« AnteriorContinuar »
THE title of this book gives promise of something pleasant, and the words Rambles in the Deserts of Syria hardly prepare us for a journey which leads from Beles, Hierapolis, Batnæ, and Aleppo, and thence by Marash and the Cilician Gates to Antioch, Tripoli, Dama, and Chalcis, and so back to Berea, and anon by Aishah and Damascus to Jerusalem and Beirut, and once more back to Aleppo, Andrene, Seleucia, and Marash. Such a list recalls the Mirrors of Aleppo, in the pleasant story of Sadi and the Merchant of the Isle of Kish, where the latter says: "O Sadi! I have one more trip before me. I shall take Persian sulphur
DESERTS OF SYRIA.*
to China, for I have heard that it brings a prodigious price there; and thence I shall take China-ware to Greece, and Grecian brocade to India, and Indian steel to Aleppo, and mirrors of Aleppo to Yaman, and striped cloth of Yaman to Persia, and, after that, I shall give up trading, and sit at home in my shop."
Sooth to say, men do not ramble in the Syrian Desert. If they be Europeansthey travel principally with a set purpose, and to see a certain locality. If Arabs, they wander, because it is their life to do so, the condition of their existence, as the river flows in omne ævum. Thus the tribe of the Anezi circle perpetually "in a great migratory orbit, which takes them to Aleppo in summer, toward Urfa, Diarbekir, Mosul, and Baghdad in winter, and leads them round by the south
ern regions of the desert, passing near | loss only of property. Or how would Damascus, Homs, and Hama, back to such a ride as is described in letter xii. Aleppo." Or, be they European or na- of the volume before us suit the mere tive, Syrian wayfarers stray rather than tourist? Starting from Aleppo in the ramble from the right direction, like the fierce heat of August, the author of these caravan of three thousand camels, with pages rode fifteen miles south to the vilsix hundred men, which perished in 1858, lage of Sfiri, and cantered thence to Irjil, near Hara Iji Sheham. "It was bound the ancient Regillum, which he reached from Damascus to Baghdad, and lost the at nightfall. Not finding there an Arab way. No Bedaween happened to be camp, the object of his search, he rode on within reach, and a tribe came upon their till midnight and drew rein at Hara Iji remains long after their death." Sheham. There he slept on the bare ground without food, and started next day when the sun was hot, with a draught of muddy water as his sole refreshment. Riding on the whole day, at nightfall he obtained from three Bedaween boys a little milk and a crust of hard bread, and again slept on the plain. After riding the whole of the third day he arrived at the ruins of a fine old castle on a hill, called by the Bedaweens Shuemis, not far from the site of the ancient Irenopolis, now Selamieh, half-way between Hama and Palmyra. Thence he rode on all night, "sometimes at a good gallop," and as the fourth day dawned reached the hospitable tents of the Mowali. For such rides the best blood of Arabia is required in the steed, and much of the Arab power of abstinence in the rider.
Least of all do men ramble voluntarily among Turkomans and Beda weens. It is with bated breath and anxious eye that the traveler presses on through the mountains of the Ansairi, or the great pine forests of the Ghiaoor Dagh, where with opportunity every man is a robber; and the rider who spurs into the illimitable desert of the Bedaweens will do wisely to watch well his mare, and see she misses not the track, as knowing his life depends upon her powers. To one who has had experience of the measure Turkomans mete out to their neighbors, to speak of rambling among them sounds like junketing among cannibals or picnics among pirates. The love of wild adventure, the grim necessity of travel, or serious and responsible duties may and do lead Europeans into the haunts of the robbers of But with every protection that knowlthe desert, but the careless spirit of the edge of the languages and the tribes, conrambler should seek more peaceful dis- summate address and presence of mind, tricts. No doubt there is a Syrian hand- and even recognized rank can give, the book, and there are certain frequented desert of the Bedaween is not always to routes along which cockneydom, ignorant be traversed with impunity. An examof the languages and heedless of the cus-ple of this will be found in the eighteenth toms of the people, may travel securely; but to penetrate into less known parts and return safely demands qualifications only attained after a long residence in the country, and not often then, but which the author of these pages abundantly possesses. Without such gifts, indeed, his rambles would soon have been unceremoniously abridged. Imagine, for example, an ordinary traveler in the situation of the author, about to enter the wild district of Chikoor Ova at the foot of the Ghiaoor Dagh, when the chief of the Turkoman escort "suddenly pulled up, called in his men and took leave," abandoning him to find his way through mountain fastnesses peopled with robbers, into the Cilician plain, and then to trust himself to the tender mercies of the Tajerli. A stranger to the country would be fortunate in such a case to escape with the
letter of this series, where the author's errand of mercy in quest of the unhappy Christian women carried off from Damascus, not only was not "twice blessed," but doubly failed, first, as regards the captives, who were never recovered; and, secondly, with reference to himself, in that his own life was nearly sacrificed. The incident is one so stirring that it deserves to be extracted:
"Knowing the way perfectly, we left Aisheh without an escort, and having with us only a servant, a groom, and a lad. Fer several hours we rode safely under the thickly-falling snow, unable to see fifty yards around us, and consequently unseen from any greater distance. the afternoon, the weather unfortunately cleartoward the north, belonging to the Shammar ed, and we came in sight of some horsemen Sheikh, Abd-ul-Kerim, with a few of the worst characters among the Ghess and other low
tribes, which had taken the field for Deham, in,
ring at bay, his horse having been carried off.
of a mace, which Ahmed Bey carries at his saddle-bow. In the evening the wounded were carried into the Weldi camp, where every attention was paid them-the Shammar and Ghess having galloped off without bestowing a thought on them. All our horses, cloaks, and every thing we had lost, not excepting the minutest articles taken from our servants, were carefully brought to us by Ahmed Bey, who then led the way to Mehemed-al-Ganim's camp, a short mile further on. News of the fight had preceded us, and the whole tribe came out on foot to meet us; the sheikh with bare head and feet, and tearing his beard with vexation; the women brandishing tent-poles, and screaming imprecations against the Shammar. It was not until F and I were felt all over by the faithful Weldi, to convince themselves that we were not wounded, that they would be quiet, and let us rest after our lively ride. All their horsemen mustered next morning to escort us on our return, which was diversified by a very pretty little chase after an enormous wild boar. F turned it after a couple of miles' run, and the brute charged him. Excellent horsemanship and the skillful use of his spear s cured to him the victory, which was cheered by the Arabs forming a vast ring round the two combatants, when a last home-thrust laid the huge animal on his side, not to rise again."
Dangers, then, and hardships, it must be admitted, attend those who wander from the beaten track in the Syrian Desert, or, indeed, in any part of the Turkish empire. But without such deviations the real condition of the country can never be thoroughly appreciated. It is when the high road is quitted, and the escort is dispensed with, that the true state of af fairs becomes known.
This volume teems with information as
to the actual condition of both the gov erned and the governing classes in Turkey, and with just reflections on the position and prospects of the Ottoman empire, and this it is that makes it so valuable. The ordinary incidents of traveling in the East have often been amusingly described, and the reading public have so frequently been regaled with descriptions of Oriental scenery and disquisitions on architectural remains, and the sites of places of historic fame, that at present, "a crude surfeit" is reigning where eager interest used to exist. But the real desideratum is correct information, which would serve to elucidate the political problems, which the Turkish Sphinx proposes to the Bootions of the West, to the solution of which, in the opinion of many, no steps have yet been made. These problems are, first,