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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 Abukir, 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 Frenchman, 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
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 Palacema 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.
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 on 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