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Art. I. Narrative of a Journey in Egypt and the Country
beyond the Cataracts. By Thomas Legh, Esq. M.P. pp. 143.
London. 1816. IT is rather a phenomenon, in these days of bookish luxury, to
encounter a volume, and more particularly a volume of Travels, destitute of the usual garniture of fine prints or aquatinta sketches, without a single head or tail-piece, vignette or even portrait of the author, but sent naked into the world with no other embellishment or illustration than a fair type, excellent paper, and a style as plain and free from tawdriness as the sheets on which it is written. Nor is this total disregard of all ornament the only point in which Mr. Legh has shewn his utter deficiency in the notable art of bookmaking : it will scarcely be credited, especially by some of our more celebrated tourists, that a three months cruise in the Egean sea, a visit to Mitylene, Scio, Delos, Mycone, and Athens-a voyage down the gulf of Lepanto to Zante, from Zante to Malta, from Malta to Alexandria, and a journey from Alexandria to Ibrim in Nubia, 120 miles beyond the first Cataract of the Nile, should have produced only 143 pages of moderate-sized letter-press. Such, however, is the fact. Perhaps we have found a suitable companion for this unpretending volume in Norden's modest account of his travels, through Egypt and Nubia. This honest Dane, when on his sick bed, anxious for his reputation, and fearful that he should not live to arrange his observations, but still more fearful lest the mistaken zeal of others should add to his notes and observations, thus writes to his friend : It is my desire that all wandering prolixities be curtailed, in order to avoid the sarcastic imputation of the French against the learned of the North, that they never know when to have done with a subject;
“ ils ont tant la
de bavarder.” But Mr. Norden was no bavard; nor, in truth, is Mr. Legh. A few good plates, indeed, of the Nubian temples, and some account of the natural history of this upper region of the Nile, so very little known, would have greatly enhanced the value of the work; but-non omnia possumus omnes—and when we find Englishinen of rank, of family and of fortune, foregoing all the pleasures within their reach, for a voluntary exile; exposing themselves, with VOL. XVI. NO, XXXI.
their eyes open, to all the inconveniencies and hardships of painful and perilous journies, to the effects of bad climates and pestilential diseases, not merely out of idle curiosity, but for the sake of seeing with their own eyes, hearing with their own ears, and of obtaining that information and receiving those impressions which books alone can never give, we ought to be proud of this national trait, peculiarly characteristic, we believe, of British youth ; and so far from visiting their literary omissions with critical severity, we should consider their cominunications as entitled to every indulgence. On the present occasion we have nothing to find fault with but the omissions. We could have wished to know something more of the ancient country of the Ethiopians, in which Mr. Legh has gone beyond any former traveller, (that is to say, along the banks of the Nile,) except two, whom we shall have occasion to mention hereafter, and whose labours are not yet before the public.
The plague, which, in 1812, raged at Constantinople and throughout Asia Minor, compelled our author, and his fellow traveller the Rev. Mr. Smelt, to abandon their original plan of travelling by Smyrna to the capital of the Eastern empire, and to turn their faces towards Egypt. For though the communication between Constantinople and Alexandria had been uninterrupted, the latter remained perfectly free from the contagion; and so inexplicable and capricious is the way in which this most dreadful of all diseases spreads from country to country, that a Greek, who acted as British consul at Scio, observed to our travellers he had no fear of its infection being communicated from Smyrna, where numbers were daily dying, and from whence persons were daily arriving at the island, though within a few hours sail; but," he added, should the plague declare itself at Alexandria, distant some hundred miles, we shall certainly have it at Scio. It did reach Alexandria while they were in Upper Egypt and carried off one half of its inhabitants, who, before this dreadful visitation, had dwindled down to about 12,000 souls. New Alexandria,' says Norden, may justly be looked on as a poor orphan who has no other inheritance but the respectable name of its father.' Most travellers agree in the melancholy feelings excited by the present forlorn and neglected state of this once magnificent city; which abounded in temples, palaces, baths and theatres ; and which reckoned 300,000 freemen among its population at the time when it fell under the dominion of the Romans. The inhabited part is confined to the narrow neck of land which joins the Pharos to the continent; the circuit of nearly five miles, inclosed by the wall of a hundred towers built by the Saracens in the thirteenth century, is now, for the most part, a deserted space, covered with heaps of rubbish and strewed over with the fragments of ancient buildings. Even its venerable ruins are fast disappearing,—the Turks having so little feeling for ancient works of art, that they dig up the most beautiful columns to saw into mill-stones, and build their bases and capitals into the walls of their ill-constructed houses. Pompey's Pillar and the Obelisk of Cleopatra owe their preservation solely to their bulk.
By Colonel Missett, the British resident at Alexandria, our travellers were furnished with letters to Cairo, and among others, with one to an intelligent traveller, to whom they were afterwards indebted for great assistance and much valuable information. This person, who was known in Egypt by the name of Shekh Ibrahim, but whose real name is Burchardt, is still on his travels under the auspices of the African Association;—not Society, as Mr. Legh has it, nor yet Institution ;-he has transmitted home, we understand, some very curious and important information respecting the Nubians and various tribes of Arabs. At that time he had just effected his escape from the Bedouins, in Syria, by whom he had been robbed of all his effects and detained for six months in close captivity,
The population of Egypt is a mixture of Copts, Jews, Arabs and Turks—the first supposed to be the descendants of the ancient Egyptians; the second the same here as they are found to be over the whole world; the third, who form the great mass of the population, consist of the Pastoral—the Bedouin, the independent restless, warlike freebooter of the desert--and the Fellah, or cultivator of the soil, the most civilized and patient, but at the same time the most corrupt and degraded of bis countrymen and the Turks and Albanians who lord it over all the others, being distributed through the country to garrison the different towns, and to levy the miri or contributions, which they do with every circumstance of cruelty and oppression.',
The condition of the peasantry, which is as miserable as can well be imagined, seems to have undergone no change for the better since the days of Sesostris, Psammeticus or Cheops. Whether under the yoke of the Persians, the Greeks, Romans, Arabians, Turks or French, this unfortunate country, as Niebuhr justly observes, has enjoyed no interval of tranquillity and freedom, but has constantly been oppressed and pillaged by the lieutenants of a distant lord; the sole object of both being that of extorting as large a revenue as possible from the hard hands of the peasants.
• Even now,' says this judicious writer, the population is decreasing; and the peasant, although in a fertile country, miserably poor; for the exactions of government and its officers leave him nothing to lay out in the improvement and culture of his lands, while the cities are falling
into ruin, because the same unhappy restraints render it impossible for the citizens to engage in any lucrative industry.'
Of this mixed population it is hard to say whether the Arabs, the Copts or the Turks are the most simple, the most ignorant and the most superstitious. Mr. Legh seems to think the Copts, (who are Christians of the sect of Eutyches,) 'a clever and intriguing race :' they are employed, he says, by the government in keeping the registers of land and tribute;' he admits, however, that, in acquiring these posts, they have to dispute them with the Jews. Ancient Coptic books are said to be found still in Upper Egypt, but no Copt understands them; and the Rosetta stone, we suspect, is still little less mysterious than it was on the day of its arrival in England. The simplicity of the peasants, whether Copts or Arabs, is not the worst trait in their character. Niebuhr says, that, while he was surveying in the Delta, he let a peasant look through the levelling telescope, which inverted the object; the man, on observing the village turned upside down, stared at the traveller with great astonishment; but on being told that, by the order of the Pashaw,* he was about to destroy it, the poor fellow entreated he would give him time to remove his wife and his cow, and set off on full speed for that purpose—and this poor man, we doubt not, was quite as well skilled as his neighbours in all the learning of the Egyptians.'
The mud villages and the pigeon houses interspersed with palms, the gardens of orange and banana trees which abound in the Delta and along each bank of the Nile, added to the richness of the soil, which produces the finest crops of grain almost without the labour of culture, afford a pleasing prospect to the eye, while the miserable appearance of the peasantry strongly evinces how completely the bounty of nature may be counteracted by a bad government.
The citadel of Cairo, which stands under the Mokattam heights or termination of the chain of mountains which accompanies the Nile through Upper Egypt, and which the French fortified, is the residence of the Pashaw, who received our travellers in the most friendly manner, with many flattering expressions of esteem for their country, and what was of more use to them, with a promise of protection and assistance in the prosecution of their travels to the southward. This he was enabled to do, as Egypt was now, by his vigorous administration, in a state of greater tranquillity than it had known for many years, while the Turks and Mamelukes held a sort of divided empire. It cannot be denied that the latter expe
* We heartily wish that Mr. Legh and other English travellers would not sanction us in the improper mode of spelling this word; Pacha in French orthography is right, in English it would be Paka, which cannot be right.