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The Gentleman's Magazine/Volume 253/September 1882/A Glimpse of Cairo

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TO a casual traveller, a couple of days suffice to visit the chief points of interest near Alexandria, while a week becomes almost wearisome in that modernised city. So at least it seemed to us, and we were glad when the hour arrived to start for Cairo.

There certainly is not much romance nowadays in crossing the desert, but, on the whole, perhaps a railway carriage is preferable to a camel's back, and twelve hours are perhaps sufficient to accustom the eye to a dead monotonous flat of sand, sand, sand—then a broad extent of hard pebbly ground, like asphalte pavement, so brightly polished by the incessant friction of the sand, which through long ages has been for ever blowing over it, that each pebble glitters in the sunlight, like fragments of broken mirror—then sand again, only varied by such stunted shrubs as hardly deserve the name of vegetation, though somehow the poor lean camels scent them out by instinct, and here and there we saw a group, scarcely to be distinguished from the sandy world around them, contriving to pick up their scanty living in the desert.

In that hungry land we looked with reverence at their humps, remembering how they are divided into cells, each containing a little store of fat, which in time of starvation is drawn into the stomach, and nourishes the camel, so that at the end of a long march he may be in good cnough condition, though his hump has almost shrunk away. The wonderful cistern stomach is provided with similar cells or pouches, something like honey-comb, which act as a reservoir of pure water, and many instances are known of travellers having been compelled to kill their poor faithful beasts to obtain this and save their own lives. Thus when Bruce, the Abyssinian, was returning to Cairo, the last drop of water, the last crumb of bread had been consumed, and the exhausted camels were scarcely able to stand. The only resource was to kill the two which seemed most utterly unable to proceed, and from their reservoir a precious supply of about four gallons of water was obtained. This, with the flesh of the poor beasts, probably saved the lives of the whole party.

The first few hours of our journey were, however, by no means in the desert. First we were on the edge of beautiful lake Mareotis, along whose reedy shores various sportsmen were looking out for teal, widgeon, and all manner of water-fowl. Snipe especially assemble here in incredible numbers, while tall white or grey cranes and rosy flamingoes stalk along the shallows. Loads of wild flowers blossom near the water, and the quaint ice-plant of our gardens grows here abundantly. The Egyptian water-grasses are quite lovely; silky, silvery plumes with sharp leaves rustling and shimmering as they wave in the light. For miles we passed by sedgy ground where the tall reeds were tossing their grand white feathery heads so joyously in the breeze.

Egyptian reeds of course suggest the old papyrus, and the "paper factories," which once existed at every town in the Delta—each factory having its own specialty by which its goods were known—some producing sheets of paper more than thirty feet long. Is it not strange in these days of cheap stationery to think of a time when both parchment and papyrus had become so rare and so exorbitantly expensive, that both Greeks and Romans were in the habit of using a palimpsest, which was simply some old manuscript with the former writing erased? Thus countless works of authors now celebrated, and whose every word is held priceless in this nineteenth century, were ruthlessly destroyed by their contemporaries. Verily those prophets lacked honour!

Many were the expedients resorted to by the early scribes for the supply of writing materials. There was no scribbling paper whereon to jot down trivial memoranda or accounts, but the heaps of broken pots and crockery of all sorts, which are so abundant in all eastern towns, proved the first suggestion for such china tablets and slates as we now use; and bits of smooth stone or tiles were constantly used for this purpose, and remain to this day. Fragments of ancient tiles thus scribbled on (such tiles as that whereon Ezekiel was commanded to portray the city of Jerusalem) have been found in many places. The-island of Elephantine on the Nile is said to have furnished more than a hundred specimens of these memoranda, which are now in various museums. One of these is a soldier's leave of absence, scribbled on a fragment of an old vase. How little those scribes and accountants foresaw the interest with which learned descendants of the barbarians of the Isles would one day treasure their rough notes!

Still quainter were the writing materials of the ancient Arabs, who, before the time of Mahomet, used to carve their annals on the shoulder-blades of sheep; these "sheep-bone chronicles" were strung together, and thus preserved. After a while, sheep's bones were replaced by sheep's skin, and the manufacture of parchment was brought to such perfection as to place it among the refinements of art. We hear of vellums that were tinted yellow, others white; others were dyed of a rich purple, and the writing thereon was in golden ink, with gold borders, and many coloured decorations. These precious MSS. were anointed with the oil of cedar to preserve them from moths. We hear of one such in which the name of Mahomet is adorned with garlands of tulips and carnations painted in vivid colours. Still more precious was the silky paper of the Persians, powdered with gold and silver dust, whereon were painted rare illuminations, while the whole book was perfumed with attar of roses or essence of sandal-wood.

Of the demand for writing materials one may form some faint notion from the vast MSS. libraries of which records have been preserved, as having been collected by the Caliphs, both of the east and west, the former in Bagdad—the latter in Andalusia—where there were eighty great public libraries, besides that vast one at Cordova. We also hear of private libraries, such as that of a physician, who declined an invitation from the Sultan of Bokhara, because the carriage of his books would have required four hundred camels. If all the physicians of Bagdad were equally literary, the city could scarcely have contained their books, as we hear that the medical brotherhood numbered eight hundred and sixty licensed practitioners.

We next passed by fertile ground, marking where the influence of the precious Nile waters had been. On every small hillock is invariably perched a native village, a mere cluster of square, flat-roofed, mud huts, built with unbaked bricks, dried in the sun, and perhaps white-washed, and covered with green leaves, cucumbers, and gourds. As soon as the inundations commence, they become a refuge for all manner of terrified reptiles; legions of ants, cockroaches, and lizards; scorpions, toads, centipedes, snakes, all come in swarms to share the homes of the luckless villagers. Should the inundation be a few degrees higher than usual, the chances are that half the huts will resolve themselves into their pristine mud, and produce a soil more fertile than what Father Nile himself bestows.

I believe that in this "land of Egypt, where there is no rain," the heavy dews in great measure supply the lack, and when the Arabs wish to raise a plantation of young date palms, they frequently plant the young tree in an earthenware jar, thus keeping a cool hollow place round its tender roots, where the dew may collect. Of course, however, every such group of palms in the arid desert is a sure sign of water beneath the surface, and you may be certain that here the people have digged themselves a well, beside which they and

their flocks may rest.

These Eastern wells are perpetual reminders of scriptural scenes; indeed, at every turn we come on countless illustrations of long known words, till one by one becomes associated with some special scene and place, forming themselves into mental pictures.

The marriage processions; the funeral at the gate of the city, when the uncoffined dead lies on the open bier, whence you almost fancy he might sit up and speak; the groups that continually pass you—a mother and child riding an ass or a mule, while the father walks carefully beside it; oftener the patient little beast carries some stately Oriental in flowing raiment, while his attendants bear long branches of palm or reeds or green sugar-cane. We saw many such groups on this very morning, and we read the gospel telling of Christ's entry into Jerusalem, and the lessons which speak of the "cottage in a vineyard," and "a lodge in a garden of cucumbers," just as we were actually whirling past them. We saw the same curious lonely watch-towers in every corner of the Indian fields.

Every here and there we saw the old threshing floors, simply smooth dried mud, whereon the sheaves are laid, and the unmuzzled oxen tread out the corn, dragging a sort of roller. Then the grain is shaken against the wind and so winnowed, the chaff being blown away. The two women grinding at the mill is a sight of perpetual recurrence—a little hand mill something like that used in the Western Isles. Another verse which quickly explains itself is that of "take up thy bed and walk"—the bed being generally the covering which acts as a heavy blanket cloak throughout the day, keeping out the sun's rays as effectually as the night dews. This was that raiment which the Jews were forbidden to detain after sundown, if they took it in pledge from their poor brother, else "wherein should he sleep?" The flat-roofed houses, where at sunrise and sunset you see the people kneeling with their faces towards Mecca or towards Jerusalem, are also suggestive. So are even the piles of broken crockery thrown out on these same roofs, where all day long the doves "lie among the pots" cooing, nestling, and fluttering until sunset, when they rise up like a cloud, and their wings gleam like silver, and their feathers like gold, in the clear pure light of the after-glow.

The runners who clear the road before great men shout some words equivalent to "Prepare ye the way"; and some years ago, when the royal guests of the Khedive were to be taken from Cairo to the Pyramids, the old order was given to "make straight in the desert an highway"—and very straight it was made, with trees on either side to give shadow to all future travellers.

Then the command to put off the shoes before treading on holy ground is perpetually brought to our memory, as the sacred courts must always be trodden barefoot.

Of that "unequal yoking" which the Levitical law in mercy forbade, "Thou shalt not plough with an ox and an ass together," a more forcible illustration could scarcely be imagined than to see a camel and an ass yoked together; the latter looks so ludicrously out of proportion to his tall brother (a full-grown dromedary standing about 6½ feet, while it raises its head to about 9 feet). Oxen and horses together look natural enough; besides, we are more accustomed to that combination, even in Britain.

But a camel and a bullock, or a mule and a buffalo, are always quaint pairs. A camel in any case looks out of place when employed for draught work, his nature being so entirely to carry, not to pull. It is always a curious sight to see these great creatures kneel down to receive their burden, and the indignant way in which they look round and show their wicked teeth if they consider they are being overladen. And how they do grunt and roar! Sometimes we have had them lying beside our tents all night, and very wearisome neighbburs they were. We could not help thinking of Job and his six thousand camels, besides all the other flocks and herds, and we came to the conclusion-that a patriarchal life might have its disadvantages as well as its simple pleasures.

Leaving the main line of railway at Benna, a branch line carried ns through the land of Goshen, by the banks of the broad old Nile, among wavy fields of rich corn or green pastures, where happy flocks rest beside still waters, with here and there the deep shade of dark groves and gardens. The villages, too, are different from those near Alexandria, containing multitudes of large conical mud towers, which are all dovecots. Their formation is curious. A vast number of earthenware jars are piled one above another, laid in layers with the mouth turned outwards, so that each jar serves as a nest. The space between them is filled up with plaster and mud, which cements these curious towers of pottery, wherein vast numbers of pigeons find their ready-made homes. Their multitude is inconceivable. They hover in clouds over every village, every clump of palms. Where there are not dove-towers, the houses have a mud battlement frlnged with branches of palm, whereon the birds may rest. They are jealously guarded as property, sometimes used as food, but chiefly kept for the sake of the dung, which is invaluable as manure for the fields and gardens.

Eastward, beyond this green and fertile valley, lies a sterile mountain range, glowing and ruddy in the evening light—this we know must be the Mokattem. Its last craggy spur is crowned by a beautiful mosque, towering above the citadel, as it does above the city outspread below. A few moments later we found ourselves in Cairo.

And far in the distance a group of faint purple Forms were visible against the golden sunset, and we were conscious that at last we beheld—The Pyramids. An hour later we stood on the roof of a great new hotel, and watched the sun sink behind them, while, as a foreground, there floated a huge balloon, still tied to earth, and some lesser ones were rising from the gardens below us. A strange combination—those purple giants on which four thousand years ago Abraham and his followers must have gazed in wonder, now dwarfed for the moment by the airy playthings of the latest age. Those, so still and solemn, lying in their changeless silence on the edge of the boundless desert—these the centre of a noisy crowd, in a busy, bustling, modern quarter of a semi-European city.

To us of the nineteenth century balloons may seem no new thing. It carries us back into the dark ages to think of one which fell in Lyons in the reign of Charlemagne, and to picture the stormy reception given by the townsfolk to the luckless skymen, who were taken for magicians come to devastate the land, and only saved from their rage by the intervention of the more enlightened Bishop Agaberd.

And it is no story of yesterday that told how a cunning Jesuit Father worked on the terrors of the Indians who had captured his fellows. He constructed a huge dragon of paper, and (having warned the Indians that unless the prisoners were released the wrath of Heaven would descend on them) he fastened within it a composition of sulphur, pitch, and wax, then sent the gruesome beast floating heavenward, vomiting fire as it rose. The terrified Indians ran to free the Jesuits, and recognised the divine forgiveness, when the dragon fluttered and trembled and vanished in a flash of fire.

But these old balloons are but as infants in such a Presence as that in which we now stood, and, as to the monster before us, he was the very latest importation from Paris. Nevertheless, perhaps, just for a while, the contrast helped, rather than jarred on the mind.

After all, this specimen of modern science was quite in keeping with the semi-Europeanised modern Cairo. We had come here to see the Arabian city, built by those Arabs who conquered the Byzantine Emperors, a widely different race from the true Arabs, the Bedouins. We had supposed that, with the exception of a few Turkish additions, all the architecture would be the purest Arabian—mosques and gateways—-dwellings of the living, or tombs of their ancestors, all would be quite strange to our eyes.

But here on every side we saw suggestions of Europe; placards displaying the wonders of equestrianism to be seen in the circus, playbills of the theatre, or the opera, French and Italian-looking palaces, with newest Parisian upholstery, English carriages—in short, all nmnner of familiar objects, by no means in keeping with our visions of Mesr el Cahireh (the Victorious).

Why, that very name Mesr, by which the Arabs still call the old land of Misraim (in memory of Noah's grandson), and the modern name Mistraim, by which the Copts know Cairo, carried us back far beyond the days of the patriarchs, so we felt that we must forthwith make for the bazaars, and, once there, diverge into all manner of narrow, tortuous, labyrinthine streets, in order to be transported to the days of the Arabian Nights.

Even here, however, modern improvements are rapidly tending to sweep away artistic beauties from these centres of delight. When the Pacha first introduced modern European carriages, many of the most striking old houses had to be pulled down, and the streets widened, before he could drive through the main thoroughfares of his city. Even now men must run before a carriage to clear the road; at night they carry lighted torches in an iron framework, and wildly picturesque they look. In the daylight they merely carry a long heavy stick, which they lay about them freely, without respect of persons, for in the long narrow streets you can almost touch the houses on either side, and foot passengers must jostle into shops, or compress themselves as much as possible, to prevent being run over; and in all Eastern lands, where might makes right, of course the weakest must go to the wall. The marvel is that anyone escapes from the multitude of riders, who come tearing along at full speed, without the slightest regard to pedestrians.

Still more alarming is it to look suddenly over your shoulder, at the tinkling of a bell, and see that it hangs round the neck of a tall dromedary, the leader of a long string, all tied together head and tail; their great soft splay feet moving silently over the dust, while their heavy burdens endanger the carved wood of the beautiful overhanging casements. Sometimes a camel takes a vicious fit, and lies down in the street, effectually blocking up the road as it stretches its long neck from side to side; and opening its ugly mouth, shows such savage teeth and looks so thoroughly ill-tempered that you feel no wish to risk a bite. Then it roars and bellows and makes the place hideous with its outcry; and in the end it generally succeeds in compelling its driver to unload it, and divide its burden with a more willing or less weary brother.

The bazaars are in some respects different from those where we lingered so long, in Alexandria. They are partially boarded over, to afford a cool, grateful shade, and you look up between the rough planks and see the deep blue sky; everything seems more sleepy—shop-keepers, sentinels, guards, all alike seem to lounge in happy indolence, smoking or gossiping and drinking coffee, the livelong day.

The only energetic creatures are the patient, active little donkeys, with their gay scarlet saddles, and the wide-awake little Arabs who own them, and who must be possessed of amazing lungs and wind, as from dawn till sunset they never cease running and vociferating with shrill guttural cries at the top of their most unmelodious voices.

Every few minutes you meet a group of native ladies, closely veiled, with the white muslin, or black silk yashmak; and a group of attendants. They ride astride—their donkey decked with tassels and all manner of gay trappings; and as they pass, every man, with a proper sense of decorum, averts his face, lest his eyes should rest on so much veiled loveliness. Even the working drudges, who are often elaborately tattooed, are equally strict in keeping the face virtuously covered, though the rest of their drapery may be caught up or blown about in such style as scarcely suits our notions of decency.

The same thing continually strikes one among the Hindoo women, who would be eternally disgraced by the faintest approach to our ordinary evening toilette, but who have no manner of objection to displaying a wide "lucid interval" between the arm and the waist, and any amount of unstockinged ankle! I remember a Hindoo gentleman remarking that on his first visit to a London drawing-room he wished he could have hidden himself anywhere, he felt so shocked at the company in which he found himself. (A somewhat similar comment was made by a young Highland lad at a harvest home, which was always attended by the laird's daughters. On one occasion a friend accompanied them, very much décolletée; and as she sat at the end of the room among the evergreens, the lad gazed in open-mouthed admiration, till the lady rose, and when he saw that "It wasna' a waxen image, but a real leddy," he fairly left the room in horror!!)

There are sundry other contrasts in the dress habits of the Eastern and Western world. One is the respect involved in piling extra yards on the turban as the acme of veneration, more especially on holy days—in opposition to the custom of taking off the hat. I suppose it must be some such lingering tradition of Oriental fashion which makes the Jews wear their hats in the Synagogue even in Western lands.

And so, whereas our poor folk in Scotland, even smart lassies with fine bonnets, will rarely put on their shoes and stockings till they are near the kirk, or "the big hoose," no Hindoo or Mahometan of the highest rank would enter your drawing-room, or any temple, or mosque, with his slippers on—the dust of the outer world must not pollute any dwelling worthy of honour. At the same time, you constantly see both Arabs and Hindoos carrying their shoes in their hands when marching on flat ground, both in order to save them and to facilitate their own progress; they are all good walkers, and it has been observed that such civilised annoyances as afford employment to the chiropodist fraternity are utterly unknown to their shapely, hard-soled feet.

Imagine how curious it would be to see Englishmen swearing eternal friendship over an exchange of hats; but with these men, an exchange of turbans (especially if they should be the green turbans of Islam) is the most sacred token of inviolable friendship.

To return to the bazaar, with its heavy perfume of spices, and coffee and narghiles, its camels and donkeys, veiled figures, and sleepy Oriental existence, more especially as seen in oft-recurring groups of stately cross-legged smokers, men of imperturbable gravity, with ample drapery and patriarchal beards, who sit for hours breathlessly listening to some old Arabic romance, from the lips of a professional story-teller (the circulating library of the Orients); or, with plaintive yet pleasant voices, singing their mournful, monotonous songs. They have not "les larmes dans la voix,' yet, after the harsh high-pitched chorus which screamed and wrangled over us at the station, these, by comparison, are sweet and low, and sometimes a rich mellifluous Turkish voice chimes in most agreeably.

Sometimes you may hear the solemn invocation to prayer, whereupon, in street or market, the faithful will bow down and worship. But at all hours and seasons you will see men at their devotions, sometimes squatting on a square carpet, or sitting on their counter. It would be very wicked to interrupt that solemn recitation, so any chance customer will quietly wait, and smoke a chibouque (i.e. a pipe with a long cherry stick) with some neighbout—or, should he be in a hurry, the owner of the next shop will come forward to serve him, when it is to be hoped the owner of the goods may not find his attention distracted by the dread of too easy a bargain being struck. If he prefers worshipping in the mosque, he need only hang a net before his shop till he returns—no one would be so sacrilegious as to touch anything.

Nothing strikes a new-comer more than this simple recognition of religion, at all times and in all places—all life seeming imbued with a constant reference to the presence of God. In every greeting, every gift, every common action of life, all acknowledge Him.

Even in killing animals for food, certain ceremonies must be observed; and the fatal blow is struck "In the name of God, who is most great," sometimes with the addition of such words as "God give thee patience to endure the pain which He hath allotted to thee!" Some of the more ignorant use the common formula, which is for ever on their lips, "In the name of God the Compassionate, the Most Merciful." This is, however, forbidden, as being inappropriate to the occasion. No Mohammedan dare eat of any creature which has been killed without these formulas. It is unlawful food. For this reason, no Mohammedan servant will ever touch the preserved meats which come from England, as he can have no proof of their having been lawfully slain. Neither will he eat of things shot, unless he can run up in time to cut the throat and let the blood flow before the creature dies.

In fact, the life of a good Moslem seems all interwoven with forms and ceremonies, and the law of the Koran or some such sacred words seem for ever on his lips, mixing most freely with all secular matters. No action, however trivial, may be commenced without commending it to Allah. A Mohammedan will not even light a lamp without blessing the name of the Prophet. Even the cries of the street hawkers bring in frequent allusions to a spiritual market, as when the poor water-carrier offers a cup of cool refreshing drink to all passers-by, crying aloud, "Oh! may God reward me !" Whatever be the matter in hand, one of the company will certainly utter some such reminder as "Semmoo," and his friends will reply "Bismillah," meaning, in the Name of God.

In truth, the fatalism of which we hear so much seems little else than a strong faith; a power of living calmly as in the presence of God (just as the strongest practical characteristic of a poor Hindoo's faith seems to be a simple submission to the will of the Almighty, under whatever name he may recognise Him).

So faith or fatalism seems well nigh to merge, and our own Scotch expression of "It was been to be" seems tolerably akin to the "Kismet" of the East. I remember an old housemaid being sorely perturbed at having knocked over and smashed a valuable china vase; but a few minutes later she recovered her equanimity and exclaimed, "Weel, weel! it had been lang i' the family, and it was been to be broke! so laying this flattering unction to her soul, she went calmly on with her dusting.

Lane, speaking of this continual allusion to the providence of God, mentions that no Moslem will speak of any future event or action without adding, "If it be the will of God." He explains the cries of the night-watchman, whose deep-toned voices resound through the dark hours. One man cries, "O Lord! O Everlasting!" Another says, "I extol the perfection of the living King, who sleepeth not, nor dieth."

He tells too of a mode of entertaining a party of guests in Cairo by the recital of a khatmeh, which means the whole of the Koran chanted by men hired for the occasion! Just imagine inviting a party in London to hear the whole Bible chanted as a pastime, with an accompaniment of pipes and coffee! Mr. Lane also speaks of the reverence with which the Holy Book is treated—always placed on some high, clean place, where no other book or anything else may be laid above it. He attributes the Mohammedans' dislike to printing their sacred books to the dread lest impurity should attach to the ink, the paper, or, above all, lest the ink should be applied to the Holy Name with a brush made of hog's bristles. Worse than all, the book, becoming thus common, is in double danger of being touched by infidels.

This dread of .dishonouring sacred names. extends even to the ninety-nine titles of the Prophet and the names of those near of kin to him. Thus one man will refuse to stamp his name upon his pipe-bowls because it bears one of the names of the Prophet, which will thus be made to pass through the fire. Another man, less scrupulous, is blamed because he has branded his name, which is also a sacred name, on certain camels and horses. The sin thus committed is threefold: first, the iron brand is put in the fire, which is horrible sacrilege; secondly, it is applied to the neck of the camel, causing blood to flow and pollute the sacred name; thirdly, the camel is certain some day, in lying down, to rest his neck on something unclean. This dread of casting holy things into the fire does not, however, seem to apply to such as can be consumed. A Mohammedan, finding a fragment of paper covered with writing, will burn it, so that if holy words should be thereon inscribed, the flames may bear them up, and the angels carry them into heaven.

One of the most striking features in the intricate labyrinth of narrow streets and alleys are the great square projecting windows of beautifully carved wood unglazed—a sort of lattice work which shuts out much light and heat, and screens the inmates from all observation, even from their opposite neighbours—though these are sometimes near neighhours indeed, the upper stories in some streets projecting so as literally to touch each other. This wood carving is most intricate and of endless variety of pattern, but, owing to the great facilities which these picturesque windows afford to the rapid spread of fire, they are being disused in most modern houses, and glass and stonework substituted.

The stone is a soft sandstone quarried in the Mokattem hills, perhaps from the stone quarries of E1 Massara, but its effect is much spoilt by the invariable horizontal lines of red and white paint with which all houses and mosques are coloured. A vast number of the mosques are merely brick and plaster.

The entrance to all large houses is handsomely carved; and, just as sentences from the Mosaic law were inscribed on the gates and posts of Jewish houses, so Arabic inscriptions, either verses from the Koran or some of the ninety-nine attributes of God, generally appear in rich characters round the portal of the Mohammedan and on the ceiling of his house.

The great objects of all domestic architecture in the East are, of course, to secure cool deep shade and perfect seclusion. To assist the latter, it is customary for all visitors on entering the outer court to utter a certain formula of greeting in a loud voice, so as to give the women time to veil their faces should they be working in the inner court.

Sometimes at the door you will see a group of children preparing for school, monotonously chanting verses from the Koran, which in the Mohammedan schools seems to be the beginning and the end of all knowledge. When the first short chapter has been mastered, the child learns the last, and then works backward through the book.

As you wander about Cairo you will find great gates barring the streets at divers points, and dividing it into different quarters, any one of which can be shut off separately in case of attack (the whole city is walled}. Of these the most dreary-looking is that allotted to the Jews, which is always locked early in the evening, and neither ingress nor egress is permitted.

At one of these curious gateways, the Gate of the Metwallis, close to the saddle market, I one day took my stand for a whole forenoon (in other words, our good old dragoman, Mohammed Sheikh, made the carriage draw up just opposite the gateway, so as to command a first-rate sketching position). An English policeman would certainly have requested such an obstruction in a crowded thoroughfare to move on, but we were in the East, where the invariable courtesy accorded to woman is boundless, so no remonstrance was made, and I was left in peace to watch that strangely varied and interesting panorama, the very memory of which is an abiding delight. Even now I have but to close my eyes, and, banishing grey England, can recall that living kaleidoscope of ever-changing light, sound, and colour.

Thackeray, who hated sight-seeing, used to say that a man would get a better insight into the manners and customs of a new country by planting himself like a beggar at some corner, and watching the common life of the day, than the most active curiosity-hunter would gain by elaborate and wearisome researches.

The artist has just the same advantage as the beggar; after the first few minutes, curiosity about him and his work generally subsides, and the stream of life flows quietly past him. Even in England it only requires a moderate amount of good-natured tact to convert the most scampish-looking big boy into a special constable, who shall keep all the others in order, and be proud of his office of protector to a lady.

To return to the Metwallis. It is a strong gateway between the minarets of a mosque of the same name, with a huge heavy door, ready to close in time of danger. Over it hang massive iron balls which look like some playthings of the giants, but are really only huge rusty chain shot, memorials of the siege. As you look through the archway and down the picturesque street, you catch a glimpse of the mosque on the one side, while the other is all built irregulaly with projecting upper stories, carved wooden balconies overhanging the street, all curiously wrought with rich patterns of tracery, veiling those mysterious unglazed casements. Just beyond the gate is a gaudily painted fountain, where donkey-boys and stately Arabs in long cloaks of camel's hair stop to drink. Close by are open booths and stalls, and the street is crowded with every phase of Eastern life—strings of camels, tall dromedaries laden with a huge burden of waving green sugar-cane, donkeys half hidden by their load of green pulse for forage, women in dark blue yashmaks, carrying on their heads their graceful double-handled water jars or baskets of fruit; dainty ladies, the pride of the harem, donkey-riding, just like the patriarchal Turks. And all this ever-changing life and .colour comes pressing along through the great gateway where we have halted.

Another of these busy portals is the Bab Zooayley, which also stands between two minarets, and is supposed to be haunted by the presence of the Kutb, who is the most holy of the Walees, or saints. People tormented by toothache drive a nail into this door to charm away pain; and victims of toothache will sometimes actually draw a tooth and hang it up in some crevice of the wall, in the same hope. On this gate were formerly exhibited the heads of criminals; but this practice has been discontinued in Cairo, as well as in London, and the massacre of the Mamelukes afforded the latest decoration in this style.

This is not the only place supposed to be haunted by evil spirits. The Jinns, or Genii, still amuse themselves by teasing peaceable householders, and find their way into private dwellings. They are supposed to be imprisoned during the forty days of Ramazan, but at the close of that holy season they recommence their pranks; so the women sprinkle salt upon the floors of their rooms, in the Name of God, the Most Merciful, and they suppose that this will prevent the evil spirits from entering.

In the desolate, forsaken suburbs are ancient tombs and ruined mosques without number. These are the abode of the Effrits, some of whom are evil Genii, others the ghosts of the unhappy dead. One touch from the shadowy finger of an Effrit would leave his human victim a howling, hopeless demoniac; so it must be a bold man who will face such danger at mystic hours of night, or in divers phases of the moon.

Some years ago, Mr. Lane (the Arabic scholar) and his sister, Mrs. Poole, occupied one of these haunted houses, and published an extraordinary account of the marvellous sights. and sounds, which made all their servants leave, and finally compelled themselves to follow suit, but which could never be in any wise accounted for. They knew the tradition of the treacherous murder which clung to the house, and they heard fearful shrieks, groans, yells resounding in their ears, and their servants vowed that again and again they beheld "the accursed," in visible form, pass from room to room. On one occasion the accursed was shot, and Mrs. Poole declared that the agonising scuffling and groaning that ensued made her rush to see what human being was dying. The servant who had fired the shot was shouting for aid, but all that was found beside the bullet was a lump of burnt cinder, resembling the sole of a shoe, which all the Arabs declared to be the invariable relic left when a devil was destroyed. The mystery was never cleared up, and the legion of spirits increased their antics tenfold, to avenge their injured brother, till at last they succeeded in driving out all human beings, and retaining undisturbed possession of the house!

To the ear of a Highlander there is a singular similarity between this word "Effrit," or "Iffrit," and the Gaelic word "Iffrin," meaning hell or the grave—the place of departed spirits.

These Effrits, or evil Genii, are supposed to be created of fire, whereas the good angels are emanations of light. Yet when these invisible fire-spirits venture too near the confines of the lowest heaven, the weapons wherewith the angels chase them away are brands hurled from the celestial altars, and men beholding these rushing lights believe that they are falling stars, and sometimes even find a charred fragment, which they call meteoric stones, showing how little they know about it.

The Effrits can assume either human or animal form; and though they can wander at will through earth and sky, their favourite haunts are among the ruins, so no Arab will approach these without muttering some words of homage to these spirits, acknowledging their power; at the same time they specially commit themselves, and each thing that they possess, to the care of God the Most Merciful. His Name, with the ninety-nine divine attributes, is their favourite charm, and the paper on which it is written is carried in a metal or leathern amulet case. Some prefer the ninety-nine titles of the Prophet, or a few words from the Koran; but he who bears the attributes of the Almighty secures the protection of each, according to his need.

The commonest of all amulets is a silver ring inscribed with holy words, silver having been declared by the Prophet to be preferable to gold. But the simplest of all the means of averting evil is to spit three times over the left shoulder, of course pronouncing the Holy Name. This is the invariable custom of one who awakens from an evil dream.

There is not an action in life that is not fraught with more or less danger from evil spirits; but the terror ever present to the Egyptian mind is that of the Evil Eye. Every admiring glance cast on whatever belongs to them is actually a pang, so certain is it that some mischief will ensue. It would not even be safe for a man to behold his own face in a looking-glass without blessing the name of the Prophet, lest his unconscious admiration of himself should work mischief. Should a stranger, ignorant of this custom, praise anything he beholds, he is at once requested to repeat certain words of invocation, which may avert the probable calamity.

Most especially does this dread apply to children. You will see the nearest, cleanest Egyptian lady, whose own raiment is of faultless purity, followed by her own little ones, who are purposely left filthy, so as to attract less attention. Sometimes small boys are even dressed as girls, so as to excite less envy. A mother who, nevertheless, fears that her child has been admired, will at sunset cut off a fragment of its dress, burn it with a little salt and alum, and sprinkle her child with the ashes, having first fumigated it with the smoke.

Many counter-charms are commonly used. A favourite one is to burn alum while reciting chapters of the Koran. The alum will surely take the form of the envious person, and this little image must be powdered and mixed with food, and so given to a black dog!

A little alum, or a few cowrie shells worn about the dress, avert this evil; and this is the reason why so many trappings for horses and camels are all trimmed with cowrie shells.

Perhaps the most curious thing of all is to hear of men declaring that they would sooner eat poison than taste the fat meat hung up in the butchers' shops, lest any hungry beggar should have beheld and coveted it. They prefer going to distant shops, where the meat is concealed from the passers-by. Only think of the row of carriages outside some fashionable confectioner's shop; imagine that all his ices are so much poison by reason of the envious bystanders and wretched beggars who stand watching the pretty ladies enjoying their good things!

Amongst the curiosities of Cairo is an amateur branch of the Humane Society, for the especial benefit of poor Puss. A curious legacy was some years ago left by a wealthy burgher to enlarge the permanent income of the Cadi, on condition of his nourishing and cherishing all the unclaimed cats in Cairo. Like most Mohammedans, he must have shared the feeling which made the Prophet cut off the wide sleeve of his robe, sooner than disturb a favourite cat who had fallen asleep thereon. Consequently a large courtyard has been devoted to their especial benefit; and here the "nice, soft, furry creatures" lie and bask in the sun, and are fed at stated intervals, and altogether have a very good time of it. It is a curious fact, however, that, although daily additions are made to this large feline home, the inmates rarely amount to more than fifty. This (in the absence of sausage machines) is a very remarkable problem. I suppose that a candidate for the office of Cadi has to produce a medical certificate to prove that he is not troubled with that unconquerable aversion to dear old Puss with which so many of the masculine genus are afflicted.

The said aversion was one day turned to excellent account by one of our mutual friends, whose next neighbour in chambers made himself odious by practising on a cornet, or big fiddle, or some such instrument of torture, in spite of the civil entreaties of our friend, who was nearly wild with headache. At last, exasperated beyond endurance, he sallied forth and invested in a large packet of valerian, which he sprinkled on the low roofs below the windows. Of course, in half an hour all the cats in the neighbourhood had assembled, and, crazy with delight, issued cards of invitation to all their acquaintances, and very soon the army of cats, each more mad than its neighbour, were dancing and scrambling, fighting and miauling, till the barbarian with the musical ear-rack was tearing his hair in a frenzy nearly as wild as the cats. His neighbour was so delighted at the success of his little joke that his headache was cured. Meanwhile a shower of rain washed the valerian into the courtyard below. Then everyone who walked across the court brought in particles thereof on the soles of his feet; and the cats found their way upstairs by scores, even into the chambers of the cat-hater, who, on the whole, was very fairly punished.

They seem to have the same affection for very young nemophila, and come and lie down and roll on it in the most aggravating way. Speaking of cats, is it not startling to hear that the cats of London—the real household pets—are said to number three hundred thousand, without any sort of calculation for houseless wanderers, whose nasal yells disturb nocturnal peace? The amount annually spent on purchasing horse-flesh from the cats' meat men of London is said to be £100,000! This, according to vulgar notions, should be a proof of the folly of elderly spinsters, who are generally supposed to have a monopoly of feline affections. The great cat show held in London a few years ago, however, betrayed a very different state of domestic matters, the male exhibitors being so numerous and so successful that they carried off thirty-two prizes; fifteen more were secured by cat-loving matrons, while to the much maligned old maids there were only awarded four prizes!

Such of the Egyptian children as have escaped the dirt and flies are decidedly handsome, and smile brightly at you as they glance up with their large melancholy eyes; they are quaint, fat little fellows, all eyes and fez and trousers. The girls are tiny women, and rigorously veiled.

It is for these little ones, or rather for their young Coptic sisters, that Miss Whately has established the excellent school, to the care of which she now devotes her life—a school supported almost entirely by her own limited means, and whose daily increasing usefulness is often checked simply for lack of common necessaries, such as sewing materials, silks, worsteds, and such-like homely matters.

As regards Mohammedan learning in Africa, we are now in its headquarters. One great university is attached to the mosque of El Ezher, where two thousand students receive instruction gratis in all Oriental lore. The one punishment for all manner of faults, from a lesson mislearnt to more heinous offences, is the invariable bastinado, that is, beating the culprit with a stick on the soles of the feet, with more or less severity.

This is the punishment awarded by the Prophet to any naughty child who, at the age of ten years, refuses to pray. He commands that all children be taught to pray at seven, so they have three years to think about it before the beating process begins. Rather a curious method, is it not, of awakening heavenward aspirations?—the connection of sole with soul being by no means apparent.

To me it was suggestive of a somewhat similar course of gentle instruction which we all underwent in our young days at the hands of a determined Swiss "bonne," whose short method of dealing with youth was simple and rapid. About the third mistake came the invariable thump in the small of the back, which sent us gasping to the other side of the room, where we were generally overtaken by a substantial brown Bible—a handy missile and effectual, when hurled by a strong Swiss arm. It was an external application of spiritual truth with which we would gladly have dispensed; nevertheless, the fine old lady held her ground with her pupils, and I believe we honestly preferred her hot temper to most people's sugar and water. Her teaching mellowed with age (when her bump of reverence likewise developed), so that her children of the third generation were reared on a strictly commonplace system, and can have no memories in common with the little followers of the Prophet.

Everyone going to Cairo is invariably recommended to drive to the citadel, as commanding much the best view of the town; which, so far as the forest of minarets is concerned, is doubtless true. Yet you see at a glance that the ruined mosque on the Mokattem Crags must necessarily be a finer point, inasmuch as it overlooks the citadel—a fact of which the French army are said to have taken advantage, in the days of Sir Ralph Abercromby, by placing their big guns on it, while the garrison below dared not fire at their own sacred building, and so were forced to capitulate.

To this point all my affections turned, but as no one had ever heard of anyone dreaming of going there, all manner of objections were raised; the chief of which was the necessity of procuring a pass from certain officials, as the powder magazines lay just beyond the mosque. This pass, as I was well aware, might possibly have been procured after a full week's delay; so it seemed far more rapid and secure (as it is in nine cases out of ten in non-official life) to act first, and ask leave afterwards.

So, to the great disgust of my dragoman, poor old Sheik, he had to follow his troublesome charge up the long, steep, rocky road to the crest of the crag. We glanced somewhat nervously at our bête-noire, the powder magazine—but it was so early in the morning that there was no sign of life about it, and we passed on to the desired goal without molestation, and there spent the livelong day, watching the ever-changing beauty of that strange picture.

At first it was all blended amethyst and emerald, with only a glittering light on the windings of old Father Nile, patriarch of rivers; then, as the purple shadows rolled away, the green valley lay sharply defined, cutting with hard clear line against the yellow sands on either side; the wilderness of tombs far below us, or the Libyan Desert beyond, where, faintly seen through hot haze, yet unmistakable in their sharp outline, lie those grand simple forms, the Pyramids of Gizeh.

They, too, mark another wilderness of tombs, for all the soil around is honeycombed into one vast sepulchre, where kings, princes, and nobles have vainly sought an undisturbed repose. Their vext unquiet dust has long since been converted into pills and potions for mediæval Europeans; and of their nameless graves little is known, for "Time, the stern warder, keeps the key of dateless secrets underground," and keeps them well. As your eye wanders up the desert, it rests on groups of lesser pyramids at Dashour and Sakkara, there being still remains of sixty-nine of these, of divers form—one being built in five distinct terraces—and of every size; from the merest cairn of stones, loosely heaped together, over the tomb of the poor; gradually advancing to the perfect structure, whether small or great, which marked where richer members of the community slept their last sleep.

The majority of these are built of the crude brick, baked in the sun, and are far more recent works than the giants at Gizeh. It is supposed that some of these may have been among the labours of the Israelites to which Josephus alluded when, speaking of their Egyptian taskmasters, he says, "They put them to the draining of rivers into channels, walling of towns, casting up of dykes and banks to keep off inundations; nay, the erecting of fanatical pyramids."

Scientific men are able in these old bricks to distinguish barley from wheat straw, or bean balm from stubble. One pyramid at Dashour has been especially noted, its bricks being made almost without straw, just the merest indications thereof, as though made in time of some strange scarcity—like that when the Israelites gathered stubble instead of straw. An old wall of precisely similar bricks was found at Heliopolis, five miles below Cairo—each brick bearing the cartouche or royal mark of Thothmes III., who is generally supposed to be the Pharaoh of the Exodus; a supposition to which the monumental hieroglyphics bear strange testimony in utterly omitting his name from all sepulchral records, thereby corroborating the theory of his having shared, with his great army, their silent, unmarked tomb beneath the waters of the Red Sea.

It is said that the Egyptians religiously avoided any allusion to whatever evil might befall their kings; and it is very remarkable that monuments should have been found to all the other Pharaohs, while the stones that chronicle this man's actions both end abruptly, without any mention of his death. Moreover, while all his royal brethren were succeeded each by his eldest son, it is expressly stated that he was succeeded by his second son—while the "death of the first-born" is altogether ignored.

Those Pyramids of Sakkara are a fair landmark of the spot where once stood Memphis (the Noph of still older days), whose destruction, and that of her images, had so long been foretold by Ezekiel. This "rejoicing city that dwelt carelessly" retained much of its splendour till A.D. 641, when it was finally destroyed by the Arabs, who found the gorgeous city of palaces and temples so convenient a quarry for themselves when building Cairo, that small trace of it now remains. In a palm wood at some distance from Sakkara, one colossal statue lies on its face half buried in the earth. This humbled giant is said to be one of the two great caryatides which adorned the front of the chief temple of whose glory it is the sole relic. Now the merry little lizards lie basking on this fallen majesty, and gay butterflies, born for but one brief day, flutter carelessly round the veteran of long-forgotten ages.

This was the city especially sacred to the worship of the golden bull Apis, whose temple faced the rising sun; for although born of a cow-mother in the likeness of a jet-black bull, he bore on his forehead a white star, indicating Deity, and proving to the faithful that the young bull was indeed an incarnate ray of heavenly light. To him multitudes of pure white bulls were sacrificed, and, in later days, red bullocks also—red being the colour of Typho, the Power of Evil. But, for his sake, all jet-black bulls were worshipped during life, and afterwards were embalmed in sarcophagi of polished black basalt. Of these, thirty-three were found in the catacombs, each in its separate chamber; only the bones were preserved, swatbed in linen bandages, and neatly tied up, so as to look like the animal when lying down. They were thus so much reduced in bulk that a full-grown bull was no bigger than a calf, and a calf was the size of a dog. These sacred animals have, of course, all been removed; only about thirty of their dark, empty sarcophagi are still to be seen.

Other catacombs were entirely filled with the mummies of the beautiful ibis, and sacred cats and dogs, hawks, and mice and beetles, each of which was neatly strapped up in linen, and placed in a red earthenware jar, sealed up, and packed to the very roof, like the bins in some vast wine cellar, so stowed, tier behind tier, and tier above tier, that no estimate of their multitude could be made; but there they lay, in tens of thousands, seeming as if it must have taken centuries to accumulate so vast a multitude. These catacombs consist of endless galleries, opening into chamber after chamber, seemingly interminable, some of them being very large caves, yet all were closely packed as in some vast storehouse. On breaking an ibis jar, the bird is found with its long legs folded beside the body. The bird is said to have been held sacred on account of the delicate white and grey plumage which was supposed to symbolize the light and shade of moonlight. It was also held to be emblematic of purity, which is remarkable, inasmuch as the Jews held the ibis to be an unclean bird. In these catacombs there were also found jars of sacred eggs, likewise mummied, and supposed to be those of the ibis.

A little farther lay the crocodile mummy pits, to which various travellers have penetrated, notwithstanding the frightfully bad, stifling air. Here they found a vast army of crocodiles of all sizes, from the infant five inches long to the patriarch measuring twelve feet, each wrapped up in palm leaves, just as a modern fishmonger packs his fish in straw. There were thousands of young baby monsters about 18 inches long, tied up in bundles of eight or ten, each wrapped in coarse cloth. The scene must have been a striking one: the gloomy cavern with long hanging stalactites glittering in the feeble light of torches carried by half-naked Arabs; the terrible danger lest any chance spark should light on the dried palm leaves, and kindle such a blaze as would instantly suffocate all these rash intruders into the sacred sepulchre of the monstrous demigods heaped around without number, just lying, as they probably have lain for the last 3000 years. Mummied snakes were also found here. The crocodiles, however, were not worshipped in all cities. Those who adored the crocodile-headed god Savak had frequently to fight his battles with neighbours who refused him reverence and injured the gentle denizens of the Nile. For instance, the people of Elephantine, instead of worshipping, considered the crocodile a choice delicacy for the table. True believers kept these creatures tame, and had a great Crocodile City near the artificial lake Mœeris. Roast meat, cake, and mulled wine were among the dainties poured down their sacred throats. They had rings of gold and precious stones in their ears, which were pierced like a woman's, and their fore feet were adorned with bracelets. When Egypt was conquered by the Romans, these pets were transferred to artificial lakes, there made for their reception, and in one day thirty-six of them were killed by gladiators in the amphitheatre.

It is strange to find the same homage still rendered to these grisly monsters by the Hindoos of the present day. At Mugger Pier, eight miles from Kurrachee, in the middle of a sandy, sterile desert, is a grove of tamarind trees, beneath which, about a hundred of these grotesque creatures lie in a marshy pool; their scaly backs looking so temptingly like stepping-stones, that young England is said occasionally to amuse itself by walking right across the marsh, stepping from one back, to the next!

The guardian of these weird reptiles is an old, gaunt Faqueer, who, waving his wand, summons the spirits from their mud bath; whereupon rows of gaping jaws {fine open countenances) are raised, and the grinning monsters slowly emerge at the bidding of their master, and lie down flat at his feet, waiting in expectation of the food which is thrown to them, and which they tear into shreds. They are of all sizes up to twenty feet. Half a mile farther there are warm springs and another pool, also full of "Muggers."

Is it not curious to think that in the London and Hampshire basin countless remains should have been found, in the clay and sand, of every species of this crocodilian race, though now not one exists in Europe, and the habitats of the three chief varieties are so widely separated—thousands of miles of land and ocean intervening between each!

To return to the Catacombs of Memphis. Of course the majority of these pits have been ruthlessly rifled of their contents, sharing the fate of the human mummy cases which have been so remorselessly broken open in search of treasure; skeletons, heaps of bones, fragments of the painted coffin, linen, aromatic gums, now lie heaped in horribly grotesque confusion in these neglected charnel-houses.

The irreverent manner in which the Arabs knock about these poor fragments of humanity is revolting indeed. One lady has described her disgust at seeing her dragoman coolly wrench off the head of a mummy which she had been examining; while the sycamore wood of the old coffins was considered by travellers and their servants to be fair fuel for their camp fires. One of our own friends confessed to having carried off a mummy's skull—a grinning thing of horror—and rejoiced in the thought that he might have stumbled on the head of Euclid himself. No fewer than fourteen heads were offered to him in one day by commercial Arabs.

The ancient Egyptians believed that after three thousand years they would return to their bodies, and hence desired to find them in stately tombs suitable to their rank. Imagine the dismay of the haughty Pharaohs could they now return to earth to find their once gorgeous tombs and temples desolate ruins, haunts of evil beasts and birds of night; and their own precious ashes either sown broadcast over English fields (with due admixture of Peruvian guano), or, at best, preserved in some museum, there to be exhibited to the vulgar gaze in company with mummies of every rank and in every stage of unrolling, from the gilded outer case down to the poor blackened corpse wrapped in papyrus leaves!

Still greater would have been their horror could they have foreseen that degenerate Egyptians would first cut open their embalmed bodies in search of saleable little images which might be stored therein, and would then kindle a fire with the highly inflammable fragments, and thereon heat their coffee!

Just imagine such a scene as that which greeted Belzoni when, some sixty years ago, he first effected an entrance into these strange catacombs: crawling on hands and knees through passages several hundred yards in length, in suffocating air and stifling effluvia, the failing rock and sand having well-nigh choked up the old galleries; at last, reaching more open chambers, where the glimmering light of torches, carried by naked Arabs, alone relieved the blackness of night, and revealed heaps of mummies in all directions. Choked with dust, and exhausted by his exertions, he sought a resting-place. He found none, save the body of an old Egyptian which crushed into powder beneath him. He stretched out his arms to relieve his weight, and sank altogether among broken mummies, with a crash of bones, rags, and wooden cases which raised such a dust that he could neither see nor breathe. He tried to move onward, but at every step he crushed a mummy. From one chamber he passed to another similar; then another, and yet another. The place was choked with mummies. He could not pass without his face coming in contact with that of some decayed Egyptian—and as he went on he found himself covered with bones; legs, arms, and heads rolling from above. "Thus," he says, "I proceeded from one cave to another, all full of mummies, piled up in various ways—some standing, some lying, and some on their heads."

But after all, these were scarcely so strange and weird as the pits of mummied crocodiles and holy cats and dogs, to say nothing of the beetles, who were worshipped during life and embalmed after death.

The marvelIons phase of reverence which led to this strange adoration of the brute creation seems to have been only the development of that faith which recognised all animated beings as emanations from the Great Centre of life, and as therefore containing within them a spark of the divine fire. For we must bear in mind that the great central mystery of the Egyptian faith was the adoration of One Supreme Being, whose name was unutterable, and whose very existence was revealed only to the priests, who jealously concealed from the people all the direct knowledge of this their awful wisdom. To the uninitiated he was only known by his attributes, and, these being deified, resulted in that bewildering jumble of mythological fables which make up the intricacies of the Egyptian Pantheon. Second only in awful holiness to this Almighty Being ranked Osiris, who represented the embodiment of supreme goodness, and whose name was also held in such reverential awe that his worshippers shrank from uttering it aloud.

And here we find one of those strange parallels with the Christian creed which so often startle the student of ancient mythologies—parallels utterly unaccountable unless we can see in them something of a prophetic foreshadowing of the mission of the great Messiah. For Osiris, leaving his place in the presence of the Most High, appeared on earth in human form, and went about doing good to men, revealing himself to them as the manifestation of the Supreme God. Being at length slain in conflict with the Power of Evil, he passed into the region of the dead, and, having through death conquered evil, he returned to earth to confer blessings on all the world; and though by right of his victory he was henceforth to be Lord of Heaven and Judge of the Dead, he still continued virtually, though invisibly, present with his faithful worshippers on earth, who, after death and judgment, were to bear his own name, men and women alike being called Osiris—a spiritual name betokening their being henceforth members of his spiritual kingdom, and pure as its heaven-born inhabitants. He is described as the "revealer of truth," the "manifester of grace," the cousin of the day, the eldest son of time, as one "full of grace and truth." Strange coincidences these, and yet indisputable, every scene of these legends being accurately depicted on the very oldest Egyptian sculptures, where they must have existed for centuries before the birth of Abraham. Strange also that the very monogram by which he is represented in these old hieroglyphics should be identical with that which ages long after was selected as that of our Lord, and which now adorns our Christian churches.

When the temple of Serapis at Alexandria was overthrown, this monogram was found carved on the foundations; a fact which was immediately turned to account by the Christians, who endeavoured to persuade the Gentiles that the destruction of the heathen temple was due to this buried symbol, which, in the hour of need, thus asserted its supremacy. (Precisely the same combination of this monogram and cross was also the emblem of Jupiter-Ammon.)

The legend of Osiris goes on to say that his sepulchre was at Philæ, in the Cataract of the Nile, where for long centuries the Pharaohs and their people made devout pilgrimage; and thence year by year he still sends blessings to the thirsty land in the overflow of the mighty river. Here still stands the temple of Isis, the sorrowing widow of Osiris, whose little child, Horus, is emblematic of life beyond the grave, and who sits for evermore enthroned on a lotus blossom before the judgment throne of Osiris and Isis, encouraging the spirits during their trial.

The multitude of sacred birds and insects and beasts reminds me of a story which used to delight us when we were children, telling how Cambyses captured an Egyptian seaport town by having a vanguard of cats, bulls, dogs, and all manner of animals, at which the besieged dared not fling a dart lest they should injure their gods!—"bleating gods," as Milton calls them.

There, far below the crag whereon we stand, stretching away in the boundless haze, lies the desert where those Persian legions perished. There, too, is the very spot where, at the foot of the pyramids, the Mameluke force awaited the advance of Napoleon; and there, in that little patch of shadow, his victorious troops laid their wounded comrades to escape the burning glare, conscious (as he had reminded them) that forty centuries thence looked down upon their valour.

Farther to the right lies Heliopolis, once the Oxford of the world. It was a centre of learning where colleges and temples clustered round one sacerdotal college, so famed for the wisdom of its priests and the antiquity of its records that Herodotus travelled here in quest of ancient Egyptian lore, and Plato, having once found his way here, lingered thirteen years before he could quit such congenial spirits. This doubtless was the place where Moses studied. It is supposed that this great shrine of the Sun god is that Bethshemesh, or House of the Sun, with the great golden images, the destruction of which was foretold by Jeremiah. On the summit of the chief temple was placed a great mirror at such an angle as to reflect the full splendour of the meridian sun into the interior of his shrine. Moreover, Heliopolis is the On referred to when we are told that Joseph married a daughter of the priest of On, and it is thought probable that in this city the meeting with his brethren took place. Learned men tell us that the Pharaoh who dealt so generously with the Hebrew strangers was that Osirtesen I., king of Thebes, whose name is found inscribed on the sole remaining obelisk, and who also built the great temple at Karnac.

All else that now remains among the citron thickets to mark this former glory are some remains of broken sphinxes and the fragment of a colossal statue, which mark the site of a renowned temple sacred to the bull Mnevis, and heaps of ancient brickwork in ruins. Formerly there were two artificial lakes fed by canals from the Nile, but these have shared in the curse pronounced by Isaiah (chapter xix.), which included even "the sluices and ponds for fish," when "the reeds and flags, the paper reeds by the brooks, and everything sown by the brooks," must wither and be no more.

There seems good reason to believe that great part of this old city may still exist, and may yet some day be brought to light by patient excavation. It is known that the old town stood on undulating ground, and that the obelisk aforesaid was placed on an elevated site. Year by year, however, the successive inundations of the Nile have filled up the hollows, and covered with fresh layers of soft, rich soil whatever traces of olden times might still remain.

One relic of later days is pointed out—namely, the cave where the Holy Family halted during the noon-day heat when seeking safety in Egypt. Close by is a well, whose waters were once brackish, but since that day they have been pure as the Nile itself. A tree overhangs the well, and devout believers cherish its leaves and the very dust which clings to them!

Heliopolis is supposed to have been originally the capital of those hated shepherd kings—chiefs of the Chaldean and Phoenician herdsmen, who had overrun the country and made their profession an abomination to the Egyptians. They were eventually driven out by the Theban kings, who beautified the land with those grand temples and obelisks, sphinxes and colossal statues, which remain to this day a wonder to all people; and it was during this period that the children of Israel came and settled in the rich land of Goshen. The Theban kings held sway for about five hundred years. Then followed long civil wars, the kings of Ethiopia having the mastery for a while; then the kings of Sais ruled, with the help of' Greece, till defeated in sundry battles by Nebuchadnezzar and by Cyrus.

Cambyses next overran the country, and it became merely a Persian province: the temples were plundered, the religion of the people was set at nought, and they themselves were held in cruel subjection until the defeat of Darius at Marathon, when they plucked up courage to rise and expel the enemy, who, however, returned to the charge, and continued the struggle till they themselves were conquered by Alexander the Great, and Egypt became a Macedonian province, with Alexandria as its capital.

These and a thousand other changes have swept over the land which now lay spread before us. The long shadows of evening were stretching over the desert, and, having finished my drawing without molestation, I returned to the crag below the powder magazine overlooking the tombs of the Caliphs—another burial-place in the desert, where innumerable brown buildings with brown domes rise from the hot dry sand.

Here I was forthwith challenged by the sentinel; but, as his remonstrance at my presence rapidly changed to a petition for Backsheish, there was no need to attend to either, and old Sheik fraternised with him, while I watched the red sun sink like a ball of fire behind the Pyramids; once more turning the broad river into blood—a scarlet stream winding throughout the land—recalling the awful horror of that dread miracle when, not in semblance only, but in very truth, the rivers and ponds and streams, and every pool of water throughout the land, and every drop of precious water in all vessels, whether of wood or of stone, became blood; so that the fish died and the rivers stank, and the Egyptians shrank in loathing from their beautiful Nile, compelled to acknowledge a power mightier even than that of their loved River-god. Many a long year must have elapsed ere they could, night after night, behold their valley glowing in the red evening light without a shuddering memory of those awful seven days.

Looking down from my high perch on the broad land outspread before me, I could trace that gleaming river for many miles, winding like a scarlet ribbon till it seemed to vanish in the purple haze that overhung the Lybian desert. Not that the great river was the sun's sole mirror. The whole valley was seamed with channels and tiny conduits, the veins and arteries of the land, and all alike were transformed into blood-red streams; as when the Moabites of old, rising up early in the morning and looking down upon the valley of Edom, beheld the sun reflected red as blood, on the waters in Israel's newly made ditches (most marvellous warfare!), and believing it to be in truth the blood of the slain who had smitten one another, rushed headlong down thither to their own destruction.[1]

Turning to descend the steep rocky path, we met patient camels toiling up the crag, laden with water-barrels containing the daily supply for the little garrison of the magazine. The poor camels, whose large splay feet seem created purposely to walk on sand, were with difficulty picking their way over the hard rocks.

On the following morning we drove through Old Cairo till we reached a Coptic church more than a thousand years old, built over a cave which was one of the resting-places of the Holy Family. Of the church I can only say that it evidently is very old, and very dingy and dirty and dreary. So was the poor old priest who showed it to us. So were his wife and little daughter, who were not at all above accepting our humble offerings.

The Copts are the descendants of the early Egyptian Christians, and are said to derive their name from the ancient city of Coptos, which was a place of note in Upper Egypt. You know that very early in the day Christianity did spread all over this country; all the more rapidly, perhaps, because the new sect found so ungenial a soil in Alexandria, the great city whose wealth and luxury exceeded that of even Rome; and whose wickedness was such that many saintly men despaired of teaching others, and fled to the deserts, hoping at least to save their own souls. Here it was that St. Anthony made his cell; the scene of all those wondrous temptations.

Here too St. Athanasius found a refuge when fleeing from his foes, and was tended by a community of monks. For the Christians soon found it necessary to band themselves together in strong bodies, and while the great Lybian desert was positively honeycombed with the cells of a great multitude of anchorites, there were also monasteries where vast numbers of men or women lived useful lives, tilling the soil and teaching the ignorant. Some of these old monasteries remain to this day, though their light has become a very faint glimmer in the surrounding darkness.

This sudden fever for the life monastic overspread the land like a flood. It was the first reaction from the degenerate life of unutterable corruption, when the people, having reached the lowest conceivable depths of degradation, awoke at the preaching of repentance, and hurried to the opposite extreme, striving by any sacrifice to work out their own salvation. Thus we hear of one great city, formerly sacred to the fish Oxyrinchus, which became wholly monastic. All the great temples were converted into monasteries, wherein ten thousand monks and twenty thousand nuns found refuge; and they built twelve great Christian churches for their new worship. Sometimes, however, they merely adapted the old heathen art to Christian uses—as when in the temple of Assebona, in Nubia, the Christians plastered over the figure of one of the old gods, and painted in its place that of St. Peter, with his keys. The rest of the picture was left unchanged, so that Rameses II. is still to be seen presenting his offerings to the Christian apostle! Still more simple was it to transform Isis and Horus, the "Mother and Son" of Egypt, into an image meet for Christian reverence; indeed, it is supposed that the representation of the Virgin Mother standing as Queen of Heaven on the Crescent-Moon, was in the first instance suggested by the old paintings of Isis, who (in her character of dog-star) assumes this attitude.

In Memphis and Babylon (on the Nile) the whole population seem to have taken monastic vows, while they continued diligently to cultivate the soil. In one monastery, on an island near Thebes, there lived three thousand silent monks, whose vows forbade them ever to open their lips save in prayer. The convents had rules as divers as their inmates. Some were useful, some were idle; some full of educated men, others of the most ignorant; some cleanly, but the majority foully dirty and illiterate; so that their pagan contemporaries declared them to be men in form only, but swine in manners; adding, that it was sufficient to wear a dark robe and dirty linen to acquire a reputation for sanctity.

Yet in the midst of their asceticism there was one joy of the old life which they could not always forego; and the excitement of horse-racing still drew even monks to the hippodrome, where the people showed their creed by backing Pagan or Christian horses, not scrupling to use prayers and superstitious ceremonies to add to the speed of their own. The monk Hilarion, pupil of Anthony, was much praised for sprinkling holy water on the Christian horses in the hippodrome at Gaza, thereby enabling them to outrun the steeds of the Pagans!

It has been a fertile subject for discussion whether this monastic life (which now for the first time appears in Christian history) was borrowed directly from the example of the great Buddhist monasteries—which long ere this had numbered their inmates by hundreds of thousands—or whether a smaller sect, dwelling in Egypt itself, gave the first suggestion of this new life. This was the sect of Therapeutæ, of whom it is uncertain whether they were heathen philosophers or corrupt Jews who had borrowed mystical opinions and gloomy manners from the Egyptian priests in addition to their own creed. These men formed a monastic colony near Alexandria on a hill overlooking Lake Mareotis, where they lived in separate cottages (therein differing from the Essenes, the ascetic Jews of Palestine, who lived on the shores of the Dead Sea, but who did not quit the active duties of life). Here they devoted themselves to lives of contemplation and most rigorous asceticism, some having but three meals in the week, others fewer still. Even at their chief festival, when all dined together, their fare was only bread and water, seasoned with salt and cresses. They met every seventh day for public worship; and on great festivals their sacred music was accompanied with solemn dances, which were continued till morning, when they worshipped with faces turned towards the rising sun, and then dispersed, each to his solitary hut.

It is supposed that these customs were first introduced by certain classes of the Egyptian priesthood, who aimed at a solitary life spent in religious contemplation and hardness to the flesh, sleeping with only a wooden pillow, and existing on starvation diet. It was doubtless to prevent too close an assimilation to these that St. Athanasius forbade his monks to adopt the tonsure on the head, or to shave their beards, after the manner of the Egyptian priests.

But, through whichever channel this peculiar phase of thought first found its way to acceptance among Christians, there seems little doubt that it originated in the East, and that these hermits of the desert, who, fleeing from the wickedness they could not stem, devoted their lives to asceticism—striving by holy meditation to solve the riddles of life—did but follow in the footsteps of the eastern Faqueers, whether Brahmin or Buddhist—notably those of Buddha himself, the young Hindoo prince, who lived his life of renunciation of the world, the flesh, and the devil, eight hundred years before St. Anthony began the similar conflict in the Egyptian deserts.

Surely from no purely Christian source could there have arisen such a race as those patient Stylites, or hermits of the pillars; who, fired by the example of St. Simon, the Syrian anchorite, sought to emulate his unclean sanctity! He, you remember, after living for many penitential years on columns of divers height, at length took up his position on a mountain near Antioch, where be built himself a column sixty feet high, whence he never again descended till, after thirty years, his dead body was taken down with the reverence due to one so holy.

Through the bitter colds of winter and the burning heats of summer, in the calm sunshine or the stormy tempest, he never flinched from his strange struggle "to merit heaven by making earth a hell." Even at night he knew no rest, for there was not space on his column to lie down at length; and throughout the long and weary day he never ceased to change his devotional postures, with such rapidity that it seemed to the bystanders as though some strange machine were at work within that meagre skeleton. One, more observant than the rest, counted twelve hundred and forty-four prostrations—bending the forehead to the feet—then desisted from counting through very weariness, and left the saint still toiling at his lifelong task.

It was the fame of this strange being that went forth and inspired so many others to follow in his dreary path. Not that he was the inventor of this method of living nearer heaven than his fellow-men. For centuries before he set up his column at Antioch, it was customary for the priest at the temple of Hierapolis on the Euphrates to climb to the summit of one of the great pillars which stood in front of the temple, and there remain for seven days pleading with Heaven for all who brought him offerings as purchase-money for .his intercessions. So Christianity cannot be taxed with having given birth to this eccentric phase of sanctity.

Among the curious phases of belief which sprang up amid this general upheaval of thought were those sects of Gnostics who tried to unite the new faith with the old magic and astrology. Strangest of all were the Ophites of Canaan and Egypt, who, as their name implies, combined Christianity with the old serpent-worship. They revereneed the serpent as the first teacher of the knowledge of good and evil. Some even believed that it was Christ Himself who had thus first revealed Himself to Eve. Therefore, at the celebration of the Holy Eucharist, they kept a live serpent in a covered chest, and coaxed it to come forth when called. If on so doing he chose to mount upon the altar and twine himself over the consecrated loaves, it was a sign that the sacrifice was accepted. All present then kissed the serpent, and, breaking the bread, partook thereof. The worshippers concluded these mysteries by singing a hymn to the Supreme Father, offered through the serpent. This is said to have been a memorial of the hymn sung to the Python at Delphi on every seventh day.

There can be no doubt that the whole ceremony was borrowed from the mysteries of Bacchus, Ceres, Isis, and Osiris, in all of which serpents were carried in covered baskets, whence they were brought forward to grace the revels, while the votaries shared cakes and new bread. At the close of the feast of Bacchus all present shared a cup, which was called "the cup of the good demon," the said demon being symbolised by the serpent. In the temples of Isis living asps were kept and encouraged to glide about the offerings. It is generally supposed that the brazen serpent in the church of St. Ambroise at Milan (said to be the identical serpent of Moses, which as we know was destroyed by Hezekiah) was probably an object of worship or reverence to one of these Ophite sects. It was brought from Constantinople A.D. 971.

Thus the Christian Church was broken up into sects and parties innumerable, while the main body was torn by violent disputes between the Arians and the Athanasians. Consequently the Christians became ever weaker and weaker; and when at last in A.D. 1354 the Arabs burst upon the land, there was no united effort to resist the green flag of Islam, and the Crescent triumphed over the Cross.

The people accordingly became for the most part Mahommedans, and, though a certain proportion continued Christian, their descendants—the modern Copts—are no great credit to their faith; indeed, they are said to be the most degraded of the degraded Egyptians.

Among the many small social persecutions to which they were subjected by the conquerors, it was then ordained that they must wear blue turbans, and the Jews yellow turbans, to mark them as members of those despised sects; neither of which was permitted to ride either horse or mule. Asses they might ride if they pleased, facing the tail. They might not enter a public bath without a bell round their neck to give warning to all men of their vile presence. In still older days they were compelled to wear black garments and turbans, and a wooden cross weighing five pounds suspended round the neck. They were moreover heavily taxed and branded.

Their social position is now much on a level with that of their neighbours; in some respects better, as they are exempt from compulsory military service. It has been noted as a curious fact in superstitions, that although Copts, Jews, and Moslems continue to abhor one another's creeds, they continually call in the priests of divers faiths in cases of sickness, as though their prayers had some magic power. Thus the Moslems in Cairo will frequently call in Christian or Jewish priests, while they in their turn will summon some reverend Mahommedan saint, or will even go to him for counsel at other times.

The Copts of the present day barely number one-fourteenth of the Egyptians. Their churches have for the most part been destroyed and replaced by mosques, and their ruined convents are to be seen all over Egypt. Even their language is dead; for though their liturgy is written in Coptic, Arabic is now the vulgar tongue, and multitudes, even of the illiterate priests, cannot understand the prayers in the dead Coptic which they have learnt to gabble by rote, as many of them cannot read. As to the laity, they cannot be supposed to be wiser than their teachers, and few understand a word of the service, though they join in responses to them meaningless. So that, like a good many other things in Egypt, this modern representative of the once vigorous and energetic Alexandrian Church is but a poor degraded thing, well-nigh as lifeless as a mouldering mummy.

The Patriarch of Alexandria is the supreme head of the Coptic Church, and claims to be the lineal successor of St. Mark, who is regarded as the founder of the Egyptian Church, and accordingly receives the same reverence that the Western Church bestows on St. Peter. The Patriarch, in contradistinction to his subordinate priests, who must all be married men, is himself a celibate. He is invariably chosen by lot from among the monks of St. Anthony, whose convent, in the desert of the Red Sea, was founded by St. Anthony himself, and claims to be the most ancient of all Christian. monasteries.

Although the Coptic liturgy, like that of the Latin Church, is in a tongue "not understanded of the people," there are observances enough which must explain themselves pretty clearly to these poor creatures. Such are the multitudinous fasts. Besides every Wednesday and Friday (when they may eat fish and oil if they can get it), there are four long annual fasts: that of Lent, lasting fifty-five days, during which every sort of animal food is prohibited, even eggs, milk, or cheese.

Some of their observances would seem to have been borrowed from their Moslem neighbours. Not content with baptism, their children must also be circumcised. Moreover, after death, a curious sacrifice for the departed is offered: when three times a year the survivors repair to the tomb of their relative, and having spent the night in wailing, they kill a sheep or a buffalo in the morning, and give its flesh to the poor. Their marriages are also arranged on purely Oriental principles, as the anxious husband is not allowed to set eyes on his child-bride (whose age varies from ten to thirteen) till after the wedding; the damsel being chosen for him by a professional match-maker. As among the Jews of old, both bride and bridegroom wear golden crowns during the marriage service. These, however, being church property, are removed ere the young couple leave the church. Their forms of worship are generally similar to those of Rome. They acknowledge the seven sacraments, with this peculiarity, namely, that extreme unction is administered not only to those at the point of death, but also to penitents after the commission of any great sin.

They baptise by immersion, and use a cross the form of a Not that this seems invariable, as in the photographs of the Abyssinian Primate (Coptic) his jewelled robes are embroidered with Maltese crosses innumerable. (By the way, what a curious race those Abyssinian Christians are—with their priests, monks all dressed in leather; and friars wearing yellow caps, and carrying a cow's tail as a fan, like the Buddhist priests; kneeling at a Christian altar in the morning, then going home to enjoy the beef-steak which they have just cut from the quivering side of a living ox, plastering up the wound with cowdung, and sewing up the skin, as if it were the most natural thing in the world!)

In Cairo you can generally distinguish the Coptic houses by an aloe plant being suspended over the door, or sometimes a small stuffed crocodile, as a charm against the evil eye,

As we turned down the narrow alley leading from the Coptic church we noticed a sisterhood of Roman Catholic nuns, evidently, like ourselves, on a tour of inspection. We followed them up an endless flight of stairs, and found ourselves in a very curious old Greek church, dedicated to St. George, whose portrait and victory over the dragon is portrayed in innumerable pictures, ancient and modern; some of these are very quaint, more especially one representing the Day of Judgment.

There were two charming old priests, who showed us everything, though we unfortunately could not exchange a word.

The nuns evidently enjoyed their ecclesiastical sight-seeing very much. They were a fine cheery-looking set, of all colours, from the fairest Maltese to the purest Negro. One of these fraternised with me, and spoke of her home far away, and her own people. When some of her sisters were reverently kissing the veritable head of St. George, she whispered to me with a quiet smile that it could not possibly be his head, as no one knew where it was. Evidently she had no great faith in the hydra-headed saints—luckless beings, whose heads, arms, legs, and minor relics are so freely multiplied and scattered over such widely diverse shrines.

A peep into the Mosque of Omar, famous for its age, showed us a place so wretched and dilapidated that there was no temptation to linger; so we drove on through ruinous suburbs, past the old Roman wall and gardens overshadowed by fragrant acacias and tall date palms; then on and on through the sandiest of roads, till we could drive no farther.

Then we struggled on over mountains of rubbish and broken crockery to the long line of busy windmills—hundreds of which stand on these artificial hills to catch each breeze that may follow the course of old Nilus.

Here we sat for hours, making friends with picturesque Bedouins, and for the last time watched the red sun go down in cloudless splendour behind the Pyramids, gleaming on the glittering waters, and shedding its golden glow on the bronzed faces of a people who are not ashamed, at the outgoings of the evening, to bow down and adore the Maker of the Sun.

C. F. GORDON CUMMING.
1^  2 Kings iii. 22.


This work is in the public domain in the United States because it was published before January 1, 1924.


The author died in 1924, so this work is also in the public domain in countries and areas where the copyright term is the author's life plus 80 years or less. This work may also be in the public domain in countries and areas with longer native copyright terms that apply the rule of the shorter term to foreign works.