« PreviousContinue »
The Call of Egypt
GYPT has two calls—one for England and one for all
the world. To England she is a brand snatched from the burning. A century and more ago, in the two battles of Abakir, by land and sea, Nelson and Abercromby saved her from becoming an Algeria; and less than a generation ago English blood and treasure rescued Egypt from rebellion, rapine, and massacre, in a long-drawn series of battles from Alexandria to Omdurman and Omdebrekat.
To the land it had rescued the Pax Britannica gave the priceless gifts of security of person and property, and unfailing and equitably distributed water, till the whole land smiled as it had never smiled since it lost the Pax Romana.
Therefore Egypt has an interest for the Briton beyond other nations.
But Egypt has also a double call for all the world-the call of an enchanting climate, and the call of the Motherland. The expulsion from Eden has fallen most heavily upon Europe, for there winter stalks in its naked ferocity (except on the playground of Switzerland), and there the millions exposed to its malignity are people of sensitive organisations, which expand like flowers in the sunshine. In Canada the cold is crisp, with unsullied skies ; in Northern Asia mankind is satisfied with a sufficiency of food and a stove to sleep on. For the Englishman and the French
man, to winter in Egypt is to winter in Paradise-to a few of them it is only in Egypt that they can live through the winter at all, without the fear of tropical scourges before their eyes.
Assuan is on the northern horizon of the tropics ; Herodotus thought it stood on the tropic line, having been shown a deep, deep well, still to be seen, where the sun was said to shine to the very bottom at the noon of a certain day. Yet Assuan has no yellow fever, no malaria, not one of the pestilences of miasma to throw a shadow on the sport and gaiety at its Cataract Hotel. Luxor, that has never known a winter, has a Winter Palace-a hotel on the same palatial scale. At the one, the northerner, flying from winter, can have his golf, his tennis, his croquet, his riding, and his sailing, in the most perfect winter climate in the world; at the other he can wander through the most extensive ruins of antiquity in the next most perfect climate. If he is satisfied with sunshine, without uniformity of temperature, in Cairo he can have the gayest of winter Society, combined with all sorts of sport and the contemplation of monuments innumerable in a mediæval Arabian city-the capital of the Caliphs, against whom the Crusades were waged.
Of all the climates of the world there is none to equal the winter climate of Upper Egypt: it is so dry, so genial, so equable, so wedded to blue skies and pageants of sunrise and sunset.
Such is the call of Egypt's climate. There remains the call of the Motherland.
I do not mean by this that any of us-except perhaps the not too reputable gipsies—are descended from the Ancient Egyptians, or that our countries were colonised by them. Not one inch of Europe was ever included in the Empire of the greatest of the Pharaohs. But civilisation
makes us all one country, and civilisation was born in Egypt. There is no historical and attested antiquity to compare with that of Egypt and Chaldæa. The Chinese and Japanese use large figures; but their proofs get shaky no further back than the Middle Ages. The world-power of Babylon was as short-lived as that of Athens. But in Egypt we have documentary proofs for at least five thousand years. We need take nothing from hearsay; for in their marvellous system of hieroglyphics the Pharaohs and their subjects wrote on every temple and tomb the date and circumstances of its erection, the story of its founder, and the uses to which it was to be put. The Carthaginians and Etruscans frankly borrowed their civilisation from the Egyptians—many of their tombs might have been hewn out by Egyptian artificers, and they are rich in Egyptian jewels and implements. Through them, as well as direct, the Greeks and Romans felt the influences of Egypt.
Of what character are the remains left by the Pharaohs in the fifty centuries during which they were laying the basis of civilisation ? Tombs and temples, and the tiniest minutiæ of household implements and personal ornaments, but hardly one house that was not built of mud. From their houses we learn little except the antiquity of the vaulted ceiling. All we know of their dwellings we learn from their tombs, when they had left off building mountains of stone, and taken to hewing mausoleums—some of the dimensions of cathedrals—out of the living rock. It would be worth while going to Egypt, were it only to see the tombs of the Pharaohs at Thebes, and of their viziers at Memphis, which have the whole life of ancient Egypt illuminated on their smooth limestone walls, and have yielded furniture (put into them for the use of the doubles of the dead) which helps us to picture almost every detail in the domestic life of ancient Egypt.