Narrative Of The United States Expedition To The River Jordan And The Dead Sea/3

From Wikisource
Jump to: navigation, search



CHAPTER III.


PORT MAHON TO SMYRNA


FRIDAY, FEB. 4th. At 10 P.M. left the harbour of Mahon with a light but favourable wind. Our stay had been so protracted that we gladly hailed the familiar sight of a boundless horizon before us. We had all be come somewhat impatient of the many causes of detention that had interfered with our departure; and we were, of course, proportionately elated when at length we were again careering over the blue waves of the Mediterranean.

The breeze freshened as the night wore on, and we wended joyfully on our way, each congratulating the other on the prospect of a speedy disembarcation. The next day we passed south of Sardinia; and the morning after made the Island of Maritimo, and beyond it could see the blue outlines of Sicily. The day was at first clear and beautiful, but, with the ascending sun, a dim vapour spread along the sky, and, wafted by the wind, like a misty shroud, enveloped the larger island. To the eye, all was serene and peaceful, but beneath that veil the myrmidons of power and the assertors of human rights were engaged in deadly conflict. The Sicilian revolution had begun. Its end, who could foresee?


MALTA


P.M. Passed the island of Pantellaria, the Botany Bay of Naples and Sicily, and accounted by some to be the Isle of Calypso. To avoid danger in the shape of rocks and shoals at sea, it is ever best to shape the course directly for them, for then all are vigilant. We stood, therefore, directly for the shoal which marks the spot where, some years since, a volcanic island suddenly rose from the sea; and shortly after disappeared. We saw nothing of it.

During the night we shortened sail, but, with the fresh wind blowing, it was difficult to check the ship in her headlong velocity. At early daylight, the Islands of Gozo (the true Calypso) and of Malta were directly before us. To the eye they presented the barren aspect of rugged brown rocks, their surfaces unrelieved by tree or verdure; and the houses, built of the same material, and covered with tile, rather added to, than varied, the tiresome uniformity of the scene.

With a fresh and favourable wind, we sailed along the abrupt and precipitous shores, and came to anchor in the famous port of Valetta. Three promontories, their summits fretted with artillery, frown down upon the triune harbour. Along the city walls, from Castle Ovo to the extreme point on the right, are lines of fortifications, relieved here and there by some towering Saracenic structure, presenting, in graceful contrast, “The Moorish window and the massive wall.”

Here, too, has Napoleon been! From Moscow to Cairo, where has he not?

DEPARTURE FROM MALTA

We rowed around in our boat, and in the upper harbour saw a number of towering three-deckers and heavy line-of-battle ships moored in formidable array. One of the latter, some hours afterwards, passed us, outward bound; and by the side of our little ship she looked, indeed, like a huge leviathan. She sailed by “majestically slow;” her hull, her armament, her spars and sails, presenting a perfect combination of graceful symmetry and gigantic strength. The deepest silence prevailed, broken only by the ripple of the water beneath her bows, and the occasional voice of her commander, who, whether despotic or humane, had the true urbanity of a gentleman. As with the gathering wind his ship swept by, he caught sight of our pennant and descried our uniform, when, instantly crossing the deck, he courteously and gracefully saluted us. If ever the republican dogs of war are to be again let loose, Heaven grant that it may be against a foe so well worthy of a grapple in the honourable trial at arms.

As we were not admitted to pratique, we saw nothing more of Malta, but left it at sunset. Having once before been there, I bear in vivid remembrance her many scenes teeming with interest. The bay and the cave, spots consecrated by the shipwreck and the miraculous preservation of the great Apostle of the Gentiles: her armory, with its shields and swords, and her rare and exquisite gardens.

SATURDAY, FEB. 12. At daylight, made the Island of Cerigo, the ancient Cythera, upon which was wafted at her birth the Goddess of Love and Beauty. It is also reputed to have been the birth-place of Helen, the frail heroine of the Trojan war.

Passing under easy sail, between Cerigo and Ovo, leaving Candia (ancient Crete) to the south, we entered the blue Egean, and had the Group of the Cyclades before us as we turned to the north. In the course of the day we saw Milo, famed for its spacious harbour and its excellent wine; Paros for its marble quarries, and Anti-Paros for its celebrated grotto, deemed one of the wonders of the world.

THE GRECIAN SHORES

Sailing through the Sporadic group, we passed the Gulf of Athens, and saw Cape Colonna, (ancient promontory of Sunium, where Plato taught, and where the ruins are of a temple of Minerva.

Greece! poetic Greece! but that my soul is engrossed by one pervading thought, how I would love to visit thy shores! How have I loved to follow the muse in this favoured land! How delighted to pursue the arts, and trace the history of this wonderful people! How admired the chaste philosophy of Greece, springing with Corinthian beauty into life, amid the storms of sedition, and bending, like the brilliant Iris, her beautiful bow in the clouds which had overshadowed her sleeping oracles! The bold and inquisitive spirit of Grecian philosophy could not be fettered by a loose and voluptuous religion, however graceful in its structure and poetical in its conceptions. Grecian philosophy, reflecting the early rays of revelation, more powerful than the Titans, scaled the pagan Heaven, and overthrew its multitude of gods.

Did time permit, how I would love to look upon the Piraeus and the Acropolis! Upon the place where Socrates, in the dispensation of a wise Providence, was permitted to shake the pillars of Olympus, and where the Apostle of Truth, in the midst of crumbling shrines and silenced deities, proclaimed to the Athenians the Unknown God, whom, with divided glory, they had so long worshipped in vain.

SMYRNA

Continuing our route through the Sporades, between Ipsari and Scio, of sad celebrity, we rounded, on the morning of the 16th, the promontory of Bouroun, and entered the Gulf of Smyrna.

By a sudden transition from the fresh head-wind without, we were now floating upon the placid bosom of a beautiful bay, with our wing-like sails spread to a light and favouring breeze.

Far beyond the shore, might be seen the snowy crest of the Mysian Olympus. We passed in sight of the first Turkish town, with its little cubes of flat-roofed houses, and its groves and trees, so refreshing to the eye after the Grecian isles, all brown and barren. It is the ancient Phocoea.

The bay was dotted with the numerous sails of feluccas, outward and inward bound. As we passed, the Bay of Vourla opened on our right, and on the left, were some remarkable green hills, and beyond them, a long, very long, low track, with a barely visible assemblage of white dots beyond. It was Ismir! Infidel Ismir! Christian Smyrna! The setting sun empurpled the neighbouring mountains, gilding here and shadowing there, in one soft yet glorious hue, lending a characteristic enchantment to our first view of an Oriental city.

The wind failing, we anchored about eight miles from Smyrna, near Agamemnon’s wells. Abreast, was fort Sanjak Salassi, with its little turrets and big port-holes, even with the ground, whence protruded the cavernous throats of heavy guns, entirely disproportioned to the scale of the fortifications.

Our eyes were here refreshed with the sight of rich olive-groves; Turkish villages embowered among trees, many of the latter covered with blossoms, interspersed with the melancholy cypress (the vegetable obelisk), and backed by a range of verdant mountains beyond.

WEDNESDAY, FEB. 16. The scene which this morning presented to our admiring eyes, was one of surpassing loveliness. To the north and west was a sheet of placid water, with cloud-capped mountains in the distance. Before us was the city, overshadowed by a lofty peak, the snow-crowned summit of which glittered in the rays of the rising sun. On an abrupt platform, immediately beneath it, were the embattled towers of a once formidable castle; from thence, on a descending slope, which spread its base until it reached the water, the houses were thickly clustered; while here and there a swelling dome, and lofty, pyramidal spire, indicated a mosque, with its attendant minaret.

ORIENTAL SCENES

But on the right was the most exquisite feature. A narrow, but most luxuriant valley skirted the base of a range of mountains to the south, and, from the lofty barricade to the very verge of the bay, presented one enamelled mead of verdure and bloom. The grass and cereal grains had all the vivid tints of early spring, while the white and the pink blossoms of the nectarine and the almond were interspersed with the graver hue of the dark and abounding olive. While enjoying the scene, we heard the tinkling of bells, and looking to the left, beheld a caravan of camels rounding a distant hill. In a long line, one after the other, slowly, sedately, with measured strides, they passed along the road towards the west. Each one was laden with heavy packages, except two, which had women and children perched high upon their uneven backs.

11 A.M. Sail up and anchor off the city of Smyrna. Thursday, Feb. 17: With the first dawn of day we were amused watching the deck of an Austrian steamer, which arrived, during the night, from Constantinople. With the sun, up rose Turks, Greeks, and Armenians, shaking and settling themselves in their strange and gorgeous costumes. There were magnificent Turks with blessed beards, clothed in multitudinous garments, with a whole armory of pistols and daggers stuck in their sashes. One old fellow was particularly striking, in a drab-coloured capote and a white beard, smoking his chibouque in dignified abstraction from the world around him. There were two or three Persians, with black beards of extraordinary unction, and high, black, conical caps. There was one, a perfect magician, with beard blacker than a raven’s plume, and a lofty brow, pale as alabaster. There were Turkish officers and soldiers, Greeks and Armenians, all with the red tarbouch; and lastly, a sailor-looking man, with his hands independently thrust into his pea-jacket pockets.

TURKISH WOMEN

They all passed near us on their way from the steamer to the shore. Among them were several women, with ugly, white muslin drawn over their faces, closely veiled. One of the latter we were particularly anxious to see, as she accompanied a rich old Turk with a perfect boat-load of goods and chattels. As she passed, one hand was exposed from beneath the folds of the muslin. Do the Turkish ladies wear black gloves? Credat Judaeus Apella! Let the circumcised Jew believe it! Can a Christian credit that she was a Nubian, of the deepest Cimmerian tint?

We landed and passed into the streets, the narrow, winding ways of Smyrna. How strange everything seems! After all one has fancied of an eastern city, how different is the reality! The streets are very narrow and dark, and filled with a motley and, in general, a dirty population, passing to and fro, or sitting in their stalls, for they deserve no better name. Greeks, Armenians, and Jews, seem to prevail.

But the most striking, living feature of the east is the long strings of camels, huge, meek-looking beasts, with long necks and small projecting heads, tramping along under enormous loads, with their great pulpy, India- rubber splay feet, threatening to bear down everything in their onward march. Again and again we were compelled to slip into the open stalls to avoid being crushed.

MOSQUES, BATHS, AND STREETS

At length we adopted the precaution of each one keeping under the lee, as sailors term it, of a heavily laden camel, for it was not only necessary to avoid the camels and little donkeys, but also dirty, ragged, staggering, overladen porters, whose touch threatened not only to communicate the plague, but also whole detachments of the insect tribes of Egypt.

We proposed entering a mosque, but as we were required to take off our boots, and the pavement was damp and dirty, we deferred the gratification of our curiosity until we had visited Constantinople.

We came to the same resolution with respect to a bath, the one we looked into being repulsive from its filth and slovenliness, and far too public for our ideas of propriety. Our consul, Mr. Offley, an honour to his name and to the position he fills, told us that he once took a Turkish bath, but never repeated the operation.

The city of Smyrna, so inviting in its exterior, is crowded, dirty, and unprepossessing within. The houses, excepting those on the Marina, or Water front, rarely exceed one story in height, and are dingy and mean; and the very mosques, so imposing from without, fall far short of the conceptions of the visitant.

The Smyrniotes have fair complexions, much fairer, we think, than the people of the Morea, and very much more so than the Kurds, Armenians, Syrians, and Jews.

The River Meles, sacred to Homer, in winter a foaming torrent, but in summer scarce a flowing stream, runs in a northerly direction, along the eastern limits of the city. On the line of travel to the East, it is spanned by the caravan bridge, the great halting place of returning and departing caravans. As we saw it, the river was a shallow stream, not half filling the space between the widely separated banks. Kneeling on the sands, on each side of the river, above and below the bridge, were many hundreds of camels, with their heavy packs beside them. It was the hour of feeding, and, arranged with their heads in the centres of circles, ofwhich their tails formed the peripheries, without noise, they ate the dry straw which was placed before them. While we looked on, the hour elapsed, and the burdens were replaced on the backs of the patient animals. Although constituting a number of separate caravans, they were all, evidently, subject to the same regulations. At a given signal, they slowly raised first one foot and then another from beneath them, and then, with a peculiar cry, plaintive yet discordant, jerked themselves, as it were, to an erect position. The turbaned drivers, the uncouth, patient camels, and the tinkling bells, formed a scene truly Asiatic.

TURKISH CEMETERIES

Turning from the throng of living beings, we passed immediately through an extensive grove of dark, funereal cypress, every interval between the tall, symmetrical trees being covered with Turkish tomb-stones. These are mostly two erect slabs of marble, one at the head and the other at the foot of each grave, their flat surfaces turned towards the highway and covered with Turkish or Arabic inscriptions, usually in gilt letters, recounting the name and character of the deceased. The head-stones of the males have invariably a carved turban, coloured red or green, according to the family of the deceased. On the head-stones of the females, carved rose-branches are generally seen.

Some of the old head-stones had carved on them the implements of the trades pursued in life by the tenants beneath. The hammer and the saw denoted the carpenter; the last, the shoemaker; the trowel, the mason, and the shears, the tailor. We were told, that in the vicinity of Constantinople there are some with the gallows carved on them, indicating that those beneath had, by that instrument, met their doom. It is further said, that in the times of Turkish despotism, a man’s family deemed it a sure and convincing proof of the wealth or talent of their ancestor, if he had been considered of sufficient importance to be executed.

PUNISHMENT OF CRIME

The bowstring and the scimetar have now superseded the ignominious gallows. The day will come, and is coming, when the public mind in every enlightened community will shrink with horror from the infliction of the punishment of death. But, until the minds of men are more enlightened, and their conduct influenced more by holy aspirations than base, ignoble fears, there necessarily must be an inflexibly restraining power.

How beautiful is the moral of the eastern allegory in relation to punishment! The Brahmins represent Punishment as the son of the Deity, and the security of the four orders of the state. He rules with a sceptre of iron, and from the beasts of the field to the children of men, the order can never be violated with impunity. He is the perfection of justice. All classes would become corrupt; all barriers would be overthrown, and confusion would prevail upon the face of the earth, if punishment either ceased to be inflicted or were inflicted unjustly. But, while the Genius of Punishment, with his dark countenance and fiery eye, presses forward to extirpate crime, the people are secure if justice be impartial.

Crime, like a leprous cancer, spreads from individuals to nations. It should be the duty, therefore, of a Christian to oppose everything which tends to corrupt morals and promote licentiousness. History, with her grave and solemn countenance, constantly admonishes us, that, whatever may have been the immediate cause of national calamities, licentiousness of morals has always preceded and precipitated the catastrophe. The political revolutions which have most afflicted mankind were introduced by an era of national profligacy.

NECESSITY OF PUNISHMENT

Charles was the natural precursor of Cromwell, and Cromwell the fit successor of Charles. The licentious cavalier was aptly followed by the stern and formal Puritan. The morals, the literature, the religion of the English nation had become utterly depraved, and the interposition of the Genius of Punishment, the Avenger of crime, the security of the four orders of government, became necessary, to chastise and to correct. The sufferings of the nation were terrific, but its crimes had been enormous.

But, as if to teach mankind a lesson which tradition could never forget, the crimes of the French people were permitted to accumulate until Paris rivalled Sodom in iniquity: and, perhaps, the sudden and consuming wrath which fell upon the city of the plain, was mercy compared with the protracted sufferings of this abandoned people. If the world shuddered at the enormity of their crimes, nations grew pale at the intensity of their sufferings. The Avenger of crime again exacted the full measure of retribution.

Alas! man, whether in his individual or social capacity, is a frail and rebellious creature, and the sternest sanctions of the law have, in all ages, been required for the maintenance of peace and order. But, all the force of the law has, under every frame of government, been found insufficient to repress the spirit of insubordination. The strong impulse of the passions, and the hope of impunity, still impel daring and wicked men to commit the most detestable and atrocious crimes.

The Genius of Punishment, therefore, with his dark countenance and fiery eye, must yet awhile longer frequent the haunts of the children of men. These reflections have been indulged, in order to strengthen the mind to contemplate a dire necessity, and to prepare it for the recital of a shocking circumstance attendant on a legal execution here.

REVOLTING EXECUTION

A criminal was recently condemned to death, and the mode adjudged was decapitation He was led forth into one of the public streets, and duly prepared. The clumsy executioner, unable to strike off the head with repeated blows, deliberately, with a saw, severed the hacked and disfigured head from the convulsively writhing trunk.

The heart sickens at the recital. It is painful to hear, most painful, on the best authority, to narrate an incident so harrowing. Were I to consult my inclinations, my pen should, like the sun-dial, note “those hours only which are serene.” But, if I write at all, it is my duty to describe things exactly as I find them.

Such an event as the one above narrated would have shocked all England, even when her penal laws, like those of Draco, were written in blood; and an unhappy mother, starving herself, was hung for stealing a loaf of bread, wherewith to feed her starving child. Even with such a fact before us, it is difficult to say whether the Ottoman government is most a despotic or a patriarchal one. Certain it is, that if the late barbarous execution were made known to him, the humane heart of the Sultan would shrink with horror, as much as that of any Christian. Unhappily, he is kept in most profound ignorance, and every thing calculated to give him pain, or excite his mind to inquiry, is sedulously excluded. Such is the account given by intelligent Franks, long resident in his dominions.

The country around Smyrna is highly cultivated, and the benignant soil and genial climate amply repay the toil of the husbandman. Less productive of the cereal grains, its vintage and its crops of fruit are most superior and abundant. Except the mountain sides, which are sparsely covered with brushwood, the frequent groves of cypress, each denoting a burial-place, and the clusters of orange trees around the villas of the wealthy, the surface of the country is thickly dotted with the olive and the almond, the mulberry and the fig-tree. Smyrna is particularly celebrated for an exquisitely flavoured and seed-less grape, and for the superior quality of its figs.

ENVIRONS OF SMYRNA

It is also one of the claimants for the birth-place of Homer, the blind old bard, whose fame was purely posthumous! The Grecian virgins scattered garlands throughout the seven islands of Greece, upon the turf, beneath which were supposed to lie the remains of him, who wandered in penury and obscurity through life, or only sang passages of his divine poem at the festive board of his contemporaries. We were shown his cave, but I will no longer trust myself to speak of him, whom “I feel, but want the power to paint”

We also visited Diana’s bath, whence Actéon’s hounds, like many a human ingrate after them, pursued him and tore the hand that had caressed them.

Meeting with an acquaintance of one of the party, he invited us to his country-seat at Bournabat, which is the summer resort of the Franks, and a great place of attraction without the walls of Smyrna.

Mounted upon diminutive donkeys with enormous ears, in the course of the ride everybody’s stirrups broke away, and everybody’s pack-saddle turned so easily, that each one found it difficult to preserve his seat. Steering with a halter, our only bridle, we scoured along the road and soon entered upon a plain covered with rich plantations of olives and figs, with many nectarine and almond trees in full bloom, and villas, here and there, embowered in orange groves, the flatness of the landscape relieved by clustering spires of the dark cypress, their tall stems expanding high in air, in graceful and luxuriant foliage.

A TURKISH GARDEN

We alighted before an elegant villa, and entering a porte-cochere, passed along an avenue bordered with fragrant shrubs and a variety of flowers, with orange-groves on each side, and up a lofty flight of steps into the main building, which was beautifully furnished in the European style. After a while, we were conducted through the garden, upon walks of variegated pebbles, set in diamond figures. We were thence led to a small kiosk, or summer house, where pipes were brought by female servants of decided Grecian features. A queen-like old lady, dressed in a blue silk sack, trimmed with rich fur, and wearing upon her head a braided turban interwreathed with natural flowers and silver ornaments, was introduced to us by our kind entertainer as his mother. Presently, a silver salver was brought, with small dishes of the same material upon it, containing conserves of various kinds. Taking it from the servant, the superb old lady handed it to each of us in turn, not omitting her son. This is one of the customs of the East which so peculiarly differ from our own. Here man is indeed the sole monarch of creation; but his degradation of the female sex recoils fearfully upon himself.

After wandering about beneath the shade of the orange and the cypress, admiring the night-blooming cereus, and inhaling the fragrance of the rose and the jasmine, and examining the old-time Persian water-wheel and artificial mode of irrigation, we entered a saloon where an oriental collation of fruits and cream had been prepared for us. Although the month of February, the climate was that of summer.

Returning, we trotted merrily along the rich alluvial plain, carpeted with the young grain just springing from the earth. Near Smyrna, we observed a fig-tree thickly hung with shreds of cloth, of every hue and texture. It is a common practice among ignorant Muslims, who believe that a piece of a sick person’s garment suspended from a tree near the tomb of a Santon or Mahommedan saint, will promote the recovery of the wearer.

A TURKISH JANISSARY

Emerging from the gloom of a dense cypress grove, which overshadows thousands of Muslim tombstones, we came upon the caravan bridge, which spans the Meles with its single arch. It was the same we had before seen, but at a different hour and under a different aspect. On the banks, below the bridge, were hundreds of camels reposing for the night. The setting sun shone upon the red and blue and yellow saddle-cloths, while the picturesque costumes of the Mukris or camel-drivers, grouped listlessly about, relieved the dun colour of the caravan with a pleasing effect. It was a rich, golden, oriental sunset, worthy of the pencil of a Claude Lorraine. Returning through the city, the same strange scenes presented themselves as on our first arrival. The variety of costume; the filthy, unpaved lanes for streets, and the necessity of giving way before the onward tramp of a line of loaded camels or a mud-bespattering donkey. We were much assisted, however, by the consul’s janissary, who did his best to clear the way before us. Consuls and other foreign officials in Turkey are allowed, as guards, a certain number of janissaries,or kavashes, recognized and appointed for that purpose by the Turkish government. This janissary is always heavily armed, and possessing much authority, is very cavalier in his treatment of the common people. He is ever a Turk, and with his long, silver-mounted baton, preceding the consul or his guests, is the very picture of solemn self-sufficiency.