Notes of a Journey From Cornhill to Grand Cairo, by William Makepeace Thackeray

Chapter 13

Jerusalem

The ladies of our party found excellent quarters in readiness for them at the Greek convent in the city; where airy rooms, and plentiful meals, and wines and sweet-meats delicate and abundant, were provided to cheer them after the fatigues of their journey. I don’t know whether the worthy fathers of the convent share in the good things which they lavish on their guests; but they look as if they do. Those whom we saw bore every sign of easy conscience and good living; there were a pair of strong, rosy, greasy, lazy lay-brothers, dawdling in the sun on the convent terrace, or peering over the parapet into the street below, whose looks gave one a notion of anything but asceticism.

In the principal room of the strangers’ house (the lay traveller is not admitted to dwell in the sacred interior of the convent), and over the building, the Russian double-headed eagle is displayed. The place is under the patronage of the Emperor Nicholas; an Imperial Prince has stayed in these rooms; the Russian consul performs a great part in the city; and a considerable annual stipend is given by the Emperor towards the maintenance of the great establishment in Jerusalem. The Great Chapel of the Church of the Holy Sepulchre is by far the richest, in point of furniture, of all the places of worship under that roof. We were in Russia, when we came to visit our friends here; under the protection of the Father of the Church and the Imperial Eagle! This butcher and tyrant, who sits on his throne only through the crime of those who held it before him — every step in whose pedigree is stained by some horrible mark of murder, parricide, adultery — this padded and whiskered pontiff — who rules in his jack-boots over a system of spies and soldiers, of deceit, ignorance, dissoluteness, and brute force, such as surely the history of the world never told of before — has a tender interest in the welfare of his spiritual children: in the Eastern Church ranks after Divinity, and is worshipped by millions of men. A pious exemplar of Christianity truly! and of the condition to which its union with politics has brought it! Think of the rank to which he pretends, and gravely believes that he possesses, no doubt! — think of those who assumed the same ultra-sacred character before him! — and then of the Bible and the Founder of the Religion, of which the Emperor assumes to be the chief priest and defender!

We had some Poles of our party; but these poor fellows went to the Latin convent, declining to worship after the Emperor’s fashion. The next night after our arrival, two of them passed in the Sepulchre. There we saw them, more than once on subsequent visits, kneeling in the Latin Church before the pictures, or marching solemnly with candles in processions, or lying flat on the stones, or passionately kissing the spots which their traditions have consecrated as the authentic places of the Saviour’s sufferings. More honest or more civilised, or from opposition, the Latin fathers have long given up and disowned the disgusting mummery of the Eastern Fire — which lie the Greeks continue annually to tell.

Their travellers’ house and convent, though large and commodious, are of a much poorer and shabbier condition than those of the Greeks. Both make believe not to take money; but the traveller is expected to pay in each. The Latin fathers enlarge their means by a little harmless trade in beads and crosses, and mother-of-pearl shells, on which figures of saints are engraved; and which they purchase from the manufacturers, and vend at a small profit. The English, until of late, used to be quartered in these sham inns; but last year two or three Maltese took houses for the reception of tourists, who can now be accommodated with cleanly and comfortable board, at a rate not too heavy for most pockets.

To one of these we went very gladly; giving our horses the bridle at the door, which went off of their own will to their stables, through the dark inextricable labyrinths of streets, archways, and alleys, which we had threaded after leaving the main street from the Jaffa Gate. There, there was still some life. Numbers of persons were collected at their doors, or smoking before the dingy coffee-houses, where singing and story-telling were going on; but out of this great street everything was silent, and no sign of a light from the windows of the low houses which we passed.

We ascended from a lower floor up to a terrace, on which were several little domed chambers, or pavilions. From this terrace, whence we looked in the morning, a great part of the city spread before us:— white domes upon domes, and terraces of the same character as our own. Here and there, from among these whitewashed mounds round about, a minaret rose, or a rare date-tree; but the chief part of the vegetation near was that odious tree the prickly pear — one huge green wart growing out of another, armed with spikes, as inhospitable as the aloe, without shelter or beauty. To the right the Mosque of Omar rose; the rising sun behind it. Yonder steep tortuous lane before us, flanked by ruined walls on either side, has borne, time out of mind, the title of Via Dolorosa; and tradition has fixed the spots where the Saviour rested, bearing his cross to Calvary. But of the mountain, rising immediately in front of us, a few grey olive-trees speckling the yellow side here and there, there can be no question. That is the Mount of Olives. Bethany lies beyond it. The most sacred eyes that ever looked on this world have gazed on those ridges: it was there He used to walk and teach. With shame and humility one looks towards the spot where that inexpressible Love and Benevolence lived and breathed; where the great yearning heart of the Saviour interceded for all our race; and whence the bigots and traitors of his day led Him away to kill Him!

That company of Jews whom we had brought with us from Constantinople, and who had cursed every delay on the route, not from impatience to view the Holy City, but from rage at being obliged to purchase dear provisions for their maintenance on ship-board, made what bargains they best could at Jaffa, and journeyed to the Valley of Jehoshaphat at the cheapest rate. We saw the tall form of the old Polish Patriarch, venerable in filth, stalking among the stinking ruins of the Jewish quarter. The sly old Rabbi, in the greasy folding hat, who would not pay to shelter his children from the storm off Beyrout, greeted us in the bazaars; the younger Rabbis were furbished up with some smartness. We met them on Sunday at the kind of promenade by the walls of the Bethlehem Gate; they were in company of some red-bearded co-religionists, smartly attired in Eastern raiment; but their voice was the voice of the Jews of Berlin, and of course as we passed they were talking about so many hundert thaler. You may track one of the people, and be sure to hear mention of that silver calf that they worship.

The English mission has been very unsuccessful with these religionists. I don’t believe the Episcopal apparatus — the chaplains, and the colleges, and the beadles — have succeeded in converting a dozen of them; and a sort of martyrdom is in store for the luckless Hebrews at Jerusalem who shall secede from their faith. Their old community spurn them with horror; and I heard of the case of one unfortunate man, whose wife, in spite of her husband’s change of creed, being resolved, like a true woman, to cleave to him, was spirited away from him in his absence; was kept in privacy in the city, in spite of all exertions of the mission, of the consul and the bishop, and the chaplains and the beadles; was passed away from Jerusalem to Beyrout, and thence to Constantinople; and from Constantinople was whisked off into the Russian territories, where she still pines after her husband. May that unhappy convert find consolation away from her. I could not help thinking, as my informant, an excellent and accomplished gentleman of the mission, told me the story, that the Jews had done only what the Christians do under the same circumstances. The woman was the daughter of a most learned Rabbi, as I gathered. Suppose the daughter of the Rabbi of Exeter, or Canterbury, were to marry a man who turned Jew, would not her Right Reverend Father be justified in taking her out of the power of a person likely to hurl her soul to perdition? These poor converts should surely be sent away to England out of the way of persecution. We could not but feel a pity for them, as they sat there on their benches in the church conspicuous; and thought of the scorn and contumely which attended them without, as they passed, in their European dresses and shaven beards, among their grisly, scowling, long-robed countrymen.

As elsewhere in the towns I have seen, the Ghetto of Jerusalem is pre-eminent in filth. The people are gathered round about the dung-gate of the city. Of a Friday you may hear their wailings and lamentations for the lost glories of their city. I think the Valley of Jehoshaphat is the most ghastly sight I have seen in the world. From all quarters they come hither to bury their dead. When his time is come yonder hoary old miser, with whom we made our voyage, will lay his carcase to rest here. To do that, and to claw together money, has been the purpose of that strange long life.

We brought with us one of the gentlemen of the mission, a Hebrew convert, the Rev. Mr. E-; and lest I should be supposed to speak with disrespect above of any of the converts of the Hebrew faith, let me mention this gentleman as the only one whom I had the fortune to meet on terms of intimacy. I never saw a man whose outward conduct was more touching, whose sincerity was more evident, and whose religious feeling seemed more deep, real, and reasonable.

Only a few feet off, the walls of the Anglican Church of Jerusalem rise up from their foundations on a picturesque open spot, in front of the Bethlehem Gate. The English Bishop has his church hard by: and near it is the house where the Christians of our denomination assemble and worship.

There seem to be polyglot services here. I saw books of prayer, or Scripture, in Hebrew, Greek, and German: in which latter language Dr. Alexander preaches every Sunday. A gentleman who sat near me at church used all these books indifferently; reading the first lesson from the Hebrew book, and the second from the Greek. Here we all assembled on the Sunday after our arrival: it was affecting to hear the music and language of our country sounding in this distant place; to have the decent and manly ceremonial of our service; the prayers delivered in that noble language. Even that stout anti-prelatist, the American consul, who has left his house and fortune in America in order to witness the coming of the Millennium, who believes it to be so near that he has brought a dove with him from his native land (which bird he solemnly informed us was to survive the expected Advent), was affected by the good old words and service. He swayed about and moaned in his place at various passages; during the sermon he gave especial marks of sympathy and approbation. I never heard the service more excellently and impressively read than by the Bishop’s chaplain, Mr. Veitch. But it was the music that was most touching I thought — the sweet old songs of home.

There was a considerable company assembled: near a hundred people I should think. Our party made a large addition to the usual congregation. The Bishop’s family is proverbially numerous: the consul, and the gentlemen of the mission, have wives, and children, and English establishments. These, and the strangers, occupied places down the room, to the right and left of the desk and communion-table. The converts, and the members of the college, in rather a scanty number, faced the officiating clergyman; before whom the silver maces of the janissaries were set up, as they set up the beadles’ maces in England.

I made many walks round the city to Olivet and Bethany, to the tombs of the kings, and the fountains sacred in story. These are green and fresh, but all the rest of the landscape seemed to me to be FRIGHTFUL. Parched mountains, with a grey bleak olive-tree trembling here and there; savage ravines and valleys, paved with tombstones — a landscape unspeakably ghastly and desolate, meet the eye wherever you wander round about the city. The place seems quite adapted to the events which are recorded in the Hebrew histories. It and they, as it seems to me, can never be regarded without terror. Fear and blood, crime and punishment, follow from page to page in frightful succession. There is not a spot at which you look, but some violent deed has been done there: some massacre has been committed, some victim has been murdered, some idol has been worshipped with bloody and dreadful rites. Not far from hence is the place where the Jewish conqueror fought for the possession of Jerusalem. “The sun stood still, and hasted not to go down about a whole day;” so that the Jews might have daylight to destroy the Amorites, whose iniquities were full, and whose land they were about to occupy. The fugitive heathen king, and his allies, were discovered in their hiding-place, and hanged: “and the children of Judah smote Jerusalem with the edge of the sword, and set the city on fire; and they left none remaining, but utterly destroyed all that breathed.”

I went out at the Zion Gate, and looked at the so-called tomb of David. I had been reading all the morning in the Psalms, and his history in Samuel and Kings. “Bring thou down Shimei’s hoar head to the grave with blood,” are the last words of the dying monarch as recorded by the history. What they call the tomb is now a crumbling old mosque; from which Jew and Christian are excluded alike. As I saw it, blazing in the sunshine, with the purple sky behind it, the glare only served to mark the surrounding desolation more clearly. The lonely walls and towers of the city rose hard by. Dreary mountains, and declivities of naked stones, were round about: they are burrowed with holes in which Christian hermits lived and died. You see one green place far down in the valley: it is called En Rogel. Adonijah feasted there, who was killed by his brother Solomon, for asking for Abishag for wife. The Valley of Hinnom skirts the hill: the dismal ravine was a fruitful garden once. Ahaz, and the idolatrous kings, sacrificed to idols under the green trees there, and “caused their children to pass through the fire.” On the mountain opposite, Solomon, with the thousand women of his harem, worshipped the gods of all their nations, “Ashtoreth,” and “Milcom, and Molech, the abomination of the Ammonites.” An enormous charnel-house stands on the hill where the bodies of dead pilgrims used to be thrown; and common belief has fixed upon this spot as the Aceldama, which Judas purchased with the price of his treason. Thus you go on from one gloomy place to another, each seared with its bloody tradition. Yonder is the Temple, and you think of Titus’s soldiery storming its flaming porches, and entering the city, in the savage defence of which two million human souls perished. It was on Mount Zion that Godfrey and Tancred had their camp: when the Crusaders entered the mosque, they rode knee-deep in the blood of its defenders, and of the women and children who had fled thither for refuge: it was the victory of Joshua over again. Then, after three days of butchery, they purified the desecrated mosque and went to prayer. In the centre of this history of crime rises up the Great Murder of all . . .

I need say no more about this gloomy landscape. After a man has seen it once, he never forgets it — the recollection of it seems to me to follow him like a remorse, as it were to implicate him in the awful deed which was done there. Oh! with what unspeakable shame and terror should one think of that crime, and prostrate himself before the image of that Divine Blessed Sufferer!

Of course the first visit of the traveller is to the famous Church of the Sepulchre.

In the archway, leading from the street to the court and church, there is a little bazaar of Bethlehemites, who must interfere considerably with the commerce of the Latin fathers. These men bawl to you from their stalls, and hold up for your purchase their devotional baubles — bushels of rosaries and scented beads, and carved mother-of-pearl shells, and rude stone salt-cellars and figures. Now that inns are established — envoys of these pedlars attend them on the arrival of strangers, squat all day on the terraces before your door, and patiently entreat you to buy of their goods. Some worthies there are who drive a good trade by tattooing pilgrims with the five crosses, the arms of Jerusalem; under which the name of the city is punctured in Hebrew, with the auspicious year of the Hadji’s visit. Several of our fellow-travellers submitted to this queer operation, and will carry to their grave this relic of their journey. Some of them had engaged as servant a man at Beyrout, who had served as a lad on board an English ship in the Mediterranean. Above his tattooage of the five crosses, the fellow had a picture of two hearts united, and the pathetic motto, “Betsy my dear.” He had parted with Betsy my dear five years before at Malta. He had known a little English there, but had forgotten it. Betsy my dear was forgotten too. Only her name remained engraved with a vain simulacrum of constancy on the faithless rogue’s skin: on which was now printed another token of equally effectual devotion. The beads and the tattooing, however, seem essential ceremonies attendant on the Christian pilgrim’s visit; for many hundreds of years, doubtless, the palmers have carried off with them these simple reminiscences of the sacred city. That symbol has been engraven upon the arms of how many Princes, Knights, and Crusaders! Don’t you see a moral as applicable to them as to the swindling Beyrout horseboy? I have brought you back that cheap and wholesome apologue, in lieu of any of the Bethlehemite shells and beads.

After passing through the porch of the pedlars, you come to the courtyard in front of the noble old towers of the Church of the Sepulchre, with pointed arches and Gothic traceries, rude, but rich and picturesque in design. Here crowds are waiting in the sun, until it shall please the Turkish guardians of the church-door to open. A swarm of beggars sit here permanently: old tattered hags with long veils, ragged children, blind old bearded beggars, who raise up a chorus of prayers for money, holding out their wooden bowls, or clattering with their sticks on the stones, or pulling your coat-skirts and moaning and whining; yonder sit a group of coal-black Coptish pilgrims, with robes and turbans of dark blue, fumbling their perpetual beads. A party of Arab Christians have come up from their tents or villages: the men half-naked, looking as if they were beggars, or banditti, upon occasion; the women have flung their head-cloths back, and are looking at the strangers under their tattooed eyebrows. As for the strangers, there is no need to describe THEM: that figure of the Englishman, with his hands in his pockets, has been seen all the world over: staring down the crater of Vesuvius, or into a Hottentot kraal — or at a pyramid, or a Parisian coffee-house, or an Esquimaux hut — with the same insolent calmness of demeanour. When the gates of the church are open, he elbows in among the first, and flings a few scornful piastres to the Turkish door-keeper; and gazes round easily at the place, in which people of every other nation in the world are in tears, or in rapture, or wonder. He has never seen the place until now, and looks as indifferent as the Turkish guardian who sits in the doorway, and swears at the people as they pour in.

Indeed, I believe it is impossible for us to comprehend the source and nature of the Roman Catholic devotion. I once went into a church at Rome at the request of a Catholic friend, who described the interior to be so beautiful and glorious, that he thought (he said) it must be like heaven itself. I found walls hung with cheap stripes of pink and white calico, altars covered with artificial flowers, a number of wax candles, and plenty of gilt-paper ornaments. The place seemed to me like a shabby theatre; and here was my friend on his knees at my side, plunged in a rapture of wonder and devotion.

I could get no better impression out of this the most famous church in the world. The deceits are too open and flagrant; the inconsistencies and contrivances too monstrous. It is hard even to sympathise with persons who receive them as genuine; and though (as I know and saw in the case of my friend at Rome) the believer’s life may be passed in the purest exercise of faith and charity, it is difficult even to give him credit for honesty, so barefaced seem the impostures which he professes to believe and reverence. It costs one no small effort even to admit the possibility of a Catholic’s credulity: to share in his rapture and devotion is still further out of your power; and I could get from this church no other emotions but those of shame and pain.

The legends with which the Greeks and Latins have garnished the spot have no more sacredness for you than the hideous, unreal, barbaric pictures and ornaments which they have lavished on it. Look at the fervour with which pilgrims kiss and weep over a tawdry Gothic painting, scarcely better fashioned than an idol in a South Sea Morai. The histories which they are called upon to reverence are of the same period and order — savage Gothic caricatures. In either a saint appears in the costume of the middle ages, and is made to accommodate himself to the fashion of the tenth century.

The different churches battle for the possession of the various relics. The Greeks show you the Tomb of Melchisedec, while the Armenians possess the Chapel of the Penitent Thief; the poor Copts (with their little cabin of a chapel) can yet boast of possessing the thicket in which Abraham caught the Ram, which was to serve as the vicar of Isaac; the Latins point out the Pillar to which the Lord was bound. The place of the Invention of the Sacred Cross, the Fissure in the Rock of Golgotha, the Tomb of Adam himself — are all here within a few yards’ space. You mount a few steps, and are told it is Calvary upon which you stand. All this in the midst of blaring candles, reeking incense, savage pictures of Scripture story, or portraits of kings who have been benefactors to the various chapels; a din and clatter of strange people — these weeping, bowing, kissing — those utterly indifferent; and the priests clad in outlandish robes, snuffling and chanting incomprehensible litanies, robing, disrobing, lighting up candles or extinguishing them, advancing, retreating, bowing with all sorts of unfamiliar genuflexions. Had it pleased the inventors of the Sepulchre topography to have fixed on fifty more spots of ground as the places of the events of the sacred story, the pilgrim would have believed just as now. The priest’s authority has so mastered his faith, that it accommodates itself to any demand upon it; and the English stranger looks on the scene, for the first time, with a feeling of scorn, bewilderment, and shame at that grovelling credulity, those strange rites and ceremonies, that almost confessed imposture.

Jarred and distracted by these, the Church of the Holy Sepulchre, for some time, seems to an Englishman the least sacred spot about Jerusalem. It is the lies, and the legends, and the priests, and their quarrels, and their ceremonies, which keep the Holy Place out of sight. A man has not leisure to view it, for the brawling of the guardians of the spot. The Roman conquerors, they say, raised up a statue of Venus in this sacred place, intending to destroy all memory of it. I don’t think the heathen was as criminal as the Christian is now. To deny and disbelieve, is not so bad as to make belief a ground to cheat upon. The liar Ananias perished for that; and yet out of these gates, where angels may have kept watch — out of the tomb of Christ — Christian priests issue with a lie in their hands. What a place to choose for imposture, good God! to sully with brutal struggles for self-aggrandisement or shameful schemes of gain!

The situation of the Tomb (into which, be it authentic or not, no man can enter without a shock of breathless fear, and deep and awful self-humiliation) must have struck all travellers. It stands in the centre of the arched rotunda, which is common to all denominations, and from which branch off the various chapels belonging to each particular sect. In the Coptic chapel I saw one coal-black Copt, in blue robes, cowering in the little cabin, surrounded by dingy lamps, barbarous pictures, and cheap faded trumpery. In the Latin Church there was no service going on, only two fathers dusting the mouldy gewgaws along the brown walls, and laughing to one another. The gorgeous church of the Fire impostors, hard by, was always more fully attended; as was that of their wealthy neighbours, the Armenians. These three main sects hate each other; their quarrels are interminable; each bribes and intrigues with the heathen lords of the soil, to the prejudice of his neighbour. Now it is the Latins who interfere, and allow the common church to go to ruin, because the Greeks purpose to roof it; now the Greeks demolish a monastery on Mount Olivet, and leave the ground to the Turks, rather than allow the Armenians to possess it. On another occasion, the Greeks having mended the Armenian steps which lead to the (so-called) Cave of the Nativity at Bethlehem, the latter asked for permission to destroy the work of the Greeks, and did so. And so round this sacred spot, the centre of Christendom, the representatives of the three great sects worship under one roof, and hate each other!

Above the Tomb of the Saviour, the cupola is OPEN, and you see the blue sky overhead. Which of the builders was it that had the grace to leave that under the high protection of Heaven, and not confine it under the mouldering old domes and roofs, which cover so much selfishness, and uncharitableness, and imposture?

We went to Bethlehem, too; and saw the apocryphal wonders there.

Five miles’ ride brings you from Jerusalem to it, over naked wavy hills; the aspect of which, however, grows more cheerful as you approach the famous village. We passed the Convent of Mar Elyas on the road, walled and barred like a fort. In spite of its strength, however, it has more than once been stormed by the Arabs, and the luckless fathers within put to death. Hard by was Rebecca’s Well: a dead body was lying there, and crowds of male and female mourners dancing and howling round it. Now and then a little troop of savage scowling horsemen — a shepherd driving his black sheep, his gun over his shoulder — a troop of camels — or of women, with long blue robes and white veils, bearing pitchers, and staring at the strangers with their great solemn eyes — or a company of labourers, with their donkeys, bearing grain or grapes to the city — met us and enlivened the little ride. It was a busy and cheerful scene. The Church of the Nativity, with the adjoining convents, forms a vast and noble Christian structure. A party of travellers were going to the Jordan that day, and scores of their followers — of the robbing Arabs, who profess to protect them (magnificent figures some of them, with flowing haicks and turbans, with long guns and scimitars, and wretched horses, covered with gaudy trappings), were standing on the broad pavement before the little convent gate. It was such a scene as Cattermole might paint. Knights and Crusaders may have witnessed a similar one. You could fancy them issuing out of the narrow little portal, and so greeted by the swarms of swarthy clamorous women and merchants and children.

The scene within the building was of the same Gothic character. We were entertained by the Superior of the Greek Convent, in a fine refectory, with ceremonies and hospitalities that pilgrims of the middle ages might have witnessed. We were shown over the magnificent Barbaric Church, visited of course the Grotto where the Blessed Nativity is said to have taken place, and the rest of the idols set up for worship by the clumsy legend. When the visit was concluded, the party going to the Dead Sea filed off with their armed attendants; each individual traveller making as brave a show as he could, and personally accoutred with warlike swords and pistols. The picturesque crowds, and the Arabs and the horsemen, in the sunshine; the noble old convent, and the grey-bearded priests, with their feast; and the church, and its pictures and columns, and incense; the wide brown hills spreading round the village; with the accidents of the road — flocks and shepherds, wells and funerals, and camel-trains — have left on my mind a brilliant, romantic, and cheerful picture. But you, dear M-, without visiting the place, have imagined one far finer; and Bethlehem, where the Holy Child was born, and the angels sang, “Glory to God in the highest, and on earth peace and goodwill towards men,” is the most sacred and beautiful spot in the earth to you.

By far the most comfortable quarters in Jerusalem are those of the Armenians, in their convent of St. James. Wherever we have been, these Eastern quakers look grave, and jolly, and sleek. Their convent at Mount Zion is big enough to contain two or three thousand of their faithful; and their church is ornamented by the most rich and hideous gifts ever devised by uncouth piety. Instead of a bell, the fat monks of the convent beat huge noises on a board, and drub the faithful in to prayers. I never saw men more lazy and rosy than these reverend fathers, kneeling in their comfortable matted church, or sitting in easy devotion. Pictures, images, gilding, tinsel, wax candles, twinkle all over the place; and ten thousand ostrichs’ eggs (or any lesser number you may allot) dangle from the vaulted ceiling. There were great numbers of people at worship in this gorgeous church: they went on their knees, kissing the walls with much fervour, and paying reverence to the most precious relic of the convent — the chair of St. James, their patron, the first Bishop of Jerusalem.

The chair pointed out with greatest pride in the church of the Latin Convent, is that shabby red damask one appropriated to the French Consul — the representative of the King of that nation — and the protection which it has from time immemorial accorded to the Christians of the Latin rite in Syria. All French writers and travellers speak of this protection with delightful complacency. Consult the French books of travel on the subject, and any Frenchman whom you may meet: he says, “La France, Monsieur, de tous les temps protege les Chretiens d’Orient;” and the little fellow looks round the church with a sweep of the arm, and protects it accordingly. It is bon ton for them to go in processions; and you see them on such errands, marching with long candles, as gravely as may be. But I have never been able to edify myself with their devotion; and the religious outpourings of Lamartine and Chateaubriand, which we have all been reading a propos of the journey we are to make, have inspired me with an emotion anything but respectful. “Voyez comme M. de Chateaubriand prie Dieu,” the Viscount’s eloquence seems always to say. There is a sanctified grimace about the little French pilgrim which it is very difficult to contemplate gravely.

The pictures, images, and ornaments of the principal Latin convent are quite mean and poor, compared to the wealth of the Armenians. The convent is spacious, but squalid. Many hopping and crawling plagues are said to attack the skins of pilgrims who sleep there. It is laid out in courts and galleries, the mouldy doors of which are decorated with twopenny pictures of favourite saints and martyrs; and so great is the shabbiness and laziness, that you might fancy yourself in a convent in Italy. Brown-clad fathers, dirty, bearded, and sallow, go gliding about the corridors. The relic manufactory before mentioned carries on a considerable business, and despatches bales of shells, crosses, and beads to believers in Europe. These constitute the chief revenue of the convent now. La France is no longer the most Christian kingdom, and her protection of the Latins is not good for much since Charles X. was expelled; and Spain, which used likewise to be generous on occasions (the gifts, arms, candlesticks, baldaquins of the Spanish sovereigns figure pretty frequently in the various Latin chapels), has been stingy since the late disturbances, the spoliation of the clergy, &c. After we had been taken to see the humble curiosities of the place, the Prior treated us in his wooden parlour with little glasses of pink Rosolio, brought with many bows and genuflexions by his reverence the convent butler.

After this community of holy men, the most important perhaps is the American Convent, a Protestant congregation of Independents chiefly, who deliver tracts, propose to make converts, have meetings of their own, and also swell the little congregation that attends the Anglican service. I have mentioned our fellow-traveller, the Consul-General for Syria of the United States. He was a tradesman, who had made a considerable fortune, and lived at a country-house in comfortable retirement. But his opinion is, that the prophecies of Scripture are about to be accomplished; that the day of the return of the Jews is at hand, and the glorification of the restored Jerusalem. He is to witness this — he and a favourite dove with which he travels; and he forsook home and comfortable country-house, in order to make this journey. He has no other knowledge of Syria but what he derives from the prophecy; and this (as he takes the office gratis) has been considered a sufficient reason for his appointment by the United States Government. As soon as he arrived, he sent and demanded an interview with the Pasha; explained to him his interpretation of the Apocalypse, in which he has discovered that the Five Powers and America are about to intervene in Syrian affairs, and the infallible return of the Jews to Palestine. The news must have astonished the Lieutenant of the Sublime Porte; and since the days of the Kingdom of Munster, under his Anabaptist Majesty, John of Leyden, I doubt whether any Government has received or appointed so queer an ambassador. The kind, worthy, simple man took me to his temporary consulate-house at the American Missionary Establishment; and, under pretence of treating me to white wine, expounded his ideas; talked of futurity as he would about an article in The Times; and had no more doubt of seeing a divine kingdom established in Jerusalem than you that there would be a levee next spring at St. James’s. The little room in which we sat was padded with missionary tracts, but I heard of scarce any converts — not more than are made by our own Episcopal establishment.

But if the latter’s religious victories are small, and very few people are induced by the American tracts, and the English preaching and catechising, to forsake their own manner of worshipping the Divine Being in order to follow ours; yet surely our religious colony of men and women can’t fail to do good, by the sheer force of good example, pure life, and kind offices. The ladies of the mission have numbers of clients, of all persuasions, in the town, to whom they extend their charities. Each of their houses is a model of neatness, and a dispensary of gentle kindnesses; and the ecclesiastics have formed a modest centre of civilisation in the place. A dreary joke was made in the House of Commons about Bishop Alexander and the Bishopess his lady, and the Bishoplings his numerous children, who were said to have scandalised the people of Jerusalem. That sneer evidently came from the Latins and Greeks; for what could the Jews and Turks care because an English clergyman had a wife and children as their own priests have? There was no sort of ill will exhibited towards them, as far as I could learn; and I saw the Bishop’s children riding about the town as safely as they could about Hyde Park. All Europeans, indeed, seemed to me to be received with forbearance, and almost courtesy, within the walls. As I was going about making sketches, the people would look on very good-humouredly, without offering the least interruption; nay, two or three were quite ready to stand still for such an humble portrait as my pencil could make of them; and the sketch done, it was passed from one person to another, each making his comments, and signifying a very polite approval. Here are a pair of them, [illustration] Fath Allah and Ameenut Daoodee his father, horse-dealers by trade, who came and sat with us at the inn, and smoked pipes (the sun being down), while the original of the above masterpiece was made. With the Arabs outside the walls, however, and the freshly arriving country people, this politeness was not so much exhibited. There was a certain tattooed girl, with black eyes and huge silver earrings, and a chin delicately picked out with blue, who formed one of a group of women outside the great convent, whose likeness I longed to carry off; — there was a woman with a little child, with wondering eyes, drawing water at the Pool of Siloam, in such an attitude and dress as Rebecca may have had when Isaac’s lieutenant asked her for drink:- both of these parties standing still for half a minute, at the next cried out for backsheesh: and not content with the five piastres which I gave them individually, screamed out for more, and summoned their friends, who screamed out backsheesh too. I was pursued into the convent by a dozen howling women calling for pay, barring the door against them, to the astonishment of the worthy papa who kept it; and at Miriam’s Well the women were joined by a man with a large stick, who backed their petition. But him we could afford to laugh at, for we were two and had sticks likewise.

In the village of Siloam I would not recommend the artist to loiter. A colony of ruffians inhabit the dismal place, who have guns as well as sticks at need. Their dogs howl after the strangers as they pass through; and over the parapets of their walls you are saluted by the scowls of a villanous set of countenances, that it is not good to see with one pair of eyes. They shot a man at mid-day at a few hundred yards from the gates while we were at Jerusalem, and no notice was taken of the murder. Hordes of Arab robbers infest the neighbourhood of the city, with the Sheikhs of whom travellers make terms when minded to pursue their journey. I never could understand why the walls stopped these warriors if they had a mind to plunder the city, for there are but a hundred and fifty men in the garrison to man the long lonely lines of defence.

I have seen only in Titian’s pictures those magnificent purple shadows in which the hills round about lay, as the dawn rose faintly behind them; and we looked at Olivet for the last time from our terrace, where we were awaiting the arrival of the horses that were to carry us to Jaffa. A yellow moon was still blazing in the midst of countless brilliant stars overhead; the nakedness and misery of the surrounding city were hidden in that beautiful rosy atmosphere of mingling night and dawn. The city never looked so noble; the mosques, domes, and minarets rising up into the calm star-lit sky.

By the gate of Bethlehem there stands one palm-tree, and a house with three domes. Put these and the huge old Gothic gate as a background dark against the yellowing eastern sky: the foreground is a deep grey: as you look into it dark forms of horsemen come out of the twilight: now there come lanterns, more horsemen, a litter with mules, a crowd of Arab horseboys and dealers accompanying their beasts to the gate; all the members of our party come up by twos and threes; and, at last, the great gate opens just before sunrise, and we get into the grey plains.

Oh! the luxury of an English saddle! An English servant of one of the gentlemen of the mission procured it for me, on the back of a little mare, which (as I am a light weight) did not turn a hair in the course of the day’s march — and after we got quit of the ugly, stony, clattering, mountainous Abou Gosh district, into the fair undulating plain, which stretches to Ramleh, carried me into the town at a pleasant hand-gallop. A negro, of preternatural ugliness, in a yellow gown, with a crimson handkerchief streaming over his head, digging his shovel spurs into the lean animal he rode, and driving three others before — swaying backwards and forwards on his horse, now embracing his ears, and now almost under his belly, screaming “yallah” with the most frightful shrieks, and singing country songs — galloped along ahead of me. I acquired one of his poems pretty well, and could imitate his shriek accurately; but I shall not have the pleasure of singing it to you in England. I had forgotten the delightful dissonance two days after, both the negro’s and that of a real Arab minstrel, a donkey-driver accompanying our baggage, who sang and grinned with the most amusing good-humour.

We halted, in the middle of the day, in a little wood of olive-trees, which forms almost the only shelter between Jaffa and Jerusalem, except that afforded by the orchards in the odious village of Abou Gosh, through which we went at a double quick pace. Under the olives, or up in the branches, some of our friends took a siesta. I have a sketch of four of them so employed. Two of them were dead within a month of the fatal Syrian fever. But we did not know how near fate was to us then. Fires were lighted, and fowls and eggs divided, and tea and coffee served round in tin panikins, and here we lighted pipes, and smoked and laughed at our ease. I believe everybody was happy to be out of Jerusalem. The impression I have of it now is of ten days passed in a fever.

We all found quarters in the Greek convent at Ramleh, where the monks served us a supper on a terrace, in a pleasant sunset; a beautiful and cheerful landscape stretching around; the land in graceful undulations, the towers and mosques rosy in the sunset, with no lack of verdure, especially of graceful palms. Jaffa was nine miles off. As we rode all the morning we had been accompanied by the smoke of our steamer, twenty miles off at sea.

The convent is a huge caravanserai; only three or four monks dwell in it, the ghostly hotel-keepers of the place. The horses were tied up and fed in the courtyard, into which we rode; above were the living-rooms, where there is accommodation, not only for an unlimited number of pilgrims, but for a vast and innumerable host of hopping and crawling things, who usually persist in partaking of the traveller’s bed. Let all thin-skinned travellers in the East be warned on no account to travel without the admirable invention described in Mr. Fellowes’s book; nay, possibly invented by that enterprising and learned traveller. You make a sack, of calico or linen, big enough for the body, appended to which is a closed chimney of muslin, stretched out by cane hoops, and fastened up to a beam, or against the wall. You keep a sharp eye to see that no flea or bug is on the look-out, and when assured of this, you pop into the bag, tightly closing the orifice after you. This admirable bug-disappointer I tried at Ramleh, and had the only undisturbed night’s rest I enjoyed in the East. To be sure it was a short night, for our party were stirring at one o’clock, and those who got up insisted on talking and keeping awake those who inclined to sleep. But I shall never forget the terror inspired in my mind, being shut up in the bug-disappointer, when a facetious lay-brother of the convent fell upon me and began tickling me. I never had the courage again to try the anti-flea contrivance, preferring the friskiness of those animals to the sports of such a greasy grinning wag as my friend at Ramleh.

In the morning, and long before sunrise, our little caravan was in marching order again. We went out with lanterns and shouts of “yallah” through the narrow streets, and issued into the plain, where, though there was no moon, there were blazing stars shining steadily overhead. They become friends to a man who travels, especially under the clear Eastern sky; whence they look down as if protecting you, solemn, yellow, and refulgent. They seem nearer to you than in Europe; larger and more awful. So we rode on till the dawn rose, and Jaffa came in view. The friendly ship was lying out in waiting for us; the horses were given up to their owners; and in the midst of a crowd of naked beggars, and a perfect storm of curses and yells for backsheesh, our party got into their boats, and to the ship, where we were welcomed by the very best captain that ever sailed upon this maritime globe, namely, Captain Samuel Lewis, of the Peninsular and Oriental Company’s Service.

http://ebooks.adelaide.edu.au/t/thackeray/william_makepeace/cairo/chapter13.html

Last updated Tuesday, March 4, 2014 at 19:07