John L. (John Lawson) Stoddard.

John L. Stoddard's lectures : illustrated and embellished with views of the world's famous places and people, being the identical discourses delivered during the past eighteen years under the title of the Stoddard lectures (Volume 2) online

. (page 10 of 12)
Online LibraryJohn L. (John Lawson) StoddardJohn L. Stoddard's lectures : illustrated and embellished with views of the world's famous places and people, being the identical discourses delivered during the past eighteen years under the title of the Stoddard lectures (Volume 2) → online text (page 10 of 12)
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than any speech, drank a long, deep draught. He knew that
thenceforth he was absolute master of Egypt, possibly sover-
eign of the East.

The view at sunset from this Cairene citadel is wonder-
fully impressive, and during several sojourns in Cairo I rarely
failed to climb the hill each evening to enjoy it. Standing
on the parapet of this Arabian fortress, one sees below him

in the immedi-
ate foreground
a grove of grace-
ful minarets, ri-
sing like sculp-
tured palm-
trees from an
undulating mass
of foliage and
bulbous domes.
Beyond these,
stretching to the
north and south
as far as the eye
can follow it, is
a magnificent
belt of verdure. Along its centre, like a broad band of silver,
gleams the river Nile, within whose depths the beautiful An-
tinous found death for his imperial master, and which at this

.-" - : .:> x -




point has borne upon its breast the cradle of the infant Moses
and the regal barge of Cleopatra.

Still farther westward, the declining sun seems to be sink-
ing into a violet sea, so mar-
velous is the light that glorifies
the tawny desert, symbol of
perpetual desolation. Upon
the edge of that vast area, into
whose depths the orb of day
seems disappearing never to re-
turn, three mighty shapes stand
sharply forth, piercing a sky of
royal purple. Their huge tri-
angular shadows travel slowly
eastward, farther and farther,
as the sun descends,

"Like dials that the wizard, Time,
Had raised to count his ages by."

They are the Pyramids,
whose awful forms have been
enveloped thus in sunset shad-
ows every evening for at least

five thousand years; and when they finally vanish in the
gloom, as most of Egypt's history and glory has been swal-
lowed up in the impenetrable darkness of the past, one real-
izes that there is no view on earth which can so eloquently
tell him of the grandeur of antiquity and the eternal mystery

of time.

" The Worldly Hope men set their Hearts upon
Turns Ashes or it prospers; and anon,

Like Snow upon the Desert's dusty Face,
Lighting a little Hour or two is gone."

Within the citadel of Cairo, only a few steps from the
scene of the massacre of the Mamelukes, is the beautiful
mosque erected by Mehemet Ali, not, as one might suppose,




in expiation of
his crime, but as
the exalted place
in which his body
should repose.
His expectation
was fulfilled, and
the remains of
the talented but
cruel Viceroy are
sepulchred in a
From the dis-
play of oriental
alabaster in ev-
ery portion of this edifice, it has been called the Alabaster
Mosque. It has a noble courtyard, with an elaborately dec-
orated fountain, and its proportions are imposing. But its
most pleasing
feature is its
slender mina-
rets, which soar
far above the
city, resembling
silver tapers
placed about
the Viceroy's

The tourist
soon discovers
that the mosque




is not the only one in Cairo. On the contrary, mosques are
more numerous in Cairo than churches are in Rome. Con-
nected with most of them are curious superstitions. In one,
for example, two columns are believed to mark the precise spot
where Noah's Ark finally found a resting-place. Nay, not


content with this, the legend claims that this is also the
place where Abraham offered up the ram instead of his son
Isaac. These columns, therefore, are supposed to possess
remarkable healing power, and are kept highly polished by
being rubbed with pieces of orange and lemon peel, which



are then applied to diseased portions of the body. One day
we were much amused to see two men licking these posts
vigorously, in the hope of making their stomachs strong.
This is perhaps the only remedy for dyspepsia not yet adver-
tised in the Occident !

Similar superstitions are associated with one of the oldest
gates of Cairo, the name ot which appears in the tales of the
Arabian Nights. A friend who had lived several years in
Egypt took us one day to see this portal, which is supposed
to be haunted by an afrit, or evil spirit. For some time we
were entertained by watching several old women in succes-
sion approach the gate cautiously, spit three times over their
left shoulder, to exorcise the demon, and then peer behind


the door with much the same expression that some of their
sex of the Occident assume, when they look timidly under
a bed at night. Their object was to see if the afrit was at
home. What they might have done if they had discovered



it, would be difficult to conjecture. But the demon was evi-
dently "out " that day, possibly having been recalled to
headquarters. Accordingly the women left what answered
for their cards. One, for example, inserted in a crevice of
the gate an old tooth, and hob-
bled off, believing she would
thenceforth have no toothache.
Another tied to a rusty nail a
lock of hair (presumably her own),
and smiled to think she would
thenceforth be exempt from head-
ache. Thus this demon-haunted
portal is kept continually deco-
rated with ghastly teeth and
wisps of hair.

It is a curious fact, by the
way, that if these people were
requested to explain their idea of
Satan, they would probably de-
scribe him as a blond. A Euro-
pean traveler in Africa relates
that the women in one village
gathered round him in astonish-
ment, declaring that he was as
"white as the Devil." Passing
beyond this portal, we found,
outside the city walls, some interesting structures which we
recognized as the far-famed tombs of the Caliphs. The
name "Caliph," or "Successor," was the title assumed after
the Prophet's death by the Mohammedan rulers, some of
whom reigned here in magnificence for many years. Even
in their ruined condition, we can easily see that these Ara-
bian sepulchres must once have been of exquisite beauty; for
the material of many of them is white alabaster, and all their




domes are well-proportioned and ornamented with an ara-
besque stone tracery so delicate, that one could fancy them
to be covered with lace mantles. To see these graceful sepul-
chres of the Caliphs from a distance in the glow of sunset,
is to behold what seems like a ^^^ mirage of

Saracenic architecture. But near

approach reveals the fact
that they have been
allowed to fall into
shameful decay, and,
incredible as it seems, ^^^-* * '"Wr" '_Ji -


now infest the
beautifully sculp-
tured walls, and
families of Egyp-
tian beggars make
their homes within
the tombs of Mo-
hammed's successors. On the cracked side of one of them
a Persian poet once wrote these words: "Each crevice of
this ancient tomb resembles a half-opened mouth, which
laughs at the inevitable fate of those who dwell in palaces!'

Around them, and in striking contrast to their former
splendor, are hundreds of small gravestones, which mark one
of the dreariest places in the world, a modern Egyptian
cemetery. The soil is mere yellow, burning sand, without a



flower, tree, or shrub to mitigate its desolation. Moreover,
the tombs themselves are hideously plain, consisting of bricks
loosely cemented together and surmounted by two sharp-
pointed stones. What an added horror must death possess
for people who look forward to a burial-place like this!

Beyond these desolate sepulchres, a long avenue of over-
arching palm-trees leads us to the site of Heliopolis, that
ancient City of the Sun, whose Hebrew name, On, is fre-
quently mentioned in the Old Testament. The Temple of
the Sun at Heliopolis was one of the most remarkable that
Egypt ever possessed, and its priests were famed throughout
the world for their learning. Magnificent presents were given
to this sanctuary by Egyptian kings, and its staff of officials,
priests, guardians, and servants is said to have numbered
nearly thirteen thousand. Joseph married the daughter of a
priest of Heliopolis, and here Moses, Pythagoras, Euclid,
and Plato received instruction. Yet, on the plain once occu-
pied by this great city, the only relic of it that remains is one

majestic obelisk,
est monument of
ence. Its com-
obelisks were al-
pairs) was over-
hundred years

the second old-
its kind in exist-
panion shaft (for
ways placed in
thrown eight
ago, and now its



fragments are probably either buried in the vicinity beneath
a mass of Nile deposit, or else form part of the foundation of
some stately edifice in Cairo. The original beauty of this


granite monolith must have been striking, for down each of
its four sides is a hieroglyphic hymn to the gods, the letters
of which were formerly filled with gold, to liken it to the
lustre of the sun, since obelisks were used as symbols of the



sun's bright rays. This City of the Sun was doubtless spe-
cially adorned with these tapering shafts, but all the others
have disap-
peared. There
is something
mournful in
this, the last
memorial of
Heliopolis, ga-
zing, as it were,
sadly down
from its impo-
sing height up-
on the solitary

plain, so eloquent in its pathetic silence. Moses, no doubt,
looked upon this obelisk; Herodotus and Plato may have
rested in its shadow. Yet upon its sculptured surface, morn-
ing and evening, still fall the solar salutations, just as they
did when Rome, Athens, and Jerusalem were the dwelling-
places of barbarians.



On the way back from Heliopolis to Cairo, one halts
before a famous sycamore, known as the Virgin's Tree, since
within its hollow trunk Mary and the Child Jesus are said to
have taken refuge during the flight into Egypt. Tradition
adds that they would surely have been captured by Herod's
agents, had not a spider, after they had entered, covered the
opening with its web, thus screening them from discovery.
At the inauguration of the Suez Canal, in 1869, the cour-
teous Khedive,
Ismail Pasha,
presented, of
course in jest,
this sacred tree
to the Empress
Eugenie to take
back with her
to France as a
holy relic. It
is said that the
witty Empress
thanked him
gravely, but
begged him to
give her, instead, as a more portable and no less authentic
souvenir, the skeleton of the spider that wove the web.

In the vicinity of Cairo are several delightful drives,
through avenues completely sheltered from the sun by stately
sycamores and acacias. These are the fashionable prome-
nades of the Egyptian capital, and one of them, called the
Shoobra Avenue, is five miles long. Here, every afternoon
during the tourist season, one sees in landaus and victorias
numberless representatives of different parts of Europe and
America, among whom freely mingle wealthy Turks, Arabs,
and Egyptians, while not infrequently one catches a glimpse





of the Khedive himself or members
of his family. It is a curiously cos-
mopolitan sight, for in the throng of
European carriages the fleet little
donkeys of Egypt amble along, and
gaily caparisoned camels sometimes
thrust their heads disdainfully upon
the scene and leer at the crowd.

Here, also, one occasionally per-
ceives a characteristic phase of Cai-
rene life in the Nubian Sai's, who runs
before the horse or carriage of some rich pasha, and shouts
for the way to be cleared. These runners, who are usually as
black as ebony, carry wands in their hands, and wear colored
turbans, gold-embroidered vests and jackets, and short white
skirts, beneath which flash their naked limbs and feet. At
frequent intervals we see an officer in handsome uniform,
with silver-mounted weapons. These guardians of the peace

will sometimes
condescend to
interfere and
clear the crowd
in case of an
but usually they
content them-
selves with glar-
ing fiercely at
the Europeans,
whom they seem
to hate, or with
posing as royal
dignitaries in-
tended for orna-




mcnt, not for use. But great is the transformation which
takes place in them, whenever the Khedive himself rides by.
In an instant the scowling and disdainful officer becomes as
fawning and obsequious as the veriest slave, and bends his
head until the royal equipage is out of sight. He is a per-
fect illustration of the treacherous servant, indifferent or
tyrannical to those unfortunate enough to be beneath him,
cringing and false to his superiors.


At the end of the Shoobra Avenue is a charming palace of
the same name, which is built around an artificial lake, with
a marble fountain, resembling an island, in the centre.

What an air of Oriental luxury we seem to breathe, as we
stroll along these graceful porticoes! The pavement is of
marble mosaic, the ceiling glows with brilliant frescoes, and
between them rise, like the trunks of graceful palms, a multi-
tude of slender Moorish columns, reminding one a little of
the halls of the Alhambra. The Shoobra Palace was the
favorite residence of Mehemet Ali, and even when his hair



and beard were white as snow, the fierce old warrior used to
amuse himself here in the oddest fashion. Sitting cross-
legged on a comfortable divan, he would watch for hours the
adventures of the ladies of his harem, who were, at his com-
mand, rowed out upon the lake in gaily colored boats by hid-
eous black eunuchs. Suddenly, at a secret signal given by him-
self, the boats would be upset and the fair occupants thrown
into the water, to be dragged out amid the most ludicrous
screams and struggles. At this sight, the old Viceroy would,
it is said, put
down his coffee-
cup or pipe, loll
back on his lux-
urious cushions,
and laugh until
the tears rolled
down his wrin-
kled cheeks.
Strange, is it
not, that this
grim veteran,
stained with the
blood of num-
berless murdered Mamelukes, could have fotrod^pjeasure in

such childish sport?

At a little distance from the city, on the new driveway
to the Pyramids, stands the unrivaled museum of Egyptian
antiquities, which a few years ago was transferred hither from
the Cairene quarter known as Boulak. It is surrounded by a
beautiful garden, within which is the tomb of Mariette, that
self-denying and enthusiastic archaeologist who gave his life
and fortune to Egyptian exploration, and whose untimely
death, in 1 88 1, was an irreparable loss to science. While it
is literally true that he gave his life to Egypt, in return old




Egypt gave herself to him. For how magnificent was the
success that rewarded his untiring devotion! To have, him-
self, discovered and rescued from their desert shroud thou-
sands of statues, temples, tombs, and sphinxes, thus bringing
the beginnings of the recorded history of man within our easy
comprehension, no doubt abundantly repaid him for long
years of labor and privation. But he had many personal
experiences which must have wonderfully enriched his life.
Thus, close by Memphis, Mariette discovered the famous
Serapeum, or Cemetery of the Sacred Bulls, all of which,
after death, had been embalmed, and for a period of two
thousand years had rested here in huge sarcophagi of gran-
ite, hidden away for ages under the desert sands. Each of


the coffins was a monolith weighing nearly sixty tons, and
in these the embalmed bulls were laid away in separate com-
partments in long subterranean galleries, which fill the visitor
with amazement as he looks upon them.



When Marietta opened this vast cemetery, he found one
vault which for some reason had escaped the ruthless hands
of those who, at some time, inspired by the hope of finding
treasure, had plundered most of Egypt's sepulchres. Accord-
ingly, when the portal yielded
to his pressure, he perceived in
the mortar the signet-impress
of the mason who had closed it
long before the time of Moses.
There also, on a layer of sand,
were the footprints of the work-
men, who, nearly four thousand
years before, had consigned the
sacred mummy to its tomb and
closed the door, as they sup-
posed forever! What wonder,
then, that when the great sa-
vant found himself thus face to
face with a stupendous past,
within an area on which no eye
had looked for nearly twice as long a period as had elapsed
since Christ was born, he was completely overcome and burst
into tears!

An entire lecture might be devoted to the mere enumer-
ation of the interesting relics of the Pharaohs contained in
this museum ; but some mention, at least, must be made
of a celebrated statue which, though estimated to be at least
four thousand years old, is even now so startlingly lifelike
as to astonish all who look upon its face. Its preservation,
too, is marvelous, considering that its material is wood. It
represents a type of man still common in Egypt. In fact,
when it was found, the Arabs were so struck with its resem-
blance to their somewhat corpulent overseer, that they
immediately called it the "Village Chief," a title which it



still retains. What impressed me most about this figure was
the expression of its eyes. They fairly haunted me. It
seemed as if a living being must dwell within that wooden
form, to stare upon me so intently. This effect is due to the
peculiar artifice employed in its construction. Thin folds of
bronze were used for eyelids, beneath which were inserted,
for the eyeballs, pieces of white quartz; the iris was then
made of a darker colored stone, while in the centre was
driven, for the pupil, a silver nail.

A few miles to the south of Cairo is the site of Memphis,
probably the oldest city in Egypt, and the capital of Menes,

first of Egypt's kings. We may gain
some idea of its antiquity, when
we reflect that it was founded, ac-
cording to Lepsius, four thousand
according to Mariette, five thou-
^**aaiVMU' sand years before Christ. It is


said to have been so large that a half-day's journey was
necessary to cross it from north to south; but little of it
now remains above ground. A stately palm-grove covers
this cradle of the Egyptian dynasties, and silence and soli-




tude reign here supreme. It is true, Mariette's heroic labors
in this region brought to light more than two thousand buried
sphinxes, and five thousand statues and tablet-inscriptions.
But most of these have been taken away to European
seums, and al-
most the only
thing remaining
here to-day is a
colossal statue
of Rameses II,
too vast to be
removed. This
now lies pros-
trate on its finely
sculptured face,
slowly with his-
toric dust.

Never shall I
forget an after-
noon which I
spent on the site
of Memphis, seated within its stately palm-grove, on the
border of the adjoining desert. Here, for the first time, I
seemed to realize that I was in the land of the Pharaohs.
The subtile influence of Egyptian antiquity stole insensibly
upon me, until I seemed to have been carried back to the
days of Abraham ; and the long trains of loaded camels, the
turbaned Arabs, the half-veiled women, the tufted palm-trees,
and the silent desert, ceased finally to fill me with astonish-
ment, and seemed fitting accessories to the scene before me.

While seated here that day, I watched for some time an
Arab riding across the shining expanse of the desert, the
soft, cushioned feet of his camel sinking into the sand with a





solemn, noiseless
tread. It was the
hour of prayer.
Far off upon the
minarets of Cairo
the muezzins
were proclaiming
the sacred for-
mula of Islam.
Dismounting, the
rider bound the
foreleg of his
camel, planted
his lance beside
him in the sand,
and then, turning
his face toward sacred Mecca, performed his devotions. As
I watched him, I could but feel that we were in the grandest
of all earthly temples, beside which Santa Sophia and St.
Peter's dwin-
dled to pyg-
mies; for its
golden pave-
ment was the
measu rel e ss
sweep of the
Sahara, its
dome, the can-
opy of heaven.
To a person
floating in a
balloon over
Egypt, the
country would




present the ap-
pearance of a
long strip of
green carpet
spread out upon
a sandy floor.
For, as it seldom
rains here, the
entire country
would be a des-
ert, were it not
for the annual
inundation of
the Nile, which
rescues from the
sand on either side of the river a narrow fringe of territory;
and both these river-banks, although hemmed in by scorching
deserts, glow nevertheless with beauty and fertility because of
the alluvial deposit of this fruitful overflow.

The Nile is, in fact, the artery of Egypt, upon whose
regular pulsa-
tions the exist-
ence of the land
depends. The
loam in the
Egyptian Del-
ta is that riv-
er's sediment,
brought in solu-
tion from the
heart of Africa.
Thus Egypt is
the gift of Ethi-




Between the fertile valley, thus created and renewed,
and the adjoining desert a ceaseless warfare is waged, the
old, eternal struggle between Life and Death. To the
Egyptians this river represented the creative principle, just
as the desert symbolized destruction. In the mythology of
Egypt there is a pretty fable, to the effect that the crystal
springs of the Nile bubble up in the gardens of Paradise and
serve for the ablutions of angels. Thence, wandering through


lovely meadows, the infant stream finally expands into this
lordly and majestic river, which offers life and plenty to the

Within the arches of the Vatican there now reclines in
Oriental calm an ancient statue of old Father Nile, leaning
upon a miniature sphinx; while on its shoulders and around
its limbs play sixteen pygmies, representing the sixteen cubits
of the annual rise of the river. Surely it is not strange that
the old Egyptians deified the Nile, to whose life-bringing
flood they owed not only their sustenance, but the very
soil on which they lived. Of all the rivers in the world this




is the most extraordinary. Some of its characteristics seem
almost supernatural. For the last fifteen hundred miles of
its course,

s* _^

that is to say,
for nearly one
half of its entire
length, it re-
ceives no trib-
utary whatever,
but flows on
calmly beneath
a burning sun,

and with a stony wilderness on either side. Yet, notwith-
standing all its loss, not only by evaporation in that torrid
atmosphere, but by the canals which lure its fruitful flood to
the right and left, by the absorption of its sandy banks, and

finally by the
draughts made
upon it by the
of men and beasts
from Nubia to
the sea, it seems
at last to pour
into the Mediter-
ranean a broader
and more copi-
ous stream than
it displayed a
thousand miles
away ! Nor is
this all. Ordi-


narily an inundation causes calamity and inspires terror; but
the overflow of the great river of Egypt is hailed with thanks-



giving. Songs of rejoicing are heard along its rapidly disap-
pearing banks, and its advancing waves are hailed as harbingers
of peace and plenty. To the wretched fellaheen of Egypt, a
few feet more or less of water in the rise of the Nile makes
all the difference between abject poverty and comparative
plenty; since, whenever the water-supply is scanty, the des-
ert remorselessly advances, to swallow up the fields, where in
good years luxuriant crops are wont t<y gladden the eye.


The Egyptian peasant would be not a little surprised to
learn that we of the Occident depend for our vegetation upon
water falling from the clouds. To him, who rarely sees a
drop of rain, this would seem a very precarious mode of
agriculture. The rise of water in the Upper Nile com-
mences in the month of February. By March, it is percepti-
ble at Khartoum, at Dongola in April, and on the Delta in
the month of May. It usually reaches its full height early in
September, remains thus for a fortnight, and then gradually



subsides. At its climax, when the river has attained a height
of about twenty-four feet above low water-level, the valley
looks like an archipelago studded with green islands, each of

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Online LibraryJohn L. (John Lawson) StoddardJohn L. Stoddard's lectures : illustrated and embellished with views of the world's famous places and people, being the identical discourses delivered during the past eighteen years under the title of the Stoddard lectures (Volume 2) → online text (page 10 of 12)