Page images
PDF
EPUB

in gold thread, and from the description given of the texture of the linen we may form some idea of the exquisite tenuity of the gold wire which was used to ornament it.

Corslets of linen of a somewhat stronger texture than this one, which was doubtless meant for merely ornamental wear, were not uncommon amongst the ancients. The Greeks made thoraces of hide, hemp, linen, or twisted cord. Of the latter there are some curious specimens in the interesting museum of the United Service Club. Alexander had a double thorax of linen; and Iphicrates ordered his soldiers to lay aside their heavy metal cuirass, and go to battle in hempen armour. And among the arms painted in the tomb of Rameses III. at Thebes is a piece of defensive armour, a sort of coat or covering for the body, made of rich stuff, and richly embroidered with the figures of lions and other animals.

The dress of the Egyptian ladies of rank was rich and somewhat gay: in its general appearance not very dissimilar from the gay chintzes of the present day, but of more value as the material was usually linen; and though sometimes stamped in patterns, and sometimes interwoven with gold threads, was much more usually worked with the needle. The richest and most elegant of these were of course selected to adorn the person of the queen; and when in the holy book the royal Psalmist is describing the dress of a bride, supposed to have been Pharaoh's daughter, and that she shall be brought to the king'< in raiment of needlework," he says, as proof of the gorgeousness of her attire, 'her clothing is of wrought gold." This is supposed to mean a garment richly embroidered with the needle in figures in gold thread, after the manner of Egyptian stitchery.

Perhaps no royal lady was ever more magnificently dowered than the queen of Egypt; her apparel might well be gorgeous. Diodorus says that when Mceris, from whom the lake derived its name, and who was supposed to have made the canal, had arranged the sluices for the introduction of the water, and established everything connected with it, he assigned the sum annually derived from this source as a dowry to the queen for the purchase of jewels, ointments, and other objects connected with the toilette. The provision was certainly very liberal, being a talent every day, or upwards of £70,700 a year; and when this formed only a portion of the pin-money of the Egyptian queens, to whom the revenues of the city of Anthylla, famous for its wines, were given for their dress, it is certain they had no reason to complain of the allowance they enjoyed.

The Egyptian needlewomen were not solely occupied in the decoration of their persons. The deities were robed in rich vestments, in the preparation of which the proudest in the land felt that they were worthily occupied. This was a source of great gain to the priests, both in this and other countries, as, after decorating the idol gods for a time, these rich offerings were their perquisites, who of course encouraged this notable sort of devotion. We are told that it was carried so far that some idols had both winter and summer garments.

Tokens of friendship consisting of richly embroidered veils, handkerchiefs, &c, were then, as now, passing from one fair hand to another, as pledges of affection; and as the last holy office of love, the bereaved mother, the desolate widow, or the maiden whose budding hopes were blighted by her lover's untimely death, might find a fanciful relief to her sorrows by decorating the garment which was to enshroud the spiritless but undecaying form. The chief proportion of the mummy-cloths which have been so ruthlessly torn from these outraged relics of humanity are coarse; but some few have been found delicately and beautifully embroidered; and it is not unnatural to suppose that this difference was the result of feminine solicitude and undying affection. The embroidering of the sails of vessels too was pursued as an article of commerce, as well as for the decoration of native pleasure-boats. The ordinary sails were white; but the king and his grandees on all gala occasions made use of sails richly embroidered with the phcenix, with flowers, and various other emblems and fanciful devices. Many also were painted, and some interwoven in checks and stripes. The boats used in sacred festivals upon the Nile were decorated with appropriate symbols, according to the nature of the ceremony or the deity in whose service they were engaged; and the edges of the sails were finished with a coloured hem or border, which would occasionally be variegated with slight embroidery.

Shakspeare's description of the barge of Cleopatra when she embarked on the river Cydnus to meet Antony, poetical as it is, seems to be rigidly correct in detail.

Enobarbus.—I will tell you.
The barge she sat in, like a burnish'd throne,
Burn'd on the water: the poop was beaten gold;
Purple the sails, and so perfumed, that
The winds were love-sick with them: the oars were silver;
Which to the tune of flutes kept stroke, and made
The water, which they beat, to follow faster,
As amorous of their strokes. For her own person,
It beggar'd all description: she did lie
In her pavilion (cloth of gold, of tissue),
O'erpicturing that Venus, where we see
The fancy outwork nature; on each side her
Stood pretty dimpled boys, like smiling Cupids,
With diverse-ciilour'd fans, whose wind did seem
To glow the delicate cheeks which they did cool,
And what they undid, did.

Agrippa.— O, rare for Antony!

Enobarbus —Her gentlewomen, like the Nereides,
So many mermaids, tended heri' the eyes,
And made their bends adornings; at the helm
A seeming mermaid steers; the silken tackle
Swell with the touches of those flower-soft hands,
That yarely frame the office. From the barge
A strange invisible perfume hits the sense
Of the adjacent wharfs. The city cast
Her people out upon her; and Antony,
Bethroned in the market-place, did sit alone,
Whistling to the air; which, but lor vacancy.
Had gone to gaze on Cleopatra too,
And made a gap in nature.

It is said that the silver oars, " which to the tune of flutes kept stroke," were pierced with holes of different sizes, so mechanically contrived, that the water, as it flowed through them at every stroke, produced a harmony in concord with that of the flutes and lyres on board.

Such a description as the foregoing gives a more vivid idea than any grave declaration, of the elegant luxury of the Egyptians.

It were easy to collect instances from the Bible in which mention is made of Egyptian embroidery, but one verse (Ezek. xxvii. 7), when the prophet is addressing the Tyrians, specifically points to the subject on which we are speaking: "Fine linen, with broidered work from Egypt, was that which thou spreadest forth to be thy sail," &c.

A common but beautiful style of embroidery was to draw out entirely the threads of linen which formed the weft, and to re-form the body of the material, and vary its appearance, by working in various stitches and with different colours on the warp alone.

Chairs and fauteuils of the most elegant form, made of ebony and other rare woods, inlaid with ivory, were in common use amongst the ancient Egyptians. These were covered, as is the fashion in the present day, with every variety of rich stuff, stamped leather, &c.: but many were likewise embroidered with different coloured wools, with silk and gold thread. The couches too, which in the daytime had a rich covering substituted for the night bedding, gave ample scope for the display of the inventive genius and persevering industry of the busy-fingered Egyptian ladies.

We have given sufficient proof that the Egyptian females were accomplished in the art of needlework, and we may naturally infer that they were fond of it. It is a gentle and a social occupation, and usefully employs the time, whilst it does not interfere with the current of the thoughts or the flow of conversation. The Egyptians were an intelligent and an animated race; and the sprightly jest or

« PreviousContinue »