies of Europeans. Hearing only English, or French, or German, one might believe himself at one of the great hotels in Switzerland, or on the Rhine. A stranger who wishes to pass a winter in Cairo, need not die of ennui for want of the society of his countrymen.
Besides these officers in the army, the only Americans here in official positions, are the Consul General Beardsley, and Judge Batcheller, who was appointed by our Government to represent the United States in the Mixed Court lately established in Egypt. Both these gentlemen are very courteous to their countrymen, while giving full attention to their duties. As we have sometimes had abroad consuls and ministers of whom we could not be proud, it is something to be able to say, that those here now in official position are men of whom we need not be ashamed as representatives of our country.
Another household which should not be overlooked, since it gives an American a home feeling in Cairo, is that of the American Mission. This has been here some years, and so won the favor of the government, that the former Viceroy gave it a site for its schools, which proved so valuable that the present Khedive has recently bought it back, by giving a new site and £7000 into the bargain. The new location is one of the best in Cairo, near the Ezbekieh square, and here with the proceeds of the sale, and other funds contributed for the object, the Mission is erecting one of the finest buildings for such purposes in the East, where their chapel and schools, in which there are now some five hundred children, will be under one roof.
This Mission School some years ago was the scene of a romantic incident. An Indian prince, then living in England, was on his way to India, with the body of his mother, who had died far from her country, but with the prejudices of a Hindoo strong in death, wished her body to be taken back to the land of her birth. While passing through Cairo, he paid a visit to the American Mission, and was struck with the face of a young pupil in the girls' school, and after due inquiry proposed to the missionaries to take her as his wife. They gave their consent, and on his return they were married, and he took her with him to England. This was the Maharajah Dhuleep Sing, a son of old Runjeet Sing, the Lion of Lahore, who raised up a race of warriors, that after his death fought England, and whose country, the Punjaub, the English annexed to their Indian dominions; and here, as in other cases, removed a pretender out of the way by settling a large pension on the heir to the throne. Thus the Maharajah came into the possession of a large revenue from the British government, amounting, I am told, to some £30,000 a year. Having been from his childhood under English pupilage, he has been brought up as a Christian, and finds it to his taste to reside in England, where he is able to live in splendor, and is a great favorite at court. His choice of a wife proved a most happy one, as the modest young pupil of Cairo introduced into his English home, with the natural grace of her race, for she is partly of Arab descent, the culture and refinement learned in a Mission school. Nor does he forget what he owes to the care of those who watched over her in her childhood, but sends a thousand pounds every year to the school in grateful acknowledgment of the best possible gift it could make to him, that of a noble Christian wife.
Besides this foreign society, there is also a resident society which, to those who can be introduced to it, is very attractive. The government of the Khedive has brought into his service some men who would be distinguished in any European court or capital. The most remarkable of these is Nubar Pasha, long the Minister of Foreign Affairs.
Judge Batcheller kindly took me to the house of the old statesman, who received us cordially. On hearing that I was on my way around the world, he exclaimed, "Ah, you Americans! You are true Bedouins!" I asked him what was the best guide-book to Egypt? He answered instantly, "The Bible." It was delightful to see his enthusiasm for Egypt, although he is not an Egyptian. He is not an Arab, nor a Turk, nor even a Mussulman; but an Armenian by birth and by religion. His uncle, Nubar Pasha, came over with Mehemet Ali, whose prime minister he was for forty years; and his nephew, who inherits his name, inherits also the traditions of that great reign. Though born on the other side of the Mediterranean, he is in heart an Egyptian. He loves the country of his adoption, and all his thoughts and his political ambition are for its greatness and prosperity. He has lived here so long that he sometimes speaks of himself playfully as "one of the antiquities of Egypt." "Of the first dynasty?" we ask. "Yes, of the time of Menes." I do not believe he could exist anywhere else. He loves not only the climate, but even the scenery of Egypt, which is more charming to his eyes than the hills and vales of Scotland or the mountains of Switzerland. "But you must admit," I said, "that it has a great monotony." "No," he replied, "in Lombardy there is monotony; but Egypt is immensity, infinity, eternity. The features of the landscape may be the same, but the eye never wearies." Surely his eye never does, for it is touched with a poetic vision; he sees more than meets the common eye; every passing cloud changes the lights and shadows; and to him there is more of beauty in the sunset flashing through the palm groves, as the leaves are gently stirred by the evening wind, than in all the luxuriance of tropical forests. Even if we did not quite share his enthusiasm, we could not but be charmed by the pictures which were floating before his mind's eye, and by the eloquence of his description. As he loves the country, so he loves the people of Egypt. Poor and helpless as they are, they have won upon his affection; he says "they are but children;" but if they have the weakness of children, they have also their simplicity and trustfulness; and I could see that his great ambition was to break up that system of forced labor which crushes them to the earth, and to secure to them at least some degree of liberty and of justice.
With all its newness and freshness this city retains its Oriental character. Indeed Grand Cairo is said to be the most Oriental of cities except Damascus. It has four hundred thousand inhabitants, and in its ancient portions has all the peculiar features of the East. Not only is the city different from Constantinople, but the people are different; they are another race, and speak another language. Turks and Arabs are as different as Englishmen and Frenchmen.
We are entertained every time that we go out of doors, with the animated and picturesque life of the streets. There are all races and all costumes, and all modes of locomotion. There are fine horses and carriages. I feel like Joseph riding in Pharaoh's chariot, when we take a carriage to ride out to Shoobra, one of the palaces of the Khedive, with syces dressed in white running before to herald our royal progress, and shout to the people to get out of our way. But one who prefers a more Oriental mode of riding, can mount a camel, or stoop to a donkey, for the latter are the smallest creatures that ever walked under the legs of a man, and if the rider be very tall, he will need to hold up his feet to keep them from dangling on the ground. Yet they are hardy little creatures, and have a peculiar amble which they keep up all day. They are very useful for riding, especially in some parts of the city where the streets are too narrow to allow a carriage to pass.
The donkey-men are very sharp, like their tribe in all parts of the world. The Arabs have a great deal of natural wit, which might almost entitle them to be called the Irish of the East. They have picked up a few words of English, and it is amusing to hear them say, with a most peculiar accent, "All right," "Very good," "Go ahead." They seem to know everybody, and soon find out who are their best customers. I cannot go down the steps without a dozen rushing toward me, calling out "Doctor, want a donkey?" One of them took me on my weak side the first day by saying that the name of his animal was "Yankee Doodle," and so I have patronized that donkey ever since, and a tough little beast he is, scudding away with me on his back at a great rate. His owner, a fine looking Arab, dressed in a loose blue gown and snowy turban, runs barefooted behind him, to prick him up, if he lags in his speed, or if perchance he goes too fast, to seize him by the tail, and check his impetuosity. We present a ludicrous spectacle when thus mounted, setting out for the bazaars, where our experience of Constantinople is repeated.
Of course the greatest sight around Cairo is the Pyramids. It is an event in one's life to see these grandest monuments of antiquity. The excursion is now very easy. They are eight miles from Cairo, and it was formerly a hard day's journey to go there and back, as one could only ride on a donkey or a camel, and had to cross the river in boats; and the country was often inundated, so that one had to go miles around. But the Khedive, who does everything here, has changed all that. He has built an iron bridge over the Nile, and a broad road, raised above the height of the annual inundations, so as never to be overflowed, and lined with trees, the rapid-growing acacia, so that one may drive through a shaded avenue the whole way. A shower which had fallen the night before we went (a very rare thing in Egypt at this season) had laid the dust and cooled the air, so that the day was perfect, and we drove in a carriage in an hour and a half from our hotel to the foot of the Pyramids. The two largest of these are in sight as soon as one crosses the Nile, but though six miles distant they seem quite near. Yet at first, and even when close to them, they hardly impress the beholder with their real greatness. This is owing to their pyramidal form, which, rising before the eye like the slope of a hill, does not strike the senses or the imagination as much as smaller masses which rise perpendicularly. One can hardly realize that the Pyramid of Cheops is the largest structure in the world – the largest probably ever reared by human hands. But as it slopes to the top, it does not present its full proportions to the eye, nor impress one so much as some of the Greek temples with their perpendicular columns, or the Gothic churches with their lofty arches, and still loftier towers, soaring to heaven. Yet the Great Pyramid is higher than them all, higher even than the spire of the Cathedral at Strasburg; while in the surface of ground covered, the most spacious of them, even St. Peter's at Rome, seems small in comparison. It covers eleven acres, a space nearly as large as the Washington Parade Ground in New York; and is said by Herodotus to have taken a hundred thousand men twenty years to build it. Pliny agrees in the length of time, but says the number of workmen employed was over three hundred thousand!
But mere figures do not give the best impression of height; the only way to judge of the Great Pyramid is to see it and to ascend it. One can go to the top by steps, but as these steps are blocks of stone, many of which are four feet high, it is not quite like walking up stairs. One could hardly get up at all but with the help of the Arabs, who swarm on the ground, and make a living by selling their services. Four of them set upon me, seizing me by the hands, and dragging me forward, and with pulling and pushing and "boosting," urged on by my own impatience – for I would not let them rest a moment – in ten minutes we were at the top, which they thought a great achievement, and rubbed down my legs, as a groom rubs down a horse after a race, and clapped me on the back, and shouted "All right," "Very good." I felt a little pride in being the first of our party on the top, and the last to leave it.
These Arab guides are at once very troublesome and very necessary. One cannot get along without them, and yet they are so importunate in their demands for backsheesh that they become a nuisance. They are nominally under the orders of a Sheik, who charges two English shillings for every traveller who is assisted to the top, but that does not relieve one from constant appeals going up and down. I found it the easiest way to get rid of them to give somewhat freely, and thus paid three or four times the prescribed charge before I got to the bottom. No doubt I gave far too much, for they immediately quoted me to the rest of the party, and held me up as a shining example. I am afraid I demoralized the whole tribe, for some friends who went the next day were told of an American who had been there the day before, who had given "beautiful backsheesh." The cunning fellows, finding I was an easy subject, followed me from one place to another, and gave me no peace even when wandering among the tombs, or when taking our lunch in the Temple of the Sphinx, but at every step clamored for more; and when I had given them a dozen times, an impudent rascal came up even to the carriage, as we were ready to drive away, and said that two or three shillings more would "make all serene!" – a phrase which he had caught from some strolling American, and which he turns to good account.
But one would gladly give any sum to get rid of petty annoyances, and to be able to look around him undisturbed. Here we are at last on the very summit of the Great Pyramid, and begin to realize its immensity. Below us men look like mice creeping about, and the tops of trees in the long avenue show no larger than hot-house plants. The eye ranges over the valley of the Nile for many miles – a carpet of the richest green, amid which groups of palms rise like islands in a sea. To the east beyond the Nile is Cairo, its domes and minarets standing out against the background of the Mokattam hills, while to the west stretches far away the Libyan desert.
Overlooking this broad landscape, one can trace distinctly the line of the overflow of the Nile. Wherever the waters come, there is greenness and fertility; at the point where they cease, there is barrenness and desolation. It is a perpetual struggle between the waters and the sands, like that which is always going on in human history between barbarism and civilization.
In the Pyramids the two things which impress us most are their vast size and their age. As we stand on the top, and look down the long flight of steps which leads to the valley below, we find that we are on the crest of a mountain of stone. Some idea of the enormous mass imbedded in the Great Pyramid may be gathered from the fact, ascertained by a careful computation (estimating its weight at seven millions of tons, and considering it a solid mass, its chambers and passages being as far as discovered but 1/2000th of the whole), that these blocks of stone, placed end to end, would make a wall a foot and a half broad, and ten feet high around England, a distance of 883 miles – a wall that would shut in the island up to the Scottish border.
And the Pyramids are not only the greatest, but the oldest monuments of the human race, the most venerable structures ever reared by the hand of man. They are far older than any of the monuments of Roman or Grecian antiquity. They were a marvel and a mystery then as much as they are to-day. How much older cannot be said with certainty. Authorities are not fully agreed, but the general belief among the later chronologists is that the Great Pyramid was built about two thousand one hundred and seventy years before the time of Christ, and the next in size a century later. Thus both have been standing about four thousand years. Napoleon was right therefore when he said to his soldiers before the battle fought with the Mamelukes under the shadow of the Pyramids, "From those heights forty centuries behold you." This disposes of the idea which some have entertained, that they were built by the children of Israel when they were in Egypt; for according to this they were erected two hundred years before even the time of Abraham. Jacob saw them when he came down into Egypt to buy corn; and Joseph showed them to his brethren. The subject Hebrews looked up to them in the days of their bondage. Moses saw them when he was brought up in the court of Pharaoh, and they disappeared from the view of the Israelites only when they fled to the Red Sea. They had been standing a thousand years when Homer sang of the siege of Troy; and here came Herodotus the father of history, four hundred years before Christ, and gazed with wonder, and wrote about them as the most venerable monuments of antiquity, with the same curious interest as Rawlinson does to-day. So they have been standing century after century, while the generations of men have been flowing past, like the waters of the Nile.
We visited the Great Pyramid again on our return from Upper Egypt, and explored the interior, but reserve the description to another chapter.
ON THE NILE
At last we are on the Nile, floating as in a dream, in the finest climate in the world, amid the monuments and memories of thousands of years. Anything more delightful than this climate for winter cannot be imagined. The weather is always the same. The sky is always blue, and we are bathed in a soft, delicious atmosphere. In short, we seem to have come, like the Lotus-eaters, to "a land where it is always afternoon." In such an air and such a mood, we left Cairo to make the voyage to which we had been looking forward as an event in our lives.
To travellers who desire to visit Egypt, and to see its principal monuments, without taking more time than they have at command, it is a great advantage that there is now a line of steamers on the Nile. The boats belong to the Khedive, but are managed by Cook & Son, of London, the well-known conductors of excursions in Europe and the East. They leave Cairo every fortnight, and make the trip to the First Cataract and back in twenty days, thus comprising the chief objects of interest within a limited time. Formerly there was no way to go up the Nile except by chartering a boat, with a captain and crew for the voyage. This mode of travel had many charms. The kind of boat – called a dahabeeah– was well fitted for the purpose, with a cabin large enough for a single family, or a very small party, and an upper deck covered with awnings; and as it spread its three-cornered lateen sail to the wind, it presented a pretty and picturesque object, and the traveller floated along at his own sweet will. This had only the drawback of taking a whole winter. But to leisurely tourists, who like to do everything thoroughly, and so take but one country in a year; or learned Egyptologists, who wish, in the intervals of seeing monuments, to make a special study of the history of Egypt; or invalids, who desire only to escape the damps and fogs of Britain, or the bitter cold of the Northern States of America – nothing can be imagined more delightful. There is a class of overworked men for whom no medicine could be prescribed more effectual than a winter idled away in this soothing, blissful rest. Nowhere in the world can one obtain more of the dolce far niente, than thus floating slowly and dreamily on the Nile. But for those of us who are wandering over all the earth, crossing all the lands and seas in the round world, this slow voyaging will not answer.
Nor is it necessary. One can see Egypt – not of course minutely, but sufficiently to get a general impression of the country – in a much less time. It must be remembered that this is not like other countries which lie four-square, presenting an almost equal length and breadth, but in shape is a mere line upon the map, being a hundred times as long as it is broad. To be exact, Egypt from the apex of the Delta – that is from Cairo – to the First Cataract, nearly six hundred miles, is all enclosed in a valley, which, on an average, is only six miles wide, the whole of which may be seen from the deck of a steamer, while excursions are made from day to day to the temples and ruins. It is a mistake to suppose that one sees more of these ruins on a boat because he is so much longer about it, when the extra time consumed is not spent at Denderah or Thebes, but floating lazily along with a light wind, or if the wind be adverse, tied up to a bank to await a change. In a steamer the whole excursion is well divided, ample time being allowed to visit every point of interest, as at Thebes, where the boat stops three days. As soon as one point is done, it moves on to another. In this way no time is lost, and one can see as much in three weeks as in a dahabeeah in three months.
Our boat carried twenty-seven passengers, of whom more than half were Americans, forming a most agreeable company. All on deck, we watched with interest the receding shores, as we sailed past the island of Rhoda, where, according to tradition, the infant Moses was found in the bulrushes; and where the Nilometer, a pillar planted in the water ages ago, still marks the annual risings and fallings of the great river of Egypt. The Pyramids stood out clear against the western sky. That evening we enjoyed the first of a series of glorious sunsets on the Nile. Our first sail was very short – only to Sakkara, a few miles above Cairo, where we lay to for the night, the boat being tied up to the bank, in the style of a steamer on the Mississippi.
Early the next morning our whole company hastened ashore, where a large array of donkeys was waiting to receive us. These had been sent up from Cairo the night before. My faithful attendant was there with "Yankee Doodle," and claimed me as his special charge. We were soon mounted and pricking over what we should call "bottom lands" in the valleys of our Western rivers, the wide plain being relieved only by the palm groves, and rode through an Arab village, where we were pursued by a rabble rout of ragged children. The dogs barked, the donkeys brayed, and the children ran. Followed by such a retinue, we approached the Pyramids of Sakkara, which stand on the same plateau as those of Ghizeh, and are supposed to be even older in date. Though none of them are equal to the Great Pyramid, they belong to the same order of Cyclopean architecture, and are the mighty monuments of an age when there were giants in the earth.
There is a greater wonder still in the Tombs of the Sacred Bulls, which were long buried beneath the sands of the desert, but have been brought to light by a modern explorer, but which I will not describe here, as I shall speak of them again in illustration of the religious ideas of the Egyptians.
Near the Pyramids of Sakkara is the site of Memphis, the capital of ancient Egypt, of whose magnificence we have the most authentic historic accounts, but of which hardly a trace remains. We galloped our donkeys a long distance that we might pass over the spot where it stood, but found only great mounds of earth, with here and there a few scattered blocks of granite, turned up from the soil, to tell of the massive structures that are buried beneath. The chief relic of its former glory is a statue of Rameses the Great, one of the most famous of the long line of the Pharaohs – a statue which was grand enough to be worthy of a god – being some fifty feet high, but which now lies stretched upon the earth, with its face downward, all its fine proportions completely buried in a little pond – or rather puddle – of dirty water! At certain seasons of the year, when the Nile subsides, the features are exposed, and one may look upon a countenance "whose bend once did awe the world;" but at present, seeing only the back, and that broken, it has no appearance or shape of anything, and might be a king, or queen, or crocodile. What a bitter satire is it on all human pride, that this mighty king and conqueror, the Napoleon of his day – who made nations tremble – now lies prone on the earth, his imperial front buried in the slime and ooze of the Nile! That solitary stone is all that is left of a city of temples and palaces, which are here entombed, and where now groves of palms wave their tasselled plumes, like weeping willows over the sepulchre of departed greatness.
Our next excursion was to the remains of a very remote antiquity on the other side of the Nile – the Rock-Tombs of Beni-Hassan – immense caverns cut in the side of a mountain, in which were buried the great ones of Egypt four thousand years ago. Many of them are inscribed with hieroglyphics, and decorated with frescoes and bas-reliefs, in which we recognize not only the appearance of the ancient Egyptians, but even of the animals which were familiar in that day, such as the lion, the jackal, and the gazelle, and more frequently the beasts of burden – bulls and donkeys; but in none do we discover the horse, nor, what is perhaps even more remarkable in a country surrounded by deserts – the camel.
In the King's tomb, or sepulchral chamber, a room some forty feet square, hollowed out of the solid rock, the vaulted roof is supported by Doric pillars, which shows that the Greeks obtained many of their ideas of architecture in Egypt, as well as of philosophy and religion.
As we continue our course up the river, we observe more closely the features of the valley of the Nile. It is very narrow and is abruptly bounded by barren and ragged mountains. Between these barriers the river winds like a serpent from side to side, now to the east, and now to the west, but inclining more to the range of Eastern or Arabian hills, leaving the greater breadth of fertility on the western bank. Here is the larger number of villages; here is the railroad which the Khedive has built along the valley, beside which runs the long line of telegraph poles, that sign of civilization, keeping pace with the iron track, and passing beyond it, carrying the electric cord to the upper Nile, to Nubia and Soudan. The Khedive, with that enterprise which marks his administration, has endeavored to turn the marvellous fertility of this valley to the most profitable uses. He has encouraged the culture of cotton, which became very extensive during our civil war, and is still perhaps the chief industry of the country. Next to this is the growth of the sugar-cane: he has expended millions in the erection of great manufactories of sugar, whose large white walls and tall chimneys are the most conspicuous objects at many points along the Nile.
Now, as thousands of years ago, the great business of the people is irrigation. The river does everything. It fertilizes the land; it yields the crops. The only thing is to bring the water to the land at the seasons when the river does not overflow. This is done by a very simple and rude apparatus, somewhat like an old-fashioned well-sweep, by which a bucket is lowered into the river, and as it is swung up the water is turned into a trench which conducts it over the land. This is the shadoof, the same which was used in the time of Moses. There is another method by which a wheel is turned by an ox, lifting up a series of buckets attached to a chain, but this is too elaborate and expensive for the greater part of the poor people who are the tillers of the soil.
We pass a great number of villages, but, larger and smaller, all present the same general features. At a distance they have rather a pretty effect, as they are generally embowered in palm trees, out of which sometimes peers the white minaret of a mosque. But a nearer approach destroys all the picturesqueness. The houses are built of unburnt brick, dried in the sun. They are mere huts of mud – as wretched habitations as an Irish hovel or an Indian wigwam. The floor is the earth, where all sexes and ages sit on the ground, while in an enclosure scarcely separate from the family, sheep and goats, and dogs and asses and camels, lie down together.
The only pretty feature of an Arab village is the doves. Where these Africans got their fondness for birds, I know not, but their mud houses are surmounted – and one might almost say castellated– with dove-cotes, which of course are literally "pigeon-holed," and stuck round with branches, to seem like trees, and these rude aviaries are alive with wings all day long. It was a pretty and indeed a touching sight to see these beautiful creatures, cooing and fluttering above, presenting such a contrast, in their airy flights and bright plumage, to the dark and sad human creatures below.
But if the houses of the people are so mean and poor, their clothing is still worse, consisting generally of but one garment, a kind of sack of coarse stuff. The men working at the shadoof on the river brink have only a strip of cloth around their loins. The women have a little more dress than the men, though generally barefoot and bareheaded – while carrying heavy jars of water on their heads. The children have the merest shred of a garment, a clout of rags, in such tatters that you wonder how it can hold together, while many are absolutely naked.