Page images




E were nearing the ancient land of Misraim and the far

famed city of Alexander the Great. On the horizon flashed one fiery spark

A ruddy gem of changesul light,

Bound on the dusky brow of night. The morning star 'had not yet paled before the dawn, and no prosaic reality was visible to dull our early illusions. A vision rose before me of an old picture book, over which we pored in our childhood, showing a mighty tower 1,000 cubits high, built in divers stories like some huge telescope, with an outer winding stair by which beasts of burden could ascend to the very top, bearing fuel for the beacon fires which blazed in a vast lantern, with reflecting mirrors so arranged that the light was visible for a hundred miles. These mirrors acted a double part, as they reflected the ships approaching Egypt while at so great a distance as to be still imperceptible to the eye.

It was all built of the finest stone, with pillars and galleries and ornaments beautifully wrought in marble, on which (you remember the old story) the architect Sostratus engraved his own name in durable characters, and then, overlaying these with cement, thereon left a frail memorial of the fame of Ptolemy, his master.

The lighthouse, surrounded by a strong sea wall, was built on the Isle of Pharos, whence it derived the name which it has transmitted to a thousand descendants. It formed the natural breakwater of that great harbour which the wise Alexander considered might acquire such vast social importance as the outlet of commerce between the eastern and western worlds.

So here he himself planned the city, designing it in the form of a Macedonian cloak, which, however, should cover eighty furlongs (in other words, it was fifteen miles in circumference); and his soldiers strewed meal to mark the line where its walls were to rise. Then, at his bidding, temples, obelisks, palaces, theatres, gymnasiums were built-(the old story said 400 temples, 4,000 palaces, 4,000 public baths, and 12,000 shops for the sale of vegetables cnly).

NO. 1820.



There was one broad main street with a vista of shipping at either end—for it extended in a direct line from the Lake Mareotis to the Mediterranean--and another broad street intersected this at right angles; and both these great streets were adorned with stately colonnades, running the whole length of the city.

In short, the glory of Tyre was here reproduced; and Heliopolis was no longer to be the chief seat of science. During the 300 years that the Ptolemies held sway, all sages were drawn to Alexandria by the encouragement given to learning of all kinds : arts and sciences, poets and philosophers here found a welcome, such names as that of Euclid being of the number; and though the Egyptians were conciliated by the building of magnificent temples, the restoration of their ancient monuments, and of many of their old forms of worship, the more graceful manners and customs of Greece were generally adopted ; and the highest favour the Government awarded was to admit any person to the rank of Macedonian citizenship. To such an extent was this carried that whenever the inhabitants met in public assembly they were addressed as “Ye men of Macedonia.”

It was not only to the faith of the Egyptians that the Ptolemies showed such toleration. Alexander himself had shown the utmost favour to the Jews, and had induced a vast number of them to become citizens of Alexandria by granting them equal privileges with the Macedonians. The first Ptolemy is said to have imported a hundred thousand more as captives, many of whom he raised to high offices of trust. About a hundred years later, however—that is to say, about two centuries before Christ-the high priest at Jerusalem excited the wrath of Ptolemy Philopater (who had offered large sacrifices and given valuable gifts to the Temple) by refusing to let him enter the Holy of Holies, whereupon the vengeful king returned to Alexandria, determined to destroy all the Jews in the city. He caused multitudes of them to assemble in the arena, where they were delivered up to wild beasts. The legend goes on to tell that the discriminating lions refused to touch the Jews, but made large havoc of the Greeks.

Meanwhile the learning both of Jews and Pagans continued to flow to Alexandria, It was by command of Philadelphus that the Hebrew Bible was translated into Greek, and that those seven hundred thousand precious volumes were stored up in the great library.

So it was a great, busy, learned city-the emporium of mind and matter for the eastern and western worlds, the combined Liverpool and Oxford of heathendom. This state of things continued till the Christian Church established itself here, and strove to carry matters with a high hand; then followed shameful riots in the name of religion-the Christian monks versus the Pagans. At length the Arabs, under Omar, captured and plundered the enfeebled city (A.D. 638), and ere it could in any measure recover itself a second capture by the Turks in A.D. 868 completed its destruction. So now we find only a 'modern semi-European town, with hardly a trace of all the former splendour; and the wail of Ichabod ! Ichabod ! may well find echo amidst the mounds of rubble and ruin which surround the modern city in every direction.

Of the mighty Pharos, some ruins remained in the twelfth century; but of the spot where Alexander was buried by his favourite general (Ptolemy) there is no trace; and of the precious library not one leaf remains.

The more valuable works on mechanics, astronomy, medicine, and all other branches of science and literature were stored in the museum, which was accidentally destroyed during the war with Julius Cæsar, when Egypt became a Roman province.

The remaining volumes, numbering 700,000, were kept in the Temple of Serapis, and consisted chiefly of theological controversies; they were destroyed by the conquering Saracens, A.D. 640, the bigoted Caliph Omar declaring that the Koran was all-sufficient reading. Consequently they were used as fuel for the 4,000 baths, and are said to have sufficed for that purpose for several months. I suppose papyrus must have predominated over vellum, for I do not think the old MSS. in most charter-rooms would make a blaze in a hurry! For twenty years after this cruel burning the empty bookshelves remained in the great library, to mock the grief of all wise and learned men.

And of the great Temple of Serapis, and its 400 pillars, what trace remains ? One solitary column, now known as Pompey's Pillar -a monolith of red granite, sixty-eight feet high, with base and capital about thirty feet more ; and as it stands on rising ground near the sea, it still acts as a landmark to sailors as they approach the low, flat shore, where long rows of windmills are grinding away, as if they could not work hard enough.

Through the purply haze, that lends a dreamy beauty of its own to the dull, barren coast, we discern those ever-turning sails, mingling with a forest of masts, telling how the ships of many lands are once more crowding the Alexandrian harbour. These all

merge dream-world, and we picture to ourselves how, in days of old, this same harbour was crowded with gay galleys, freighted with women

into our

from all parts of the known world-chiefly from the Grecian Isles and from Syracuse (distant about a thousand miles)—who here assembled to celebrate the great Festival of Adonis and Astarte, whose statues they carried through the city in joyous procession, strewing flowers and perfumes by the way.

Another memory, of more modern days, and of dearer interest to “ a Britisher," comes over us as we near the shore —the memory of Nelson's great victory, when, in Aboukir Bay, he found the whole French fleet awaiting Napoleon's return from the battle of the Pyramids, and manned by well-nigh 10,000 men. When morning dawned, two frigates were all that remained to enable the mighty conqueror to return to “la belle France.”

Conceive the horrors of that night, when the huge old Orient, with her 120 guns, caught fire, and in the darkness of midnight came the roar which deadened the din of battle, and the fearful glare which lighted up the whole bay. Then sudden silence fell on both fleets, and not a gun was fired, while all watched for that awful explosion which they knew must come-when“ burning ropes and flaming timbers flew high in mid-air, and shattered bodies and torn and blackened limbs of many a gallant mariner fell on the decks of the neighbouring vessels or into the seething waves." Among those victims were the gallant Casa Bianca and his brave boy.

As we draw near the quay, we note a summary method of dealing with an extortionate dragoman, who, determined to cling to his victims to the last, has ventured to step on board the boat which is to carry them back to their ship. One strong back-hander, dealt without the slightest apparent effort, and he is submerged. In a moment he rises to the surface, and is restored to dry land by amused spectators; when he stands quivering with impotent rage, his splendid Eastern eyes flashing fire, and with hands and arms gesticulating, and action all over, he pours forth a stream of imprecations on the laughing young Englishmen, whose boat meanwhile has pushed off, and placed them beyond reach of his wrath and his knife. Not of his memory, however, should they ever return to his neighbourhood ; and that “La vengeance se mange bien froide" is a proverb which doubtless has its counterpart in Eastern tongues.

The confusion on landing is amazing, the noisy crowd consisting of representatives of every nation-black, white, brown, yellowshouting and quarrelling, all contending for us and our luggage. At last we are safely deposited in an African hotel, and gain our first experience of cold, barn-like rooms—for so they seem to the outwardbound. On our return from India we think it so generous of an hotel-keeper to provide us with bedding and sheets and towels, that we feel these same rooms to be luxurious quarters.

There are no bells, but attentive Italian or German waiters are on the alert; and are extra attentive if addressed as if they were human beings. I confess I felt touched and gratified when, twelve months later, we occupied these same rooms, and the only cheery soul that wished us a happy new year was one of these same men, whose face gleamed with kindly recognition on our arrival.

We were in the Hôtel d'Europe, which has the advantage of capital balconies overlooking the Grand Square, and the tank where all manner of picturesque life congregates : groups of stately Bedouins, who rest here awhile, while their camels stand swaying from side to side, impatient to return to the desert ; half-naked Arabs and hard-working Fellahs, with their brown felt caps; splendid Armenians; overgrown Negroes, whose skin, black and glossy as the raven's wing, contrasts with their white robes, as their scarlet fez does with their woolly head; women, stately from long habit of carrying their graceful double-handled water-jug poised on the head; ladies waddling along, veiled by their great black silk cloaks, so that they look like walking sacks ; snarling dogs, and splendid dignified donkeys with scarlet leather saddles; and donkey-boys, shouting a chorus of African and European small-talk, marvellously jumbled into one strange patois. There is no conceivable tint that human skin can assume that is not here represented-from the clearest creamy roses, fresh from Britain, to the yellows and browns and jet black of all other nations. And as to eyes—their variety is a study in itself. Such orbs ! Eyes of every shade, from light hazel to black -eyes gentle ; eyes sad ; eyes laughing ; eyes wild ; wicked eyes ; loving eyes ; dreamy eyes. One fair British damsel, after gazing for some time in open-mouthed admiration at a group of magnificent Moors, confided to me that in her wildest moments she had never dreamt of such eyes, but that now she could sympathise with Desdemona !

All day long, if you choose, you can sit and watch this evervarying kaleidoscope, with every shade and variety of eastern and western life—white men in dark clothes, dark men in bright clothes; Jews (of whom multitudes have found their way back to the old house of bondage), Turks, Greeks, infidels, and heretics ; Copts, Nubians (in full dress of fresh oil), Albanians (in rich and striking attire), Americans, Europeans of all nations, Englishmen of every type, from the representative of the stately old school, down to the veriest riff-raff of Cockneyism, who think it necessary at once to

« PreviousContinue »