Obrázky na stránke

There a grave grey-bearded priest commands my silent respect, and the pure devotion of the worshippers awakens mine. In the church, where military music amuses the ear with tunes that are anything but religious, where I find a priest whom I yesterday met at a banquet, where fair damsels, on whose forms the eyes of all the men are wistfully fixed, kneel before me, there I can think of everything excepting God.

That a Christianity such as that which is practised in Algiers never will induce the sincere professor of Islamism to change his creed may easily be conceived; nay, for his spiritual welfare it is not even desirable, if from a fanatic Mohammedan he were to become a frivolous Christian. There have, however, been two instances of natives embracing the Christian faith ; but in neither case was this change the result of conviction. The two converts are Moorish females, and their conversion was attended with so many interesting circumstances that the reader may like to learn the particulars. The first case, which occurred during the government of General Voirol, produced a strong sensation, and excited a violent ferment among the natives.

A veiled Moorish lady requested one day to be admitted to the provisional

governor, unveiled herself before him, and declared in broken French that she was determined to become a Christian. General Voirol, a temperate and intelligent man, inquired if the lady was married, and, on learning that she was not, sent her to the Abbé Spitz, who was quite delighted with the prospect of having to baptize the first convert in Algiers. Meanwhile the Cadi, a most respectable officer, but fanatically attached to his religion, was informed of the circumstance. He hastened to the governor and claimed the lady, declaring that she had no right to change her religion. General Voirol replied, with great moderation, that to him personally it was a matter of the utmost indifference to what religion this lady chose to belong, that the law allowed every one to follow that religion which his conscience preferred, consequently he could not permit violence to be done to the will of the female in question. The Mohammedan judge then desired leave to speak to the lady, that by words of persuasion he might bring her back to the faith of her forefathers. The Cadi and the Abbé then began to preach both at once to the recreant Moor. They loaded one another with abuse; but neither felt offended, because neither understood the language of his antagonist. The eloquence of the Abbé Spitz had, however, two powerful auxiliaries against the Cadi. The first was the fondness which the Moorish lady had contracted for European manners; the second the hope of obtaining a Frenchman for a husband. All the arguments of the Cadi proved ineffectual. He quitted the field, to the great satisfaction of the Abbé, whom want of breath and words had nearly silenced. His adversary, finding that he could effect nothing by fair means, determined to have recourse to violence. He sent his tchiaoux, or runners, to bring the apostate Mohammedan to the hall of justice, where preparations were just making to administer the bastinado, when the arrival of an aid-decamp of the governor's prevented the execution of this tyrannical sentence. The lady, escorted by a great concourse of people, headed by the Abbé, was conducted in triumph to the church, and baptized immediately. The exasperated Cadi thereupon repaired to the Mufti-elMolessi, the chief of the Mohammedan clergy, and both resolved forthwith to shut up the native court of justice, which produced a great ferment among the Moorish population. General Voirol, feeling that he was in the right, took instant measures to break this fanatical opposition. He removed the Mufti and the Cadi from their offices, and appointed in their stead respectable Moors of more moderate sentiments. This affair made a great noise in Algiers, especially as the then civil intendant, Genty de Bussey, took part with the Cadi against the governor, The matter was referred to Paris, here the minister decided most justly in favour of General Voirol, and approved his proceedings. I was furnished with these details by well-informed persons, and can pledge myself for their accuracy.

A second similar event occurred here about the end of the year 1836, the particulars of which are of a far more mysterious and tender nature. A young, romantic French officer, of noble family, was, like many other Europeans, inflamed with curiosity to explore the domestic mysteries of Moorish life. He had often seen those graceful, veiled, snow-white figures gliding along the streets, and, besides the sparkling black eyes which alone are visible, he was anxious to have a glimpse of the fair brow and the Grecian nose which the white cloth hid from his view. He concealed himself upon a terrace, –a stratagem to which many others resort, and descried in the twilight on the next terrace the most beautiful fairy of the East, in a rich negligée: she was a lovely girl of fifteen, and her face was not covered by the hated white muslin veil. His whole attention engrossed by her, he had no eyes for the other nymphs, her sisters, who, dressed in the same manner, were sportively enjoying themselves in the cool of the evening on the terrace. By a second stratagem he contrived to gain admission to the object of his passion. I have said that he was young, his face had a delicate look; and, having shaved himself with care, he went in female attire with Madame B--m, a German merchant's wife, who was acquainted with the Moorish family, and entered into the joke, to the neighbouring house. The houses of the natives are accessible to European females, but I would not advise men to stray into the dwellings of those jealous hus. bands. Both the master of the house and his female family were always glad to see their Christian visitor. Madame B—-m and her pretended sister were received in the most friendly manner. In this way the young officer found occasion to commence an acquaintance, to gain the favour of the lady, and subsequently to carry her off. This affair also excited a great sensation. The officer sailed for France with his fair prize, whom he had married. May the curse of a fanatical father not disturb the happiness of the lovers !

For the rest, it would be an egregious mistake to suppose that there were no happy couples among the Moors, or that all the female Moors preferred elegant Frenchmen to their husbands. I have had more than one occasion to convince myself of the domestic felicity and the conjugal attachment of this mild, gentle, amiable race. The Moors of my acquaintance frequently took me with them to their country-houses. On entering the garden, I heard the shout of joy set up by the family on the return of the husband and father, as though they had not seen him for a very long time. Nothing but my presence prevented the females from throwing themselves into his arms. Their mourning, their unfeigned sorrow, for the loss of each other, attest still more strongly the mutual attachment of these people. The Moorish cemeteries are mostly situated before the gate Bab-el-Wad. There are several of them; they are in general small, and the graves simple, which I like. Human vanity ought at least to cease with death, and not to mock the mouldering corpse with its splendid trumpery. The Jews build magnificent sepulchral arches of white marble, the Christians tall monuments of stone, with lying inscriptions; the Moors cover their dead with flat stones to prevent the jackals from preying at night upon their remains. I have seen Moorish widows at all hours on the graves of the beloved dead, weeping and kissing the cold stone which covered them. The pale moon is frequently the only witness of the sorrows of these mourners, and her light alone conducts them to the resting-places of the objects of their affection. The Jews, too, devote their sorrowful remembrances to the dead. They assemble' in great number once a week in their cemeteries, and rend the air with their lamentations; but their grief has something extravagant, unpleasant, nay, sometimes ludicrous: it is rather an outward show. That of the Moors is infinitely more noble and more dignified.

There are also two Christian cemeteries at Algiers, which war, fever, excesses, and more especially the cholera in 1835, have peopled with fearful rapidity. One of these burial-places is situated half a league from Algiers, at the foot of the hill of Budscharea, behind the old garden of the Dey, and contains the more modern graves. The other has an infinitely more picturesque situation on the slope of a hill, very near the city. It is impossible to conceive a more beautiful, or a more melancholy spot. Gigantic white poplars, a century old, in picturesque groups overshadow the monuments. A mountain streamlet washes the foot of the hill, and a most luxuriant spontaneous vegetation lends to the graves the ornaments of a intiful Nature.

The cemetery of Père la Chaise at Paris, with all its superb marble monuments and artificially planted cypresses, is far surpassed in picturesque beauty by that of Algiers. A melancholy feeling pervades the heart of the visitor when he reads the names of those who are here interred. Most of them were young men, swept away in the flower of life. Many young warriors, volunteers belonging to the noblest families of France, were carried off a few weeks after their arrival by fever and epidemic diseases, which terminated an existence full of hopes and frequently without glory. I shall mention one very recent case, which a few weeks since excited much sensation. D'Arsonville, formerly an officer in the life-guard of Charles the Tenth, one of those noble legitimists whom even men of opposite sentiments respect, settled at Algiers, after suffering many vexations on the part of the present government on account of his political opinions. It was not till he had lost all hope of the restoration of the exiled royal family that he could make up his mind to quit France. Being very rich, he purchased here the fine estate of Ferme Modèle, called by the Arabs Hausch-Hussan-Pascha, situated three leagues from Algiers, at the entrance of the plain of Metidshad. His only son, a youth of seventeen, wholly engrossed the affections of this worthy man. This son died about the end of April, after a few days' illness, of a fever, and his death broke his father's heart. He declared, with manly firmness and composure, that he would follow him, betook' himself to his bed, and grief actually terminated his life two days after the decease of his son. D'Arsonville was one of the most intelligent and most disinterested of the colonists, who was determined to devote the whole of his large fortune to the precarious future of this country. This affecting event excited a degree of sympathy that is rarely met with.

But enough of graves and death! In this country tears and laughter succeed one another so rapidly that no thought, whether cheerful or gloomy, occupies the mind for any long time. The funeral of D’Arsonville was soon followed by the fête of Louis Philippe. This joyous day, the 1st of May, banished all remembrance of the dead. Unluckily, I could only see the conclusion of this fête, celebrated here in so fantastic, so original a manner, for I was shortly before with the army at Belida, and, that I might not quite miss the day, merely rode towards evening from the camp of Duera to the city. The governor was on the 1st of May with his staff at Coleah. All the superior military officers were, of course, absent, and the ball intended to have been given in the palace of General Damremont could not take place. But though the splendour of the fête was much diminished by the absence of the governor, for the races, too, were postponed, still the day did not pass without various amusements, After divine service in the church, the mosques, and the synagogues, almost the whole of the population, Moors as well as Europeans, assembled in the great Place before what was formerly the Dey's palace. A great number of Arabs also had come from the surrounding country. The tilting at a ring by the African soldiery, the boat-race of the gondoliers in the harbour, the climbing up poles, and, above all, the various national dances, accompanied by their peculiar music, then began. The latter formed the most interesting episode of the festival. The Moors, Biskaris, Arabs, and Negroes formed an immense ring, with a noisy band of tambourines, Moorish drums, and iron castagnettes in the centre, and danced with wild grotesque gestures. To the European the spectacle was novel and striking. The grand military fire-works which concluded the fête were the finest of the kind that I ever saw. The French artillery officers are extremely clever in this way, and on such occasions powder is not spared. The Greek fire in particular, which suddenly chased away the darkness with its purple suns, produced a magic effect. The vast amphitheatre of Algiers, its palms, and its numberless picturesque groups of spectators, African and European, who had taken their station on the terraces of a high hill, were tinged for minutes together by their resplendent flames.

The theatre gave that evening the first representation of " Robert the Devil.” “Robert the Devil" performed in Africa! This somewhat piqued my curiosity. Meyerbeer’s master-piece, however, was not successful in the land of the Bedouins. It was hissed—not the opera itself, but the representation, which was beneath criticism. The theatre in Algiers has existed for about four years. It was formerly a mosque, the application of which to such a purpose made a most unfavourable impression upon the Mohammedans. The Frenchman, however, can scarcely live without a theatre; you even find one at Budschia, where there is but a single battalion. The actors of Algiers form a small company, in which two very pretty actresses particularly shine. Vaudevilles and petites comédies are not performed amiss, but to see tragedies by Dumas and operas by Rossini got up in this miniature theatre is too ridiculous. The attempt to represent Meyerbeer's Robert was an act of folly that completely justified its condemnation, heartily as I pitied the charming bride of the infernal Duke of Normandy, whose beautiful eyes implored favour for the bungled piece. But there is nothing on earth more tyrannical and more arbitrary than the pit of a French theatre. The beseeching looks of the fair singer would sooner have softened marble. The slightest fault of the manager or of a performer is cruelly punished by hisses and uproar. The actor eats bitter bread everywhere, but in the poorest country town in Europe he fares better than here. I would not advise any performer to long for laurels in the land of the Bedouins, unless he has been hissed off every stage in Europe.

The grand ball which General Damremont had promised for this day did not take place, as I have already observed. Twelve hundred persons were to have been invited to it, and it was to have combined the display of oriental luxury and European taste. The expense was calculated at twenty thousand francs. Hence it was a real saving to the governor that just at this time Abd-el-Kader's cavalry hovered about the advanced posts, and afforded him a fair pretext for postponing his ball to the 1st of May, 1838, if the Count should then be in Algiers. To his honour, however, it must be confessed that he does not, like Marshal Clausel, pocket his salary of 100,000 fraucs, but strives by balls, soirées, and entertainments, to give some animation to social life in Algiers. In general, there is an evening party once a week, and frequently a ball in the Government Hotel. This marvellously beautiful Moorish building stands in one of the narrowest, gloomiest streets of Algiers, and its exterior has a very dull appearance; but the interior is so rich and so tasteful as to excite the admiration of every stranger. The Mairie alone rivals the Governor's Hotel in beauty, but not in magnitude. The Moorish style of architecture has something pleasing and attractive, and it is really a pity that in the new structures that style, so well adapted to the climate of this country, has been completely abandoned. The inner court is above the ground-floor, and above that, there are in general two other stories. Galleries, supported by pillars of white marble, impart a refreshing coolness in the day-time, as their mode of architecture excludes the sun's rays. The walls of these galleries in the Government Hotel are covered with a kind of blue glistening porcelain. The inmates walk on the terrace of the house in the cool of the evening and in moonshiny nights; the inner court is used for dancing, while the galleries are occupied by card-tables and groups of guests chatting and drinking coffee or lemonade. Seen by the light of the chandeliers, this court, with its galleries, presents an animated and interesting spectacle. Some hundreds of the principal officers in the tight uniforms of Europe; Moors and Kuloglis of distinction, among whom are to be seen some well-known intriguers, such as Ben Omar, Budderbah, and Ben Mustapha Pacha; Arab Shiekhs, in flowing bernoose, with the yataghan by their side; officers of the Spahis, in the Turkish costume; lastly, fifty or sixty civilians in plain European dress, constitute the various component parts of these assemblages. It is seldom that more than perhaps thirty ladies are present; so that it is easy to conceive how difficult it must be to find a female partner. Native ladies never attend these soirées dansantes, and it will require a progressive civilization of a couple of centuries before the Moor will

« PredošláPokračovať »