Billeder på siden

gradually choked up the passage, and it was not till the conquest of Egypt by Amrou, the general of the Caliph Omar, that it was for the last time re-established. Omar is the same who sent Amrou the pithily-expressed order to burn the Alexandrian Library, for the admirable reason, that if the books contained nothing more than was to be found in the Koran they were useless, and if more, they were false-a story doubted by Gibbon, but which has a strong smack of fanatic likelihood about it: this Omar being desirous of re-establishing a safe and comparatively facile communication between the Valley of the Nile and the holy city of Mecca, ordered the restoration of the works. The narrative of this last attempt to improve and render serviceable the ancient canal by the Moslems, as given by an Arab historian, is worth relating. "There was,' writes Abdallah ben Saleh-we quote from a French translation—' a cruel dearth at Medina in the eighteenth year of the Hegira (A. D. 639), under the caliphat of Omar, Prince of the Faithful. Omar consequently wrote to Amrou, who was in Egypt, in the following terms :-"From the servant of God, Omar, Prince of the Faithful, to Amrou ben El As, greeting. I swear to thee by my life, O Amrou, that whilst thou and thine are living in abundance, you care nothing though me and mine perish of want. Come to our help then. Come! God will repay thee." To this pressing missive Amrou replied: "From Amrou ben El As, to the servant of God, Omar, Prince of the Faithful, greeting. I come to thy help: I come! I send thee a convoy of beasts of burden, of which the first will reach thee whilst the last is still with me." This, considering Amrou was in the Valley of the Nile, seems a rather long string of animals, more especially as they marched, we are assured, closely at each other's heels, though in single file. Omar was delighted, and determined to promote a constant and easy intercourse between Arabia and so fruitful and abundant a country as Egypt. Having with this view sent for his general, he thus addressed him: Amrou, the Most High has delivered Egypt to the Faithful. It is a country abounding in riches and eatables of every kind. I must profit by the opportunity afforded me by God himself to insure abundance for the inhabitants of the holy cities, and provisions for all Moslems. For this purpose a canal must be dug from the Nile to the Red Sea." Amrou communicated this order to the chief men of Egypt, who were in despair at the thought that their country was to be impoverished to feed the hungry Arabs, and they prevailed upon Amrou to return to Omar and say, that although it was true that ships had once sailed from Egypt to Arabia, the canal had become so completely blocked up that it would be impossible to re-open it, and to attempt to do so would cost enormous sums. "I swear to thee, Amrou," replied the caliph, "by Him in whose hands is the soul of Omar, that I do not believe thee. The Egyptians have persuaded thee to exaggerate the difficulties of the canal, but I will punish thee if thou dost not dig the canal, so that ships may sail thereon."'


This imperative command Amrou durst not disobey. The canal was reopened, and its junction with the Nile removed to near Cairo, in order to increase the fall and volume of the water by which the canal was fed. It continued open about a century and a half, during which it bore the name of the Canal of the Prince of the Faithful. This high-sounding designation did

[ocr errors]

not, however, preserve it from its old enemies-the shifting sands and Arabs of the desert; and so well did they perform their work that, as we have before stated, it became so entirely obliterated during the last thousand years, that a dispute had arisen as to whether it had ever really existed as a navigable passage till the publication of the French survey. M. Hendy says Amrou redug the canal in the 23d of the Hegira, A. D. 643-4, and that it was finished in six months; so that on the seventh vessels passed from the Nile to the Red Sea. It was finally blocked up A. D. 767according to Ben Ayas-having endured about 125 years only.

It commenced at about a mile and a half from Suez, and was carried in a north-westerly direction till it reached the basin of the Bitter Lake-a distance of about thirteen miles. This basin, which is twenty-seven miles long, and from five to seven wide, formed the second division of the canal or passage. Its bottom is from twenty to fifty feet below high-water at Suez, and at present it contains no water except in the lowest parts, the surface being covered with saline incrustations, and the cavernous depths below sounding distinctly beneath the feet. From Serapeum, at the northern end of the basin, the canal was carried through the long wadi or valleythe land of Goshen of the Israelites, according to Josephus and others-to the lake Abaceh. The bottom of this valley is thirty feet below the surrounding desert, and about as much beneath the level of the Arabian Gulf. To exclude the waters of the Nile when at flood, the wadi was shut in by transverse dikes at Abaceh, Ras-el-Wadi, and Serapeum. The canal ran along the north side, and was carried by another cutting from Abaceh to Bubastis, on the Pelusiac or eastern arm of the Nile, a farther distance of twelve miles. The contrivance of locks was unknown to the ancients, and hence great practical difficulties arose from the different and varying heights of the Nile and the Red Sea. The level of the Arabian Gulf, except for a few weeks during the flood of the Nile, is considerably above that river; and supposing the canal to have been clear throughout, there would have poured a stream of salt brine into the fresh waters of the sacred stream; and as the inhabitants of the Delta have only Nile water for use, rain falling rarely and scantily in Egypt, this could not of course be permitted. The canal must consequently have been so contrived as to be shut off from the Nile when it had sunk below the level of the Red Sea; and it is also quite clear that the canal never absolutely debouched into the Gulf of Suez, the waters of which were no doubt artificially admitted only in sufficient quantities to supply the place of the vanished Nile. Canal of the Kings-its ancient and certainly appropriate title from thirty-six to fifty-five yards in width, and in depth about fifteen feet— Pliny says thirty. Of this communication-ninety-two miles in length-upwards of sixty were cut by human labour; 'and half of that artificial construction is,' says Mr Maclaren, 'now so perfect, or so little damaged, as to require little more than cleaning to render it again navigable.'



This is pretty nearly all that is known and guessed at concerning this great ancient work, begun and carried persistently on, in spite of repeated failures, in times when these islands were uninhabited swamps and forests, and finally abandoned to neglect and ruin as long since as Alfred lived and reigned. It may now be our privilege and glory to restore, complete, and perfect, a highway for Europe through those once famous countries, and

thereby reawaken and stimulate by the highest of all teachings-those of power and example-the now sterile and torpid energies of nations that in the dawn and twilight of the world exhibited a considerable degree of refinement and civilisation. And before proceeding with the dry details of the work to be effected, let us pause awhile to survey the remarkable localities connected with the Isthmus: to mark some of the scenes in the gigantic panorama unrolled by ages until the red-cross flag of Great Britain-of a people dwelling far beyond the ultima thule of the old worldgleams upon the horizon, bringing with it the light of a new dawn, the harbinger and sign, let us hope, of a renewed life of hope, progress, faith, and peace.


The Isthmus of Suez, say geographers, is bounded on the west by the banks of the Nile, on the east by the Arabian desert of El Tyh, on the south by the eastern desert of Egypt and the Red Sea, and on the north by the Mediterranean-a description as barren as the place itself. The vicinage of the obstructing belt of sand, shells, and lakes, deserves and will repay a closer examination.

On the west lies Egypt, the land of misrule and superstition, where from the beginning of the long line of Pharaohs a slave race of men have toiled beneath the yoke of idol or of tyrant. Previously, perhaps, a comparatively purer, higher civilisation existed. Manetho's interminable dynasties may be dismissed, like most early genealogies, with a smile of contempt: they are like corpses which retain a semblance of life and reality only whilst sheltered in darkness from the air of day, and at the first glance of light which falls upon them, crumble into featureless, undistinguishable dust. Still if it be true, as Plutarch asserts, that this inscription was found upon an ancient Egyptian temple: 'I am all that has been, is, or shall be-a long time must be supposed to have elapsed before that testimony and revelation could have been slimed over and effaced by crocodile and cow worship. But obscure and uncertain as may be the old chronicles of Egypt, we discern clearly, though faintly and afar off, Abraham, the father of nations, journeying thitherward when there was famine in the land of Canaan; and five centuries nearer to us there stands broadly and grandly out, in the foreground of a heroic picture, the commanding and colossal figure of Moses-the general, deliverer, and lawgiver of his people, the historian who wrote a thousand years before Herodotus-we see him lead the fainting Israelites by the Gulf of Suez yonder; and as we do so, fancy that we hear, mingling with the clamours of his terror-stricken followers, the tramp and shouts of the pursuing Egyptians, the roar, tumult, horror, and despair of the catastrophe that overtook them, and the strains of the triumphant hymn uplifted six hundred years before Homer sang the mythic glories of that Greece for which Cecrops, Cadmus, and others, were setting out from Egypt at about the same time as the Jews' departure. 'Whenever,' says Niebuhr, 'you ask an Arab where the Egyptians were drowned, he points to the part of the shore where you are standing.' There is, however, one particular bay

[ocr errors]

where, in the roaring of the waters, they pretend still to hear the cries and wailings of the ghosts of Pharaoh's army. The Nile, too, what a marvel and a mystery was that to the old world! Julius Cæsar, conversing with an Egyptian priest on the eve of the battle of Pharsalia, offered to abandon his army, empire, Cleopatra, if the priest would but shew him the mysterious sources of the river; so restless and powerful in the higher organisations is the desire to lift but a corner of the veil which shrouds the secret of this inscrutable universe. They were poor geographers, those fathers of the world. What became of the Euphrates below Babylon was a disputed point with many of the most learned of them; but the Nile mystery was admittedly an utterly unfathomable one. Quærere caput Nili?' said they, as expressive of an utterly unsolvable problem. The Emperor Julian, who refused credence to the divine message enunciated in Judea, could, however, readily believe that the god Serapis caused the rise of the fertilising flood-the ruins of a temple dedicated to which idol are, we may here mention, still to be seen at Serapeum, at the northern extremity of the Bitter Lake in the Isthmus. But long before Cæsar and Cleopatra, Alexander, the Macedonian victor, had looked with the same glance of unsated wonder upon the apparent inexplicable phenomenon exhibited by the Nile. This renowned warrior was, however, a man of action more than of sentiment, and he determined to turn the river, whatever its sources might be, to account in facilitating the intercourse between his kingdom and India. There were two modes by which this object could be effected: one by the Persian Gulf, and the other by the Red Sea. Alexander determined to avail himself of both; and Alexandria, intended to be the emporium of the universe, was built westward of the Isthmus, at the only point of the desert where a good harbour exists; and a canal, forty-eight miles in length, was run to the Canoptic branch of the Nile. This was no doubt a considerable work for such a time, and may perhaps have tolerably sufficed for the infantine commerce of the period, but is of slight avail in helping forward the giant traffic of these days. The great conqueror passed away without leaving any permanently beneficial impress behind him; and Egypt, successively the prey and slave of Roman, Saracenic, Turkish despots, has crept down to our own times, still a fettered, degraded helot, and never more so than during the apparent elevation she attained during the remorseless rule of Mohammed Ali. The insane efforts of that man to erect his pachalic into a great naval power, independent of the Ottoman empire, and a sort of small rival to that of Great Britain, which it was the fashion a few years since to extol as an inspiration of eminent political prescience, sufficiently attests the range of his governmental sagacity. He had, however, let us admit, some excuse in the applause and incitements of his European flatterers and parasites. Prince Puckler Muskau's book, in 1839, gravely asserted that the ships and sailors of his Egyptian Highness were scarcely, if at all, inferior to the British that he had seen at Malta. The English seamen might perhaps be a trifle, only a trifle, smarter in their evolutions; but that was positively all. This was written only a few months before the numerous and grand-looking Egyptian fleet were blockaded in Alexandria by the Asia two-decker, and a sloop of war! Unquestionably it was the viceroy's possession of the Isthmus of Suez, of this important key to British India, which gave him such exaggerated

No. 81.


importance in the eyes of his adulators, and prompted the madly-ambitious pranks in Syria which were ultimately so rudely and effectually defeated. One really beneficial work performed by Mohammed Ali's directions was the digging out of the canal connecting Alexandria with Atfeh on the Canoptic branch of the Nile, and thereby facilitating in some degree the route to Suez by Cairo. But even the honour of this achievement was stained or rather effaced by the reckless ferocity the viceroy displayed in its execution. Twenty-three thousand of the Fellahs, compelled to labour at the canal, perished miserably from the severity of the labour imposed upon them, and lack of sufficient sustenance during the ten months the work occupied; 'and they were buried,' says Mr St John, 'like so many dogs in the banks of the canal.' No wonder M. Lamartine should exclaim as he did in 1840: 'Our children could not find a veil thick enough to hide the shame of their fathers did we go to war in support of Mohammed Ali.' The treaty of peace concluded in January 1841 substantially restored much of the sultan's authority in Egypt; and it can scarcely be supposed that the Ottoman emperor, if earnestly pressed, would refuse his sanction to a maritime highway so essential to the security of the dominions of his ever-faithful British ally, and opposed to the interests or legitimate ambition of no people on the earth. And his Highness of Egypt, warned by the example of Mohammed Ali, would scarcely offer, we imagine, any prolonged resistance to the wishes of the sultan of the Turks and the queen of Great Britain. In this respect, then, we are also in a much more favourable position for the execution of the project than formerly.

Turning towards the east of the Isthmus, we perceive the desert of El Tyh ben-Israel (the Wandering of the Children of Israel) trending northward till it reaches the table-land of Judea; and west of that table-land, and north of El Tyh, there stretches along towards the Isthmus the country of the Philistines, called by the Arabs to this day the Plain of Falastin. To the south of Suez is the Wilderness of Sin, and the pass of the Wadee Shelal, through which, according to Burckhardt and others, the despairing Israelites were led by Moses to the vicinity of Mount Sinai, and is thus described by Miss Martineau in her 'Eastern Life:'-'It was necessary to dismount, not so much on account of the steepness of the ascent, which was in fact a long zig-zag staircase, as of its narrowness. A baggage camel filled the space completely; and if one of these should press against a ridden camel, the rider's limbs would probably be crushed against the rock. . . . . The heat was like the mouth of a furnace, and I should hardly have supposed myself on our own familiar earth, but for the birds which flew up in the sunshine, and the dragon-flies that flitted by. I now seemed to feel for the first time true pity for the wandering Hebrews. What a place was this for the Hebrew mothers with their sucking-babes! They who had lived on the banks of the never-failing Nile, and drank their full of its sweet waters, must have been aghast at the aspect of a scene like this, where the eye, wandering as it will, can see nothing but bright and solemn rocks, and a sky without a cloud. As I thought of their fevered children imploring water, and their own failing limbs where there was no shade in which to rest, I could imagine the agony of the Hebrew fathers, and well excuse their despairing cry: "Give us water that we may drink. Wherefore is this that thou hast brought us up out of the land of Egypt,

« ForrigeFortsæt »