6 MARCH 1869, Page 21


THERE is one little mistake in Mr. Smith's opening sentences. He expects an attack from captious critics on the ground that too much has been written about the East already, and he meets the charge by saying that an extensive perusal of books on Egypt did not enable him to form an adequate conception of the absorbing interest of that country, of the charms of its boat life, and the varied scenes presented by its great river. But it is perfectly possible that Mr. Smith's readers may be no better off than Mr. Smith was himself before he travelled. The very mildest of critics (the writer need hardly add that he speaks of himself) must object that Mr. Smith's volumes do not add to the present etc& of knowledge. We do not say that Mr. Smith is to blame for this. On the contrary, we have found him a pleasant writer, and there are times when we have thoroughly enjoyed his company. Some of his descriptions are good. He is great on the subject of birds. Above all, he is studiously fair to members of other religions than his, which is an admirable feature in an English clergyman. His description of the sincerity evinced by the Mahometans in their prayers, and of the rigour with which they keep their great fast, may be placed aide by aide with his espousal of the cause of natives and boatmen against arbitrary English travellers. It is true that he is rather unfavourable to the Patriarch of Alexandria. He concludes the account of their interview by lamenting the evident dullness of the present occupant of the chair of St. Mark. But then the Patriarch was singularly stolid, unintellectual, and heavy-browed ; moreover, he had coarse, almost sensual features. Above all, he refused to give Mr. Smith and his companions the name of priests. He would only call them ministers. The reason for this slight being passed on " the English branch of the Church " was that private confession was not practised in England, and that English bishops were married. The Patriarch of Alexandria, who smoked an enormous pipe during the audience granted to Mr. Smith, could not tolerate such heresies. Mr. Smith had an argument with him about St. Peter's visit to Egypt, and in this, too, the Patriarch did not shine. Mr. Smith quoted the Bible ; the Patriarch fell back on tradition. Mr. Smith's legs were cramped, but his mind was active. He made a young Copt read a verse of St. Peter's First Epistle, which was apparently new to both the Patriarch and his ecclesiastical colleagues. On the whole, Mr. Smith left the sacred presence feeling that the priests of the Coptic Church (who may marry) are superior to the bishops (who may not), and this, no doubt, confirmed his national objection to clerical celibacy. The Patriarch, ho says, is always chosen from among monks of a desert convent ; not, we should hope, from the convent described in the following passage :— " Gebel o Tayr is also well known as the site of the Coptic convent of the Pulley; but as a strong nor'-wester was blowing behind us, we passed i t with both our sails set, and at a spanking pace. Notwithstanding this, no sooner was our flag descried, than some of the holy fathers of that remarkable fraternity were seen running along the cliff on which their monastery stands, clad in, the habit of their order, viz., their own skins only, which distinguishes them from any monks I had met before; and, as they ran stark naked along the brow of tho cliff, they screamed • backsheesh ' at the top of their voices ; but we congratulated ourselves that the breeze was too stiff, the water too rough, and our pace too good, to tempt them to swim off on the forlorn hope of a trifling present. We did not know then the pertinacity of an Egyptian mendicant ; for soon one hardy fellow, notwithstanding our pace, the width of the river, and the strength of the current, contrived to swim out and board us, and, as some of the crew threw a robe over his shivering limbs, and he crouched before us with chattering teeth, and ejaculated Baeksheesh, ya Hawager, backsheesh, Christiano, ya Hawager!' I thought I had never seen anything less like a Christian monk or more like a savage ruffian than this swarthy, naked, shaven Copt. However, we gave him five half-piastro pieces (about sixpence in all), with which ho was thoroughly satisfied, and which he placed in his mouth, and, as we declined to indulge him with brandy, which he also demanded, he was soon over the aide and swimming straight for the shore, after the peculiar manner in which all Egyptians swim, striking one arm at a time overhead and straightforward on the water. But, good swimmer as he was, it was laborious work to battle against such waves and such a current as was running then. Several times we saw him stop to rest his arms, while he swam with his feet, and he must have been glad, one would think, to climb up the rock out of the cutting wind and warm his frozen limbs within the shelter of the convent."

" Backsheesh," Mr. Smith tells us in his preface, is a word which it is superfluous to explain. It is evident that it enters largely into the pious exercises of these good monks. Mr. Smith's view of the religion of the Mahometans is not warped by any such considerations. We do not mean that the Christians were the only people who begged, but with the others the process was purely secular. The interior of a mosque impressed Mr. Smith with a strong sense of the earnestness of the worshippers. He was reminded painfully of the frequent coldness of English congregations, of their false shame in religious matters, their fear of showing outward signs of devotion. Again, when describing the great fast of Ramadan he vindicates the Mahometans from any charge either of formalism or evasion. From dawn till sunset of the thirty days of the fast, six out of his ten boatmen never tasted water, food, or tobacco. Even when wading through an arm of the river, towing the boat under a burning sun, and exhausted with heat and -labour, they might not dip their fingers into the water and wet their tongue. Although, as Mr. Smith admits, abstinence from solid food during the day is not so trying in a hot as in a cold climate, the want of water must be a severe privation, and Orientals forego their pipe with great reluctance. Nile water, too, is tempting. Mr. Smith enlarges on its delicious properties. Looking at first yellow and muddy when drawn from the river, it soon deposits a sediment, and, passed through a filter, looks perfectly clear and bright. The natives come from great distances to draw this water, and not only boatmen, but travellers, drink it largely. The travellers, too, fare luxuriously on the voyage. What the boatmen eat is said to be exactly the same as Esau's mewof pottage. A large stock of bread is baked every month, cut in thin slices, and dried on the deck. Some of this is then crumbled into a large wooden bowl, boiling water is poured upon it, and a . handful of red lentils is added. We need hardly follow Mr. Smith through his many other reminiscences of Old Testament history. They are quite in their place in a journal of clerical travel, though there is nothing to surprise us in their occurrence in the unchanging East.

Mr. Smith shows some spirit in his account both of the ascent and descent of the cataracts of the Nile. Of course, as an Englishman he has some practical suggestionsfor doing away with the necessity of such a passage. It would be almost too much, he says, to expect a canal to be made by,the side of the cataract, but the smaller rapids, by which boats ascend, might be deepened and cleared of projecting rocks, and a windlass or winch might be erected at the top of the larger rapids. At present boats are hauled up by hand, forty or fifty Nubians being alternately in the water and on the rocks, warping, straining, screeching, bounding up and down, waving flags, and throwing sand in the air. Coming down is very different. The natives shoot the rapids easily enough, sitting on logs of wood, and if ever they are ducked and half drowned, they come up promptly asking for backsheesh. But the prospect of going down the great fall in a heavy boat is not reassuring. The stream, confined in a long narrow channel, between granite rocks, tears down at a terrific pace, and this is the way in which the boat is borne along : " Up to this moment all had been chattering, screeching, and grinning with the usual din ; but at this critical moment every, voice is hushed and perfect silence prevails as we shoot over the upper edge; a log of wood was here thrown into the current a dozen yards before the nose of our boat, and that was the guide which the steersman should follow all down the rapid descent. It certainly was a grand sight to witness ; for in a moment we were in the very middle of the rushing water, borne along on the top of its crest ; not a word was spoken, but every eye was intently watching the rocks on either side; while Braheem standing in the gangway was crossing himself rapidly and invoking the aid of all the saints for the safety of his boat. In a very taw moments we had reached the foot of the rapid ; and then the melt dipped their oars into the foaming water and strained their utmost to pull us out of the roaring current to the bank.. So well did the good ship answer to her helm, that as her bows dipped in this furious turmoil, she scarcely shipped any water, and we floated gently and easily to the shore, where we were to take breath and recover, before we made another start."

Mr. Smith does not reflect that if there had been a canal by the aide of this cataract, some of the best descriptive passages in his volumes would have been sacrificed. The tourist who contemplates a book should always welcome dangers, and be ready to adopt iEneas's philosophy, "Forsan et hsc ohm Ineminisse juvabit.” Our extracts will have given a favourable notion of Mr. Smith's style, and we think we have picked oat, if somewhat shortly, the cream of his two volumes. But we must not forget to mention his contributions to ornithology, which form one of his chief claims to be heard. His list of Egyptian birds is large, and the details he gives about some will be interesting to all readers. To have seen the flamingo alive in its native haunts was, he thinks, alone enough to repay his long journey. But he had also a sight of several eagles, and a successful shot at one. Vultares were very common, and were fine-looking birds, though their habits were filthy and their cowardice extreme. Mr. Smith saw a full-sized vulture scared-off a carcase by three hooded crows. Crocodiles, in like manner, are spoken of by the Arabs as timorous, and seem to have . been generally driven away from below the first cataracts by the introduction of steamers. Mr. Smith, however, saw two crocodiles below the first cataracts, and some thirty altogether. on .the upper, or Nubian, part of the river. He seems to think that they are more formidable than is allowed by the Arabs, and that they carry off a good many victims. It mayappear significant of Mr. Smith's religious tolerance and of the interest he takes in birds and beasts, that he finds some excuse for that ancientEgyptian idolatry which was repugnant even to a Roman like Juvenal. Yet here, as in the discussion of questions about the Pyramids, or about the sources of the Nile, it may be thought . that Mr. Smith has contented himself with stating difficult problems, and has not tried to solve them. We grant that he does not profess to find a solution. But if any readers go to him for information, on other than ornithological subjects, they will be disappointed by this prudent reserve. Even the British Ornithologists' Union might like to know to what it stands committed by the publication of a periodical called the ibis.