FRENCH ARTISTS IN EGYPT.* FAYOUM is situated in central Egypt,
near the boundaries of Lower Egypt, and it contains within itself, and is surrounded by, places of much historic interest, sacred and secular. So thought a party of artists ; and they furthermore knew that amid crumbling ruins, the sands of the desert, the luxuriant vegetation bordering the Nile, Eastern habitations, whether in cities or amid Arab tribes, they would see combinations of form and colour which they might transfer to canvas, and which would make studies less hackneyed than those painted from any models they were likely to obtain in a Parisian studio, for these travellers were French, and since the grand achievement of M. de Lesseps, a Frenchman in Egypt may well be proud of his nationality. The word " artist " also we must translate liberally ; they were not pro- fessionally all painters, since M. About formed one of the number ; and one was, we are told, a naturalist. Such was the party which left Paris to sketch, to see life in the East, and we suspect, to enjoy a holiday free from the restraints imposed by Western civilisation.
The book is very amusing, and reads pleasantly and smoothly, and though a translation, is almost free from Gallicisms ; but the manner of thought and way of regarding things is undoubtedly French. We find our author sighing for the gendarmes of a paternal government; we doubt whether an Englishman ever desired to place a policeman in the Pyramids ! We gather, from the opening chapter, that the author has no intention of writing either an archceological or historical work. He says, "Our object in going to Egypt was to look out for subjects for pictures, and to paint them. We did not pretend to see every- thing, but we wished to see thoroughly, and to paint the truth of everything we were to see." In order to see either thoroughly or truthfully, it is necessary to understand something of anterior history, and so we find that our artist has studied Laborde and Burchardt, and Robinson, Irby, and Mangles, besides classic authors ; for a tourist in the East, without such knowledge, would resemble the multitude to be seen wandering, in a purposeless manner, in the sculpture courts of the British Museum, to whom groups of classic statuary are only assemblages of meaningless figures, dirty and broken.
Our artist, in common with other tourists, was disappointed in the first glimpse of Egypt he had, at Alexandria. It was too Frencl, abounded with too many would-be French improvements, and bad French manufactures, which the shopkeepers endeavour to sell at exorbitant prices ; he and his companions sighed for the real thing, the Egypt of the Egyptians, the Desert, the Arabs. In their impatience they visited an encampment of Bedouin Arabs, who had halted near Alexandria, and they had a foretaste of the comforts of Arab life, by finding that they had imported certain irritating insects into the abodes of civilisation. Our party ex- plored Alexandria, visited Pompey's pillar, and Cleopatra's needle, which latter, we are told, "Cleopatra, who did not hesitate at any expense, had brought from Memphis to Alexandria, to ornament a great temple which she erected to Cm3ar, in spite of the gossips." That last phrase is highly suggestive. In this suggestiveness, in a great power of comparison, of appreciation and quickness of eye for effects, whether of form or colour, the artist may be recognised, for if the true soldier does not talk of war, neither does the real artist bring the technicalities and paraphernalia of his craft with him into society. The style is lively, perhaps a little inclined to flippancy ; for'example, in speaking of Tamyeh, where the howling and barking of the dogs at night is almost unbearable, he says, "It was enough to make one believe that Jezebel allowed her doge to eat her, rather than listen to them any longer."
* The Fayount, Of Artists in Egypt. By Paul Lenoir. London: Henry B. King and Co.
The intense unbroken green of the land watered by the Nile does not please our artist's eye. He says :—" Very few palm trees, innumerable irrigation works, and an horiton invariably green ! it was quite irritating ; but the soul of one of our party, who came from Utrecht, seemed to expand, to delight in the pre- sence of all this grass unrelieved by so much as a poppy.'
M. Lenoir contemplates with disgust the architecture of the Romans. He 'says at p. 39 that "the Romans were everywhere bitten with a mania for constructing things more fatally coarse and heavy than anything which had preceded them" ; and again, at p. 275 we find him, after visiting the Roman remains at Petra, saying, "though I am a great admirer of the Greek style, I could not extend my admiration to these huge, senseless playthings." We feel inclined to dispute the justice of these remarks. Ornament must undoubtedly be used with judgment and discretion, and an
inharmonious profusion is suggestive of a vulgar and ill-educated mind ; on the other hand, mere size carries with it a grandeur of its own, and the rude blocks of Stonehenge have a certairr grandeur, weird it may be, but as imposing as that of any building adorned with elaborate and delicate tracery.
But little escapes the painter's observation ; if the Pyramids, the Arabs, and the Nile are the more legitimate objects of his atten- tion, it equally rests on objects of every-day life, and may be said to range from the Sphinx to the Egg-ovens and Saquiehs, or turn- ing wells, which may fairly be accepted as the two extremes of the mystical and the real. By the by, how is it that these Egyptians, who, we are told, invented Artesian wells before the' sixth century, and whose learning and wisdom were proverbial in the days of Moses, should now be so extremely primitive in all appliances belonging either to agriculture or domestic life ? These Saquiehs appear to be very rude, "worked by an ass, a camel, or a buffalo. Two huge wheels do the work, which consists of suc- cessively lowering and raising a string of small earthenware pots,.
which pour out their contents into a groove, through which the water is conducted to the adjoining soil, or drawn off for the supply of a little village." So speaks the practical man ; now let the artist be heard. "The neighbourhood of a Saquieh generally affords an opportunity for a highly picturesque composition in design and colour ; there is alway a varied surface, water, palim trees, animals and their drivers, groups of women and children who come thither for water, because the Nile is too distant ; in short,.
the rural life of Egypt in its most real and practical aspects."
We will say nothing of Joseph's Canal, Cairo, the Mosques, the Convent of Sinai, or even the Pyramids, though they were elk visited and briefly noticed. But it is not pretended that the book before us contains a history of the noteworthy places of the East ; they are all fully described in numerous books of travel ; it is the writer's own personal experiences in which lie the interest of these- pages. We have, for instance, a vivid description of a sandstorm. The party had reached the borders of cultivated land, and were to make one stage to Tamyeh, which is in the centre of the province of Fayoum. It might have been mid-day by the Bourse, but their appetites advised them to dine, and dishes, plates, and viands were spread on the ground ; when quicker than lightning, a great sheet of sand, against which they had been sitting, was dispersed, and rushed like a cascade over everything. The temperature changed, intense cold succeeded the heat of the morning, the Arabs threw themselves on the ground, the asses suffered horribly, blood streaming from their eyes and nostrils, and the violence with which it was driven against the travellers almost flayed them. But their experiences were not always of so suffering a nature. At Tamyeli they were to assist at a boar-hunt, and the son of the- Sheik was to be master of the ceremonies. This is the description given of him. Every one was ready and waiting, "when we per- ceived a big fellow, simply attired in a brown tunic much to short, who came towards us gesticulating like a lunatic. This ape was the son of the Sheik, and apart from this title to consideration, nothing in his exterior was calculated to excuse the scantiness of his costume. Cries, jumps, pirouettes in space, were all we could obtain from this acrobatic Nimrod." It was observed that be had no weapon, when "he sped away to the tent in which our food was cooked, and returned with a huge knife, which he held between, his teeth, so that his hands might be free for his extraordinary gesticulations." A boar was killed ; they are generally small, but this one weighed more than three hundred pounds :—
"The son of the Sheik was wild with delight; he executed inde- scribable flourishes in the air with his knife, as he marched in front of our procession The Coptic population, in their capacity of Christians, came to help us consume this enormous head of game Wild-boar steaks with Madeira sauce, filet of wild boar with red-pepper sauce, cotelettes of wild boar with no sauce at all, figured for some days in our bill of fare. It would have rejoiced us to have sent some of the savoury meat to France to console our families, but the difficulties of transport obliged us to relinquish the prompting,s of our hearts."
Arrived at the village of Senouhres, our travellers pitched their tents in a meadow by a rivulet, under the shade of some grand palm trees, and prepared to pay their respects to the Sheik and other magistrates of the town, in such ceremonious toilette as their wardrobes permitted, when they were told that the Sheik could not receive them until the next day. They then visited the quarters of the Almetis or dancers, of whose performances they had heard and spoken before leaving Paris. They found in the middle of a small square court a dozen women seated on carpets, rabbling oranges and drinking water in company of several well dressed personages, who were not disturbed by the travellers' entrance, and who were no other than the Sheik -and magistrates, whom on the morrow they must visit as -strangers, with the ceremonious politeness of the East. But the more picturesque description of the dancing-girl is to follow. Our party had determined on having a private perform- awe in their own tents, to which the Municipal Council were to be invited :—
"At seven in the evening everything was prepared. Small paper lamps had been artistically hung under the largest of our tents On the left, in the corner, the place of honour among Mussulmans, was the Imperial box ; on the right, in front, the Municipal Council, a carpet -folded in two for our chief and us ; all around the attendants, the rela- tives and friends of the dancing women. In the background servants and camel-drivers, packed together like sardines, formed one of the most picturesque portions of the strange picture. The lamps were burning when Hasne, the dancer, made her entrde in a most impetu- .ous fashion, draped in a long blue robe, spangled with gold, and caught up at the girdle by fringes of embroidered silk ; a dress which added strangely to her wild aspect ; a piece of yellow stuff knotted on the top -of her head formed the oddest conceivable combination with the in- mnmerable plaits which fell on her shoulders, and some of which were gathered together on her forehead by thin gold rings. Slow and cadenced in her motions at first, the dancer hardly moved from the spot to which her feet seemed to be fastened ; then, the rhythm of the music quickening a little, minute hurried steps seconded the indescrib- able inflections of her whole body, and as the musicians played more and snore quickly, the gestures, the contortions, the least movements of the
arms and the head of the dancer became more feverish and wild Such was the spectacle upon which we gazed, enraptured, for a whole hour, and rewarded with applause, bon-bons, oranges, araki, and bakshishs."
Two camel-drivers, each blind of an eye, were among the spectators :—
" Araki and the music had already prepared them to manifest their sensations in the most unreserved way. But when Haswi let herself lall.on the carpet like a wounded lioness, their enthusiasm knew no bounds. One of them took the head of the other between his hands, and swung it round to and fro, with actual howls of satisfaction. He seemed to wish to pull it off, and fling it like a bouquet to the dancer."
But the ladies of the East were not all as attractive as Hamad the dancer. On the edge of Ain Mouca our author was cleaning his palette and brushes, under the shade of some superb rose laurels in full flower, when through the branches he sees a water-pot, and seeing that, he knows a woman must be near ; on closer inspection he sees a hand so small and pretty, that it is not surprising that he should assume that the owner of the hand must be equally -charming. He cautiously advanced, hoping to catch a glimpse of the beauty, when he found himself face to face with so hideous an apparition that he started back in horror. "Over the face of this -undefinable creature was placed a mask, made of the skin of some kind of beast, two holes were cut for eyes, and an artificial mouth, almost immediately under them, was painted on the livid surface with a hideous grimace. To crown the ugliness of the mask, a wig of horsehair was braided into a horn upon the forehead, and into two huge puffs over the ears." This woman might possibly have been young and pretty, but she looked like "a hideous nightmare."
Our travellers found a general system of pillage and extortion prevailing in the East, from their dragoman, who gets drunk on -a bottle of brandy which had slipped out of the canteen, and who amiably takes them into his confidence, as to his intention of robbing them, and not paying the camel-drivers, to the Sheiks who. visit them, and whom they visit, and who expect large bakshish, besides helping themselves when they can. At Abakah they are told that they cannot be presented to the Sheik until the following morning, the son explaining that his father bad gone to steal camels from a neighbouring tribe, and had not returned ; the -explanation appears to be simply offered, as of a customary and perfectly legitimate transaction, about which no one need feel ashamed.
In the Wadi Arabah they encounter a strange little caravan, composed of three travellers, who beg leave to join them. On an ass rode an old Damascus merchant, who sold stuffs to a tribe near Petra; one of his companions was an Arab, who had been for- gotten en route by the Mecca caravan, when he had fallen asleep
during a halt ; the third was a complete savage. "He was entirely naked, armed with a huge club, and adorned with a bunch of hair on the extreme top of his skull." M. Lenoir "formed a strong affection for the gorilla. He permitted me to handle his club, and we swore eternal friendship. He would run barefoot on the burning sands, in search of brambles for my camel to eat. This was the only thing he could do to testify his devotion." M. Lenoir gave him a small coin, and was curious to see what he would do. "I meant well, but the result was disastrous, for hardly had the monster taken the coin in his hand, than he rolled his large eyes on every side to see thit he was not observed, and bounding away across the sands, disappeared." He was afraid his coin would be taken from him; they said "that the unfortunate creature, who did not know his road, would, no doubt, lose his way, and die of hunger in some hole."
Our tourists had now nearly reached the end of this part of their pilgrimage. If they had entered Egypt with alacrity, they were glad to quit it ; the opening and closing pages of the book are a pendant to the oft-repeated line, " Welcome the coming, speed the parting guest." They had sighed for Egypt, for the Arabs, for the Desert, when these were in the shadowy land of anticipation; but when the visions had become realities, connected with experiences, we read :—
" 'Hebron ! Hebron ! Hebron ! ' we all cried at mace, on perceiving the walls and the foremost houses of the town. Christopher Columbus did not exclaim, ' Land ! land 'more joyfully when he discovered the New World. We were in Syria. That is to say, we were going to
sleep in real beds, to drink clean water, to eat fresh bread this was quite enough to make us forget the dirty water, the hard bread, the burnt mutton, the insects."
We will add that if this book does not pretend to go very deeply into the subjects it touches on, whoever may take it up will find he has with him a bright and pleasant companion, who will draw him far away from Western surroundings, and carry him off to the East.