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We close with some notices of the manner in which this poetry of life produces its effect on the dwellers in tents. Layard says :
“Amongst the Bedouins who watched our camels was one Saoud, a poet of renown among the tribes. With the exception of a few ballads that he had formerly composed in honor of Soffuk and other celebrated Shammar sheikhs, he chiefly recited extemporary stanzas on passing events, or on persons who were present. He would sit in my tent of an evening and sing his verses in a wild though plaintive strain, to the great delight of the assembled guests, and particularly of Migwell [another Sheikh), who, like a true Bedouin, was easily affected by poetry, especially with such as might touch his own passion for the unknown lady [whom he was wooing]. He would sway his body to and fro, keeping time with the measure, sobbing aloud as the poet sang the death of his companions in war, breaking out into loud laughter when the burden of the ditty was a satire upon his friends, making extraordinary noises and grimaces to show his feelings, more like a drunken man than a sober Bedouin. But when the bard improvised an amatory ditty, the young chief's excitement was almost beyond control. The other Bedouins were scarcely less affected by these rude measures, which had the same effect on the wild tribes of the Persian mountains. Such verse, chanted by their self-taught poets, or by the girls of their encampment, would drive warriors to the combat fearless of death, or prove an ample reward on their return from the dangers of the ghazon [raid] or the fight. The excitement they produce exceeds that of the grape.”
A similar scene connected with bardic song is described by Mr. Thos. W. Atkinson, who travelled among the Kirghis' pastoral tribes on the high plateaus of Central Asia, and shows how uniform is the effect of that mode of life. He says:
“After proceeding more than an hour, I beheld a large aoul [encampment] three or four miles off, and toward it I turned. Two Kirghis presently met me and led me to their chief, whom we found sitting at the door of his yourt' like a patriarch surrounded by his family, having in front his poet singing the great deeds of his race. He rose to receive me, gave me a seat on his own carpet, and then the bard continued his song.
“This family group, the glowing sky and the vast plain with the thousands of animals scattered over it, formed a charming picture. Homer was never listened to with more attention than was this shepherd poet, while singing the traditions of the ancestors of the tribe. Whatever power the old Greek possessed over the minds of his audience was equalled by that of the bard before me. When he had sung of the mountain scenes around, the pastoral habits of the people, their flocks and herds, the faces of his hearers were calm and they sat unmoved. But when he began to recite the warlike deeds of their race, their eyes flashed with delight; as he proceeded, they were worked up in a passion, and some of them grasped their battle-axes and sprang to their feet in a state of frenzy. Then followed a mournful strain, telling of the death of a chief, when all excitement ceased, and every one listened with deep attention. Such was the sway this unlettered bard had over the minds of his wild comrades."
To this may be added, from another traveller, a well-outlined sketch of a modern sheikh near Warka, the very region from which Abraham originally came. “Sheikh Fahad (the Tiger) was a tall, stout, handsome man, forty-five or fifty years of age, with regular features, and the slightly aquiline nose so peculiar to the high-class Arab. His forehead was lofty and expansive, full of thought and energy. The expressive black eyes, as they glanced from one to another of the party, beamed with kindness and good-humor; but it was not difficult to conceive them assuming a very different aspect on other occasions. Conscious of his importance, high birth and dignity, he bestowed his salaams with the grace and pride of a monarch.”
i Movable house made with wattles and skins and cloth.
2 Travels in the Regions of the Upper and Lower Amour, by Thos. W. Atkinson, F. R. G. S., F. G. S.
We give one more extract, in order to show how carefully the unwritten genealogical records are preserved in those countries. It is from Lady Duff Gordon's “ Letters from Egypt," 1863. She was writing at this time from near Thebes :
“It was more biblical than ever; the people were all relations of Mustafa's, and to see Seedee Omar, the head of the household and a young man, come in from the field, and the flocks and herds and camels and asses, is all like a beautiful dream. All these people are of good blood, and a sort of 'roll of battle' is kept for the genealogies of the noble Arabs who came in with Amer, the first Arab conqueror and lieutenant of Omar. Not one of these brown men, who do not own a second shirt, would give his brown daughter to the greatest Turkish pasha.”
These extracts are long, but not too long if they enable us to bring before our minds more fully and vividly the sheikh-life of Abraham and Isaac and Jacob and Esau, and also the tent-life of Moses, and subsequently of the whole Hebrew race during the forty years of the wanderings in the desert. Amid circumstances like these, people must have a cast of character peculiar to themselves. In settled communities there is a close pressure of society upon each of its members, holding them to laws of honesty and veracity, and general integrity of conduct, which can be more
1 Travels and Researches in Chaldea and Susiana, by Wm. Kennet Loftus, F. G. S.
easily escaped from where every individual is more of an atom disunited from others; but, at the same time, the plottings and cabals in close congregations of people, the corruptions from luxury and the disguises and frauds incident to crowded societies, are not known in the simple habits belonging to a pastoral life. A bounding sense of freedom is cultivated in the latter, which keeps man up to the proper dignity of his nature. We see also in these extracts how the bardic spirit was cultivated and had many admirers, and how it broke in upon the seeming monotony of tent-life. We can imagine how, in the evenings, the listeners gathered around the improvisatores in the tents at Beersheba, or at Shechem, or the wanderings in the desert, or far subsequently at the Khabour; and how thus, when inspiration came upon prophets and others, it so readily and uniformly took the poetic form.
“UR OF THE CHALDEES.”
TAR down the Euphrates, and near the spot where the
T Tigris joins that stream, is a region to which the curiosity of scholars had been directed though earnestly yet unavailingly for a great many years; but which has recently been laid open to us through the enterprise of two successive English travellers. It was known that the Talmudists and the early Arabians designated this spot as the birth-place of Abraham, and that a city there situated was called Ur by the learned Arab geographers.
The region is one that might well have tempted curiosity, apart from such religious interest; for although it is now but a sandy waste, with only a few specks of green where the
marshes connected with the two rivers cause some fertility, it is sprinkled over with lofty and very extensive mounds formed by ruined edifices, and history intimates that cities had risen and 'flourished there long before Babylon was known. The region had the attraction of mystery, and was connected with the earliest religions of the world. We are now also aware that these cities were deemed so sacred in the
Map of the supposed Ur of the Chaldees.
ancient times as to be each a great necropolis even for countries far distant. The extensive explorations at Nineveh and those at Babylon have not disclosed a single place of interment there; the dead of an immense extent of country