What remained for me but to prove, by trial, that what might be perilous to other travellers was safe to me? The “experimentum crucis” was a visit to Al-Hijaz, at once the most difficult and the most dangerous point by which a European can enter Arabia. I had intended, had the period of leave originally applied for been granted, to land at Maskat—a favourable starting-place—and there to apply myself, slowly and surely, to the task of spanning the deserts. But now I was to hurry, in the midst of summer, after a four years’ sojourn in Europe, during which many things Oriental had faded away from my memory, and—after passing through the ordeal of Egypt, a country where the police is curious as in Rome or Milan—to begin with the Moslem’s Holy Land, the jealously guarded and exclusive Harim. However, being liberally supplied with the means of travel by the Royal Geographical Society; thoroughly tired of “progress” and of “civilisation;” curious to see with my eyes what others are content to “hear with ears,” namely, Moslem inner life in a really Mohammedan country; and longing, if truth be told, to set foot on that mysterious spot which no vacation tourist has yet described, measured, sketched and photographed, I resolved to resume my old character of a Persian wanderer,2 a “Darwaysh,” and to make the attempt.
The principal object with which I started was this: to cross the unknown Arabian Peninsula, in a direct line from either Al-Madinah to Maskat, or diagonally from Meccah to Makallah on the Indian Ocean. By what “circumstance, the miscreator” my plans were defeated, the reader will discover in the course of these volumes. The secondary objects were numerous. I was desirous to find out if any market for horses could be opened between Central Arabia and India, where the studs were beginning to excite general dissatisfaction; to obtain information concerning the Great Eastern wilderness, the vast expanse marked Rub’a al-Khali (the “Empty Abode”) in our maps; to inquire into the hydrography of the Hijaz, its water-shed, the disputed slope of the country, and the existence or non-existence of perennial streams; and finally, to try, by actual observation, the truth of a theory proposed by Colonel W. Sykes, namely, that if tradition be true, in the population of the vast Peninsula there must exist certain physiological differences sufficient to warrant our questioning the common origin of the Arab family. As regards horses, I am satisfied that from the Eastern coast something might be done—nothing on the Western, where the animals, though thorough-bred, are mere “weeds,” of a foolish price and procurable only by chance. Of the Rub’a al-Khali I have heard enough, from credible relators, to conclude that its horrid depths swarm with a large and half-starving population; that it abounds in Wadys, valleys, gullies and ravines, partially fertilised by intermittent torrents; and, therefore, that the land is open to the adventurous traveller. Moreover, I am satisfied, that in spite of all geographers, from Ptolemy to Jomard, Arabia, which abounds in fiumaras,3 possesses not a single perennial stream worthy the name of river;4 and the testimony of the natives induces me to think, with Wallin, contrary to Ritter and others, that the Peninsula falls instead of rising towards the south. Finally, I have found proof, to be produced in a future part of this publication, for believing in three distinct races. 1. The aborigines of the country, driven like the Bhils and other autochthonic Indians, into the eastern and south-eastern wilds bordering upon the ocean. 2. A Syrian or Mesopotamian stock, typified by Shem and Joktan, that drove the Indigenæ from the choicest tracts of country; these invaders still enjoy their conquests, representing the great Arabian people. And 3. An impure Syro-Egyptian clan—we personify it by Ishmael, by his son Nabajoth, and by Edom, (Esau, the son of Isaac)—that populated and still populates the Sinaitic Peninsula. And in most places, even in the heart of Meccah, I met with debris of heathenry, proscribed by Mohammed, yet still popular, while the ignorant observers of the old customs assign to them a modern and a rationalistic origin.
I have entitled this account of my summer’s tour through Al-Hijaz, a Personal Narrative, and I have laboured to make its nature correspond with its name, simply because “it is the personal that interests mankind.” Many may not follow my example;5 but some perchance will be curious to see what measures I adopted, in order to appear suddenly as an Eastern upon the stage of Oriental life; and as the recital may be found useful by future adventurers, I make no apology for the egotistical semblance of the narrative. Those who have felt the want of some “silent friend” to aid them with advice, when it must not be asked, will appreciate what may appear to the uninterested critic mere outpourings of a mind full of self.6
On the evening of April 3, 1853, I left London for Southampton. By the advice of a brother officer, Captain (now Colonel) Henry Grindlay, of the Bengal Cavalry,—little thought at that time the adviser or the advised how valuable was the suggestion!—my Eastern dress was called into requisition before leaving town, and all my “impedimenta” were taught to look exceedingly Oriental. Early the next day a “Persian Prince,” accompanied by Captain Grindlay, embarked on board the Peninsular and Oriental Company’s magnificent screw steamer “Bengal.”
A fortnight was profitably spent in getting into the train of Oriental manners. For what polite Chesterfield says of the difference between a gentleman and his reverse—namely, that both perform the same offices of life, but each in a several and widely different way—is notably as applicable to the manners of the Eastern as of the Western man. Look, for instance, at that Indian Moslem drinking a glass of water. With us the operation is simple enough, but his performance includes no fewer than five novelties. In the first place he clutches his tumbler as though it were the throat of a foe; secondly, he ejaculates, “In the name of Allah the Compassionate, the Merciful!” before wetting his lips; thirdly, he imbibes the contents, swallowing them, not sipping them as he ought to do, and ending with a satisfied grunt; fourthly, before setting down the cup, he sighs forth, “Praise be to Allah”—of which you will understand the full meaning in the Desert; and, fifthly, he replies, “May Allah make it pleasant to thee!” in answer to his friend’s polite “Pleasurably and health!” Also he is careful to avoid the irreligious action of drinking the pure element in a standing position, mindful, however, of the three recognised exceptions, the fluid of the Holy Well Zemzem, water distributed in charity, and that which remains after Wuzu, the lesser ablution. Moreover, in Europe, where both extremities are used indiscriminately, one forgets the exclusive use of the right hand, the manipulation of the rosary, the abuse of the chair,—your genuine Oriental gathers up his legs, looking almost as comfortable in it as a sailor upon the back of a high-trotting horse—the rolling gait with the toes straight to the front, the grave look and the habit of pious ejaculations.
Our voyage over the “summer sea” was eventless. In a steamer of two or three thousand tons you discover the once dreaded, now contemptible, “stormy waters” only by the band—a standing nuisance be it remarked—performing
“There we lay|
All the day,
In the Bay of Biscay, O!”
The sight of glorious Trafalgar7 excites none of the sentiments with which a tedious sail used to invest it. “Gib” is, probably, better known to you, by Theophile Gautier and Eliot Warburton, than the regions about Cornhill; besides which, you anchor under the Rock exactly long enough to land and to breakfast. Malta, too, wears an old familiar face, which bids you order a dinner and superintend the iceing of claret (beginning of Oriental barbarism), instead of galloping about on donkey-back through fiery air in memory of St. Paul and White-Cross Knights. But though our journey might be called monotonous, there was nothing to complain of. The ship was in every way comfortable; the cook, strange to say, was good, and the voyage lasted long enough, and not too long. On the evening of the thirteenth day after our start, the big-trowsered pilot, so lovely in his deformities to western eyes, made his appearance, and the good screw “Bengal” found herself at anchor off the Headland of Clay.8
Having been invited to start from the house of a kind friend, John W. Larking, I disembarked with him, and rejoiced to see that by dint of a beard and a shaven head I had succeeded, like the Lord of Geesh, in “misleading the inquisitive spirit of the populace.” The mingled herd of spectators before whom we passed in review on the landing-place, hearing an audible “Alhamdolillah”9 whispered “Muslim!” The infant population spared me the compliments usually addressed to hatted heads; and when a little boy, presuming that the occasion might possibly open the hand of generosity, looked in my face and exclaimed “Bakhshish,”10 he obtained in reply a “Mafish;”11 which convinced the bystanders that the sheep-skin covered a real sheep. We then mounted a carriage, fought our way through the donkeys, and in half an hour found ourselves, chibuk in mouth and coffee-cup in hand, seated on the diwan of my friend Larking’s hospitable home.
Wonderful was the contrast between the steamer and that villa on the Mahmudiyah canal! Startling the sudden change from presto to adagio life! In thirteen days we had passed from the clammy grey fog, that atmosphere of industry which kept us at anchor off the Isle of Wight, through the loveliest air of the Inland Sea, whose sparkling blue and purple haze spread charms even on N. Africa’s beldame features, and now we are sitting silent and still, listening to the monotonous melody of the East—the soft night—breeze wandering through starlit skies and tufted trees, with a voice of melancholy meaning.
And this is the Arab’s Kayf. The savouring of animal existence; the passive enjoyment of mere sense; the pleasant languor, the dreamy tranquillity, the airy castle-building, which in Asia stand in lieu of the vigorous, intensive, passionate life of Europe. It is the result of a lively, impressible, excitable nature, and exquisite sensibility of nerve; it argues a facility for voluptuousness unknown to northern regions, where happiness is placed in the exertion of mental and physical powers; where “Ernst ist das Leben;” where niggard earth commands ceaseless sweat of face, and damp chill air demands perpetual excitement, exercise, or change, or adventure, or dissipation, for want of something better. In the East, man wants but rest and shade: upon the banks of a bubbling stream, or under the cool shelter of a perfumed tree, he is perfectly happy, smoking a pipe, or sipping a cup of coffee, or drinking a glass of sherbet, but above all things deranging body and mind as little as possible; the trouble of conversations, the displeasures of memory, and the vanity of thought being the most unpleasant interruptions to his Kayf. No wonder that “Kayf” is a word untranslatable in our mother-tongue!12
Let others describe the once famous Capital of Egypt, this City of Misnomers, whose dry docks are ever wet, and whose marble fountain is eternally dry, whose “Cleopatra’s Needle”13 is neither a needle nor Cleopatra’s; whose “Pompey’s Pillar” never had any earthly connection with Pompey; and whose Cleopatra’s Baths are, according to veracious travellers, no baths at all. Yet it is a wonderful place, this “Libyan suburb” of our day, this outpost of civilisation planted upon the skirts of barbarism, this Osiris seated side by side with Typhon, his great old enemy. Still may be said of it, “it ever beareth something new14;” and Alexandria, a threadbare subject in Bruce’s time, is even yet, from its perpetual changes, a fit field for modern description.15
The better to blind the inquisitive eyes of servants and visitors, my friend, Larking, lodged me in an out-house, where I could revel in the utmost freedom of life and manners. And although some Armenian Dragoman, a restless spy like all his race, occasionally remarked “voila un Persan diablement dégagé”, none, except those who were entrusted with the secret, had any idea of the part I was playing. The domestics, devout Moslems, pronounced me an Ajami,16 a kind of Mohammedan, not a good one like themselves, but, still better than nothing. I lost no time in securing the assistance of a Shaykh,17 and plunged once more into the intricacies of the Faith; revived my recollections of religious ablutions, read the Koran, and again became an adept in the art of prostration. My leisure hours were employed in visiting the baths and coffee-houses, in attending the bazars, and in shopping,—an operation which hereabouts consists of sitting upon a chapman’s counter, smoking, sipping coffee, and telling your beads the while, to show that you are not of the slaves for whom time is made; in fact, in pitting your patience against that of your adversary, the vendor. I found time for a short excursion to a country village on the banks of the canal; nor was an opportunity of seeing “Al-nahl,” the “Bee-dance;” neglected, for it would be some months before my eyes might dwell on such a pleasant spectacle again.
Careful of graver matters, I attended the mosque, and visited the venerable localities in which modern Alexandria abounds. Pilgrimaging Moslems are here shown the tomb of Al-nabi Daniyal (Daniel the Prophet), discovered upon a spot where the late Sultan Mahmud dreamed that he saw an ancient man at prayer.18 Sikandar al-Rumi, the Moslem Alexander the Great, of course left his bones in the place bearing his name, or, as he ought to have done so, bones have been found for him. Alexandria also boasts of two celebrated Walis—holy men. One is Mohammed al-Busiri, the author of a poem called Al-Burdah, universally read by the world of Islam, and locally recited at funerals and on other solemn occasions. The other is Abu Abbas al-Andalusi, a sage and saint of the first water, at whose tomb prayer is never breathed in vain.
It is not to be supposed that the people of Alexandria could look upon my phials and pill-boxes without a yearning for their contents. An Indian doctor, too, was a novelty to them; Franks they despised,—but a man who had come so far from East and West! Then there was something infinitely seducing in the character of a magician, doctor, and fakir, each admirable of itself, thus combined to make “great medicine.” Men, women, and children besieged my door, by which means I could see the people face to face, and especially the fair sex, of which Europeans, generally speaking, know only the worst specimens. Even respectable natives, after witnessing a performance of “Mandal” and the Magic mirror19, opined that the stranger was a holy man, gifted with supernatural powers, and knowing everything. One old person sent to offer me his daughter in marriage; he said nothing about dowry,—but I thought proper to decline the honour. And a middle-aged lady proffered me the sum of one hundred piastres, nearly one pound sterling, if I would stay at Alexandria, and superintend the restoration of her blind left eye.
But the reader must not be led to suppose that I acted “Carabin” or “Sangrado” without any knowledge of my trade. From youth I have always been a dabbler in medical and mystical study. Moreover, the practice of physic is comparatively easy amongst dwellers in warm latitudes, uncivilised peoples, where there is not that complication of maladies which troubles more polished nations. And further, what simplifies extremely the treatment of the sick in these parts is the undoubted periodicity of disease, reducing almost all to one type—ague.20 Many of the complaints of tropical climates, as medical men well know, display palpably intermittent symptoms little known to colder countries; and speaking from individual experience, I may safely assert that in all cases of suffering, from a wound to ophthalmia, this phenomenon has forced itself upon my notice. So much by way of excuse. I therefore considered myself as well qualified for the work as if I had taken out a “buono per l’estero” diploma at Padua, and not more likely to do active harm than most of the regularly graduated young surgeons who start to “finish” themselves upon the frame of the British soldier.
After a month’s hard work at Alexandria, I prepared to assume the character of a wandering Darwaysh; after reforming my title from “Mirza”21 to “Shaykh” Abdullah.22 A reverend man, whose name I do not care to quote, some time ago initiated me into his order, the Kadiriyah, under the high-sounding name of Bismillah-Shah:23 and, after a due period of probation, he graciously elevated me to the proud position of a Murshid,24 or Master in the mystic craft. I was therefore sufficiently well acquainted with the tenets and practices of these Oriental Freemasons. No character in the Moslem world is so proper for disguise as that of the Darwaysh. It is assumed by all ranks, ages, and creeds; by the nobleman who has been disgraced at court, and by the peasant who is too idle to till the ground; by Dives, who is weary of life, and by Lazarus, who begs his bread from door to door. Further, the Darwaysh is allowed to ignore ceremony and politeness, as one who ceases to appear upon the stage of life; he may pray or not, marry or remain single as he pleases, be respectable in cloth of frieze as in cloth of gold, and no one asks him—the chartered vagabond—Why he comes here? or Wherefore he goes there? He may wend his way on foot alone, or ride his Arab mare followed by a dozen servants; he is equally feared without weapons, as swaggering through the streets armed to the teeth. The more haughty and offensive he is to the people, the more they respect him; a decided advantage to the traveller of choleric temperament. In the hour of imminent danger, he has only to become a maniac, and he is safe; a madman in the East, like a notably eccentric character in the West, is allowed to say or do whatever the spirit directs. Add to this character a little knowledge of medicine, a “moderate skill in magic, and a reputation for caring for nothing but study and books,” together with capital sufficient to save you from the chance of starving, and you appear in the East to peculiar advantage. The only danger of the “Mystic Path”25 is, that the Darwaysh’s ragged coat not unfrequently covers the cut-throat, and, if seized in the society of such a “brother,” you may reluctantly become his companion, under the stick or on the stake. For be it known, Darwayshes are of two orders, the Sharai, or those who conform to religion, and the Bi-Sharai, or Luti, whose practices are hinted at by their own tradition that “he we daurna name” once joined them for a week, but at the end of that time left them in dismay, and returned to whence he came.
1. “Remembering. . . . reason,” afterwards altered by the author to “much disliking, if fact must be told, my impolitic habit of telling political truths, (in 1851 I had submitted to the Court of Directors certain remarks upon the subject of Anglo-Indian misrule: I need hardly say that the publication was refused with many threats), and not unwilling to mortify my supporter (his colleague, Colonel W. Sykes), refused his sanction, alleging as a no-reason,” et seq. [back]
3. In a communication made to the Royal Geographical Society, and published in the 24th vol. of the Journal, I have given my reasons for naturalising this word. It will be used in the following pages to express a “hill water-course, which rolls a torrent after rain, and is either partially or wholly dry during the droughts.” It is, in fact, the Indian “Nullah, or Nala.” [back]
5. A French traveller, the Viscount Escayrac de Lanture, was living at Cairo as a native of the East, and preparing for a pilgrimage when I was similarly engaged. Unfortunately he went to Damascus, where some disturbance compelled him to resume his nationality. The only European I have met with who visited Meccah without apostatising, is M. Bertolucci, Swedish Consul at Cairo. This gentleman persuaded the Badawin camel men who were accompanying him to Taif to introduce him in disguise: he naïvely owns that his terror of discovery prevented his making any observations. Dr. George A. Wallin, of Finland, performed the Hajj in 1845; but his “somewhat perilous position, and the filthy company of Persians,” were effectual obstacles to his taking notes. [back]
6. No one felt the want of this “silent friend,” more than myself; for though Eastern Arabia would not have been strange to me, the Western regions were a terra incognita. Through Dr. Norton Shaw, Secretary to the Royal Geographical Society, I addressed a paper full of questions to Dr. Wallin, professor of Arabic at the University of Helsingfors. But that adventurous traveller and industrious Orienta1ist was then, as we afterwards heard with sorrow, no more; so the queries remained unanswered. In these pages I have been careful to solve all the little financial and domestic difficulties, so perplexing to the “freshman,” whom circumstances compel to conceal his freshness from the prying eyes of friends. [back]
7. “Then came Trafalgar: would that Nelson had known the meaning of that name! it would have fixed a smile upon his dying lips!” so says the Rider through the Nubian Desert, giving us in a foot note the curious information that “Trafalgar” is an Arabic word, which means the “Cape of Laurels.” Trafalgar is nothing but a corruption of Tarf al-Gharb—the side or skirt of the West; it being the most occidental point then reached by Arab conquest. [back]
10. “Bakhshish,” says a modern writer, “is a fee or present which the Arabs (he here means the Egyptians, who got the word from the Persians through the Turks,) claim on all occasions for services you render them, as well as for services they have rendered you. A doctor visits a patient gratis—the patient or his servant will ask for a bakhshish (largesse); you employ, pay, clothe, and feed a child—the father will demand his bakhshish; you may save the life of an Arab, at the risk of your own, and he will certainly claim a bakhshish. This bakhshish, in fact, is a sort of alms or tribute, which the poor Arab believes himself entitled to claim from every respectable-looking person.” [back]
11. Mafish, “there is none,” equivalent to, “I have left my purse at home.” Nothing takes the Oriental mind so much as a retort alliterative or jingling. An officer in the Bombay army (Colonel Hamerton) once saved himself from assault and battery by informing a furious band of natives, that under British rule “harakat na hui, barakat hui,” “blessing hath there been to you; bane there hath been none.” [back]
12. In a coarser sense “kayf” is app1ied to all manner of intoxication. Sonnini is not wrong when he says, “the Arabs give the name of Kayf to the voluptuous relaxation, the delicious stupor, produced by the smoking of hemp.” [back]
13. Cleopatra’s Needle is called by the native Ciceroni “Masallat Firaun,” Pharaoh’s packing needle. What Solomon, and the Jinnis and Sikandar zu’l karnain (Alexander of Macedon), are to other Moslem lands, such is Pharaoh to Egypt, the “Cæsar aut Diabolus” of the Nile. The ichneumon becomes “Pharaoh’s cat,”—even the French were bitten and named it, le rat de Pharaon; the prickly pear, “Pharaoh’s fig;” the guinea-worm, “Pharaoh’s worm;” certain unapproachable sulphur springs, “Pharaoh’s bath;” a mausoleum at Petra, “Pharaoh’s palace;” the mongrel race now inhabiting the valley of the Nile is contemptuously named by Turks and Arabs “Jins Firaun,” or “Pharaoh’s Breed;” and a foul kind of vulture (vultur percnopterus, ak baba of the Turks, and ukab of Sind), “Pharaoh’s hen.” This abhorrence of Pharaoh is, however, confined to the vulgar and the religious. The philosophers and mystics of Al-Islam, in their admiration of his impious daring, make him equal, and even superior, to Moses. Sahil, a celebrated Sufi, declares that the secret of the soul (i.e., its emanation) was first revealed when Pharaoh declared himself a god. And Al-Ghazali sees in such temerity nothing but the most noble aspiration to the divine, innate in the human, spirit. (Dabistan, vol. iii.) [back]
14. Αεί φερεί τι καίνον. “Quid novi fert Africa?” said the Romans. “In the same season Fayoles, tetrarch of Numidia, sent from the land of Africa to Grangousier, the most hideously great mare that was ever seen; for you know well enough how it is said, that “Africa always is productive of some new thing.’” [back]
15. Alexandria, moreover, is an interesting place to Moslems, on account of the prophecy that it will succeed to the honours of Meccah, when the holy city falls into the hands of the infidel. In its turn Alexandria will be followed by Kairawan (in the Regency of Tunis); and this by Rashid or Rosetta, which last shall endure to the end of time. [back]
18. The Persians place the Prophet’s tomb at Susan or Sus, described by Ibn Haukal (p. 76). The readers of Ibn Batutah may think it strange that the learned and pious traveller in his account of Alexandria (chap. 2.) makes no allusion to the present holy deceased that distinguish the city. All the saints are now clear forgotten. For it is the fate of saints, like distinguished sinners, to die twice. [back]
19. The Mandal is that form of Oriental divination which owes its present celebrity in Europe to Mr. Lane. Both it and the magic mirror are hackneyed subjects, but I have been tempted to a few words concerning them in another part of these volumes. Meanwhile I request the reader not to set me down as a mere charlatan; medicine in the East is so essentially united with superstitious practices, that he who would pass for an expert practitioner, must necessarily represent himself an “adept.” [back]
21. The Persian “Mister.” In future chapters the reader will see the uncomfortable consequences of my having appeared in Egypt as a Persian. Although I found out the mistake, and worked hard to correct it, the bad name stuck to me; bazar reports fly quicker and hit harder than newspaper paragraphs. [back]
22. Arab Christians sometimes take the name of “Abdullah,” servant of Allah—“which,” as a modern traveller observes, “all sects and religions might be equally proud to adopt.” The Moslem Prophet said, “the names most approved of God are Abdullah, Abd-al-rahman (Slave of the Compassionate), and such like.” [back]
23. “King in-the-name-of-Allah,” a kind of Oriental “Praise-God-Barebones.” When a man appears as a Fakir or Darwaysh, he casts off, in process of regeneration, together with other worldly sloughs, his laical name for some brilliant coat of nomenclature rich in religious promise. [back]
24. A Murshid is one allowed to admit Murids or apprentices into the order. As the form of the diploma conferred upon this occasion may be new to many European Orientalists, I have translated it in Appendix I. [back]