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THE DEAD SEA.
tristique, palus inamabilis, undå.--Virg. Æneid. I. vi. WHOEVER has spent the month of March at Jerusalem, and knows how w value an ample view from a clean terrace, of one of the most interesting scenes in history, will never forget, unless he be singularly ungrateful, the Latin Convent of Our Holy Saviour. March is as churlish and gusty a month here as with us in the North of Europe, and shifts the decoration and colouring of your landscape I know not how often in the same day. This is no evil; Jerusalem is so compendiously packed up within its Turkish walls, that, without some such change, you would soon fall asleep over the monotony. Our grey clouds and pea-green washy-looking landscapes are not more me. lancholy than an earth burnt up to the rocks, and a blaze of blue sky overhead: now this you avoid in the month of March ; you stand on the confines of two great portions of the year, and have dashes and blendings of both. We all lived below in a dungeon-like room, too large for a cell, but too dreary for a habitable apartment. There was one great window, but its huge bars and cobwebbed panes of yellow-looking glass darkened the little daylight which was left us. Some lumber in the way of a few old oaken chairs creaking under us, and a clumsy black desk, notched with the memorials of the pilgrims who had preceded us, did the part of furniture. I remember, above all, the door. It was like the hieroglyphic tablet in the tomb of some Egyptian king. Names, and some of them worth reading, scarred it all over, On a rainy day it was invaluable. Our servants pitched their tent on one of the terraces outside, and revelled at large on the wine of Bethlehem. But we were careless enough about our in-door comforts. We lived, like all good Easterns, wholly and altogether in the open air. When not actually on excursions, in and round the city, we were to be found on the terrace. That terrace was worth an entire library and garden. It was nothing more than the roof of the building ; perfectly flat, well paved, and kept in the best order, with a plain parapet, and no interruption but the cupola, rising in the centre, like an isolated little temple, and looking out in various ways upon the most striking features of the city. I read Herodotus at Thermopyla and Marathon, and the Iliad on the plains of Troy, but I would give both for a chapter of Isaiah or Jeremiah from the terrace of the convent of San Salvatore. I remember one evening, in particular, it was so wild and wayward, the sky so dull and lucid -I had made up my mind for an earthquake, or a hurricane, or something worse than either for which I had no distinct name; when, after a pause, in which you could have heard distinctly the whispers of two naked Arabs at their prayers on the terrace near, I saw a great burst of light-half sun, half cloud-with a deep flaring rainbow crowning it, sweep off from behind Mount Olivet towards the Dead Sea. I thought of Julian and St. Cyril, and his crosses, and pronounced him a good observer and a better poet. Jerusalem was starred with the light, and Olivet was as if Shiloh had revealed himself, and the bare red rocks of the Dead Sea seemed angry with the smouldering of the sinking cities, and Tophet (fit scene for the rites of Moloch) looked doubly dark and sepulchral. These were no unusual a companiments to our readings; we read and read, and listened and gazed, and then came the winds of the retreating storm over us--and the chant of those Franciscans, and the dull heavy swell of the organ below. This was the poetry of the day--but we had plenty of prose also. The community was composed of the ordinary ingredients: forty monks all sighing for Europe, fearing the Turks, hating the Greeks, and taking any thing per l'amor d'Iddio, were it even a bag of sequins; but withal good-humoured, good-natured, gossips by profession and disposition, and willing to ease any unfortunate traveller of his time and ennui, if properly required. After supper we had every night our conversazione. Our predecessors were discussed, with their merits and demerits-Chateaubriand, I remember, figured toto vertice amongst his contemporaries, but not precisely in the way he would Nou. VOL. XXVI. NO. CVII.
have preferred. The pilgrim chevalier was testy enough, and nearly knocked down a monk for some trifling mistake or inattention. In his own pages he is not less valiant, but then he performs these exploits not on monks, but Turks, which makes all the difference, in the world. The monks were soon exhausted, and became bores. We were infinitely obliged, in such a state of our affairs, to a lively Monsieur M- , since a preacher of no ordinary lungs and success in the South of France, for his occasional visits. He was the most kindly-conditioned dialectician I ever met with, and in controversy was, what the fancy would call, a perfect “ glutton.” Theological encounters he would go any distance for, and under texts, which to us looked perfectly flat and uninteresting, he was sure to scent out, as in a fox cover, the most admirable quarry. Then M- was eloquent, or believed himself to be so. He preached ; and when he preached, it was with such an extravagant unction, it was impossible not to burst at once into a flagrant laugh. Moods, tenses, languages, were secondary matters to him whenever requested, he volunteered, without the least demur, fragments of Spanish or Italian, and pirouetted off at last into French, without the least concern, as if he were doing every thing in the most graceful and perfect manner in the world. He was no favourite, we could soon perceive, in the convent. A Frenchman, and a Frenchman in the most teazing and vivid sense of the word, could not find much grace amongst a community of grave Spaniards and Italians. He annoyed the monks, moreover, at their orisons or in their sleep, for half his nights were spent in striding about (and no man had a more emphatic and ponderous stride) from his room to his gallery, and making portentous preparations for the display of the ensuing morning. Yet was the Abbé Ma“ trouvaille" at Jerusalem, though somewhat of an “ ennuyeux" in the long run elsewhere; and for having delivered us from the company of his brethren, and sometimes from our own, we owe him a large store of gratitude, and no men can be more willing to pay it, whenever an opportunity
· will permit.
But we at last got tired of these pleasures, and proposed an excursion to the Dead Sea, and subsequently to Karak and Petra. When at Cairo, we had been recommended to take the route by Jerusalem—now that we found ourselves at Jerusalem, people said, what fools not to have gone by Cairo! Had there been any possibility of change or retreat, we should, of course, not have heard these observations. The first things we had to think of, were good horses, and then good guides. Any man who has money will easily find the first;—the latter are not to be dug up on every occasion. We made inquiries everywhere. Some asked us, “ where Karak was?" and others said, “ It is somewhere in Mesopotamia.” The Turks shook their heads and continued smoking; the Greeks, finding we patronized the Latin convent, left us to our own bad taste and evil fate. In this dilemma, the Padre Guardiano, as the Superior was called, came to us one morning with his face all radiant with joy, full of glee and mystery, and informed us, much to our satisfaction, that he had found a person of confidence, who had another person of confidence, who knew every thing, and who would do every thing-in a word, in whom we also might implicitly confide. This intermediate had been tried and found proof; and had, at this time, a great veneration for the English. He was a Sheikh, and was possessed of a tribe counting from two to three hundred men. We, who had not less veneration for Sheikhs than he had for Englishmen, and believed in the honesty of all Bedouins, on the faith of numerous extracts from the best writers in our note-books, were delighted beyond measure at our good fortune. The Padre offered his snuff-box by way of congratulation, and in parting said, “ You need not fear this man: he is under the deepest obligations to Mr. B- ; he saved him from the gallows and his son from prison; now it is out of the nature of things he can be ungrateful." We thought so too; but it is not the first time we had been deceived by the nature of things; besides, we were some years younger than the good Padre. Time, however, who discovers all things, somewhat shook the soundness of these conclusions.
A few days afterwards, this yentleman-freebooter was introduced to us in proper form. He looked just such a man as must have been saved six or seven times from the gallows, and whose life was charmed henceforth against all chance of the executioner. I have the infidel's face before me still. Sheikh Mohammed was a wizened, withered, bony, sinister-looking man : his features dried up by sun and wind into a black, mummy-seeming substance, fiercely lighted by two glistening crab-like eyes; his teeth deathly white, and his hair as black as charcoal, and in coarse knots and flakes. All this was half hid by his black Bedouin shawl and beard. The shawl was most unsheiklike; rent and dirty, he seemed now to have carried it about him for many years-a legacy, I suppose, or intended to be one. The smile of this man was worse than his frown; there was treachery and suspicion mixed. He spoke little; but when he did, he gave out the Arab guttural with an importunate emphasis, which, had not the illusion been strongly at work upon us, would probably have set us on our guard. But we had the word of the Guardiano, and, what is not unusual with young travellers, a superabundance of good faith. Mohammed, with all his external drawbacks-and no man bore a plainer advertisement of the interior man on his brow-was taken at once into our unlimited confidence.
On our arrival at Jerusalem, we had found two of our countrymen in the next cell to our own; one extremely ill of a fever, the other scarcely less so of the country ; both anxious to get back to Europe, and both rejoiced at some prospect of relief from the monotonous consolations of the fraternity. The latter, seduced by our conversation, numbers, or cook, was induced once more to risk his fortunes on the waters. He was the best-tempered, careless lounger of a traveller I have ever chanced to meet withal-an utter Irishman, never thinking to-day of the evils of to-morrow; if ever in a passion, the next moment out of it; but to all the serious purposes of travelling, a perfect stranger; guiltless of all research or observation; counting his steps by his dinners, and taking especial note of the bad ones: but then, never recollecting the “notabilia” of a place, until past all chance or means of examining them. At Tyre, where the plague compelled us to camp, at a little distance from the town, in the sands, he seriously proposed sending in our cold mutton to be broiled in the very midst of the pestiferés. At times, however, he was not without a proper sense of danger. At Rosetta, he had to pass from one end of the town to the other during the prevalence of a similar visitation ; he would not trust to the discretion of his Janizary, but drew his sabre, and thus made himself a sort of cordon sanitaire, as he termed it, through the crowd. With this gentleman, (and he was something more, for he had served non sine gloriâ in the Peninsula,) we started, on the 5th of April, for the Dead Sea; and after crossing Olivet to the small village of Bethany, entered on a wild mountainous district, which continues nearly uninterrupted to Jericho.
Our road, for a considerable time, lay along a broken and stony narrow pathway, by the edge of a deep ravine. We passed Hodel Lazariah, and successively Wadi Mousah and Tarbors El Hamid. The mountains in this vicinity are round and separate, thinly sprinkled with oiives, and here and there stretches of rich pasturage gleaming through their sheltered defiles. On leaving El Hamid, we got gradually into a much bolder character of country, and stood, after a slight ascent towards the north, over the dead and gloomy glen called El Gibz. We dismounted, and sat on a ledge of the rock which looked over the abyss. It was a scene of most appalling grandeur. Great horizontal strata lay confusedly tumbled together, as if torn violently by the broad palm of some supernatural being, and hurled asunder to set the twinkling torrent loose below. There were no trees, and very little vegetation; no traces of living thing, except the caves, sepulchres, or cells, hewn out, at an immense height, in the gloomy amphitheatre of perpendicular rocks which stretched overhead. After passing from this ravine, we descended through a succession of lower hills and valleys, in one of which tradition has placed the valley of Adummim, to a mountain point, the last in the rocky chain. From this commanding position we had a most extensive view of the plains of Jericho and the mountains of Moab. The plain is of a dead, sombre green, though tradition and poetry flush it with a thousand colours : the roses of Jericho are predominant in all our associations. The town, to which the eye is guided by some bright tracts of trees, seems compressed, at this distance, into a single tower; and the Jordan, seen only at intervals, or rather its banks, goes sullenly and muddily along through an arid and gloomy flat. Moab looks lofty and proud; her mountains, broken into a variety of minute conical forms, run along, a bold iron barrier to the unconquered land. In getting into the plain, we stood immediately opposite the “ Quarantina ;" the quaint appellation of the rock where Christ is supposed to have suffered his fast of forty days. The mountain looks one of the most prominent and lofty of the chain, and appears broken into three distinct summits. Thanks to its legendary reputation, it seems once to have been thickly peopled by a host of monks. Its face is steep, bare, and boldly trenched with the traces of torrents, and other marks of convulsion and change. On the highest point stands the chapel ; and halfway up are visible two lines of very regular excavation, cells, &c. remains of the former habitation of the monks. The plain extends along its base, and beyond for many miles east and west ; and whether in relation to the desert behind, or the rich tract before, the position has been fixed on with more propriety and consistency than is usual in these matters. The Arabs, as is customary, levied formerly large profits on the zeal of the pilgrim ; but when we were there, we found that some stronger hand had interposed, and they had momentarily been dispossessed. We looked, and would have taken the trouble to climb, had the day been longer, or our piety and curiosity not yielded to our fatigue. After tasting a fountain which goes under the name of Elijah, and which we found rather more mawkish than we could have desired, we trotted on over some swampy ground to the Aga's house, which formerly, as our guide told us, belonged to Zaccheus. His tree was there shown to us; and though we could find no sycamores in or near the place, we were not disposed to find fault. A little after, we had the consolation of beholding the ragged village of Raha, and were informed it was the legitimate successor to the celebrated city of Jericho. It must with sorrow be admitted that it has somewhat degenerated from the glory and prosperity of its ancestor; for instead of walls which defied an army, and a town which was capable of containing one, we saw an irregular group of about ten or fourteen houses, (but of stone, and not of mud,) put any how together, and covered comme Dieu veut, with the first stuff which fortune had thrown in their way. Gird this strong place with a hedge of dry or withered wood for walls, and for a gate erect two posts, with a third laid across it, (and all these as rickety as you please,) and you will then have modern Jericho, and something better perhaps, after all, than the naked reality. Encamped on a dusty esplanade before the Sheikh's house (for there is a Sheikh, as well as Aga, even at Raha), in company with his cattle, we dined, resignedly, on indifferent eggs, sour milk, and goats' cheese. Our military companion, who had high ideas of the talents of our cook, (a Greek artiste, who excelled at a Dulma,) was sore grieved at this disappointment. He stared, and then railed; but this did not alter the matter, nor prevent us from sleeping well, and cheerfully setting out the next morning for our destination.
The Aga was an important man at Raha, and was fond of doing things in a creditable manner; so, notwithstanding our humility, he insisted on our taking his whole Bedouin garrison,-by way, we have since thought, of a garde d'honneur, for protection it could have afforded none. This is the consequence of being on terms with great people. It was the Governor of Jeru. salem's letter which involved us in all these courtesies : he sees his friends as he ought, and quarters his own retainers on his friends as he ought also, both no unusual practices in the etiquette or civility of the East. The trifling symptoms of industry round Jericho soon ceased; we entered on a barren plain, slimy, and studded up and down with patches of shrubs, heath, hyssop, anemones, &c. succeeded by salt sands, and pools, and rye-grass, and rushes, in rank abundance. A little after we had reached this open tract, our Bedouins, taking advantage of the ground, suddenly burst out into an extravagant display of their Arab horsemanship. They galloped up with loud challenges to their adversary, tossing their gun in the air, or stretching it out triumphantly in one hand; then they fled at full speed, and then again as quickly returned, aiming directly at their antagonist, who, as he received the blow, suddenly shouted and fell back upon his horse, as if he had received a mortal wound. This exhibition was frequently repeated, and generally in pairs. Their guns are long and awkward, slung carelessly behind their backs. All this was accompanied with cheers, and shrieks, and chants. One of these songs was in praise of Bonaparte. It was a monotonous, highpitched strain, made up principally of the repetition of his name:
“ Bonabardo ! Bonabardo!
He is our father and our brother-
Bonabardo ! Bonabardo !” &c. They were much astonished at the intelligence of his exile, &c. and shook their heads doubtingly, and seemed to say in their own way, “ Cela merite confirmation:" we could not have surprised them more had we given them a narrative of the capture of Constantinople. Military glory covers, with these people, an infinity of objections; and the recollection of Napoleon's Syrian and Egyptian campaigns had wiped out all the stains of his Christian creed. The religion of a conqueror cannot be considered very much in the wrong by a fatalist. Besides, the French Republican was not very nice in his selection. It was a mere chance which prevented him from seating himself on the throne of the East.* The son of the Sheikh, a noisy boy of about fourteen years of age, signalized himself amongst these joyous marauders. He was as dirty, weather-worn, and hungry-looking, as the rest. We had now passed some low hills, horizontally stratified, which go under the name of Gebel Shinah. They have much the appearance of ruined fortifications, and bear a strong resemblance to the general character of the mountains in Egypt. Amongst them is a ruin called the Jew's Castle : we thought it too near the river for Gilgal. On our leaving this spot, we came down on what may be termed the first banks of the Jordan.t It was a gentle descent into a marshy piece of ground, marked up and down with a few starved trees. There, at last, we stood gazing on the sacred river itself. Our whole host halted, and dismounted. Two of our Arabs girding themselves, instantly plunged in, and swam across. One of our party followed : the water was cold, and the torrent strong. We sat down for a few moments to enjoy the scene. It is a pleasing spot. The river makes a short turn to the west, and then flows on due south. A small island, formed pro
• Bonaparte would have marched to Damascus, and proclaimed himself Emperor of the East, had it not been for the letter of his brother Lucien. Menou and his troops were prepared, and the people anxious to receive him. The return to Europe was attributed to Sir Sidney Smith's gallant defence of Acre; but the causes lay far deeper. Napoleon did not cease to regret his choice long afterwards. But the secret history of this event, like many others in his wonderful career, is as yet unknown to the public. A day may come when they may be fully developed. It is amusing, in the interval, to see the great variety of conjectures which are put forward for true history.
+ The plain of Jericho was subject in all times to these periodical floods. “ For Jordan overfloweth all his banks in the time of harvest.”-Joshua, c. iii. v. 15. The salt observed may be attributed to these overflowings, and the influence of the waters of the Dead Sea. The fords appear to have been formerly very nearly in the same places as at present. -Joshua, c. ii. v. 7. The plain of Jericho, however, was then much better cultivated : flax was one of its productions ; c. ii. v. 6. The desert was synonymous only with the rocky tract behind. It was generally called the “ mountain ;" c. ii. v. 22.