Imágenes de página

The peccant " humour," however, of our lower orders, which shews itself in such various absurdities, is fortunately symptomatic of a strong constitution; and in this point of view may be considered with some indulgence. Under a despotism, the first wish of the humble and unprotected is to seek protection by being confounded with the mass, and to take shelter from persecution in personal obscurity. England, on the contrary, has at all times boasted of its candidates for vulgar tame. Every body being in the eyes of the law somebody, any body may without danger attract the notice of society; and the common fellow, like the patriot " that dares be honest in the worst of times," would scorn to shrink beneath the glance of a Bow-street officer or a spy. From the days of Addison's trunk-maker to Tiddidol, Sam House, the late Sir Geoffry Dunstan, and little Waddington, London has never wanted its candidates for mob notoriety. A reform in this particular might therefore be taken as a very bad sign of the times; and as such we heartily pray Heaven to avert it. The desire to become known "en faisant ses farces" may be injurious enough to the facetious underling, but it cannot compete in mischief to society with the graver follies of a high-born ambitious; and the 'prentice might reply to the reproving frown of the fanatical legislator, who would intrude on his pleasures, in the language of Martial,

Innocuos permitte sales; cur Iudere nobis
Non liccat, licuit sijugulare tibi?



Mount Sinai.

At no great distance from the convent is the scene, in the solitudes of Midian, where tradition says Moses kept the sheep of Jethro, his father-in-law. It is a valley at the back of the Mount, between two ranges of mountains. A solitary group of trees stands in the middle. The superior apologised for his inability to supply us with any other than vegetable food, and advised us to buy a goat of the Arabs. This miserable creature, which had been obliged all its life to keep Lent On the rocks, was purchased for seven piastres; and, being pulled up through the window, was slain for the Christians' use, and served up, dressed in different ways, for dinner in the evening; but it proved so meagre, and had so unhappy a flavour, that we were obliged to abandon it.

A venerable monk, above ninety years of age, the oldest in the convent, paid us a visit in our apartments: he had resided here seventy years; and we asked him' in what manner his life had passed during this best part of a century's confinement within the convent and garden-walls- One day, he said, had passed away like another; he had seen only the precipices, the sky, and the desert; and he strove now to fix all his thoughts on another world, and waited calmly the hour of his departure. He then dwelt much on the vanity of human pleasures and the nearness of eternity, and ended by asking me, very earnestly, for a bottle of rum. We had but one left for our future journey, but gave it, however, to gratify the old father, who requested that my servant, when he brought it to his cell, would conceal it beneath his .cloak, lest his brethren should catch a glimpse of it. On the third morning we set out early from the convent for the summit of Mount Sinai, with two Arab guides. The ascent was, for some time, over long and broken flights of stone steps, placed there by the Greeks. The path was often narrow and steep, and wound through lofty masses of rock on each side. In about half an hour we came to a well of excellent water; a short distance above which is a small ruined chapel. About half way up was a verdant and pleasant spot, in the midst of which stood a high and solitary palm, and the rocks rose in a small and wild amphitheatre around. We were not very long now in reaching the summit, which is of limited extent, having two small buildings on it, used formerly by the Greek pilgrims, probably for worship. But Sinai has four summits; and that of Moses stands almost in the middle of the others, and is not visible from below, so that the spot where he received the law must have been hid from the view of the multitudes around; and the smoke and flame, which, Scripture says, enveloped the entire Mount of Sinai, must have had the more awful appearance, by reason of its many summits and great extent; and the account delivered gives us reason to imagine the summit or scene where God appeared was shrouded from the hosts around; as the seventy elders only were permitted to behold, as "the body of heaven in its clearness, the feet of sapphire," &c. But what occasions no small surprise at first, is the scarcity of plains, valleys, or open places, where the children of Israel could have stood conveniently to behold the glory on the Mount. From the summit of Sinai you see only innumerable ranges of rocky mountains. One generally places, in imagination, around Sinai, extensive plains, or sandy deserts, where the camp of the hosts was placed, where the families of Israel stood at the doors of their tents, and the line was drawn round the mountain, which no one might break through on pain of death. But it is not thus: save the valley by which we approached Sinai, about half a mile wide, and a few miles in length, and a small plain we afterwards passed through, with a rocky hill in the middle, there appear to be few open places around the Mount. We did not, however, examine it on all sides. On putting the question to the superior of the convent, where he imagined the Israelites stood: every where, he replied, waving his hands about—in the ravines, the valleys, as well as the plains. Having spent an hour here, we descended to the place of verdure, and after resting awhile, took our road with one of the guides towards the mountain of St. Catherine. The rapture of Mr. W.'s feelings on the top of Sinai was indescribable; I expected to see him take flight for a better region. Being the son of a Rabbi at Munich, the conviction of being on the scene where God visited his people, and conferred such glory on them, was almost too much for him. After ascending again in another direction, we came at last to a long and steep descent that commanded a very noble scene, and reached at last a little valley at the bottom, that was to be our resting-place for the night. The mountains rose around this valley in vast precipices—a line of beautiful verdure ran along its whole extent, in the midst of which stood a deserted monastery. The fathers had long been driven from it by the Arabs, but its various apartments were still entire, and afforded an excellent asylum for a traveller. This deep solitude had an exceeding and awful beauty;—the palms, the loftiest I ever saw, rose moveless, and the garden and grove were desolate and neglected; the fountain in the latter was now useless, and the channel of the rivulet that ran through the valley was quite dry; the walls were in ruins, and the olive, the poplar, and other trees, grew in wild luxuriance. Some old books of devotion were yet left behind within. Having chosen an apartment in the upper story, which opened into the corridor, and had been one of the cells of the exiled fathers, we took possession of it at night, kindled a fire on a large stone in a corner, and made a good supper of the rude provisions we had. There needed no spirit of romance in order to enjoy the situation exquisitely; few ideal pictures ever equalled the strangeness anil savageness of this forsaken sanctuary in the retreats of Sinai. A quantity of dry shrubs had been spread on the floor for our bed, but it was impossible to sleep yet, as the moon had risen on the valley, and one of the Arabs went to another part of the corridor and playedhis rude guitar for our amusement. But still we slept soundly that night after our fatigues, and were called, long before sunrise next morning, by the Arabs, to ascend St. Catherine's. The path was almost always steep, sometimes even precipitous, and consisted of loose stones which gave way under the feet. The wind was extremely cold: the Arabs' hands were quite cramped by it. With great pleasure we reached a well of water deadly cold, beneath a perpendicular precipice, where it was never visited by the sun. After resting awhile, we again ascended, always amidst rocks of vast height, of the most grand and imposing forms, till we reached the summit, which was a very small peak, not above fifty feet in circumference; the wind here was so keen and subtile, that it seemed to pierce through us. St. Catherine's, supposed by some to be Mount Horeb, is the highest mountain in all the region around; but from its summit, as far as the eye could reach, nothing was to be seen on every side but ranges of naked mountains succeeding each other like waves of the sea. Between these rocky chains there are in general only ravines or narrow vallies. We at last began to descend, and with great pleasure reached the well again, and having climbed to the ledge of rock beneath which it stood, we kindled a fire and boiled some coffee, which drank like nectar; the cold was quickly banished from our frames, and we got into excellent spirits. Were my fancy stored with eastern imagery, I should exhaust it all in praise of this most excellent beverage, which is the real amulet and Beverfailing resource amidst fatigues and all sorts of hardships and privations. We now descended to the desolate monastery in the glen, and taking an Arab pipe, solaced ourselves in the abodes of the fathers, till the sultry heat was passed, and then proceeded for about two hours till we came to the celebrated rock of Meribah. It still bears striking evidence of the miracle about it, and is quite isolated in the midst of a narrow valley, which is here about two hundred yards broad. There are four or five fissures, one above the other, on the face of the rock, each of them about a foot and half long and a few inches deep. What is remarkable, they run along the breadth of the rock and are not rent downwards; they are more than a foot asunder, and there is a channel worn between them by the gushing of the water. The Arabs still reverence this rock, and stuff shrubs into the holes, that when any of their camels are sick they may eat of it and recover. Two of the holes at this time were filled with reed for this purpose, and they believed it to be endowed with a peculiar virtue. The rock is of a beautiful granite, and is about five yards long, five in height, and four yards wide. This narrow valley soon opened into a plain, capable of containing a large number of people, where they probably stood, as well as around the rock, and in the valley, to receive the water that poured down. It is difficult to take that passage in Scripture literally, which says that the water from the rock followed them in their journeyings, when it is considered that from the nature of the country, their course was afterwards over rocky and rugged places and tracts of sand: to have carried that water over stony ascents and along dry and desert paths, which absorb all moisture, would have been an infinitely greater miracle than the bringing it at first out of the rock, or reproducing it in different parts of their journeys. Perhaps the passage may be intended to convey the latter meaning.

The two servants had been left behind in the convent, as Michel had been taken ill with a fever, and we were not aware that our Arab guides were disposed to act so treacherous a part.—We had left the spot about an hour; it was after sunset, and we were not very far from the convent, and were congratulating ourselves on being soon in our luxurious little cells, and enjoying a good supper after our fatigues, when we perceived some camels and dismounted Arabs standing at a small distance on the left; they had waited for us in this spot, and now called loudly to us to stop. We disregarded this, and walked on, when a Shieik advanced, and seized Mr. C. who shook him off: a young Arab, being enraged at this, drew his pistol, and presenting it, was about to fire, when another chief seized his arm; and in a moment we found ourselves surrounded and in the power of these Bedouins, who were twelve in number, among whom were three Sheiks; they were all armed with matchlock guns and sabres. • Our effects and arms were in the convent, and we had nothing with us worth taking. They had arrived from their camp, some days distant, to demand a contribution of provisions from the monastery, which was refused by the fathers, the demand being so large, and they declared they could not comply with it without permission from the superior convent at Cairo. The Arabs being enraged, and aware of our being abroad, resolved to seize on, and detain us till a ransom was paid, or their demands complied with. In the confusion of the capture, and the noise of so many speaking at once, we hardly knew what they would be at; it was vain to tell them we were Ingleise, and at peace with them; that we were friends of the Pacha of Egypt. They lighted the matches of their musquets, and marched towards the convent, and, on approaching the garden wall, held a parley with two of the domestics on the top of it, and then proceeded beneath the high window, and, being much enraged, they were prepared for any violence. After calling loudly for some time, one of the monks reluctantly appeared at the window, and held a brief conversation with them ; but it came to nothing. Had they known any thing of an escalade, with what joy would they have stormed the convent, and put every one to the sword. We were then conducted some distance down the valley, till we arrived at the place where the night was to be passed; it was bright moonlight, and being very thinly clad, we felt the air extremely chill. Hassan, the chief, was a tall and noble-looking man, with eagle eyes, and teeth like the driven snow. He swore vehemently that he cared nothing for the Sultan of Turkey, of England, or for Mahmoud Ali; that no power should rescue us out of his hands. Beside some low and ruined walls a fire was kindled, the party soon assembled around it, and a cloak was laid on the ground behind, where the three captives were to rest. The fire was immensely large, and burnt fiercely, and threw its glare on the wild and dark features of the circle of Arabs around it, who conversed with vivid animation, and with passionate gestures. They had the civility to hand us a small cup of their coffee, a poor exchange for the good supper we had lost. If ever a day's exertion deserved a bed of down, it was the ascent of St. Catherine's; but our couch was the hard ground. 1 took a stone for my pillow, my companions were little better off, but we were quite exhausted with fatigue, and imagination fled in vain to our luxurious little chambers in the convent, with their soft cushions, and lamp already lighted, and the harmless monks gathering around. The cold wind awoke me in the night, the Arabs were fast asleep around the glowing embers of their fire, and, stepping cautiously over them, I got beside it, and never in my life enjoyed its warmth more. That night-scene was a fine subject for a painter: the precipices that rose close at hand, on which the moonlight rested; the sleeping figures of the Arabs round the fire beneath, and the ruined walls beside; the wild and solemn character of the scenery, fitted beyond all others to be a theatre for miracles, would have made an assemblage of objects but seldom beheld together.

The next morning, before sunrise, they were ready to depart for their camp, two or three days' journey distant. We made known to Hassan our uncertainty and apprehension of what would be their behaviour to us, when the chief lifted his right hand to Heaven, and swore by Allah, we should suffer no injury while in his power: an oath which is seldom violated by them. Being all mounted on camels, we set off; towards evening, we proceeded at a brisk trbt, and entered the wilderness of Paran. The sun was setting, and we passed, at no great distance, Mount Paran : its form was most singular, yet indescribably grand; it had three sharp and pointed summits, and its side towards the wilderness was formed of perpendicular precipices of rock; between its three summits, which rose like towers, were cast the declining beams of the sun. It brought to mind the fine passage in the Prophet, " The glory of God shined from Mount Paran," &c.

The walk of the camel is not disagreeable, but the trot at which we had lately advanced, was no small inconvenience. Mr. W. who was rather unaccustomed to riding, disliked it much; he lamented our misfortune the most of any of the party; and he had reason, since his career of doing good to the people around Sinai and Tor was put a stop to, his journals and papers left in the convent, and it was uncertain how long this capdvity was to last. He was an excellent young man, and


« AnteriorContinuar »