Page images
PDF
EPUB

me, good people ? — I say the East, the land of dates, the cradle of chronology, the home of the Arabian Nights and despotic deys. Fun alive and blood-thrilling sentiment to death, atar of roses, magicians, hareems, sherbet and kheyf! I dream waking, waking I dream. It is the East.

The camels still kneel by the gates of Damascus, the Morning Star still rises over Bethlehem, the caravan still winds through the desert® by the night, and the Western World, with its fierce industry, and sad suffering, and agony of duty unfulfilled, and steam-engines, and million modern miseries, meets at Cairo the northward-streaming tide of Islam and the Pagan, and they look each other in the face, and the Spirit of the Old gazes Sphynx-like into the restless eyes of the New, and asks in solemn measure: 'Wilt thou conquer me? What I am I was before the birth of History. I saw thy ancestors pass by in races like the waves of the sea; they wore away corners from my rock, the tide ate deeply in, but the old work is still here, good for ages. The Greek and Roman and Northman stormed against me and passed away; the fierce chivalry of the Crusades rode lance in rest against the turban - thou seest their graves in old cathedrals far in thy Evening Land - the lance and helm are strangers now to thee, but the turban and scimitar still gleam by the mosque of Ali. See the impenetrable Africa, where even now the Koran out-marches the Cross ! While thou livest, there will still be Islam ; when I fall, the world will be a new world.'

Oh! the glory of a land where life and death are of little worth, where destiny tramples down free-will, where the original 'gentleman' welcomes with equally placid mind a fortune or the bow-string, where no eternal self-consciousness of something or other poisons the bread we eat and the coffee we drink, goading us for ever and ever to strictness,' drunkenness, the devil, or Mrs. Grundy! Sacred Peace! thy home is in the Orient. I deplore thy tyrannized millions, thy plague, thy fleas, thy robbers. I would that thy children knew not the koorback of tanned rhinoceros-hide or the ophthalmia; but I also wish that the day of endless trial in the Western World had died away, that it had lived out its brown-stone houses and brocatelle and fiery sorrow for fine French furniture and gad-fly isms; in short, I wish tenderly and lovingly, 0 tortured American! that thy republican rule of the greatest good for the greatest number were established through the great agency of industry, credit and capital, in an un-knock-downable form, and that then thou couldst return, calmly and lovingly as thou yet wilt, to the best lessons of thy mighty mother, the East. Then thou wilt no longer be harassed by fashionable lecturers, the nigger will come out of the wood-pile, the 'serious' brothers will sit with Ezzelino in their beloved purgatory, thou wilt no longer go mad over what is none of thy business and for that which thou needest not; thou wilt cease to work thyself to death, that thy wife and little ones may out-ostentate and out-fool and out-frog some ox-idol, thus endeth the first lesson !

Pompey's Pillar! To the top ninety-eight feet; diameter at base, nine feet; capital, fifteen feet one way and twelve the other. I did n't measure it, but was told so in the spirit by a white-bearded old gentleman, who spoke very good Italian, and gave me, in the goodness of his heart, a great date. We became confidential, and he informed me that when he was young he believed that the pillar was made by the Jinnayum or spirits ; but that as he grew older, he had learned that it was put up by a great Frank king, named Poompayil. I told him that I did not know it before, but thanked Allah that I had met him. Then he gave me another date, and said that the pillar was not indeed made by Jinnayum, but that the Pyramids were, and that he had seen on the Nile an old temple whence at mid-night they came flying out and streamed by millions to the old ruins, where they bewailed the days of their power. Then I remarked that the ways of God were wonderful, to which he assented, adding as postscript that he was Great. Then I told him, not to be beaten, that in our Western World the evil spirits often took the form of men and walked among them, and were to be especially found in the councils of cities, where they did much evil, and in the government of the land, where they hardly took the pains to hide their devilish nature. Then my friend smiled grimly, and said that the man who spoke truly of evil wherever he met it, had the real Islam in his heart, and gave me another date, and we parted.

It was a pleasant and cheerful thing to see that the good little dirty industrial souls of Western Europe had taken Pompey's Pillar in their course from St. Paul's via St. Peter's to Canton, and stuck advertisements on it. In all ages men have placarded on monuments for the vulgar eye. that which was nearest their hearts. In days when the very rocks were young, Nem Roud and Nebo Pul Assur and other fire and serpent lord kings graved on high places their mighty deeds, and proclaimed with pride their incest-births unmixed with baser blood, and told of the people of the isles whom they had slain. And this was the principal interest and news of those days. Then came the Greek and Roman, and they scrawled graffiti on walls of baths and villas, sentences jesting on all manner of pleasant and unpleasant sins, the points of Martial's epigrams, broken off and pounded into bad Latin and worse Hellenic; and naughty Tullias and Marcias were saved to the immortality of nineteenth-century folios and English reviews by bits of chalk and shards of tiles. And this was the great interest and news of those days. Then came the unwashed Middle Ages, and people drew long-faced and long-nosed virgins and duck-in-a-thunderstormy-looking saints on the street-corners, and scribbled pious rhyme and clumsy personalities, mixed with love-ballads and politics of the sword and church school; and this was the interest and news of those days. And then came the modern time, when to make money was - is

- every thing; and then people threw their whole souls into buttons and blacking, into patent medicines and pickles, and they arose in their might and smeared their placards and labels and libels over the world. The fairest views in remote wildernesses contain on some broad rock the name in colossal letters of some poor quack, who does not feel or know that those who seek the beautiful in such places, are thereby instinctively warned against him. Wherever the world flock to see art and nature in their most attractive forms, there comes the hand-biller, sticking up the details of loathsome diseases — twaddling about the blood '— dragging us down from our few and far pleasant abstractions into every-day life, by beseeching us to think of our boots and breechęs, our hair and nails, imploring us to kill fleas and bed-bugs, begging us to drink English gin, and cautioning married ladies against the untimely use of the celebrated Devil's Elixir, sold by

Dr. Herod, formerly of Judea, now of Paris. And this is the great interest of these transition-days, and after all, it could not well be otherwise. It is Kismet, it is destiny - let it slide.

Alexandria, Atfé, Boulac, Cairo. It is strange that one can tramp along through the sunny vine-land of Provence, and sit in the pleasant garden of Nismes, and revel through Germany, and promenade the Boulevard Sebastopol, and roam or ride over the Campagna without feeling that one is in foreign lands. But in the East you know that you are in another world.

You are with the men who believe in absolutely one God, and that He had absolutely and precisely one prophet, named Mohammed, and no mistake about it. In a land where a good dress, pipe and weapons, a horse and women, are sufficient for honor and happiness, and where snobs and flunkeys are cut and bastinadoed. In a land where a liar is, among people who claim to be gentlemen, as bad as a thief. O Islam! how they belie thee in the land of the West.

The East is not without its nasty wretches, but then they are ranked and defiled there as nasty wretches, and do not stick up their heads out of their native dirt, and claim consideration and equality with the noble and honest and refined, whose boots they are not worthy to clean. Yon hook-nosed Shylock, who is endeavoring to cheat two English sailors who have found their way hither, is plainly and simply a dirty old thieving and cheating rascal, be he Jew or Gentile, or any thing else, and people do not hesitate to call him one, no matter what denomination he disgraces. He may have a million dollars in his den, who cares? His whole life has been foul and mean, passed in clawing up moneys and in 'sharp practice;' and as he has thereby degraded himself below the proper level of a man, he is despised as an inferior being. He will not be biographied for fifty piastres in some library of Illustrious Caireens as one of the noblest, most enterprising, well-informed, public-spirited and liberal gentlemen who ever trod the soil of Egypt since the days when Joseph cornered the grain-market. After the Kadosh has been sung over him he will be forgotten.

I realize the East, too, in these crowded bazaars, where independent Moslems keep little booth-shops, exactly like those of the middle ages in Europe, and somewhat recalling the modern fairs of German cities. And I pity, and do n't pity at the same time, that English or Yankee-Doodle lady who must see every thing, and who, defying Oriental prescription and tradition, will push in among little blackguards, who entreat her to hire donkeys, and big blackguards, who make sinful and carnal remarks which would be singularly new to her, even if translated. I see saddles and garments, gold and jewel broidered in the hareems of all the East. for the wives and concubines even of pachas make money in this way - and arms and tarboushes, and bundles of jessamine and cherry-sticks, and piles of perfumery and curiosities dug from Memphis or made in Birmingham ; and I smell good scents and bad scents — and—it is the East, and I walk as in a dream.

Greatly do I rejoice, too, in the coffee-houses of Cairo. I love the small fingan of porcelain in its filagreed holder, and I rejoice in the rich coffee-like coffee which is coffee, and not the uncoffee-like coffee of the Western World, which even in Paris lacks something to be real. For lo ! you there, good friends, coffee in Christendom is make the best of it you can à sort of exotic, a sublime silent Buddha, embodying the infinite beauty of creation and the lotus dream of absorption, calmly carved in costly quiet-toned jade stone, and then — put on a gingerbread French étagère among lumps of malachite, bronze shepherdesses with soulless legs, gilt vinaigrettes, and those eternal Swiss cottages, which no right-minded man ever beheld without experiencing a generous impulse to give them to the children as homes for ‘Dolly.' Coffee dearly beloved is only coffee under the crescent of Islam. Allah gave it as he gave the hot sun and the date and the camel to the son and land of Shem, making all things one for the other. There, amid musky, rose-oily, ever-smoking men, coffee ebbs and flows over the sombre twilight beach of the soul, ever falling, ever rising, wetting fitfully and freshly, from time to time, the foliage of the twining nerve-life which shoots out its million Sybil-like leaves on the margin of that strand. And I puff the Latakia with its cascarilla and sandalwood — the houris in paradise only know what beside is mingled in it- the amber is sucked by my lips, like the sweet lips of a woman, and I draw in the perfumed smoke and smile lazily —'way down' in my heart- at thinking it is so like sucking a real girl's soul into my own being. Rustle, rise, ye waves; grow damper, sparkling sand! I feel the kheyf, which is dolce far niente made god-like, steeping me through and through ; the waters rise to the nerve-leaves, they rustle and sing, the dreams of Germany and the fays of Northland fit in increased sensuous loveliness around, while deep in the abyss I see the infinite curves of beauty of the Queen of the East, who is in herself all beautiful humanity; whose velvet black eyes are the heads of angels, and whose white limbs are the limbs of millions.

There is hasheesh or opium, or something in this tobacco. Ah! bah! there is nothing of the kind. Have I not borne from boyhood the root of hasheesh in my soul, and has it ever wanted aught save to be watered with coffee and warmed with memories of fiery glances to bring out all the trances of all time? Now I know why the birds of Teuton land sang to me of old — they sent me onward to the East. I smoke again; coffee again; the Arabian Nights' are around older days - older the delicious shudder, which is like the morning breeze which comes just before the first rose-gleam of dawn, steals over me; the faint rapturous horror which heralds the approach of that life — Astoreth, Astarte, Derceto, Venus Atergatis, Mylitta, Baaltis, Aphrodite eternal ! infinite loveliness ! beauty beyond beauty ; truth and integrity and nobility beyond human reach ; I thy last votary on earth and in this life, watch the last flame by thy last altar. Again the perfumed smoke is drawn through the amber lips — it is more and more a woman's life — ha! I know those scents ! they quiver in coy, coquettish memory; it advances, retreats - who was it? what is it ?- santal and vitivert; the wild waltz Spanish air and black hair flowing bravely back; by Allah it is Natolia !

A young Caireen has been sitting by me, his head hidden in folds of turban and haick ; as I smoke and float in dreams, his eyes are fixed on mine - black, lustrous, self possessed - an infinite realm of silent fearlessness. He draws nearer and nearer, and sings the old song she sang while dancing in Marseilles:

• MARINERO que navegas
Las mares con ligereza,
Di me si podré liegami

A ver presto mi belleza ?'
Soft and lazy air — Jaleo de Jeres - by Allah! it is Natolia !

The dream is over and come to pass. I make no sign ; I only talk in a low tone. I feel that now I am very far East indeed, almost as far as the first spot where the three wise men started from — the three who went to sea, not in a bowl, but in the golden Venus cup which bore the triune Arech-el-es from crimson morning into solemn eve. I keep on, I travel in conversation with my solemn Eve ; but I am happier than our first ancestor, for while he was ever fleeing away from paradise, I, on the contrary, am getting every minute nearer to it. And I sit so confidingly near her ; the touch of her flowing garment is so delicious. To smoke tobacco from her pouch is heart-beating — we exchange pipes, and the mouth-piece is damp from her lips ; I find tears in my eyes, and for a moment I am blind; and her hand falls on mine, too — and if I could die just now sorceress, thou hast won me — - bright, beautiful Sin! no matter, I was thine from my birth. Thine, signed and marked in the earliest ages.

How they went by like the head-long flight of the Djinns — those days in Egypt with Natolia. Out in the desert, on hot sand, where we halted to rest the camels — in stifling days — I seemed to need no rest. By Mary's tree and the gardens of Fayoum, before the solemn Sphynx by moon-light, every where only thou.'

Oimé! the dream is over. Madame, be not angry, I pray you ; it was all only a dream at best. For I have deceived you shamefully. Like our friend Heine, ‘I never was in the East,' not in this life, at least ; but I assure you, upon my word and honor, that I have a wonderful affinity for it; and after dinner, when I get the Caruba pipe lighted, can no more keep my soul from going home to Morning Land than I can keep the mouth-piece from my lips. Believest thou that Faust sat in very reality by Helen in the halls of Greece ? that he sank to the home of the Mothers ? that he swept with Chiron through the night of classic orgie ! It was all in his own soul. There it was that Phorcyas Mephistopheles raised all the phantoms; there it is that the NatoliaMephistophela, whom Meister Karl never met on earth, but who leads him ever into all dreams, shows him over all books of the East, from that of Job down to Lane's · Arabian Nights,' and so keeps him travelling for ever, like Ahasuerus, through the land of black eyes and good tobacco. Yea, THOU ART SOLD; but not so bitterly as I who wake from the vision breathed from a black perfumed amulet of Stamboul, bearing the name of God, given me in by-gone years by Yacob Mna' Serim the Armenian, to whom I wish peace.

“So the phantoms flee,

So the dreams depart,
And the sharp reality

Now must act its part.'

[blocks in formation]
« PreviousContinue »