Palms Near Memphis.
Old Cairo And The Citadel.
Never shall I forget an afternoon which I spent on the site of Memphis, seated within its stately palm-grove, on the border of the adjoining desert. Here, for the first time, I seemed to realize that I was in the land of the Pharaohs. The subtile influence of Egyptian antiquity stole insensibly upon me, until I seemed to have been carried back to the days of Abraham; and the long trains of loaded camels, the turbaned Arabs, the half-veiled women, the tufted palm-trees, and the silent desert, ceased finally to fill me with astonishment, and seemed fitting accessories to the scene before me.
While seated here that day, I watched for some time an Arab riding across the shining expanse of the desert, the soft, cushioned feet of his camel sinking into the sand with a solemn, noiseless tread. It was the hour of prayer. Far off upon the minarets of Cairo the muezzins were proclaiming the sacred formula of Islam. Dismounting, the rider bound the foreleg of his camel, planted his lance beside him in the sand, and then, turning his face toward sacred Mecca, performed his devotions. As I watched him, I could but feel that we were in the grandest of all earthly temples, beside which Santa Sophia and St. Peter's dwindled to pygmies; for its golden pavement was the measure1ess sweep of the Sahara, - its dome, the canopy of heaven. To a person floating in a balloon over Egypt, the country would present the appearance of a long strip of green carpet spread out upon a sandy floor. For, as it seldom rains here, the entire country-would be a desert, were it not for the annual inundation of the Nile, which rescues from the sand on either side of the river a narrow fringe of territory; and both these river-banks, although hemmed in by scorching deserts, glow nevertheless with beauty and fertility because of the alluvial deposit of this fruitful overflow.
The Site Of Memphis.
Arab At Prayer.
Statue Of Rameses II.
The Majestic Nile.
The Nile is, in fact, the artery of Egypt, upon whose regular pulsations the existence of the land depends. The loam in the Egyptian Delta is that river's sediment, brought in solution from the heart of Africa. Thus Egypt is the gift of Ethiopia.
Between the fertile valley, thus created and renewed, and the adjoining desert a ceaseless warfare is waged, - the old, eternal struggle between Life and Death. To the Egyptians this river represented the creative principle, just as the desert symbolized destruction. In the mythology of Egypt there is a pretty fable, to the effect that the crystal springs of the Nile bubble up in the gardens of Paradise and serve for the ablutions of angels. Thence, wandering through lovely meadows, the infant stream finally expands into this lordly and majestic river, which offers life and plenty to the world.
Within the arches of the Vatican there now reclines in Oriental calm an ancient statue of old Father Nile, leaning upon a miniature sphinx; while on its shoulders and around its limbs play sixteen pygmies, representing the sixteen cubits of the annual rise of the river. Surely it is not strange that the old Egyptians deified the Nile, to whose life-bringing flood they owed not only their sustenance, but the very soil on which they lived. Of all the rivers in the world this is the most extraordinary. Some of its characteristics seem almost supernatural. For the last fifteen hundred miles of its course, -that is to say, for nearly one half of its entire length, - it receives no tributary whatever, but flows on calmly beneath a burning sun, and with a stony wilderness on either side. Yet, notwithstanding all its loss, not only by evaporation in that torrid atmosphere, but by the canals which lure its fruitful flood to the right and left, by the absorption of its sandy banks, and finally by the draughts made upon it by the countlessmouths of men and beasts from Nubia to the sea, it seems at last to pour into the Mediterranean a broader and more copious stream than it displayed a thousand miles away! Nor is this all. Ordinarily an inundation causes calamity and inspires terror; but the overflow of the great river of Egypt is hailed with thanksgiving. Songs of rejoicing are heard along its rapidly disappearing banks, and its advancing waves are hailed as harbingers of peace and plenty. To the wretched fellaheen of Egypt, a few feet more or less of water in the rise of the Nile makes all the difference between abject poverty and comparative plenty; since, whenever the water-supply is scanty, the desert remorselessly advances, to swallow up the fields, where in good years luxuriant crops are wont to gladden the eye.