Chambers's Edinburgh Journal, No. 462 online

. (page 1 of 5)
Online LibraryVariousChambers's Edinburgh Journal, No. 462 → online text (page 1 of 5)
Font size
QR-code for this ebook

Produced by Malcolm Farmer, Richard J. Shiffer and the
Online Distributed Proofreading Team at



No. 462. NEW SERIES. SATURDAY, NOVEMBER 6, 1852. PRICE 1-1/2_d._


She is neither your partner, nor ours, nor anybody else's in
particular. She is in general business, of which matrimony is only a
department. How she came to be concerned in so many concerns, is a
mystery of nature, like the origin of the Poet - or rather of black
Topsy. The latter, you know, was not born at all, she never had no
father nor mother, she was not made by nobody - she _growed_; and so it
is with the managing partner, who was a managing partner from her
infancy. It is handed down by tradition that she screamed lustily in
the nurse's arms when anything went wrong, or as she would not have
it; and this gave rise, among superficial observers, to the notion,
that Missy was naturally cross. But the fact is, her screams were
merely substitutes for words, like the inarticulate cries by which
dumb persons express their emotions. When language came, she gave up
screaming - but not managing. She did not so much play, as direct the
play - distributing the parts to her companions, and remaining herself
an abstraction. If she was ever seen cuffing a doll on the side of the
head, or shaking it viciously by the arm, this was merely a burst of
natural impatience with the stupid thing; but in general, she
contented herself with desiring the mother of the offender to bestow
the necessary chastisement. Her orders were usually obeyed; for they
were seen to proceed from no selfish motive, but from an innate sense
of right. This fact was obvious from the very words in which they were
conveyed: You _should_ be so and so; you _should_ do so and so; you
_should_ say so and so. Her orders were, in fact, a series of moral
maxims, which the other partners in the juvenile concern took upon

As she grew up into girlhood, and then into young-womanhood, business
multiplied upon her hands. She was never particular as to what
business it was. Like Wordsworth, when invited in to lunch, she was
perfectly willing to take a hand in 'anything that was going forward;'
and that hand was sure to be an important one: she never entered a
concern of which she did not at once become the managing partner. In
another of these chalk (and water) portraits, we described the
Everyday Young Lady as the go-between in numberless love affairs, but
never the principal in any. This is precisely the case with the young
lady we are now taking off - yet how different are the functions of the
two! The former listens, and sighs, and blushes, and sympathises,
pressing the secret into the depths of her bosom, turning down her
conscious eyes from the world's face, and looking night and day as if
she was haunted by a Mystery. She is, in fact, of no use, but as a
reservoir into which her friend may pour her feelings, and come for
them again when she chooses, to enjoy and gloat over them at leisure.
Her nerves are hardly equal to a message; but a note feels red-hot in
her bosom, and when she has one, she looks down every now and then
spasmodically, as if to see whether it has singed the muslin. When the
affair has been brought to a happy issue, she attends, in an official
capacity, the busking of the victim; and when she sees her at length
assume the (lace) veil, and prepare to go forth to be actually
married - a contingency she had till that moment denied in her secret
heart to be within the bounds of possibility - she falls upon her neck
as hysterically as a regard for the frocks of both will allow, and
indulges in a silent fit of tears, and terror, and triumph.

But the managing partner is altogether of a more practical character.
She no sooner gets an inkling of what is going forward, than she steps
into the concern as confidently as if any number of parchments had
been signed and scaled. She is not _assumed_ as a partner (in the
Scottish phrase), but assumes to be one, and her assumption is
unconsciously submitted to. To the other young lady the
bride-expectant goes for sympathy, to this one for advice. And what
she receives is advice, and nothing but advice. The Manager does not
put her own hand to the business: she dictates what is to be done; she
carries neither note nor message, but suggests the purport of both,
and the messenger to be employed; she repeats the moral maxims of her
childhood - You should be so and so; you should do so and so; you
should say so and so. Sometimes she makes a mistake - but what then?
she has plenty of other businesses to attend to, and the average is
sure to come up well. In philosophy, she is a decided utilitarian;
bearing with perfect never-mindingness the misfortunes of individuals,
and holding by the greatest happiness of the greatest number.

When the managing partner is herself married, the sphere of her
exertions widens, and her perfect unselfishness becomes more and more
apparent. She directs the affairs of her husband, of her friends, of
her neighbours - everybody's affairs, in short, but her own. She has
the most uncomfortable house, the most uncared-for children, the most
untidy person in the parish: but how could it be otherwise, since all
her thoughts and cares are given to her neighbours? Some people
suppose that ambition is at the bottom of all this; but we do not
share the opinion. The woman of the world is ambitious, for the
aggrandisement of herself or family is the main-spring of all her
management; but _our_ manager finds in the trouble she takes its own
reward. The other would not stir hand or tongue without some selfish
end in view; while she will work morning, noon, and night, without the
faintest dream of remuneration. Again, Bottom the weaver is an
ambitious character. Not satisfied with playing Pyramus - 'An' I may
hide my face,' says he, 'let me play Thisbe too!' And so likewise,
when the lion is mentioned, he would fain play the lion in addition to
both, promising to aggravate his voice in such a way as to roar you as
gently as any sucking-dove. The managing partner would shrink from
this kind of active employment. She would compose the play, distribute
the parts, shift the scenes, and snuff the candles; but she would take
no part in the performance. This makes her character a difficult
study; but though difficult, it is not impossible for those who are
gifted in that way to get to the bottom of it. _Our_ theory is, that
the fundamental motive of the managing partner is PHILANTHROPY.

In order to understand this, we must remember that she is original and
unique only in the length to which she carries a common principle in
human nature. Society is full of advisers on a small scale. If you ask
your way to such a place in the street, the Mentor you invoke is
instantaneously seized with a strong desire to befriend you. He calls
after you a supplement to his directions; and if you chance to turn
your head, you will observe him watching to see whether you do take
the right hand. When the opinions of two advisers, no matter on what
subject, clash, mark the heat and obstinacy with which they are
defended. Each considers himself in the right; and believing your
wellbeing to depend upon the choice you make, is humanely solicitous
that you should give the preference to him. The managing partner
merely carries out this feeling to a noble, not to say sublime extent,
and becomes the philanthropist _par excellence_. Philanthropy is
virtue, and virtue, we all know, is its own reward - that is, we all
say; for in reality the idea is somewhat obscure. Perhaps we mean that
it is the feeling of being virtuous which rewards the act of virtue,
and if so, how happy must the managing partner be! Troubled by no
vulgar ambition, by no hankering after notoriety, by no yearning to
join ostensibly in the game of life, she shrouds herself in obscurity,
as the widow Bessie Maclure in _Old Mortality_ did in an old red
cloak, and directs with a whisper the way of the passer-by. There is a
certain awful pride which must swell at times in that woman's bosom,
as she thinks of the events which her counsel is now governing, and of
the wheels that are now turning and twirling in obedience to the
impulse they received from her!

The managing partner manages a great many benevolent societies, but it
is unnecessary here to mention more than one. This is the
Advice-to-the-poor-and-needy-giving Ladies' Samaritan Association. The
business of this admirable institution is carried on by the
lady-collectors, who solicit subscriptions, chiefly from the bachelors
on their beat; and the lady-missionaries, who visit the lowest dens in
the place, to distribute, with a beautiful philanthropy, moral Tracts,
and Exhortations to be good, tidy, church-going, and happy, to the
ragged and starving inmates. Although these, however, are the
functionaries ostensible to the public, it is the managing partner who
sets them in motion. She is neither president nor vice-president, nor
treasurer nor secretary, nor collector nor missionary; but she is a
power over all these, supreme, though nameless. She is likewise the
editor (with a sub-editor for work) of the tracts and exhortations;
and in the course of this duty she mingles charity with business in a
way well worthy of imitation. The productions in question are usually
received gratuitously, for advice of all kinds, as we have remarked,
is common and plenty; but sometimes the demand is so great as to
require the aid of a purchased pen. On such occasions the individual
employed by the managing partner is a broken-down clergyman, who was
deprived at once of his sight and his living by the visitation of God,
and who writes for the support of a wife and fourteen children. This
respectable character is induced, by fear of competition, and the
strong necessity of feeding sixteen mouths with something or other, to
use his pen for the Association at half-price; while he is compelled
by his circumstances to reside in the very midst of the destitution he
addresses, where he learns in suffering what he teaches in prose-ing.
But, notwithstanding all this beautiful management, her schemes, being
of human device, sometimes fail. An example of this is offered by the
one she originated on hearing the first terrible cry of Destitution in
the Highlands. Under her auspices, the Female Benevolent Trousers
Society became extremely popular. Its object, of course, was to supply
these garments gratuitously to the perishing mountaineers, in lieu of
the cold unseemly kilt. It was discovered, however, after a time, that
the Highlanders do not wear kilts at all; and the society was broken
up, and its funds handed over, at the suggestion of the institutor,
for the Encouragement of the interesting Mieau tribe of Old Christians
in Abyssinia. The tenets of this tribe, you are aware, are in several
instances wonderfully similar to our own; only, they abjure in their
totality the filthy rags of the moral law, which has drawn upon them
the bitter persecution of the heathenish Mohammedans in their

We have observed that the managing partner is impatient of another
counsellor. This is a remarkable trait in her character. Even the
woman of the world looks with approbation upon the doings of a
congener, when they do not come into collision with her own; even the
everyday married lady bends her head confidentially towards her
double, as they sit side by side, and rises from the tête-à-tête
charmed and edified: the managing partner alone is solitary and
unsocial. This is demanded by the lofty nature of her duties. Every
business, great and small, should have a single head to direct; and
she feels satisfied, after dispassionate reflection, that the best
head of all is her own. This makes her wish conscientiously that there
was only one business on the earth, that all mankind were her clients,
and that there was not another individual of her class extant.

In her last moments, and only then, this great-minded woman thinks of
herself - if that can be said to be herself which remains in the world
after she is defunct. She thinks of what is to become of her body, and
feels a melancholy pleasure in arranging the ceremonies of its
funeral. Everything must be ordered by herself; and when the last is
said, her breath departs in a sigh of satisfaction. But sometimes
death is in a hurry, or her voice low and indistinct. It happened in a
case of this kind, that a doubt arose in the minds of the bystanders
as to the shoulder she intended to be taken by one of the friends.
They looked at her; but her voice was irretrievably gone, and they
considered that, in so far as this point was concerned, the management
had devolved upon them. Not so: the dying woman could not speak; but
with a convulsive effort, she moved one of her hands, touched the left
shoulder, and expired.

_De mortuis nil nisi bonum_ is an excellent maxim; but in concluding
this sketch, there can be no harm in at least regretting the
imperfection of human nature. If its eminent subject, instead of
spending abroad upon the world her great capacity, had been able to
concentrate it in some measure upon herself and family, there can be
little doubt that she would have been regarded in society with less of
the contempt which genius, and less of the dislike which virtue
inspires in the foolish and wicked, and that fewer unreflecting
readers would at this moment be whispering to themselves the
concluding line of Pope's malignant libel -

Alive ridiculous, and dead forgot!


The neighbourhood of Gebel Silsilis, or the Mountain of the Chain, is
very interesting in many respects. After flowing for some distance
through the usual strip of alluvial plain, bordered by not very lofty
undulating ground, the Nile suddenly sweeps into a gap between two
imposing masses of rock that overhang the stream for above a mile on
either hand. The appearance of the precipices thus hemming in and
narrowing so puissant a volume of water, covered with eddies and
whirlpools, would be picturesque enough in itself; but we have here,
in addition, an immense number of caves, grottos, quarries, and
rock-temples, dotting the surface of the rock, and suggesting at first
sight the idea of a city just half ground down and solidified into a
mountain. On the western bank, numerous handsome façades and porticos
have indeed been hewn out; and mightily interesting they were to
wander through, with their elaborate tablets and cursory inscriptions,
their hieroglyphical scrolls, their sculptured gods and symbols, and
all the luxury of their architectural ornaments. But the grandest
impressions are to be sought for on the other side, whence the
materials of whole capital cities must have been removed. There is, in
fact, a wilderness of quarries there, approached by deep perpendicular
cuts, like streets leading from the river's bank, which must have
furnished a wonderful amount of sandstone to those strange old
architects who, whilst they sometimes chose to convert a mountain into
a temple, generally preferred to build up a temple into a mountain. It
takes hours merely to have a glimpse at these mighty excavations, some
of which are cavernous, with roofs supported by huge square pillars,
but most of which form great squares worked down to an enormous depth.

The rock's on the western bank are not isolated, but seem to be the
termination of a range projecting from the interior of the desert; and
a minor range, branching off, hugs the river to the northward pretty
closely for a great distance; but those on the other side are
separated by what may almost be called a plain from the Arabian chain
of hills, and might be supposed by the fanciful to have been formerly
surrounded by the rapid waters of the Nile. They are admirably placed
for the purpose to which they were applied; and although I have not
the presumption to fix dates, and say under what dynasty the quarries
first began to be worked, there is no rashness in presuming that it
must have been at a very early period indeed. The sandstone is
excellent for building purposes - far superior to the friable limestone
found lower down - and has been removed not only from this one block,
but from both sides, here and there, for a considerable distance to
the north. Many quarries likewise no doubt remain still undiscovered
and unexplored in this neighbourhood. We found the mountains worked
more or less down as far as Ramadeh; and inscriptions and sculptures,
evidently dating from very ancient times, are met with in many.

The people who inhabit the villages and hamlets of this district are
not all fellahs; indeed, I question whether, properly speaking, any
members of that humble race are to be found here. Their place is
supplied by Bedawín Arabs of the Ababde tribe, who have, to a certain
extent, abjured their wandering habits, and settled down on the
borders of a narrow piece of land given to them by the Nile. The
villages of Rasras and Fares, above the pass on the western bank, and
of El-Hamam below, as well as the more extensive and better-favoured
establishment of Silwa, with its little plain, are all peopled by men
of the same race. With the exception of El-Hamam, which has a
territory only a few feet wide, the cultivable land belonging to each
village seems adequate to its support. They have a few small groves of
palms; had just harvested some fair-sized dhourra-fields when we were
last there; and had some fields of the castor-oil plant. Perhaps
cultivation might be extended; a good deal of ground that seemed
fitted for spade or plough was overrun with a useless but beautiful
shrub called the silk-tree. Its pod, which, when just ripe, has a
blush that might rival that on the cheek of a maiden, was beginning to
wither and shrivel in the sun, and opening to scatter flakes of a
silky substance finer than the thistle's beard, leaving bare the
myriad seeds arranged something like a pine-cone.

I have called the plant useless, because vain have been the attempts
made to apply its produce to manufacturing purposes; but Arab mothers
procure from the stem a poisonous milky substance, with which they
sometimes blind their infants, to save them in after-life from the
conscription. How strangely love is corrupted in its manifestations by
the influence of tyranny! I have seen youths who have exhibited a foot
or a hand totally disabled and shrivelled up, and who boasted that
their mothers, in passionate tenderness and solicitude for them, had
thrust their young limbs into the fire, that they might retain their
presence through war, though maimed and rendered almost incapable of

Few plants or trees of any value grow here spontaneously. The pretty
shrub called el-egl droops beneath the rocks of Silsilis over the
water, accompanied sometimes by a dwarf willow; and the sandy earth,
washed down the gullies on the western bank in winter, produces a
plentiful crop of the sakarân - a plant bearing a seed which has
intoxicating qualities, as the name imports, and which is said to be
used by robbers to poison or stupify persons whom they wish to rifle
at their leisure. Some colocynth is gathered here and there, and dried
in the hollows of the rocks.

It is not legal, or rather not allowed in Egypt, to be in possession
of arms without a permit; but throughout the whole of the upper
country, it is found difficult to enforce such a regulation. Men with
spears are often to be met. I saw some parties coming from Silwa armed
with long straight swords, with a cross hilt. Most men are provided
with a dagger fastened round their arm above the elbow with a thong;
others have clubs heavily loaded, or covered at one end with crocodile
scales; and guns are not unfrequent, though powder and shot are
exceedingly scarce. Our two guides, Ismaeen and Abd-el-Mahjid, had
each a single-barrelled fowling-piece - value from twenty-five to
thirty shillings. They were both expert shots, as we had occasion to
witness when we went hare-shooting with them. In fact, with their
assistance, we had hare every day for dinner during our stay. They
were very chary of their powder, and only fired when pretty sure of
success. For catching doves, and other small game, they had ingenious
little traps.

During my wanderings one day among the rocks with Ismaeen, who had
constituted himself my especial guide, I felt somewhat fatigued at a
distance from the boats, and sat down to rest under the shade of a
projecting rock. On all sides yawned the openings of quarries, cut
sheer down into the heart of the mountain to a depth which I could not
fathom from my vantage-ground. I seemed surrounded by abysses. In
front, I could see the Nile whirling its rapid current between the
overhanging rocks which closed up to the north; in the other
direction, spread a desert plain intersected by a ribbon of bright
water between two strips of brighter vegetation. Far away to the
north-west, a solitary heap of mountains marked the spot where the
unvisited ruins of Bergeh are said to lie.

[Transcriber's Note: A dieresis (umlaut) diacritical mark appears
above the letter 'g' in the word Bergeh in the above sentence in
the original.]

Ismaeen sat before me, answering the various questions which the scene
suggested. He was a fine open-faced young man, without any of the
clownishness of the fellah, and spoke in a free and easy but gentle
manner. He told me that he and Abd-el-Mahjid had been sworn friends
from infancy; that they scarcely ever separated; that where one went,
the other went; and that what one willed, the other willed. They were
connected by blood and marriage - the sister of Ismaeen having become
the wife of Abd-el-Mahjid. Both had seen what to them was a good deal
of the world. They had driven horses, camels, sheep, goats, donkeys,
as far as Keneh, even as far as Siout, for sale; and the desert was
familiar to them. The salt sea had rolled its blue waves beneath their
eyes; and they had been as far as the Gebel-el-Elbi, that mysterious
stronghold of the Bisharee, far to the south, in the wildest region of
the desert. Ismaeen, it is true, did not seem to think much of these
wild and romantic journeyings. He laid more stress on having seen the
beautiful city of Siout, where I have no doubt he felt the mingled
contempt and admiration ascribed to the Yorkshireman when he first
visits London.

Having exhausted present topics, our conversation naturally turned to
the past; and I began to be inquisitive about the legends of the
place. I knew there was a local tradition as to the origin of the name
Gebel Silsilis - the Mountain of the Chain - passed over usually with
supercilious contempt in guide-books; and I desired much to hear the
details. Ismaeen at first did not seem to attach any importance to the
subject, gave me but a cursory answer, and proceeded to relate how he
had sold donkeys for sixty piastres at Siout which were only worth
thirty at most at Fares; but I returned to the charge, and after
looking at me somewhat slyly perhaps, to ascertain if I was not making
game of him by affecting an interest in these things, the young
Ababde, with the sublime inattention to positive geography and record
history characteristic of Eastern narrative, spoke nearly as
follows: -

* * * * *

In ancient times, there was a king named Mansoor, who reigned over
Upper Egypt and over the Arabs in both deserts. His capital city was
at this place (Silsilis), which he fortified; and his name was known
and respected as far as the North Sea (the Mediterranean), and in all
the countries of the blacks to the south. Kings, and princes, and
emperors sent messages and presents to him, so that his pride was
exalted, and his satisfaction complete. He reigned a period of fifty
years, at the end of which the vigour of his frame was impaired, and
his beard flowed white as snow upon his breast; and during all that
time, he was different from every other man, in that he had not cared
to have children, and had not repined when Heaven forbore to bestow
that blessing upon him. One day, however, when he was well-stricken in
years, he happened to feel weary in his mind; he yawned, and
complained that he knew not what to do for occupation or employment.
So his wezeer said to him: 'Let us clothe ourselves in the garments of

1 3 4 5

Online LibraryVariousChambers's Edinburgh Journal, No. 462 → online text (page 1 of 5)