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For perfect preservation the temples of Egypt have no rivals among monuments of high antiquity. If the religion of the Pharaohs were to be revived the Edfu temple would only need the attentions of the upholsterer. For majesty, the ruins of others, such as Karnak's, a mile and a half round, are hard to match, and they possess the extraordinary interest of having all their uses marked in plain figures oh their walls. Everything has its hieroglyphic explanation painted on it.
There are few more impressive moments in your life than when you enter for the first time a perfect temple of ancient Egypt, with every foot of its vast interior sculptured and painted with the mythologies of gods and men.
There are some and I am one of them-who feel the call of the City of the Caliphs as strongly as the call of the temples of Karnak and tombs of Thebes. In the Arab city at Cairo you seem to be walking in Bagdad or Granada and back in the Middle Ages. There is such a bewildering succession of antique mosques, tombs, palaces, fountains, and baths, culminating in the domed and minareted tombs of the Caliphs on the edge of the Eastern Desert and the mosque-crowned citadel of Saladin.
That is the white side of the shield. If the Egyptian had as much sense as the Greek-out of Greece--there would be no other. The Greek knows when he is well off. He is as willing to live under other people's governments as the Jew, if those governments can ensure him equitable taxation, respect for his property, and good conditions for his commerce.
Hundreds of thousands of Greeks were quite willing to put up with the government of the late Sultan of Turkey to be allowed to trade in Constantinople and the Asia Minor ports.
The Egyptian would have prefered to live under the rule of Abdul Hamid to living under the rule of Lord
Cromer, apart from religious considerations, because he would have lived in the hope of rising to be one of the fountains of corruption. He does not desire equitable conditions for trade, because he has no capacity for trade. He has not the nerve to take responsibility or the honesty to retain credit. Little of the trade of Egypt is in his hands. He may be a book-keeper in a merchant's office or an assistant in a shop, but the business will belong to some one else. The wealth of Egyptians, rich and poor, arises solely from land. One man is lucky enough to own land which the foreigners require for building. He gets a bountiful price, and puts it away in sovereigns. He does not often invest it. Many Arabs still consider that investment is a breach of the prophet's injunctions about usury, though they make an exception for the building and hiring out of houses.
Others let their own lands or hire other people's for the cultivation of cotton and sugar-cane. It is seldom that an Egyptian does any productive work except as a clerk or an agricultural labourer. The Egyptian student abroad is said by those who know him best to show no great capacity for picking up anything but bad habits. He is also generally like the babu, a conspirator. In short, the inhabitant of Egypt was created to live by agriculture. In the country, superintending the cultivation of his lands, he is a gentleman, though he is not the kind of gentleman you could trust with the distribution of water and justice.
The evil of communication with Levantines has made the town Egyptian hopelessly corrupt. If he could be kept from evil communications he would become a good citizen like the country Egyptian, for he likes peace and hates responsibility. Vanity and venality are his besetting sins, and they are the roots of his parliamentary aspirations. He wishes to swagger about independence, and sell himself to the highest bidder—where he cannot sell himself to all
the bidders. How little the Egyptian desires to serve his country, which he considers himself competent enough to rule, I show in my chapter on the subject. (Chapter XV).
If the English could run Egypt on the same principles as the French run Tunis all would be well. Firm paternal government is what the Egyptian requires. He is not irreconcilable, he is not keen, he is not pertinacious; he is merely demonstrative; he has a passion for demonstrations, and is a born orator.
In this book I do not concern myself with him, though Egypt is on the brink of a Revolution unless the nettle is firmly grasped. I gave him a very complete diagnosis in Egypt and the English. Now I take up my pen to describe the humours of Egyptian society, Egyptian servants, and, above all, the humours and delights of travel in Upper Egypt. I give glimpses of all the everyday life of the Englishman in Egypt, from doing business (with Egyptians) to donkey-riding
I also devote several chapters to the eccentricities of the Egyptian Court The incidents in them were the actual experiences of a very high official and his wife, given me for publication.
Not less interesting to some people than the humours of Egyptian high-life, Egyptian patriotism and Egyptian morality will be the advice on curio-buying in Egypt when you have not much money to spend, which concludes Part I.
But the book is not entirely taken up with anecdotes and absurdities. Like Queer Things about Japan and Queer Things about Persia, it devotes half its pages to the monuments, the romance, the mystery, and the poetry of the Orient. The fascination of Egypt is extraordinary ; its monuments are matchless. My pen lingers lovingly round the glories of its scenery and art. And here I have the privilege of giving the traveller in search of fresh holiday-grounds, and
the still larger, but not less appreciative, public who can only expect to travel in the pages of a book, a bird's-eye view of the glories of Egypt, the most remarkable country in the world, as seen by one who has spent his manhood in the pursuit of sunshine and beauty. I have visited a large proportion of the most beautiful and interesting places in the world, and (not even excepting Italy and Japan-my two favourite playgrounds heretofore) never has any country so surprised and fascinated me as Egypt. It is so full of different interests. The history of Egypt covers countless centuries; the most ancient and perfect of monuments are those of Pharaonic Egypt; the most exquisite monuments of Arabian art are those in mediæval Cairo, but interesting above all are the life of the fields and the bazars, where people still live and work as they did in the days of the Bible and the Pharaohs.
I have also much to say about the exhilaration of riding and camping in the desert; the utterly strange life in the Great Oasis; the comedy of the Nile steamers which go up from Cairo to Assuan and the Sudan; the life in unbeaten tracks like the Fayum; the life in the dead cities of the Delta, like Rosetta and Damietta ; the lotus life and the exquisite beauty of Luxor, where you are within a short walk of the finest ruins in Egypt, while you are staying in a most luxurious hotel; and the gay winter season which society spends in Assuan, “the City of the Idle Rich.”
Cairo is an Arab capital, and Cairo needs a book to itself. There are thousands of natives in Cairo who have never heard of the Pharaohs and the monuments of ancient Egypt. If you want to see Egypt pure and simple, naked and unashamed, you must go down into the Delta, or up into Upper Egypt. I give a general sketch of the rural life, which you will see, in my chapters on the Egyptian State rail
ways and the Nile as seen from Cook's steamers. But the monuments have chapters to themselves, grouped round the principal temples and tombs, and mostly in connection with Luxor.
At Luxor, if you only reside at the Karnak end of the town, away from the vulgarities and toutings of the front, you live at the Court of the great Rameses, in an atmosphere so exquisitely mild that life is a dream.
I have given many pages to describing that dream, not forgetting the humours of the donkey-boys who conduct you to the Court.