« PredošláPokračovať »
stones at all the angles of the streets, and other convenient places At Frankfort there was a certain gate at which these conveniences were prepared for the emperor and the magnates of the German Diet; and I have no doubt that, in the days of feudality and knightly glory, London was not behind its neighbours in this respect.
DAMASCUS AND LONDON.
Our cities are filled and ornamented with hotels, coffee-houses, gin-palaces, hospitals, workhouses, prisons, and such like conspicuous buildings. Generally speaking, there are none of these in the East. Hospitals and institutions for the sick and the poor were the offspring of Christianity, and are, I am inclined to think, peculiar to Christian lands.
There are few prisons in the East, and these are very wretched. Imprisonment as a punishment is little practised, and is altogether unsuited to the Mohammedan law and mode of thinking. Life is not so sacred as with us.
It is urged that if a man deserves to be confined as a dangerous member of society, he deserves to die; society will never miss him, and some expense will be spared : “Off with his head ;—so much for Buckingham.” Hence in Damascus, and the East generally, people are not liable to the reproach which is sometimes brought against us—that the best house in the country is the jail. Besides, in the East, punishment follows crime instantaneously. The judge, the mufti, the prisoner, and the executioner, are all in the court at the same time. As soon as the sentence is delivered, the back is made bare, the donkey is ready, (for perjury, in Damascus the man rides through the city with his face to the tail), or the head falls, according to the crime, in the presence of all the people. Awful severity, and the rapidity of the lightning, are the principles of their laws; nor do they deem it necessary to make the exact and minute distinctions of crime that we do. The object is to prevent crime, and this is most effectually done by the principle of terror and the certainty of immediate punishment. A certain baker in Constantinople used false weights in selling his bread: the Sultan ordered him to be roasted alive in his own oven, and afterwards boasted that this one act of severity had effectually prevented all similar crimes. Here you see the principle of government in the East;—it is nothing but terror or religious fanaticism.
As to coffee-houses, there are plenty of them in Damascus ; but they can hardly be called houses, much less palaces: they are open courts with fountains of water, sheltered from the sun; and in many cases have little stools, some six inches high, on which, if you do not prefer the ground, you can rest while you enjoy your sherbet, coffee, and tobacco. Pipes, nargilies (water pipes), ices, eau sucré, sherbets, and fruits of all kinds, are in abundance, and for the lowest possible price. These caffés are very quiet: there is no excitement, no reading of newspapers, no discussion of politics and religion, nor fiery demagogue nor popular orator to mislead the people; no Attic wit provokes the smile, and no bold repartee calls forth applauding laughter on the other side. But yet they have their own amusements, and they play earnestly both at games of chance and games of skill. The traveller tells his escapes and dangers to an admiring little circle ; the story-teller repeats one of the “Thousand and One Nights” to a wondering audience; and if memory fails, the imagination, fertile as an oriental spring, supplies its boundless stores. Fancy with us is something brilliant and beautiful, from its rare appearance; it shows bright spots on the dark ground of discourse, and reveals here and there golden tints and rosy hues; it coruscates like flashes of lightning, and is pleasing mainly because it is a twinkling and not a steady light. Here the Easterns differ from us entirely. Their stories, tales, and wonders, are of the true supernatural style, and imagination holds its steady flight, disregarding all impediments and all improbabilities whatever: cities are turned into lakes, lakes into islands, men, women, and whole populations are enchanted with infinite ease, and again disenchanted by the adroitness of some black-eyed maiden. In one retired corner of a coffee-house in Damascus you may find more imagination than in the writings of Edmund Burke; and yet the two forms of imagination are as different as the east is from the west.
We have in the East great khans, but they bear little relation to our hotels. Ring, eat, and pay, is not the law in the East; they have no bells in Damascus, nor even the silver call or whistle which our grandmothers used in Ergland. Bells in churches and in houses are alike an abomination to the Moslems; and the Maronites alone, by permission of the Government, have a right to use them. The khan in Damascus is a large circular building, surmounted by a noble dome, in which the great merchants have their goods and wares of all kinds; in which the traveller can find a resting-place for himself and his camels, and water from the central fountain;—but there are no tables spread for the travellers, and no beds ready made for the weary pilgrims; you must find your dinner as you best
your own bed, and when you rise take it up, and walk. The Khan Assad Pasha (built by that governor), is, however, a very noble building, and excites not a little astonishment among the Orientals; though M. Lamartine's rhetoric is highly exaggerated. The khans on the public roads are merely enclosures, where you can find shelter for the night and water for your camels. I passed a night in the kban at Demas, in which we found sheep, hens, ducks, men, women, and children, all sleeping comfortably together on the common floor; and when the ladies seemed alarmed at such inmates of the hotel, the woman of the khan assured us that the sheep were very quiet, and would not injure us—which indeed we found to be quite true. The door remained open the whole night, the dogs were attracted by our provisions, and the myriads of insects of all kinds, cavalry, infantry, and artillery, which attacked us without intermission, rendered that night one of the most memorable in our lives. .....
In European cities your attention is arrested by book-shops, pictures, placards, caricatures, &c.; now in Damascus we have nothing of the sort. Among the Jews you may find a few miser
able stalls, from which you may pick up an old copy of the Talmud, or some old rabbinical prayer-book. The old sheikh who sold me the Koran, laid his hand upon his neck, and told me to be silent, for were it known that he had done so, he might lose his head. In the schools they are taught only to read the Koran, and to master the simplest elements of arithmetic and writing. Men of letters there are at present none, and the highest of their sciences is the knowledge of grammar. When I lived in Damascus, some wit (the first thing of the kind known) uttered a pun or squib, reflecting on the corpulency of the pasha, and he was banished for it! The old observation of the caliph, as he fired the Alexandrine library, holds true in the East still—“If the books agree with the Koran, they are useless; if they oppose it, they are noxious; and in both cases they are unnecessary.”
The Christians are poor and oppressed, especially the Greek Church in Syria, and their literature is meagre and unimpor
The American missionaries have, during the last quarter of a century and more, been distributing religious books, and inspiring a taste for reading and inquiry; and their noble printing establishment at Beyrout produces its rich literary harvest every year. ....
• But has not Damascus one hundred thousand inhabitants ?' says the traveller. "Where are their newspapers, spreading light and knowledge through a portion of the sixty millions who use the noble Arabic language? Take me to the office of some Oriental Sun, Times, Globe, or Morning Chronicle'-There is no such thing. Even in Constantinople there is only one newspaper, and the one half of it is in Turkish, and the other in French. Tyranny and superstition, like two monstrous mill-stones, rest upon and compress the energies of the oriental nations; even Greece, the fountain of science and literary and mental activity, was for a time blotted from the rank of nations, and the inquisitive character of its people all but annihilated by the stern rule of the Turks......
But there is another great difference between the general appearance of London and of Damascus, namely, in the eastern
city you see not the bright, joyous countenance of woman -she is deeply veiled: in Egypt she is enveloped from head to foot in a dark, and in Syria in a white sheet, which effectually obliterates all traces of shape, absolutely equalizes to the eye all ranks, ages, and conditions, and suggests to the beholder the idea of a company of ghosts...... Conceive now how ludicrous the streets of London would appear, if green, white, black, and gray turbans moved indiscriminately, instead of the present hats; and that all the ladies walking, or on donkeys, instead of the present varieties of showy dress, beautiful bonnets, and smiling faces, presented only the appearance of headless ghosts, clothed in white !
As to the general motion and life, the difference is immense between Damascus and a western city. Let us glance for a moment at two streets, and compare them :
1. In Damascus there is more openness and publicity. The tradesmen of every kind work in the open bazaars; many of the merchants and artisans dine in public,—that is, eat their bread and oil, bread and honey, or bread and grapes, in the street where they work. All are smoking, without exception, in the intervals of business. Some are engaged in reading the Koran, swinging their bodies to and fro in the most earnest and violent manner. Some are sleeping calmly, with the long pipe in their mouth, There a butcher is killing a sheep, surrounded by a circle of hungry, expectant dogs. Yonder is a company engaged at a game of skill. Everything is done in the open air, and nothing seems to be concealed but the ladies.
2. In the eastern city there is much more quiet. Their manners are sober, formal, and stately; arising partly, I believe, from the famous and universal dogma of obedience. There is, indeed, hardly any other law. The subject, the slave, the wife, the son obeys: to hear is to obey. This principle of unhesitating, unquestioning obedience leads to quiet. There is no contradiction. There is nothing to talk about. There is nothing like politics. There is no public opinion, of course, for that is based upon private opinion, and determined, resolute will. This extraordinary quiet and solemnity of demeanour may arise partly, also, from a