Part 6 out of 6
Not tricked and frounced as she was wont
With the Attic Boy to hunt,
But kerchiefed in a comely cloud
While rocking winds are piping loud,
Or ushered with a shower still,
When the gust hath blown his fill,
Ending on the rustling leaves,
With minute drops from off the eaves.
And when the sun begins to fling
His flaring beams, me, Goddess, bring
To arched walks of twilight groves,
And shadows brown, that Sylvan loves,
Of pine or monumental oak,
Where the rude axe, with heaved stroke,
Was never heard the nymphs to daunt,
Or fright them from their hallowed haunt.
There in close covert by some brook
Where no profaner eye may look,
Hide me from Day's garish eye,
While the bee with honeyed thigh,
That at her flowery work doth sing,
And the waters murmuring,
With such concert as they keep,
Entice the dewy-feathered Sleep:
And let some strange mysterious dream
Wave at his wings in airy stream
Of lively portraiture displayed,
Softly on my eyelids laid:
And as I wake sweet music breathe
Above, about, or underneath,
Sent by some spirit to mortals good,
Or the unseen Genius of the wood.
But let my due feet never fail,
To walk the studious cloister's pale,
And love the high embowed roof,
With antique pillars massy proof,
And storied windows richly dight,
Casting a dim religious light.
There let the pealing organ blow,
To the full-voiced quire below,
In service high, and anthems clear,
As may with sweetness, through mine ear
Dissolve me into ecstasies,
And bring all Heaven before mine eyes.
And may at last my weary age
Find out the peaceful hermitage.
The hairy gown and mossy cell
Where I may sit and rightly spell
Of every star that heaven doth show,
And every herb that sips the dew;
Till old Experience do attain
To something like prophetic strain.
These pleasures, Melancholy, give,
And I with thee will choose to live.
[Notes: _Il Penscioso_ = the thoughtful man.
_Bestead_ = help, stand in good stead.
_Fond_ = foolish; its old meaning.
_Pensioners_. A word taken from the name of Elizabeth's body-guard.
Compare "the cowslips tall her pensioners be" ('Midsummer Night's
_Prince Memnon_, of Ethiopia, fairest of warriors, slain by Achilles
(Homer's Odyssey, Book xi.). His sister was Hemora.
_Starred Ethiop Queen_ = Cassiope, wife of King Cepheus, who was placed
among the stars.
_Sea-nymphs_ = Nereids.
Vesta_, the Goddess of the hearth; here for _Retirement. Saturn_, as
having introduced, according to the mythology, civilization, here stands
_Commercing_ = holding communion with. Notice the accentuation.
_Forget thyself to marble_ = forget thyself till thou are still and
silent as marble.
_Hist along_ = bring along with a hush. _Hist_ is connected with _hush_.
_Philomel_ = the nightingale.
_Cynthia_ = the moon.
_Dragon yoke_. Compare "Night's swift dragons," ('Midsummer Night's
_Removed place_ = remote or retired place. Compare "some removed ground"
_Nightly_ = by night. Sometimes it means "every night successively."
_Thrice-great Hermes_, a translation of Hermes Trismegistus, a fabulous
king of Egypt, held to be the inventor of Alchemy and Astronomy.
_Unsphere_, draw from his sphere or station.
_The immortal mind_. Plato treats of the immortality of the soul chiefly
in the _Phaedo_. The _demon_, with Socrates, is the attendant genius
of an individual; with Plato it is more general; and the assigning the
demons to the four elements is a notion of the later Platonists.
_Sceptered pall_ = royal robe.
_Presenting Thebes_, &c. These lines represent the subjects of tragedies
by Aeschylus, Sophocles, and Euripides, the great tragic poets of
_Musaeus_, here for some bard of the distant past, generally. Musaeus,
in mythology, is a bard of Thrace, and son of Orpheus.
_Half-told the story of Cambuscan bold_. The Squire's Tale in Chaucer,
which is broken off in the middle.
_Camball_, Cambuscan's son. _Algarsife and Canace_, his wife and
_Frounced_. Used of hair twisted and curled.
_The Attic Boy_ = _Cephalus_, loved by _Eos_, the Morning.
_A shower still_ = a soft shower.
_Sylvan_ = Pan or Sylvanus.
_Cloister's pale_ = cloister's enclosure.
_Massy proof_. Massive and proof against the weight above them.]
* * * * *
As we approached the town, I was fortunate enough to overtake the
fugitive Kaartans to whose kindness I had been so much indebted in my
journey through Bambarra. They readily agreed to introduce me to the
King; and we rode together through some marshy ground where, as I was
anxiously looking around for the river, one of them called out, _geo
affili_ (see the water), and looking forwards, I saw with infinite
pleasure the great object of my mission--the long sought for majestic
Niger, glittering to the morning sun, as broad as the Thames at
Westminster, and flowing slowly _to the eastward_. I hastened to the
brink, and having drank of the water, lifted up my fervent thanks in
prayer to the Great Ruler of all things, for having thus far crowned my
endeavours with success.
The circumstance of the Niger's flowing towards the east, and its
collateral points, did not, however, excite my surprise; for although I
had left Europe in great hesitation on this subject, and rather believed
that it ran in the contrary direction, I had made such frequent
inquiries during my progress concerning this river, and received from
negroes of different nations such clear and decisive assurance that its
general course was _towards the rising sun_, as scarce left any doubt on
my mind; and more especially as I knew that Major Houghton had collected
similar information in the same manner.
I waited more than two hours without having an opportunity of crossing
the river; during which time, the people who had crossed carried
information to Mansong, the King, that a white man was waiting for a
passage, and was coming to see him. He immediately sent over one of his
chief men, who informed me that the King could not possibly see me
until he knew what had brought me into his country; and that I must not
presume to cross the river without the King's permission. He therefore
advised me to lodge at a distant village, to which he pointed, for
the night; and said that in the morning he would give me further
instructions how to conduct myself. This was very discouraging. However,
as there was no remedy, I set off for the village; where I found, to my
great mortification, that no person would admit me into his house. I
was regarded with astonishment and fear, and was obliged to sit all day
without victuals in the shade of a tree; and the night threatened to be
very uncomfortable, for the wind rose, and there was great appearance
of a heavy rain; and the wild beasts are so very numerous in the
neighbourhood that I should have been under the necessity of climbing up
the tree, and resting among the branches. About sunset, however, as I
was preparing to pass the night in this manner, and had turned my horse
loose that he might graze at liberty, a woman, returning from the
labours of the field, stopped to observe me, and perceiving that I
was weary and dejected, inquired into my situation, which I briefly
explained to her; whereupon, with looks of great compassion, she took up
my saddle and bridle and told me to follow her. Having conducted me into
her hut, she lighted up a lamp, spread a mat on the floor, and told me
I might remain there for the night. Finding that I was very hungry, she
said she would procure me something to eat. She accordingly went out,
and returned in a short time with a very fine fish; which having caused
to be half broiled upon some embers, she gave me for supper. The rites
of hospitality being thus performed towards a stranger in distress, my
worthy benefactress (pointing to the mat, and telling me I might sleep
there without apprehension), called to the female part of her family,
who had stood gazing on me all the while in fixed astonishment, to
resume their task of spinning cotton, in which they continued to employ
themselves great part of the night. They lightened their labour by
songs, one of which was composed extempore; for I was myself the subject
of it. It was sung by one of the young women, the rest joining in a sort
of chorus. The air was sweet and plaintive, and the words, literally
translated, were these:--"The winds roared and the rains fell. The
white man, faint and weary, came and sat our tree. He has no mother to
bring him milk, no wife to grind his corn." _Chorus_--"Let us pity the
white man; no mother has he," etc., etc. Trifling as this recital may
appear to the reader, to a person in my situation the circumstance was
affecting in the highest degree. I was oppressed by such unexpected
kindness, and sleep fled from my eyes. In the morning I presented my
compassionate landlady with two of the four brass buttons which remained
on my waistcoat; the only recompense I could make her.
* * * * *
ACROSS THE DESERT OF NUBIA.
After a prayer of peace, we committed ourselves to the Desert. Our party
consisted of Ismael the Turk, two Greek servants besides Georgis, who
was almost blind and useless, two Barbarins, who took care of the
camels, Idris, and a young man a relation of his; in all nine persons.
We were all well armed with blunderbusses, swords, pistols, and
double-barrelled guns, except Idris and his lad, who had lances, the
only arms they could use. Five or six naked wretches of the Turcorory
joined us at the watering place, much against my will, for I knew that
we should probably be reduced to the disagreeable alternative of either
seeing them perish of thirst before our eyes, or, by assisting them,
running a great risk of perishing along with them.
We left Gooz on the 9th of November, at noon, and halted at the little
village of Hassa, where we filled our water-skins--an operation which
occupied a whole day, as we had to take every means to secure them from
leaking or evaporation. While the camels were loading, I bathed myself
with infinite pleasure for a long half hour in the Nile, and thus took
leave of my old acquaintance, very doubtful if we should ever meet
again. We then turned to the north-east, leaving the Nile, and entering
into a bare desert of fixed gravel, without trees, and of a very
disagreeable whitish colour, mixed with small pieces of white marble,
like alabaster. Our camels, we found, were too heavily loaded; but
we comforted ourselves with the reflection, that this fault would
be remedied by the daily consumption of our provisions. We had been
travelling only two days when our misfortunes began, from a circumstance
we had not attended to. Our shoes, that had long needed repair, became
at last absolutely useless, and our feet were much inflamed by the
On the 13th, we saw, about a mile to the northwest of us, Hambily, a
rock not considerable in size, but, from the plain country in which it
is situated, having the appearance of a great tower or castle. South
of it were too smaller hills, forming, along with it, landmarks of the
utmost consequence to caravans, because they are too considerable in
size to be at any time covered by the moving sands. We alighted on the
following day among some acacia trees, after travelling about twenty
miles. We were here at once surprised and terrified by a sight, surely
one of the most magnificent in the world. In that vast expanse of
desert, we saw a number of prodigious pillars of sand at different
distances, at one time moving with great celerity, at another stalking
on with majestic slowness. At intervals we thought they were coming to
overwhelm us; and again they would retreat, so as to be almost out of
sight, their tops reaching to the very clouds. There the tops often
separated from the bodies; and these, once disjoined, dispersed in
the air, and did not appear more. Sometimes they were broken near the
middle, as if struck with a large cannon shot. About noon, they began to
advance with considerable swiftness upon us, the wind being very strong
at north. Eleven of them ranged alongside of us, about the distance of
three miles. The greatest diameter of the largest appeared to me at that
distance as if it would measure ten feet. They retired from us with a
wind at S.E., leaving an impression upon my mind to which I can give no
name, though surely one ingredient in it was fear, with a considerable
deal of wonder and astonishment. It was vain to think of flying; the
swiftest horse, or fastest sailing ship, could be of no use to carry us
out of this danger; and the full persuasion of this rivetted me to the
spot where I stood, and let the camels gain on me so much, that, in my
state of lameness, it was with some difficulty I could overtake them.
The effect this stupendous sight had upon Idris was to set him to his
prayers, or rather to his charms; for, except the names of God and
Mahomet, all the rest of his words were mere gibberish and nonsense.
Ismael the Turk violently abused him for not praying in the words of the
Koran, at the same time maintaining, with great apparent wisdom, that
nobody had charms to stop these moving sands but the inhabitants of
From this day subordination, though it did not entirely cease, rapidly
declined; all was discontent, murmuring, and fear. Our water was greatly
diminished, and that terrible death by thirst began to stare us in the
face, owing, in a great measure, to our own imprudence. Ismael, who had
been left sentinel over the skins of water, had slept so soundly, that
a Turcorory had opened one of the skins that had not been touched, in
order to serve himself out of it at his own discretion. I suppose
that, hearing somebody stir, and fearing detection, the Turcorory had
withdrawn himself as speedily as possible, without tying up the month of
the girba, which we found in the morning with scarce a quart of water in
On the 16th, our men, if not gay, were in better spirits than I had seen
them since we left Gooz. The rugged top of Chiggre was before us, and we
knew that there we would solace ourselves with plenty of good water. As
we were advancing, Idris suddenly cried out, "Fall upon your faces, for
here is the simoom!" I saw from the southeast a haze come, in colour
like the purple part of the rainbow, but not so compressed or thick. It
did not occupy twenty yards in breadth, and was about twelve feet high
from the ground. It was a kind of blush upon the air, and moved very
rapidly, for I scarce could turn to fall upon the ground, with my head
to the northward, when I felt the heat of its current plainly upon my
face. We all lay flat on the ground, as if dead, till Idris told us it
was blown over. The meteor or purple haze which I saw was indeed past,
but the light air that still blew was of a heat to threaten suffocation.
For my part, I found distinctly in my breast that I had imbibed a part
of it, nor was I free from an asthmatic sensation till I had been some
months in Italy, at the baths of Poretta, nearly two years afterwards.
This phenomenon of the simoom, unexpected by us, though foreseen by
Idris, caused us all to relapse into our former despondency. It still
continued to blow, so as to exhaust us entirely, though the blast was
so weak as scarcely would have raised a leaf from the ground. Towards
evening it ceased; and a cooling breeze came from the north, blowing
five or six minutes at a time, and then falling calm. We reached Chiggre
that night, very much fatigued.
[Note:_James Bruce_ (born 1730, died 1794), the African traveller; one
of the early explorers of the Nile.]
* * * * *
A SHIPWRECK ON THE ARABIAN COAST.
Another hour of struggle! It was past midnight, or thereabout, and the
storm, instead of abating, blew stronger and stronger. A passenger, one
of the three on the beam astern, felt too numb and wearied out to
retain his hold by the spar any longer; he left it, and swimming with a
desperate effort up to the boat, begged in God's name to be taken in.
Some were for granting his request, others for denying; at last two
sailors, moved with pity, laid hold of his arms where he clung to the
boat's side, and helped him in. We were now thirteen together, and the
boat rode lower down in the water and with more danger than ever: it was
literally a hand's breadth between life and death. Soon after another,
Ibraheem by name, and also a passenger, made a similar attempt to gain
admittance. To comply would have been sheer madness; but the poor wretch
clung to the gunwale, and struggled to clamber over, till the nearest
of the crew, after vainly entreating him to quit hold and return to the
beam, saying, "It is your only chance of life, you must keep to it,"
loosened his grasp by main force, and flung him back into the sea, where
he disappeared for ever. "Has Ibraheem reached you?" called out the
captain to the sailor now alone astride of the spar. "Ibraheem is
drowned," came the answer across the waves. "Is drowned," all repeated
in an undertone, adding, "and we too shall soon be drowned also." In
fact, such seemed the only probable end of all our endeavours. For the
storm redoubled in violence; the baling could no longer keep up with the
rate at which the waves entered; the boat became waterlogged; the water
poured in hissing on every side: she was sinking, and we were yet far
out in the open sea.
"Plunge for it!" a second time shouted the captain. "Plunge who may, I
will stay by the boat so long as the boat stays by me," thought I, and
kept my place. Yoosef, fortunately for him, was lying like a corpse,
past fear or motion; but four of our party, one a sailor and the other
three passengers, thinking that all hope of the boat was now over, and
that nothing remained them but the spar, jumped into the sea. Their loss
saved the remainder; the boat lightened and righted for a moment, the
pilot and I baled away desperately; she rose clear once more of the
water. Those in her were now nine in all--eight men and a boy, the
Meanwhile the sea was running mountains; and during the paroxysm of
struggle, while the boat pitched heavily, the cord attached from her
stern to the beam snapped asunder. One man was on the spar. Yet a minute
or so the moonlight showed us the heads of the five survivors as they
tried to regain the boat; had they done it we were all lost; then a huge
wave separated them from us. "May God have mercy on the poor drowning
men!" exclaimed the captain: their bodies were washed ashore three or
four days later. We now remained sole survivors--if, indeed, we were to
Our men rowed hard, and the night wore on; at last the coast came in
full view. Before us was a high black rock, jutting out into the foaming
sea, whence it rose sheer like the wall of a fortress; at some distance
on the left a peculiar glimmer and a long white line of breakers assured
me of the existence of an even and sandy beach. The three sailors now at
the oars, and the passenger who had taken the place of the fourth, grown
reckless by long toil under the momentary expectation of death, and
longing to see an end anyhow to this protracted misery, were for pushing
the boat on the rocks, because the nearest land, and thus having it all
over as soon as possible. This would have been certain destruction.
The captain and pilot, well nigh stupefied by what they had undergone,
offered no opposition. I saw that a vigorous effort must be made; so I
laid hold of them both, shook them to arouse their attention, and bade
them take heed to what the rowers were about; adding that it was sheer
suicide, and that our only hope of life was to bear up for the sandy
creek, which I pointed out to them at a short distance.
Thus awakened from their lethargy, they started up, and joined with me
in expostulating with the sailors. But the men doggedly answered that
they could hold out no more; that wherever the land was nearest they
would make for it, come what might; and with this they pulled on
straight towards the cliff.
The captain hastily thrust the rudder into the pilot's hand, and
springing on one of the sailors, pushed him from the bench and seized
his oar, while I did the same to another on the opposite side; and we
now got the boat's head round towards the bay. The refractory sailors,
ashamed of their own faintheartedness, begged pardon, and promised to
act henceforth according to our orders. We gave them back their oars,
very glad to see a strife so dangerous, especially at such a moment,
soon at an end; and the men pulled for left, though full half an hour's
rowing yet remained between us and the breakers; and the course which
we had to hold was more hazardous than before, because it laid the boat
almost parallel with the sweep of the water: but half an hour! yet I
thought we should never come opposite the desired spot.
At last we neared it, and then a new danger appeared. The first row of
breakers, rolling like a cataract, was still far off shore, at least a
hundred yards; and between it and the beach appeared a white yeast of
raging waters, evidently ten or twelve feet deep, through which, weary
as we all were, and benumbed with the night-chill and the unceasing
splash of the spray over us, I felt it to be very doubtful whether we
should have strength to struggle. But there was no avoiding it; and when
we drew near the long white line which glittered like a watchfire in the
night, I called out to Yoosef and the lad, both of whom lay plunged
in deathlike stupor, to rise and get ready for the hard swim, now
inevitable. They stood up, the sailors laid aside their oars, and a
moment after the curling wave capsized the boat, and sent her down as
though she had been struck by a cannon-shot, while we remained to fight
for our lives in the sea.
Confident in my own swimming powers, but doubtful how far those of
Yoosef might reach, I at once turned to look for him; and seeing him
close by me in the water, I caught hold of him, telling him to hold fast
on, and I would help him to land. But, with much presence of mind, he
thrust back my grasp, exclaiming, "Save yourself! I am a good swimmer;
never fear for me." The captain and the young sailor laid hold of the
boy, the captain's nephew, one on either side, and struck out with him
for the shore. It was a desperate effort; every wave overwhelmed us in
its burst, and carried us back in its eddy, while I drank much more salt
water than was at all desirable. At last, after some minutes, long as
hours, I touched land, and scrambled up the sandy beach as though
the avenger of blood had been behind me. One by one the rest came
ashore--some stark naked, having cast off or lost their remaining
clothes in the whirling eddies; others yet retaining some part of their
dress. Every one looked around to see whether his companions arrived;
and when all nine stood together on the beach, all cast themselves
prostrate on the sands, to thank Heaven for a new lease of life granted
after much danger and so many comrades lost.
* * * * *
AN ARABIAN TOWN.
Perhaps my readers will not think it loss of time to accompany us on a
morning visit to the camp and market, to the village gardens and wells;
such visits we often paid, not without interest and pleasure.
Warm though Raseem is, its mornings, at least at this time of year (the
latter part of September), were delightful. In a pure and mistless sky,
the sun rises over the measureless plain, while the early breeze is yet
cool and invigorating, a privilege enjoyed almost invariably in Arabia,
but wanting too often in Egypt in the west, and India in the east.
At this hour we would often thread the streets by which we had first
entered the town, and go betimes to the Persian camp, where all was
already alive and stirring. Here are arranged on the sand, baskets full
of eggs and dates, flanked by piles of bread and little round cakes of
white butter; bundles of fire-wood are heaped up close by, and pails
of goat's or camel's milk abound; and amid all these sit rows of
countrywomen, haggling with tall Persians, who in broken Arabic try to
beat down the prices, and generally end by paying only double what
they ought. The swaggering, broad-faced, Bagdad camel-drivers, and
ill-looking, sallow youths stand idle everywhere, insulting those whom
they dare, and cringing to their betters like slaves. Persian gentlemen,
too, with grand hooked noses, high caps, and quaintly-cut dresses of gay
patterns, saunter about, discussing their grievances, or quarrelling
with each other, to pass the time, for, unlike an Arab, a Persian shows
at once whatever ill-humour he may feel, and has no shame in giving it
utterance before whomever may be present; nor does he, with the Arab,
consider patience to be and essential point of politeness and dignity.
Not a few of the townsmen are here, chatting or bartering; and Bedouins,
switch in hand. If you ask any chance individual among these latter
what has brought him hither, you may be sure beforehand that the word
"camel," in one or other of its forms of detail, will find place in the
answer. Criers are going up and down the camp with articles of Persian
apparel, cooking pots, and ornaments of various descriptions in their
hands, or carrying them off for higher bidding to the town.
Having made our morning household purchases at the fair, and the sun
being now an hour or more above the horizon, we think it time to visit
the market-place of the town, which would hardly be open sooner. We
re-enter the city gate, and pass on our way by our house door, where we
leave our bundle of eatables, and regain the high street of Berezdah.
Before long we reach a high arch across the road; this gate divides the
market from the rest of the quarter. We enter. First of all we see a
long range of butchers' shops on either side, thickly hung with flesh of
sheep and camel, and very dirtily kept. Were not the air pure and the
climate healthy, the plague would assuredly be endemic here; but in
Arabia no special harm seems to follow. We hasten on, and next pass
a series of cloth and linen warehouses, stocked partly with
home-manufacture, but more imported; Bagdad cloaks and head-gear, for
instance; Syrian shawls and Egyptian slippers. Here markets follow the
law general throughout the East, that all shops or stores of the same
description should be clustered together; a system whose advantages on
the whole outweigh its inconveniences, at least for small towns like
these, in the large cities and capitals of Europe, greater extent of
locality requires evidently a different method of arrangement: it might
be awkward for the inhabitants of Hyde Park were no hatters to be
found nearer than the Tower. But what is Berezdah compared even with a
second-rate European city? However, in a crowd, it yields to none: the
streets at this time of the day are thronged to choking, and, to make
matters worse, a huge splay-footed camel every now and then, heaving
from side to side like a lubber-rowed boat, with a long beam on his
back, menacing the heads of those in the way, or with two enormous loads
of fire-wood, each as large as himself, sweeping the road before him of
men, women, and children, while the driver, high perched on the hump,
regards such trifles with supreme indifference, so long as he brushes
his path open. Sometimes there is a whole string of these beasts,
the head-rope of each tied to the crupper of his precursor--very
uncomfortable passengers when met with at a narrow turning.
Through such obstacles we have found or made our way, and are now amid
leather and shoemakers' shops, then among copper and iron-smiths, till
at last we emerge on the central town-square, not a bad one either, nor
very irregular, considering that it is in Raseem. About half one side
is taken up by the great mosque, an edifice nearly two centuries old,
judging by its style and appearance, but it bears on no part of it
either date or inscription. A crack running up one side of the tower
bears witness to an earthquake said to have occurred here about thirty
Another side of the square is formed by an open gallery. In its shade
groups of citizens are seated discussing news or business. The central
space is occupied by camels and by bales of various goods, among which
the coffee of Yemen, henna, and saffron, bear a large part.
From this square several diverging streets run out, each containing a
market-place for this or that ware, and all ending in portals dividing
them from the ordinary habitations. The vegetable and fruit market is
very extensive, and kept almost exclusively by women; so are also the
shops for grocery and spices.
Rock-salt of remarkable purity and whiteness, from Western Raseem, is
a common article of sale, and enormous flakes of it, often beautifully
crystallized, lay piled up at the shop doors. Sometimes a Persian stood
by, trying his skill at purchase or exchange; but these pilgrims were
in general shy of entering the town, where, truly, they were not in the
best repute. Well-dressed, grave-looking townsmen abound, their yellow
wand of lotus-wood in their hands, and their kerchiefs loosely thrown
over their heads.
The whole town has an aspect of old but declining prosperity. There are
few new houses, but many falling into ruin. The faces, too, of most we
meet are serious, and their voices in an undertone. Silk dresses are
prohibited by the dominant faction, and tobacco can only be smoked
within doors, and by stealth.
Enough of the town: the streets are narrow, hot, and dusty; the day,
too, advances; but the gardens are yet cool. So we dash at a venture
through a labyrinth of byways and crossways till we find ourselves in
the wide street that runs immediately along but inside the walls.
Here is a side gate, but half ruined, with great folding doors, and no
one to open them. The wall of one of the flanking towers has, however,
been broken in, and from thence we hope to find outlet on the gardens
outside. We clamber in, and after mounting a heap of rubbish, once the
foot of a winding staircase, have before us a window looking right on
the gardens. Fortunately we are not the first to try this short cut, and
the truant boys of the town have sufficiently enlarged the aperture and
piled up stones on the ground outside to render the passage tolerably
easy; we follow the indication, and in another minute stand in the open
air without the walls. The breeze is fresh, and will continue so till
noon. Before us are high palm-trees and dark shadows; the ground is
velvet-green with the autumn crop of maize and vetches, and intersected
by a labyrinth of watercourses, some dry, others flowing, for the wells
are at work.
These wells are much the same throughout Arabia; their only diversity is
in size and depth, but their hydraulic machinery is everywhere alike.
Over the well's month is fixed a crossbeam, supported high in air on
pillars of wood or stone on either side, and on this beam are from three
to six small wheels, over which pass the ropes of as many large leather
buckets, each containing nearly twice the ordinary English measure.
These are let down into the depth, and then drawn up again by camels
or asses, who pace slowly backwards or forwards on an inclined plane
leading from the edge of the well itself to a pit prolonged for some
distance. When the buckets rise to the verge, they tilt over and pour
out their contents by a broad channel into a reservoir hard by, from
which part the watercourses that irrigate the garden. The supply thus
obtained is necessarily discontinuous, and much inferior to what a
little more skill in mechanism affords in Egypt and Syria; while the
awkward shaping and not unfrequently the ragged condition of the buckets
themselves causes half the liquid to fall back into the well before it
reaches the brim. The creaking, singing noise of the wheels, the rush of
water as the buckets attain their turning-point, the unceasing splash of
their overflow dripping back into the source, all are a message of life
and moisture very welcome in this dry and stilly region, and may be
heard far off amid the sandhills, a first intimation to the sun-scorched
traveller of his approach to a cooler resting-place.
* * * * *
What virtue is so fitting for a knight,
Or for a lady whom a knight should love,
As courtesy; to bear themselves aright
To all of each degree as doth behove?
For whether they be placed high above
Or low beneath, yet ought they well to know
Their good: that none them rightly may reprove
Of rudeness for not yielding what they owe:
Great skill it is such duties timely to bestow.
Thereto great help Dame Nature's self doth lend:
For some so goodly gracious are by kind,
That every action doth them much commend;
And in the eyes of men great liking find,
Which others that have greater skill in mind,
Though they enforce themselves, cannot attain;
For everything to which one is inclined
Doth best become and greatest grace doth gain;
Yet praise likewise deserve good thewes enforced with pain.
[Notes: _Edmund Spenser_ (born 1552, died 1599), the poet who, in
Elizabeth's reign, revived the poetry of England, which since Chaucer's
day, two centuries before, had been flagging.
_Gracious are by kind, i.e.,_ by nature. _Kind_ properly means _nature_.
_Good thewes_ = good manners or virtues. As _thew_ passes into the
meaning "muscle," so _virtue_ (from _vis_, strength) originally means
* * * * *
THE QUEST OF THE HOLY GRAIL.
Then the King and all estates went home unto Camelot, and so went to
evensong to the great minster. And so after upon that to supper, and
every knight sat in his own place as they were toforehand. Then anon
they heard cracking and crying of thunder, that them thought the place
should all to-drive. In the midst of this blast entered a sunbeam
more clearer by seven times than ever they saw day, and all they were
alighted of the grace of the Holy Ghost. Then began every knight to
behold other, and either saw other by their seeming fairer than ever
they saw afore. Not for then there was no knight might speak one word
a great while, and so they looked every man on other, as they had been
dumb. Then there entered into the hall the Holy Grail, covered with
white samite, but there was none might see it, nor who bare it. And
there was all the hall full filled with good odours, and every knight
had such meats and drinks as he best loved in this world; and when
the Holy Grail had been borne through the hall, then the holy vessel
departed suddenly, that they wist not where it became. Then had they all
breath to speak. And then the King yielded thankings unto God of His
good grace that He had sent them. "Certes," said the King, "we ought to
thank our Lord Jesu greatly, for that he hath shewed us this day at the
reverence of this high feast of Pentecost." "Now," said Sir Gawaine, "we
have been served this day of what meats and drinks we thought on, but
one thing beguiled us: we might not see the Holy Grail, it was so
preciously covered; wherefore I will make here avow, that to-morn,
without longer abiding, I shall labour in the quest of the Sancgreal,
that I shall hold me out a twelvemonth and a day, or more if need be,
and never shall I return again unto the court till I have seen it more
openly than it hath been seen here; and if I may not speed, I shall
return again as he that may not be against the will of our Lord Jesu
Christ." When they of the Table Round heard Sir Gawaine say so, they
arose up the most party, and made such avows as Sir Gawaine had made.
Anon as King Arthur heard this he was greatly displeased, for he wist
well that they might not again say their avows. "Alas!" said King Arthur
unto Sir Gawaine, "ye have nigh slain me with the avow and promise
that ye have made. For through you ye have bereft me of the fairest
fellowship and the truest of knighthood that ever were seen together in
any realm of the world. For when they depart from hence, I am sure they
all shall never meet more in this world, for they shall die many in the
quest. And so it forethinketh me a little, for I have loved them as well
as my life, wherefore it shall grieve me right sore the departition
of this fellowship. For I have had an old custom to have them in my
fellowship." And therewith the tears filled in his eyes. And then he
said, "Gawaine, Gawaine, ye have set me in great sorrow. For I have
great doubt that my true fellowship shall never meet here again." "Ah,"
said Sir Launcelot, "comfort yourself, for it shall be unto us as a
great honour, and much more than if we died in any other places, for of
death we be sure." "Ah, Launcelot," said the King, "the great love
that I have had unto you all the days of my life maketh me to say such
doleful words; for never Christian king had never so many worthy men at
this table as I have had this day at the Round Table, and that is my
great sorrow." When the queen, ladies, and gentlewomen wist these
tidings, they had such sorrow and heaviness that there might no tongue
tell it, for those knights had holden them in honour and charity.
And when all were armed, save their shields and their helms, then they
came to their fellowship, which all were ready in the same wise for to
go to the minster to hear their service.
Then, after the service was done, the King would wit how many had taken
the quest of the Holy Grail, and to account them he prayed them all.
Then found they by tale an hundred and fifty, and all were knights of
the Round Table. And then they put on their helms and departed, and
recommended them all wholly unto the queen, and there was weeping and
And so they mounted upon their horses and rode through the streets of
Camelot, and there was weeping of the rich and poor, and the King turned
away, and might not speak for weeping. So within a while they came to a
city and a castle that hight Vagon. There they entered into the castle,
and the lord of that castle was an old man that hight Vagon, and he was
a good man of his living, and set open the gates, and made them all the
good cheer that he might. And so on the morrow they were all accorded
that they should depart every each from other. And then they departed on
the morrow with weeping and mourning cheer, and every knight took the
way that him best liked.
SIR THOMAS MALORY.
[Notes: _The Quest of the Holy Grail_. This is taken from the 'Mort
d'Arthur,' written about the end of the fifteenth century by Sir Thomas
Malory, and one of the first books printed in England by Caxton. King
Arthur was at the head and centre of the company of Knights of the Table
Bound. The _Holy Grail_, or the _Sangreal,_ was the dish said to have
held the Paschal lamb at the Last Supper, and to have been possessed by
Joseph of Arimathea.
Notice throughout this piece the archaic phrases used.]
* * * * *
VISIT TO SIR ROGER DE COVERLEY'S COUNTRY SEAT.
Having often received an invitation from my friend Sir Roger de Coverley
to pass away a month with him in the country, I last week accompanied
him thither, and am settled with him for some time at his country-house,
where I intend to form several of my ensuing speculations. Sir Roger,
who is very well acquainted with my humour, lets me rise and go to bed
when I please, dine at his own table or in my own chamber, as I think
fit, sit still and say nothing without bidding me be merry.
I am the more at ease in Sir Roger's family, because it consists of
sober and staid persons; for, as the knight is the best master in the
world, he seldom changes his servants; and as he is beloved by all
about, his servants never care for leaving him; by this means his
domestics are all in years, and grown old with their master. You would
take his _valet de chambre_ for his brother; his butler is grey-headed,
his groom is one of the gravest men that I have ever seen, and his
coachman has the looks of a Privy Counsellor. You see the goodness of
the master even in the old house-dog, and in a grey pad that is kept in
the stable with great care and tenderness, out of regard for his past
services, though he has been useless for several years.
I could not but observe, with a great deal of pleasure, the joy that
appeared in the countenance of these ancient domestics upon my friend's
arrival at his country-seat. Some of them could not refrain from tears
at the sight of their old master; every one of them pressed forward to
do something for him, and seemed discouraged if they were not employed.
At the same time the good old knight, with a mixture of a father and the
master of the family, tempered the inquiries after his own affairs with
several kind questions about themselves. This humanity and good-nature
engages everybody to him, so that when he is pleasant upon any of them,
all his family are in good-humour, and none so much as the person he
diverts himself with. On the contrary, if he coughs, or betrays any
infirmity of old age, it is easy for a stander-by to observe a secret
concern in the looks of all his servants.
My chief companion, when Sir Roger is diverting himself in the woods or
the fields, is a very venerable man who is ever with Sir Roger, and has
lived at his house in the nature of a chaplain above thirty years. This
gentleman is a person of good sense and some learning; of a very regular
life and obliging conversation: he heartily loves Sir Roger, and knows
that he is very much in the old knight's esteem, so that he lives in the
family rather as a relation than a dependent.
I have observed in several of my papers, that my friend Sir Roger,
amidst all his good qualities, is something of a humorist; and that his
virtues, as well as imperfections, are, as it were, tinged by a certain
extravagance which makes them particularly _his_, and distinguishes them
from those of other men. This cast of mind, as it is generally very
innocent in itself, so it renders his conversation highly agreeable, and
more delightful than the same degree of sense and virtue would appear in
their common and ordinary colours. As I was walking with him last night,
he asked me how I liked the good man I have just now mentioned? And
without staying for an answer, told me, "That he was afraid of being
insulted with Latin and Greek at his own table; for which reason he
desired a particular friend of his at the University to find him out a
clergyman rather of plain sense than much learning; of a good aspect, a
clear voice, a sociable temper, and, if possible, a man that understood
a little of backgammon. My friend," says Sir Roger, "found me out this
gentleman, who, besides the endowments required of him, is, they tell
me, a good scholar, though he does not show it. I have given him the
parsonage of the parish; and, because I know his value, have settled
upon him a good annuity for life. If he outlives me, he shall find that
he was higher in my esteem than perhaps he thinks he is. He has now been
with me thirty years, and though he does not know I have taken notice of
it, has never in all that time asked anything of me for himself, though
he is every day soliciting me for something in behalf of one or other
of my tenants, his parishioners. There has not been a law-suit in the
parish since he has lived among them: if any dispute arises, they apply
themselves to him for the decision; if they do not acquiesce in his
judgment, which I think never happened above once or twice, at most,
they appeal to me. At his first settling with me, I made him a present
of all the good sermons that have been printed in English, and only
begged of him that every Sunday he would pronounce one of them in the
pulpit. Accordingly, he has digested them into such a series, that they
follow one another naturally, and make a continued series of practical
* * * * *
THE DEAD ASS.
"And this," said he, putting the remains of a crust into his wallet,
"and this should have been thy portion," said he, "hadst thou been alive
to have shared it with me." I thought by the accent it had been an
apostrophe to his child; but 'twas to his ass, and to the very ass we
had seen dead on the road. The man seemed to lament it much; and it
instantly brought into my mind Sancho's lamentation for his; but he did
it with more true touches of nature.
The mourner was sitting on a stone bench at the door, with the ass's
pannel and its bridle on one side, which he took up from time to
time--then laid them down--looked at them--and shook his head. He then
took his crust of bread out of his wallet again, as if to eat it;
held it some time in his hand--then laid it upon the bit of his ass's
bridle--looked wistfully at the little arrangement he had made--and then
gave a sigh.
The simplicity of his grief drew numbers about him, and La Fleur among
the rest, whilst the horses were getting ready; as I continued sitting
in the postchaise, I could see and hear over their heads.
He said he had come last from Spain, where he had been from the farthest
borders of Franconia; and he had got so far on his return home, when his
ass died. Every one seemed desirous to know what business could have
taken so old and poor a man so far a journey from his own home.
"It had pleased heaven," he said, "to bless him with three sons, the
finest lads in all Germany; but having in one week lost two of them by
the small-pox, and the youngest falling ill of the same distemper, he
was afraid of being bereft of them all; and made a vow, if Heaven would
not take him from him also, he would go in gratitude to St. Iago, in
When the mourner got thus far on his story, he stopped to pay nature her
tribute, and wept bitterly.
He said Heaven had accepted the conditions, and that he had set out from
his cottage, with this poor creature, who had been a patient partner of
his journey--that it had eat the same bread with him all the way, and
was unto him as a friend.
Everybody who stood about heard the poor fellow with concern. La Fleur
offered him money; the mourner said he did not want it; it was not the
value of the ass, but the loss of him. "The ass," he said, "he was
assured, loved him;" and upon this, told them a long story of a
mischance upon their passage over the Pyrenean mountains, which had
separated them from each other three days; during which time the ass had
sought him as much as he had sought the ass, and they had neither scarce
eat or drank till they met.
"Thou hast one comfort, friend," said I, "at least in the loss of the
poor beast; I'm sure thou hast been a merciful master to him." "Alas!"
said the mourner, "I thought so when he was alive; but now he is dead I
think otherwise. I fear the weight of myself and my afflictions together
have been too much for him--they have shortened the poor creature's
days, and I fear I have them to answer for." "Shame on the world!" said
I to myself. "Did we love each other as this poor soul but loved his
ass, 'twould be something."