« AnkstesnisTęsti »
toys to ask about that distant parent, whose portrait the mother holds in her hand. They appear unconscious of the approach of the beloved messenger of evil, her steps falling lightly on the path-more lightly than will the sorrow fall upon their hearts. Such is the subject.
Mr. Archer has contrived to invest the whole of his work with a most appropriate feeling of melancholy poetry, thereby showing how deeply he has entered into the subject, becoming so penetrated with it as to present us with all its sadness and prescient gloom. The shadow of sorrow seems upon the picture, and the melancholy luster of the twilight sky deepens and suggests the pathos of its subject; the heavy autumn leaves had fallen, and strew the grass in multitudes; the flaky bark of the pine breaks from its hold, and the lustrous white birch-stem seems half-ghastly in the evening light; behind, the heavy masses of foliage swing sadly in the wind. In direct contrast with all this is the bright, confident expression of the child's face-confident with the joyous thoughtlessness of infancy, which, without anticipation of evil, goes on gayly as through a path in a garden of flowers.
This picture was exhibited at the Royal Academy in the present year, and attracted very much attention to those qualities which we have endeavored to point out.
THE DESERT OF SINAI.
HE of Sinai is commonly un
region of barrenness and unpeopled desolation, extending from the promontory above named to the southern slopes of Palestine, yet it has, from the earliest times, been subdivided into smaller deserts, each with its own district name. From the southwestern border of Palestine to the Gulf of Suez, and beyond it a little, it was called the wilderness of Shur; then came the wilderness of Sin; then the wilderness of Sinai; then, turning north by the Gulf of Akabah, came the different deserts of Paran, Zin, and Kadesh, while in the center lay the desert of Beersheba. All these names have perished; but others have come in their place, and in several cases the new names have not altered the old limits of the provinces. The Terâbin, the Tawarah, the Tiyâhah, the Haiwât, the Sawâlihah, the Aleikât, are the designations of the desert tribes, taken from the names of the districts which they specially haunt. For though they are thorough nomads, they have their own independent domains, ruled by separate sheikhs. That domain may be small and barren-the poorest that ever owned a ruler; yet it is their birth-place and their burying-place. Though wanderers over a hundred hills, they count this their home. Here they were born; here they have known what life's affections are; here they hope to die and be buried..
It is of some importance to get a correct general view of the desert in some of its broader features; and it is worth while to correct one or two false, or at least one
Tderstood is embracing the triangle sided ideas, in common currency regarding
formed by the Gulf of Suez on the west, and the Gulf of Akabah on the east-the two limbs of the maritime fork, known in ancient as well as modern times by the name of the Red Sea. If the region between the Euphrates took the name of Mesopotamia from its position; if the sea between Europe and Africa is called the Mediterranean from its boundaries; the Sinaitic Desert, were it large enough to take so dignified a name, might be designated the Mesoceanic Highlands of Arabia. But, perhaps," the Sinaitic Peninsula" is sufficient for it; unless, from its curious resemblance to the Pyramids of Egypt, it may be called the desert or Arabian Pyramid, having as its apex the Ras Mohammed, and its base the mountains and desert of El-Tih. Though the vast tract between these two seas is properly one great VOL. XII.-20
it. Few take the trouble to inquire what the desert really is. They are content to think of it merely as a sand-waste, a region of waterless desolation.
The desert is not one vast level area, stretching over an immense region, like a yellow sea, in unrelieved, unbroken monotony of plain. It not merely swells and undulates, but it heaves into wide tablelands, nay, bursts up in all directions into the magnificence of cliff, and ridge, and mountain. Though none of its hills, reach the nobility either of Libanus or AntiLibanus, yet they have a fierce grandeur peculiarly their own; and the eight thousand feet of Jabel Katherin fall but little short of the ten thousand feet of Jebel-eshSheikh. There is far more of the mountain than of the plain in the desert; and for one broad plain or strath, such as Debbet Ram
leh, there are at least a hundred hills, most of them truly Alpine. The hills of the African waste are low and rounded, but those of the Sinaitic highlands exhibit some of the grandest specimens of mountain scenery which earth contains.
The desert is not a region of mere scorching calm, without a breeze or a tempest. Even at noon, and in the heart of some valley, there comes a quiet breeze; not certainly" stealing and giving odors," as in the Shûbra gardens or the vale of Nâblus, but still bringing coolness to the hot air and the parched Arab, as it passes on its way. The storm, too, wakes up and tries its strength against the sharp peaks of El-Benât, or rushes through Nukb-Howai," the pass of the winds," or loses itself in the mountain network of Esh-Shubeikeh; and while, in the plain below, the sand-drift is pouring along, like yellow hail, the snow-blast is sweeping over the hill-top, and reminds the traveler of Skiddaw, or Schreck-Horn, or SneeHatten. Yet the sand-storms of the peninsula, though they make the camels halt and the Arabs cower, and the traveler stop his ears and eyes, are not destructive like those of Eastern Arabia or Africa. The sand is not fine enough to admit of its being raised by the blast in sufficient quantities at a time to overwhelm its victims. A whirlwind in the Ghôr of the Jordan would be a more unpleasant assailant than any tempest that ever brushed along the white bluffs of Et-Tih, and lifted the clouds of sand from its base to deposit them on the steeps of Jebel Wûtah, or amid the slag-debris and scoriæ of Surâbit.
The desert is no mere sand-field, or series of sand-fields. You find sand in abundance certainly; on the hill-slopes, in the beds of the wadys, and in the broad plains that intersperse in all directions their yellow reaches or gray stripes. But there seems to be an immense amount of stone and rock overspreading the land, extending for miles between the hills, and in some places hiding the sand. Sometimes these are found in isolated blocks, (a large stone, having shot down from the cliffs into the valley,) as in the case of the Hajir-er-Rukkab, or Stone of the Rider, near the Ain Howârah; sometimes they are found in level patches, the debris of the hills having spread itself out, and bedded itself in the sand or clay; sometimes in rugged heaps, like Highland
cairns, which appear at a distance like artificial mounds; sometimes rolled and pounded, as if some iceberg had once passed along, grinding the rocks to fragments, and spreading them out in fields of stone, to be afterward sifted by the winds and caked together by the rainfloods, so as to form a smooth, broad highway, extending for miles, and to present a vast plain or area of cyclopean mosaic, or a stripe of tesselated pavement, relieving the monotony of the waste by breaking up into variegated stripes the vast tracts of gray or yellow sand.
The peninsular desert is not a land without rain; and speaking generally of the East, we may say, that there seems to be much more rain than we usually give it credit for. In Upper Egypt, certainly, there is hardly such a thing as rain. That region-the region where the wondrous ruins of a hundred temples crowd together, embalmed, and so preserved by the hot, dry air, as effectually as their tenants are by spice and odors-may be called rainless. It is wholly at the mercy of the Nile. Middle Egypt has more rain, though little to boast of. Lower Egypt has considerably more; and in some places might do battle with the droughts on its own resources. But the desert has more than all Egypt together-only so regulated as to be useless, save for maintaining the thin-strewn dusky shrubs which so timidly sprinkle its wadys. It has its rainy seasons, during which the clouds pour down a deluge; but there is no such regular supply of water as to tell even upon its lowest hollows or most sheltered plains, save in the way of scooping out watercourses, or tearing up tamarisks, or cutting away the half gravelly, half sandy soil, into what the Bedouins call Jurfs, or abrading the more impressible parts of the sandstone steeps, or still more rarely helping (along with local springs, sometimes hot, sometimes cold) to rear up an oasis of palms and tarfas, such as that of Feirân, hard by Mount Serbâl, whose praises so many travelers have sung, and as many more likely to sing again. For, by all accounts, it is quite a gem of desert-verdure, a genuine "Palmyra," though without a city and without a queen. The rain meant for Egypt seems to be swept aside from that level region by the stormy west wind; and attracted by the mountains of the peninsula, it turns aside and pours itself
down in water-spouts upon the Sinaitic wastes. But it comes in such rushes that it brings no blessing to the soil, and is so unequally distributed, as to time, that even the spring gets no refreshment from the winter floods; nay, hardly can remember that they have been. If the traveler is bold enough to penetrate the peninsula during the summer months, from April on to August or September, he may with certainty count upon rainless skies; and he may pitch his tent anywhere, even in the low bed of the torrent; nor will he find a drier or safer place of encampment than any one of the hundred tarfa-groves that cover the bed of el-Arish, from the spot where it leaves the slopes of Et-Tih, to the place where it spreads itself out over the sands of Rhinocolura. But if he is bent on a winter tour, or travels even so early as January or February, he must be on the outlook, not for showers merely, but for floods. He dare not choose for his encampment that sandy hollow where the tarfa and the rittem are so invitingly waving; for though it should be in Wady Taiybeh, "the good," or in Wady elMarkhâh, the "Valley of Rest," he will find himself reckoning without his host. If the wind shift to the west during the night, bright as the sunset might be over the blue of Bahr Suweis, or above the brow of Abû Daraj beyond, he may find himself, tents, turbans, baggage, provisions, camels, fowls, and all, hurrying down a swollen river, which, ere the next evening's shadows have come down upon these sands, will have passed into the sea, or wholly vanished in the thirsty porous ground, leaving no trace of its exuberant flow save a few pools in the deeper hollows, or a few drops in a hole of yon flat stone, which the thirsty Arab or his camel stoops to drink up.
Travelers tell us, too, that the desert is not so absolutely bare and verdureless as we sometimes imagine. One traveler, indeed, speaks of a thin clothing of vegetation, which is seldom withdrawn from the hill-sides and valleys; but the others do not concur in this, and while not refusing to do justice to its excellences, think that a "thin sprinkling" of vegetation would be nearer the truth than a "thin clothing." For certainly it would seem that, according to our northern notions at least, the desert may well be called unclothed, if not totally bare. Yet it has
verdure of its own-fitful, coarse, dingy as that may be. There are few parts where the Bedouin may not find shrubs sufficient, in quantity and size, to feed his camel for a night. In some places, no doubt, the region is so absolutely waste, that he has to carry provision for his camel as well as for himself, and he produces at night his bag of beans, as the drayman or cabman of our streets does his bag of oats for his horse upon a journey; but this is rather unfrequent; generally he finds a sufficiency of desert-herbage for his camel, and here and there (in some moister place) something less coarse for a small flock of sheep or goats. Musing over such passages as these: "I will plant in the wilderness the cedar, the shittah-tree, the myrtle, and the oil-tree; I will set in the desert the fir-tree, and the pine, and the box-tree together," the traveler wonders at the marvelous picture thus sketched in the unfailing word, and asks, “Has this ever been ?" "When is all this to be?" Totally unlike to so fair a portrait do the terrific features of the desert at present seem. What forest does he see anywhere here, or what stream to water even the stray tree that might be planted? Is it conceivable that the savage ruggedness of El-Amârah can smile with verdure, or the wild but barren bends of Esh-Sheikh throw up the cedar or the myrtle? But there are some spots where not only the shrub struggles up out of the sand, but where trees show themselves, some of low stature, some of considerable size. There is the tamarisk or tarfa, with its thin wiry foliage; the wide-branching acacia or seyaleh, which is the shittim-wood of Scripture, and the tree from which gum arabic exudes; the rittem or broom, under the sade of which, in the wilderness of Beersheba, Elijah sat down in his desponding weariness; there is the fruitful nubk, which, with its tiny apples, feeds the dwellers in some richer wady till the date appears; then there is the palm-tree, with its shaggy stem in Ghurundel, or its well-pruned tapering stem in Feirân, towering above all the rest, and casting the shadow of its feathery crown, in sunshine or moonlight, upon the passive sand. So scanty, however, is this forest-verdure, that it can hardly be said to relieve the brown or yellow sterility of these cheerless wastes.
Besides, everything like grass seems to
be wanting. No carpet of green anywhere spreads itself under foot, or clothes the rugged steeps. Even in some bright oasis, where the palm-shadows cool the ground, and the air seems more genial, and the birds are singing, there is no verdure on the ground, and even the commonest weeds are awanting. The soil will support nothing which cannot strike its roots at least some six inches into it. There is nothing beneath your feet but the monotony of the endless sand, whose color, unlike the "universal green," fatigues, instead of refreshing the eye. The oasis is adorned, but not clothed.
But whatever one misses in the earth beneath you, you miss nothing in the heavens above you. The greenness of earth is awanting, but the blue of the heavens has become brighter and purer. The varied twinkle of flowers under your feet is gone; but the sparkle of the orbs overhead has doubled its luster. The flowers have folded up their blossoms, and hid them from the hot air beneath the sands; but the stars have unfolded theirs all the more freely, as if the desert sky, with its arch of matchless azure, were the soil in which they can best give forth their brilliancy. The north star has come down low in the heavens, and you feel that another two hundred miles to the south would make it drop out of sight, or only glimmer on the horizon; but other stars are ascending in the opposite horizon, and you feel that you gain as much as you lose by your southern latitude. Yet the brightness of sun, and moon, and stars, cannot make up for the want of other things. You miss the wreaths of village smoke rising from a hundred homes; for which the wild blaze of Bedouin fires, flinging up their gleam upon the rocks, is no equivalent. You miss the lark's song, the streamlet's murmur, the whisper of the woods; for which the scream of the eagle, and the torrent's rush, and the shrill echo of the cliff, are no compensation. You miss the mighty masses of cloud that give such splendor to our sunsets; and for which the round red blaze of an Arabian sun, dropping down like a fiery globe, is no equivalent.
In the Sinaitic latitudes, the length of day varies but little throughout the seasons. A little before six, when the sky is still darkly blue, a faint whitish glow steals up the east, and then strikes across
to the west in pale, silky purple, while the zenith remains untouched in its starstudded blue. This is the signal that the night is done, and that the sun is coming up. In less than half an hour every mountain has taken on the golden radiance. The living glory slowly creeps down the cliffs, every five minutes altering the hue of the mountain-sides, which had hitherto remained a mass of shade, till it reaches the mountain-base, and shoots across the brightening sand. It is day: morning is at an end. So at sunset. Swiftly the sun drops down from the flaming firmament, and in half an hour all is night-with only the tall cone of the zodiacal light to tell where the sun had been. What a blank in the beauty of the fairest day is this absence of twilight-the time when it is neither day nor night, but something more grateful than either!
Seldom do travelers speak of seeing the face of man in their journeyings, and when they do see him, they think there is something worthy to be noted. Just once, perhaps, in two or three days, he meets a caravan on its way from Sinai to Cairo, or from Cairo to Sinai; or perhaps, still more seldom, he may meet a solitary messenger, or come upon the black camelhair tent under which a family of Bedouin is sheltering itself from the wind, or sun, or rain. Little enough of man, and still less of woman, is to be met with in these sands.
No village, no town of living men, does he light upon. The ruins in some of the northern wadys, such as Ruhaibeh and Serâm, remind him that there had been once cities here; and those in Feirân speak of the six thousand monks that once had their abode in the convent or the mountaincell of that more southern wady. But, save in the convents of Wady esh-Shueib, at the foot of Jabel Mûsa, or the khâns at Nukhl or Akabah, on the line of the Haj road, he sees no abodes of congregated men. But what he does not see of the living, he does see of the dead. In life the Bedouin wander; in death they come together, and are thus "gathered to their fathers" in the spots which, for ages beyond tradition, have been the tribal cemeteries. Traversing the more inland parts of the desert, he sees not unfrequently groups of stones, perhaps a foot high, which in the distance might be mistaken for way-marks, or the mysterious circles
branches? No. They are votive offerings of Moslem pilgrims or the Bedouin, hanging there as propitiatory gifts or thanksgiving memorials; the seyâleh or acacia being the only tree on which these
of olden worship; but as he comes near, he sees that the stones are generally arranged in couplets a few feet asunder. The stones are unhewn and uncarved, without a name, a date, or line; fragments of debris from the neighboring cliff, in-memorials are found, as if it alone were serted sufficiently in the sand to keep them erect. No church, no mosque, no minaret, no inclosing wall! But Moslems do not bury in or beside mosques. Here and there a saint's wely is built for and used as a mosque; for Mohammedanism, as well as Popery, ascribes sanctity, if not to dead men's bones, at least to dead men's tombs. Generally, however, Eastern graveyards are at a distance both from city and mosque. These Bedouin tombs are, by all accounts, strangely, sadly attractive to the passer-by from their rudeness and loneliness. Here and there the Arab has planted the green-leaved, white-blossomed rittem, the slenderest and most graceful of his native shrubs. And this he has chosen for affection's memorial. There it stands, in its evergreen beauty, braving the desert sun, or courting the desert breeze, above the quiet dust of centuries, at once the indication of desert poverty, and the unobtrusive expression of desert love.
A less attractive sight, the traveler tells us, are the remains, not of the dead, but of the living. Wearied with a long day's sultry march, during which his only shelter from the heat has been his white umbrella, for which he paid dear enough at Cairo, he comes up, about sunset, to some bright sandy level, such as El-Markâh, which, | shaded from sun and wind, looks out upon the Red Sea in its blue stillness, or to some quiet nook, as Wady Esh-Sheikh affords, looking up to the not distant Sinaitic cliffs, he finds the ground covered with the filthy relics of a Bedouin encampment, which had yesterday or last week quitted the spot; half-burned shrubs, blackened stones, embers of extinct fires, torn sandals, shreds of old garments, fragments of rope, bones of animals, with numerous indentations in all directions, where men and camels had been lying. Or, approaching some wide-branching seyâleh tree, he is surprised to find its branches covered with rags of every hue and shape, like the mast of a ship on some gala-day. Have the rags been drifted in upon the breeze, or has a torrent passed this way and deposited its floating spoil upon the arresting
sacred. Or he notices in the distance curious objects on the sand, which look like baskets of wicker-work, white as snow. On each side of the road between Cairo and Suez, traversed annually by so many thousands of beasts of burden; or in that region of the desert where Abbas Pasha built his palace, on the very peak of the mountain that adjoins Sinai, these strange basket-like objects appear every mile or two. He goes up to them, and finds that they are the skeletons of camels which the vulture has picked clean, and which sun and rain have bleached to the whiteness of ivory; for the camel is left to die on the spot when he falls down exhausted. No one throws a shovelful of sand upon him; ere his eye is closed, and life is gone, the vulture is there, screaming and tearing, till, in a few hours, only his bones remain, in a few weeks or months to be buried in the sweeping sand-drift.
In the desert, too, the traveler finds strange traditions, old and new, Mohammedan and Christian-traditions of love, cruelty, superstition, miracle-though none of daring deeds, true deeds for molding a nation's character, such as fasten their stories to the rocks of home. There is Jebel el-Banat, the " Hill of the Maidens," where two Arab sisters, "long, long ago," in the madness of disappointed love, twisted their locks together, and flung themselves from the double peak into the rocky ravines below. There is the grave of Sheikh Amrî in the northern region, between Hufîr and Neheyeh, where, beneath a rude cairn, lie the bones of a chieftain famed only for the blood he shed and the cruelties he inflicted; blood and cruelty which still bring down on his remains the hot curses of each passing son of the desert.
The silence of the desert has been frequently noted by travelers. There is no silence so profound anywhere, either by day or night. The little lizards, shooting like arrows from bush to bush, or from rock to rock, are wholly noiseless; the black ants burrowing everywhere in the sand, are unheard; the light foot of the gazellah amid the crags sounds not, save when he dashes down some stone into the