THE MODERN SYRIANS.
TUE author of this volume seems to have visited the East for the purpose of studying its languages ; with what precise object does not appear. But whether a lingual taste, or the more tangible motives of literary, mercantile, or diplomatic ambition, prompted his enterprise, he possessed of necessity much advantage over the mere tourist. His preliminary studies made him acquainted with Oriental history and customs; so that all was not unknown to hen on his arrival, or known only from the guide-book. In order to carry out his purpose, he engaged a native master, and often boarded in the houses of the Christian natives. By this means he mingled familiarly with the people ; not only seeing their daily life and domestic economy, but becoming a part of it. What was more important, he heard and understood, deriving his impressions from the vividness of the original, instead of the dilutions and distortions of a dragoman's interpretations. With Mussul- man life he was not, of course, so intimate ; but his knowledge as a linguist, with the fact of his residence, made him acquainted with many Mahometans; who do not, at least at present, require such formal introductions as we in England. Our author had a further advantage in the time of his visit, which was soon after the bombardment of Acre, the defeat of the Egyptians, and their eva- cuation of the country—when English diplomatic agents were not only actively interfering in affairs, but some wise men of the East expected that they might have to transfer their allegiance to Queen VICTORIA.
The author's movements were not very extensive ; but the mere shifting of his quarters, during some three years' sojourn, gives variety enough to his peregrinations, especially as some of them were to places rather out of the common way. Briefly passing over his visit to Egypt, our traveller begins his Syrian experience at Bey- rout ; whence he paid a visit to Damascus ; and returning thence, took up his quarters for a time among the Druses. Again pro- ceeding to Damascus, he made another stay at that Paradise of the Mahometans, and subsequently made a coast-voyage to Scanderoon, the port of Aleppo ; then to Antioch and Aleppo, where his ac- count terminates.
The Modern Syrians is an agreeable and lively little work; not so smart and vivacious as Eathen, but more animated than the generality of books of travels ; which partly arises from the writer's Oriental acquirements. The author of Eothen pointed out the nej cessity to an Eastern of a competent skill in elocution, from the ne- cessity which may daily arise of his having to be his own advocate. This gives to every man a command of language, more or less; the Oriental genius infuses into it a character and style; whilst the ab- sence of authorship by profession prevents people from using mere words, except in forms of compliment; or else Eastern phrasemongery has as yet the charm of novelty for the West. Hence, in many of the conversations or reports in this volume, there seems to us a reality which European writing and discourse often want. Every sentence appears to represent some image or actual idea in the speaker's mind; and language is only a medium of transmitting it, chosen with care, not for itself, but for the substance of which it is the vehicle. The original writing, the descriptions of scenery and matters not directly pertaining to Syrians or their works, has less of this quality—smarter, but not so racy. A good deal of information of various kinds will be found in the volume. There is a curious account of the habits, customs, and character of the Druses of Mount Lebanon, mingled with some graphic sketches of their war-feuds, at which our author was per- sonally present. His mode of living enables him to present many traits of individual character and pretty full descriptions of Syrian domestic life ; and he had the same opportunity as regards the Mahometans in reference to their out-of-doors living, and to the ma- terial appearance of their houses—from the harem he was of course excluded. The information, however, is particular rather than general ; it rather qualities or adds something to what we know already, than opens up any fresh knowledge : and, looking at the time and opportunities of the author, the book may perhaps fall somewhat below reasonable expectation. It would also have been more satisfactory to have known something of the writer. A work of argument or imagination rests upon qualities irrespective of its author's identity; a book of travels, which professes to give general sketches rather than particular delineations, may appear anony- mously ; but when facts and only facts are professed to be re- corded, the reader likes to have the guarantee of a name. At the same time, this remark is general. There is little or nothing in The Modern Syrians improbable, or smacking of the traveller's tales. Some passages regarding the Druses seem the most re- markable.
It was observed by GOLDSMITH, that if every traveller would di- rect his attention to the arts of the people he travelled among, useful inventions might often be transferred from one nation to another. An example of this kind meets us early in The Modern Syrians.
THE CHEAP DRUSE STOVE.
All the houses of the village were built of smooth stones, each about a foot square, carefully plastered within, and whitewashed. On arrival at the house of my host, I admired its perfect cleanliness: the upper end was covered with a gray hair-cloth carpet ; in one corner ass a baby's cradle, curiously inlaid with mother-of-pearl. A chiselled and indented block of black stone or mar- ble, about eighteen inches square, occupied the floor ; in one of the niches cut in the side of which was a fire, the top of the stone being cut smooth ; several pots and pans were placed on it, each pot partially overhanging the fire. The front was available for roasting ; and this was a very economical method of pro- viding fire, as but a trifling addition of fuel was necessary when the stone was once heated. [It would be useful to know the fuel for this stove.]
A DOUSE AT DAMASCUS.
In order to give me an opportunity of seeing his house, the Effendi politely sent a message to the ladies of his establishment, announcing the presence of a stranger ; on which they withdrew to the upper chambers. The Mulatto having duly informed us that all was in readiness, we rose, and passing through an- other dark passage, found ourselves in the court-yard of the harem. Then, and not till then, did I understand the warmth with which travellers had spoken of the beauty of the Damascene houses: we seemed to have passed from Purga- tory to Paradise. The pavement of the immense court-yard was of polished marble of various colours, beautifully inlaid. A fountain in the centre, thirty feet in length and half that breadth, into which brazen snakes' heads poured a copious supply of water, was overhung by orange, citron, and pomegranate trees; and an immense vaulted recess (Leman) at the further end was fitted up with a divan, which, having a Northern exposure, is never subject to the rays of the sun. As in Egypt, the ground-floor was of stone, and painted in alternate layers of white, blue, and red : this, with the rich dark-green vegeta- tion of parterres divided by slabs of Carrara, produced the most brilliant and captivating effect on me. The space between the basin and the recess was elaborately inlaid, and the marbles of rarer quality than in any other part of the court-yard.
The principal apartment, which opened off the lower part of the Leewan, was lofty, extensive, and of dazzling magnificence. Every part of the wall was of stone, cut into arabesque ornaments ; the most curious object being a minia- ture recess of white marble, supported by tiny columns with gilt capitals, be- tween which the Saracenic honeycomb luxuriated in all its intricacy. The raised floor was covered with a rich Persian carpet, and the divan that ran round the room was in satin, embroidered with flowers. Large antique China bowls displayed themselves in various shelves ; and altogether I felt that the often sought but rarely found splendour of the Arabian Nights' Entertainment was at length realized.
THE IMITATIVE ARTS AT DAMASCUS.
It is deeply to be regretted that Islamism forbids the arts imitative of the human form and external nature. Who knows but that this city might have had its school of painting and sculpture which would have rivalled those of the Italian capitals ? Modern art dawned in an age of gross ignorance, great manual dexterity, and much real piety, along with a taste for decorating churches and private edifices, in which the ornaments were not extraneous and moveable, but part and parcel of the building itself. Art soon fell from her high estate when the age of cabinet pictures arrived: and on seeing the inge- nuity which some of the Damascene houses display, one cannot help regret- ting that the stringent prejudices of Islamism, and the oppression of go- vernment for centuries back, which has rendered the external decoration of houses foreign to the habits of the people, should have arrested progress in this vein of civilization. Of the drawing of figures and landscapes the people of this country have not the remotest idea. The Eastern and the Western styles are now too old and distinct for marriage ; and I have no desire to see the in- troduction of European notions, which would infallibly give birth to something bastard, monstrous, and degenerate. I was recommended to visit a house newly fitted up, and denominated handsome ; but was shocked to find that in seVeral parts of the principal room the decorator had substituted for the rich native arabesque some frightful landscapes, which he had evidenila copied from common blue atone-ware plates ; and, as a complement of the ridiculous, the proprietor had placed in an exquisitely chiselled and inlaid recess, a couple of paltry French coloured prints of L'Ete and L'Automne, worth five sous apiece.
is there is scarcely any Frank society in Damascus, my great resource was at the "saws " or evening parties of toy acquaintances. Eyoub Effendi, the proprietor of some of the large gardens in the vicinity of the town, was an exception to many of his Moslem townsmen, for he was neither ignorant nor fanatical. Being a man of substance, he is very much looked up to in his quarter : he is charitable to the poor, and always opposed to the oppression of the Christians, many of whom he used to protect without a fee in former troublesome times; but his temper is occasionally hasty, and his younger brother, having once had a dispute with him, was nearly mortally wounded for some insolence. Partly from normal good nature, and partly from a desire to keep up his popularity, he tolerates rather than encourages the society of
some of the most turbulent characters in the hat-al or quarter. • * * At the upper end of the divan, and in one of the corners, sits my friend Eyoob, smoking a galeoon or pipe of reed. He is about fifty years of age, slightly corpulent, and has broad features, expressive of good-humour, not without a certain air of gentlemanly ease ; he dresses well, and his beard is beginning to get gray. We respectable people sit at the top of the room, be- tween the two corners; the disorderly characters being on the side divans near the door. Every guest, on arrival, is served with coffee ; but some neighbours bring their own narghiles with them. His tall Black slave, when not engaged in handing round coffee or bringing a fresh supply of charcoal, has a great deal of whispering and familiarity with the cut-throats in the lower regions.
The conversation at the soirees is of a general nature. Such a man is in arrear with the Defterdar or treasurer. The Pacha said so and so on such an occasion. The locusts in the Hauran are eating up the corn, and bread will be dear. Ought Damascus, which as a holy city is exempt from the capitation- tax, to pay one of its own free will ? &c. As may well be supposed. I was often asked about England; and my first impressions of the Thames Tunnel and railway-travelling were duly recalled, and excited a great deal of wonder- ment. Adjaib, Adjaila! what a strange country ! But more strange still, in their opinion, was the circumstance of the Sovereign tieing a lady.
"What does she smoke, a chibouque or a narghile ? "
"Neither the one nor the other."
"Adjaib! (wonderful.) When she transacts business, does she show her face to the divan?"
"Adjaib!" I attempted to explain, in answer to another question, that the Queen alone reigned, and that the Emir her husband did not interfere with state affairs. But this seemed to be the most incomprehensible of all arrangements, and the Franks the most extraordinary people.
Known as a stranger, I was of course often asked how I liked Damascus; and this enabled me to make myself popular by a verdict sufficiently flattering by implication without a departure from truth ; for except occasional inconve- nience from the climate, I enjoyed myself bravely : but the company would not admit that Damascus had a bad climate, and confessed to only a few fevers in September, which the bath easily cures. "Do I look like an invalid?" said my friend Eyoub, chuckling with good- humour. Once on a time, a French doctor came to Damascus to seek his for- tune: when he saw the luxuriant vegetation, he said, "This is the place for me—plenty offerer." And then, on seeing the abundance of water, he said, "More fever—no place like Damascus." When he entered the town, he asked the people, "What is this building ?" "A bath." "And what is that build- ing?" "A bath." "And that other building ? " "A. bath." " Curse on the baths ! they will take the bread out of my mouth," said the Doctor: "I must seek fever practice elsewhere." So he turned back, went out at the gate again, aud hied him elsewhere.
I went to a bath, and was struck with the appeals of the beggars ; the most usual formula being, "Allah ydbor be haterak ya fa'al-el-khair—May God accomplish thy wishes, 0 doer of good." A Christian beggar near my house asked for alms in the name of the Virgin Mary: a Moslem near the Grand Mosque apostrophized the passengers with, "Ahsan ly l'illah taly we Moulana Mohammed Emir el Morseleen—Assist me for the sake of the Most High, and of our Lord Mohammed the Prince of the Apostles."
THE PRIEST ON THE PRINTING-PRESS.
We went to pay our respects to the Mufti; but as he was not at home we entered the divan of his deputy, or, as he is called, Emin-el-Fetwa. Ile was a fat, middle-aged shereef, or descendant of the Prophet, and as such wore a green turban. He was seated in a low dark apartment, smoking his pipe, and surrounded by ponderous folios on the law ; some of them being the edi- tions of Mehemet All's Boulak press. On my alluding to them, he said, "If the Egyptians had cast fewer bullets, and printed more of these, it would have been better for us alL"
DIVORCES IN SYRIA.
During our visit several parties came in and laid their cases before him; of which he took a note, appointing them to return in a few days. One of them, a woman, stated that she had heard nothing of her husband for three years, and, being without the means of support, wished to marry again. The deputy asked for her witnesses; who came forward and said they had heard her husband swear a triple divorce. The deputy then said, the fetwa, or legal document on which the Cadi bases his decisions, should be made out ; and on being asked what fee was required, answered, "Two piastres" (fourpence-halfpenny.) Memorandum: Divorces are cheaper in Syria than in England.
A. MUFTI'S REPARTEE.
I made the acquaintance of the Mufti, Jabreh Effendi; whom I found a per- fect gentleman and a man of the world: his age might be sixty-five. I recol- lect no individual in Syria who had so fascinating an address. His receiving- room was at the top of the house, which commanded a view of the environs of Aleppo. We often talked of religion. One day he said, "You believe Jesus to be the Son of God ? "
Author—" Yes." Mufti—. That is a mistake ; he was a prophet sent by God, at a suitable time, and endowed with suitable qualifications. Our Lord Moses wielded the enchanter's rod; our Lord Jesus effected miraculous cures. When the Pro- phet was sent among the Arabs, the intellectual energy of the nation was bent on the language, and the Koran was accepted as a miracle of eloquence when Arabic was in the zenith of its richness and magnificence."
A few days after this, the Mufti was in the Mehkeneh, or Court of Justice, when a blind man, who was nonsuited, said, in a tone of great exasperation, "I cannot see you sitting on the bench, but, inshallah, I shall see you in Hell." The Mufti, instead of resenting this contempt of court, said, with great com- posure. "Ah, my good man, you will see many a greater man than myself there."
LEARNING AT ALEPPO.
Public instruction is grossly neglected in Aleppo. As a matter of course, the Egyptian Nizam school has ceased to exist. What a contrast does the present state of Syria offer to the period when the Arabs were the successors of the Greeks in polite learning! I rarely see any work in the hands of the natives except such books as the Egyptian edition of the "Arabian Nights' Entertainments," and some popular poets. The first Arabic scholar in Aleppo was Sheikh Akeel, of the Grand Mosque; of whom I took lessons; for his in- come as Professor at the mosque was insufficient for his subsistence, and he eked out his income by doing a little in trade. He had lately come from Mecca, "
and brought with him a stock of coral beads and porcelain bangles, worn by women of the poorer class at their ankles.
The people of Suediah think it necessary to lose blood in the spring of the year ; but neither cup, lancet, nor barber have any part in the operation. A man takes off his clothes and walks right into a leech-pond in the neighbour- hood ; the animals fasten upon him ; and when he thinks he has lost enough of blood he walks out again.
To comprehend the following extract, it should be borne in mind that the Pagan Druses are divided into two classes,—Akkals, wise men, or initiated ; and Djahils, ignorant or uninitiated.
DRUSE LAW OF DIVORCE AND ADULTERY.
A female Akkal is not allowed to marry a Djahil : if she do, she is excluded from the hakne or temple for a year or two. If a man divorce his wife, he cannot take her again or even see her face. If both man and wife agree to a divorce, it takes place; if not, there is a secret meeting held of the friends of the parties, called Jernya-el-Tahkik, or assembly of verification. If the fault be on the side of the male, he must, on separation' give the wife the half of his property, and vice versa-. One of the most singular customs of the Druses is, that if news, true or false, go abroad that a man has divorced his wife, the Cadi sends for him, and says. "The news of your divorce having gone abroad, it must take place." And if the man should Bay "I have not divorced my wife," it is of no avail.
If any female make a faux pas, the whole family is so disgraced that no other will intermarry with them, and they become utterly contemptible; but the brother, the uncle, or, if no nearer relation exist, the cousin, by putting her to death wipes out the disgrace, and the family is restored to its former position. In a case like this, the civil authority rarely or never interferes to punish the murderer. The best illustration I can give of this subject is an anecdote re- lated to me by the deputy of a local governor—" I was asleep in bed, when, in the middle of the night, I heard a rap at the door of my room. Who's there,' said I A voice answered, Nasreddin.' I opened the door ; and in came a
Prose, bearing a sack on his shoulders. What brings you here at this un- timely hour? said I. 'My sister has had an intrigue, and I have killed her. There is her horn and other ornaments in the sack ; and as I am afraid the Governor will do something to me, I want your intercession." Why, here are two horns in the sack,' said I. 'I killed her mother too, for she knew of the intrigue.' 'There is no power but in God Almighty ! if your sister were im- pure, was that a reason for killing your mother ? But lie down and sleep.' In
the morning I said to him, suppose you were too uneasy to sleep.' 'By Allah ! 0 my uncle, (a usual phrase,) so unhappy has dishonour made me, that for a year I have not slept soundly until last night.' I then went with him to the Governor, and said, 'Will you give Nasreddin the handkerchief of am- nesty?' The Governor said to Nasreddin, 'Speak without fear.' Nasreddin recounted his story; and the Governor said, 'La bas,' (no harm.) On which he kissed the Governor's hand and went away."