James Bell Forsyth.

A few months in the East : or, A glimpse of the Red, the Dead, and the Black seas online

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striking from their variety : some are exceedingly
rich ; and some are so meagre, as scarcely to deserve
the name of habiliments. The bullock-carriages are
quite stylish in their way the cattle being small,
well groomed, and of handsome colour. Jugglers
and " merry-go-rounds" are to be seen in every direc-
tion ; so also musicians and dancing dervishes. Stalls,
likewise, are abundant for the supply of fruit, sherbert,
&c. Horsemen ride furiously about on their chargers ;
and every here and there women mounted on horse-
back, riding a-straddle as they generally do in the East,
with a muslin veil, so thin, as to be a mere mockery ;
if their faces were more generally pretty, few might be
disposed to find serious fault with a change so reason-
able. The city altogether assumes a more gay ap-


pearance than usual ; on the nights of illumination,
festoons of lamps are suspended from minaret to
minaret, and produce a very beautiful effect. But
my sojourn in the Imperial city draws to a close ;
and it were needless to dwell on particulars, which
may be found duly detailed in publications composed
on purpose.

It is, however, hardly possible to bid adieu, without
expressing surprise (as hundreds have done before
me) at the immense number of dogs, which infest
the streets, and are to be met with everywhere. They
are regarded with some extraordinary religious feel-
ing; and they are so considerately treated, that they
become excessively lazy, and will not get out of the
way of persons passing along ; even the horses are
taught to step over them, and this the brutes know
well, and will not get out of the way.



We left Constantinople, on the 26th April, in the
French mail-steamer "Neva," bound for Marseilles
by way of the Piraeus and Sicily ; and we thus once
more crossed the Propontis and sailed through the
Hellespont. Having passed between Sestos and
Abydos in the narrowest part of this renowned strait,
where Xerxes built his bridge of boats, and where
Leander was wont to swim across to his beloved
Hero, we again entered the waters of the iEgina.
Long years of busy and constant occupation in mer-
cantile affairs have, indeed, rendered my classical
associations very indistinct, and greatly obscured my
reminiscences of Grecian histories ; but strange feel-
ings arose in my mind, as we passed by the island of
Tenedos, and viewed, in the distance, the site of
ancient Troy and the mountain-range of Ida.


We sailed on the surface of that sea over which the
Grecian chiefs, after the conclusion of the ten years'
siege, were doomed to wander ; and where the supre-
macy of Europe over the wealthier and more populous
Asia was more than once decided in hard-fought
contests. We wended our way among islands, noted
in the pages of antiquity, celebrated for their legends
and traditions, as well as for their natural advantages ;
and the words of the well-known bard were forcibly
recalled to mind:

" The isles of Greece, the isles of Greece !
Where burning Sappho lived and sung ;
Where grew the arts of war and peace,
Where Delos rose, and Phcebus sprung."

&c, &c.

After about thirty hours' sailing, we arrived, on
the 27th of April, at the Piraeus, still the seaport of
Athens, and a very pretty-looking town. English
sign-boards met the eye, announcing that Bass' and
Allsopp's ales were to be had in this classical locality.
Many things had a comfortable appearance, and
reminded us of home ; although there was still enough
to be seen to convince us that we were not yet in

An excellent road connects the port with Athens,
over a distance of about four or five miles ; and at
break of day we were en route for this celebrated


city. The morning was very fine, and there was a
most beautiful sky, which was so far fortunate, for
our stay was not destined to be a long one. The
Acropolis was soon in view indeed, it was first seen
from the sea ; and on drawing near, the beautiful
temple of Theseus and the Parthenon are clearly dis-
tinguished. As the visitor ascends the mount, on
which the Acropolis is built, he has before his eyes
the celebrated temple of Victory to excite his admi-
ration, and, at his feet, that of Jupiter Olympicus.
Adrian's gate is here seen to advantage ; and, in
fact, Athens, both the old and the new, are so
grouped together, and lie within so small a space,
that all notable objects are embraced at once
by the eye of the spectator. With the mounts of
Hymettus and Pentillicus as a background, there is a
view of surpassing beauty, the effect of which is
heightened by associations of historic celebrity.

The Morea lay at no great distance ; the Plains of
Marathon, and the Gulf and Island of Salamis were
close at hand : all was classic scenery and all was
classic ground. Two other stanzas from the ode just
quoted, although they may be deemed by some rather
common-place, can hardly be inappropriate, when it
is remembered that the mighty preparations of the
Persian monarch to subdue Greece were made within


a few miles' distance from the spot where I was then
standing :

" The mountains look on Marathon,

And Marathon looks on the sea,

And musing there an hour alone,

I dream'd that Greece might still be free;
For standing on the Persians' grave,
I could not deem myself a slave.

A king sat on the rocky brow,

Which looks o'er sea-born Salamis ;

And ships by thousands lay below,
And men in nations, all were his !

He counted them at break of day,

And when the sun set, where were they?"

But famous as Athens is in classic story, and
powerful as are the associations connected with this
city as the nurse of freedom, learning and the fine
arts, it was with feelings of profound intensity that I
viewed the spot where the fearless and undaunted
Apostle of the Gentiles declared to the "men of
Athens" The Unknown God, For the delivery of
his address a better site than Mars' Hill could
scarcely be conceived. The remains of the Theatre
are not far off; and it is not difficult to conceive how
thirty thousand spectators could have been there
accommodated within the limited space, and without
a roof.

We visited the new town ; and, certainly, could
not favorably compare the modern regal residence of


King Otho with the celebrated models, the remains
of which we had just seen. The palace has, in fact,
a greater resemblance to a modern manufactory than
to a Royal residence. The streets are wide, and
kept in good order. The Greek church was the
most handsome structure of the kind I had seen,
although not quite so large as that at Smyrna.

We saw some soldiers at drill ; they appeared to
go through their exercise in a very creditable style,
were well dressed, and had all the appearance of
being a fine body of men. King Otho is, appa-
rently, not very popular; yet he is entitled to the
thanks of the traveller as well as the antiquary, for
having done so much in excavating hallowed ruins,
and in removing the rubbish which had, for so many
years, covered a great portion of these interesting
spots. Many persons have exclaimed against, and
many still continue to censure, the removal of the
Athenian marbles by the late Lord Elgin ; but I
cannot forbear from expressing my humble opinion,
that they have been much safer and much more
carefully looked after in the British Museum, than
they would have been in their original position.
During the war of independence, the Turks, who be-
haved as Turks have generally done, sadly disfigured
by shot and shell the pillars of the temple of Theseus
and the Parthenon.


We re-embarked and left the Pirceus in the course
of the afternoon. Our party was considerably in-
creased, and among others by the addition of Mr.
Lawrence of New York, attached to the United
States' Embassy at Tienna. This gentleman had
been resident in Athens for several months, and he
gave us many interesting particulars and anecdotes
in reference to the modern Greeks. Nor could we
help thinking that if, in these go-a-head days, the
heroes and sages of ancient Greece could arise from
the mansions of the dead, and behold us moving
round the once formidable promontories of the Pelo-
ponesus, impelled by a power that seemed to disregard
both winds and currents, they would certainly have
had many of their superstitious notions revived, and
would have felt convinced that we were rounding
these capes and headlands, noted for their dangers
and their legends of peril, under the immediate in-
fluence of some unseen divinity.

Pursuing our course round the south of Italy, we
came in sight of Mount Etna early on Sunday morn-
ing, the 29th of April, and were soon at anchor in
the safe and commodious harbour of Messina. The
captain of the "Neva" assured me that there was no
use in going ashore, as my passport had not been
vizkd at Constantinople, though it was countersigned
by the Neapolitan Ambassador in London. I thought


it, however, worth while to make the attempt, as I
could at most only be sent back ; and on my landing
on the beautiful quay, which extends along the whole
town, I was allowed, after a short delay, to enter the

I felt much satisfaction in having persevered in
my resolution ; for, after our wanderings in the East,
everything in the Sicilian seaport had a neat and
clean appearance. The streets are wide, and the rows
of houses seemed to us solid and beautiful, and by
no means deficient in architectural taste. Although
it was Sunday, the streets were thronged, chiefly with
military, and troops were marching and counter-march-
ing in every direction. An uneasy feeling evidently
prevailed ; but as yet there was no appearance of any
violent or sudden outbreak. It is now, however, a
matter of history, that, shortly after our brief visit,
Garibaldi landed in Sicily, and was not long in fight-
ing his way to Messina. His career resembled
romance more than reality, and is replete with interest
to the patriot and the philanthropist. May he con-
tinue to exhibit the same true-hearted singleness of
purpose, till the whole of Italy is restored to the
unity of a great Kingdom !

The harbour of Messina is, as I have previously
remarked, very commodious, and one of the safest



that I have ever seen ; it is also most conveniently
situated in respect to the commerce of the Mediter-
ranean, and it was regarded by the ancient Greeks as
the key of Sicily. The appearance of the city, on the
first approach from the water, is most striking and
beautiful. There is a bold background, which adds
greatly to the picture ; and, as the place is strongly
fortified, the stranger is struck at once with its im-
portance and value, the surrounding country being
very fruitful. The Churches and Convents are nu-
merous, and there is a handsome " Maison de Yille."
The trade in wine, fruit, silk, corn and oil, has always
been accounted respectable ; yet the city has ever
been unfortunate in modern as well as in ancient
days. In the wars of the Carthaginians, Greeks and
Romans, it frequently changed hands, and was more
than once captured and depopulated. In 1780, it
suffered severely from an earthquake ) and, a few
years afterwards, was more severely damaged by

A very brief digression may, at this moment, be
permitted on the subject of earthquakes. These
terrific phenomena have, from time immemorial, been
productive of great loss and misery in different parts
of countries bordering on the Mediterranean, such
as in Sicily, in the vicinity of Naples, Smyrna,
Antioch, and other cities near the sea coast. As


they have occurred near the same places, at greater
or less intervals of time, one would scarcely have
imagined that towns would be speedily raised anew
in the same spot, and soon as populously inhabited
as ever ; yet such has constantly been the case.

On this part of the American continent we are not
so subject to the awful consequences of these visita-
tions as people are in the Levant ; but there would
seem to exist, even in Canada, about a hundred miles
below Quebec, similar subterranean causes of violent
commotion below the earth's surface, though fortu-
nately to all appearance on a more moderate scale.
Earthquakes at Murray Bay are of not uncommon
occurrence ; and it is on record, that soon after the
discovery of the country by the French, an earthquake
of great intensity was felt, causing so much disturb-
ance and displacement in a neighboring locality, that
the place has ever since retained the name of " Les
Eboulemens? Last October a very sharp shock, or
series of shocks, was sensibly felt throughout the
whole of Canada and many parts of the United States ;
but not with the same powerful effect, as in the
vicinity alluded to, where the stone walls, the plaster
and ceilings were cracked and shaken loose.

We left Messina on Sunday afternoon, having
remained there from break of day; and steaming


through the straits, which bear the same name, we
passed between the renowned Scylla and Charybdis
of the ancients. These are, by no means, such objects
of terror to modern navigators as they appear to have
been to those of old. Scylla is a rock forming a
promontory on the coast of Calabria, where it projects
at the narrowest part of the faro. At the bottom of
of the rock there are said to be caverns, through
which the winds are heard rustling and the waves
dashing ; sounds which the superstition of antiquity
imagined to be the howling and barking of dogs. The
only danger to sailing vessels arises when the wind
blows strongly against the current ; for then they
might be driven against the rock. Oharybdis, on the
Sicilian coast, is no longer the whirlpool or vortex
that it was in olden times ; the earthquake of 1783
appears to have completely changed its character
as well as its danger, although the waters are still
greatly agitated from rugged and pointed rocks.
However, in such a steamer as the "Neva" no one
entertains, for a moment, any feeling of apprehension
from either Scylla or Charybdis, the sole interest,
which these poetic celebrities possess, being associated
with the memorials of ancient days.

Passing through the straits of Messina, we held on
our course between the shores of Calabria and the
Lipari or iEolian islands, all of volcanic formation.


The last or most northerly of these is Stromboli,
which, I am sorry to say, we passed during broad
day ; so I was disappointed in my desire to see, in full
glare, the only lighthouse in the world which is not
supported by a tax on shipping ! Of all the volcanoes
recorded in history, Stromboli seems to be the only
one that emits flames without intermission ; and, for
ages past, it has been regarded as the great Lighthouse
of this part of the Mediterranean.

Between Messina and Marseilles there are several
lighthouses, to which great attention is paid by the
French authorities. One is now being erected near
Corsica, on a spot where, during the Crimean war, a
large man-of-war struck, full of troops, and almost all
on board perished. We reached Marseilles in five
days from Constantinople ; and on our approach to
this ancient city, we could not forbear from expressing
great admiration of the appearance of the defences
from the sea. All the islands at the entrance are
strongly fortified, and the town itself is powerfully
defended by a large fort and citadel.

The docks of Marseilles are very commodious ; and,
altogether, the city has a busy and active appearance.
The streets of the modern parts are spacious and
wide ; and the Exchange, which has lately been
finished, is a handsome and prominent edifice. I had


always heard that the Customs' House authorities
were very stringent in their examination of passengers'
baggage ; but, though every thing was conducted with
great method, and every person was obliged to point
out his own trunks and packages with accuracy, yet,
if there was no tobacco, no rigid examination took
place ; if there was, duty was exacted, a liberal
allowance being made for private use. In England,
also, as we found, a great change has come over the
authorities in this respect ; and the annoying search
has been abandoned, except when there is reason to
believe that there is a premeditated design to defraud
the revenue in an unhandsome and encroaching

The country from Marseilles to Paris, as seen from
the windows of the railway carriage, appears to be
very beautiful, especially the first part from Marseilles
to Lyons. In France the management of the rail-
road, with every thing relating to the comfort of the
passengers, is much more carefully attended to than
elsewhere on the Continent or in England.

My stay in Paris was, on this occasion, very limited ;
but I saw the young Imperial Prince taking an airing
in a carriage and four, surrounded with numerous
outriders and great military pomp. Shortly after-
wards, I met the Emperor and Empress in a small


quiet carriage, with a groom behind them. Musing
on the changes which have taken place in France
during the present century, I could not help thinking
that it would be marvellous, if another turn of the
kaleidoscope should not produce an altered phasis of
affairs and a new regime in France, before this scion
of the Bonapartist dynasty attained his majority.

On reaching Calais, we unfortunately experienced
that the passport system was still one of the greatest
nuisances to travellers. We had to wait to get ours
inspected, and to obtain permission to leave ; and
thus, the tide being on the turn, we had the pleasure
of learning that the mails, baggage, and two or three
passengers, who were first at the office, had sailed ;
while we were left to pass the night, and most of the
next day, in this old town, so famed in the wars be-
tween England and France " long time ago." Many
of the passengers were furious, and expressed their
determination to write to the " Times," but though I
lost my passage, I could not think that losing my
temper would be of any utility ; and I was soon
asleep in a very comfortable hotel.

Next morning I was not up with the lark, in
fact I was very late ; and, on entering the break-
fast-room, I found many who were lamenting their
detention. Among them was a most gentlemanly


man, whom I casually greeted ; the moment I did
so, I observed his eyes to glisten in a marked manner,
so much so that I felt at a loss to account for a mere
" bon jour, monsieur" having so electric an effect.
After breakfast, however, I discovered that the cause
was not solely to be attributed to any peculiar sym-
pathy which, according to the advocates of mesmerism,
may exist between kindred spirits. The gentleman,
in fact, happened to be in what our American neigh-
bours term a " peculiarly awkward fix." My having
accosted him in a cordial way, seemed to offer him a
good opportunity of unburdening himself, which, in
small as well as in weighty matters, frequently affords
great relief. From the state of perturbation he was
in, I imagined that he had to disclose some great
matter ; and although to a perfect stranger, he felt as
Marmion did in unburdening his mind to Lord

" But by that strong emotion pressed,
Which prompts us to unload our breast,
Even when discovery 's pain j"

yet it became amusing when I learnt the cause of his
depression : He had, as he said, received, on the day
previous, a telegraph, informing him that a particular
friend of his, in Hamburg, was dangerously ill ; and
as he lived a few miles out of Paris, he bad not time
to go home, but drove straight to the station. He


could have no money, he added, till he got to London,
nor did he want any till then ; but the steamer would
sail early, on the morning after his arrival, for Ham-
burg, and his order on a London merchant might be
of no use, as, in all probability, the office would be
shut ere we could reach the great metropolis. All
this contre-temps had arisen from the tide having been
so unreasonable as to turn before he could get on
board the previous evening.

He was most gentlemanly in his manner and
address, and apologised for troubling me, a complete
stranger, with his grievances ; but he felt greatly
annoyed and was in much distress. I told him that,
unfortunately, I had only one Napoleon in my purse ;
but that if, on reaching London, the office (on which
he had the order) was closed, I would manage that
he should not lose his passage. Frequently, during
the day, he would come and shake hands without
saying a word ; in fact, we soon became great friends,
which was so far very pleasant to me, as I had bid
good bye to Mr. Hill at Messina, and to Mr. Lawrence
at Paris. I therefore regarded the occurrence as a
pleasing incident, and considered it fortunate to end
my travels with so sociable a companion. He was,
among other accomplishments, a great linguist, and
spoke Italian, Spanish, French, English, and Arabic,
for he had been sometime in Morocco.


On our arriving in London, as he was not encum-
bered with baggage, he assisted me with mine while
it underwent inspection at the Customs' House ; and
on proceeding to the city, the merchants' office, as
he had anticipated, was closed ; so I drove him to the
Conservative, and sent him away rej oicing with what
he wanted. Would the reader ask me whether I was
ever repaid ? Next morning the amount was placed
at my Bankers', accompanied by a letter, expressed

in most handsome terms, from Baron de , a

Prussian nobleman. My recently-acquired friend was
a person of large property and influence, but too
deeply imbued with liberal principles for the sphere
in which he moved. Perhaps in the changes which
are now occurring in Germany in the cause of consti-
tutional liberty, he may find an opportunity of exer-
cising his talents ; and, indeed, I am greatly mistaken
if my travelling companion is not destined to play a
conspicuous part in these events.



Rain, rain, rain, what a contrast between the weather
We now experienced and that which we had enjoyed
in the Bast ; from May to August we had scarcely
two consecutive days of fine weather in England and
Scotland ; whereas, during my sojourn in the East, it
only rained once at Gibraltar and once at Alexandria.
Certainly so cold and cheerless a summer, as that of
1860, is of rare occurrence in Europe ; and I was
sadly disappointed of much of the pleasure which I
had anticipated from seeing England in its spring
beauty. A few notes, however, of my movements
before I returned to Canada, will be briefly alluded
to in this my concluding chapter.

1 cannot, in the first place, omit mentioning a
most agreeable visit, during a couple of weeks, at


Mrs. Ellison's, Sudbrooke Holme, in Lincolnshire ;
where, indeed, I have always met with a most warm
and cordial reception. Some six months previously,
Mr. Ellison, the generous and open-hearted friend,
had passed away, widely regretted. He was one of
the excellent of the earth, and his charities were
unbounded, and in many instances were extended to
this Province ; and his honored name will be found
in the list of contributors to a recently-established
endowment fund, for the future maintenance of
Clergy attached to the Chapels in the City of

After leaving Sudbrooke, we proceeded north-
wards, and remained some six weeks with my sister
at Ecclesgreig. After this (not to dwell on topics
and movements too individually personal for publica-
tion) we turned our faces homewards ; and, by good
luck, arrived at Edinburgh on the day preceding that
appointed for the Grand Review of the Scottish
Volunteers by Her Majesty the Queen.

On our arrival, Dun-Eden was all alive ; the streets
were crowded, and every one we met brimful of im-
portance. Early next morning we were, with thou-
sands of others, on the move ; and, with such an
animated scene before us, we could not help thinking
that, had Sir Walter Scott witnessed the brilliant


display and undertaken a description of it, he could
hardly have written more appropriately the last line
especially than when he recounts the gathering of
the Scottish forces previously to the unfortunate battle

" Still, as of yore, Queen of the North !
Still canst thou send thy children forth.
Ne'er readier at alarm-bell's call
Thy burghers rose to man thy wall,
Than now, in danger, shall be thine,
Thy dauntless voluntary line."

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Online LibraryJames Bell ForsythA few months in the East : or, A glimpse of the Red, the Dead, and the Black seas → online text (page 8 of 10)