Commanding situation of Aden--Its importance in former times--But few
remains of its grandeur--Its facilities as a retreat for the piratical
hordes of the Desert--The loss of its trade followed by reduction
of the population--Speculations as to the probability of ultimately
resisting the Arabs--Exaggerated notions entertained by the Shiekhs of
the wealth of the British--Aden a free Port would be the Queen of the
adjacent Seas--Its advantages over Mocha--The Inhabitants of Aden--The
Jews--The Banians--The Soomalees--The Arabs--Hopes of the prosperity
of Aden--Goods in request there--Exports--Re-embarkation on the
Steamer--Want of attention--Makallah--Description of the place--Its
products--The Gazelle--Traveller in Abyssinia--Adventurous English
Travellers--Attractions of the Arab life--Arrival at Bombay
Wretched and miserable as the appearance of Aden must be deemed at the present moment, its commanding situation rendered it of great importance in former times. During the reign of Constantine, it was an opulent city, forming one of the great emporia for the commerce of the East. The sole remains of the grandeur it once boasted consists of about ninety dilapidated stone houses, the greater number of dwellings which seem to shelter its scanty population being nothing more than huts rudely constructed of reeds. These wretched tenements, huddled together without the slightest attempt at regularity, occupy the crater of an extinct volcano. Unrelieved by trees, and assimilating in colour with the arid soil and barren hills rising around, they scarcely convey an idea of the purpose for which they are designed.
A stranger, entering Aden, finds it difficult to believe that he is in the midst of an inhabited place, the houses appearing to be fewer in number, and more insignificant, than a closer inspection proves them to be. No splendid fragment, imposing in its ruin, records the glory and opulence of the populous city, as it existed in the days of Solyman the Magnificent, the era from whence it dates its decline. The possession of Aden was eagerly contended for by the two great powers, the Turks and the Portuguese, struggling for mastery in the East, and when they were no longer able to maintain their rivalry, it reverted into the hands of its ancient masters, the Arabs. The security afforded by its natural defences, aided by the fortifications, the work of former times, rendered it a suitable retreat for the piratical hordes of the desert. The lawless sons of Ishmael could, from this stronghold, rush out upon the adjacent waters, and make themselves masters of the wealth of those adventurers who dared to encounter the dangers of the Red Sea.
With the loss of every thing approaching to good government, Aden lost its trade. The system of monopoly, which enriches the sovereign at the expense of the subject, speedily ends in ruin. The superior classes of the inhabitants were either driven away, in consequence of the tyranny which they endured, or, reduced to a state of destitution, perished miserably upon the soil, until at length the traces of former magnificence became few and faint, the once flourishing city falling into one wide waste of desolation. The remains of a splendid aqueduct, which was at the first survey mistaken for a Roman road; a solitary watch-tower, and a series of broken walls, alone attest the ancient glories of the place.
Previous to the occupation of the British, the population of Aden scarcely exceeded six hundred souls; it is now, independently of the garrison, more nearly approaching to a thousand, and of these the principal number are Jews, who, together with about fifty Banians, have contrived to amass a little of what, by comparison, may be called wealth. The trade of Aden, for a long time before we obtained our present possession, was very trifling, the imports consisting of a few English cotton cloths, together with lead, iron, and tin, which were brought by Buglas on their way to Mocha; rice, dates, and small numbers of cattle, likewise, coming from neighbouring places; while the exports were limited to a little coffee, millet, and a few drugs.
At the period of my visit to Aden, the garrison were in almost momentary expectation of an attack from the Arabs, who had gathered to the amount of five thousand in the neighbourhood, and kept the new occupants continually upon the alert. Of course, in such a state of affairs, great differences of opinion existed respecting the ultimate fate of this interesting place. Many acute persons consider the project of colonizing a barren spot, surrounded by hostile tribes, by a handful of soldiers from India, chimerical, especially in the teeth of predictions which have for so long a period been fulfilled to the letter. It is stated that the Imaum of Muscat asked, in astonishment, whether we were mad enough to contemplate the subjugation of the Arabs, the sons of his father Ishmael; since we could not be so ignorant of our own Scriptures as not to know that their hands were to be eternally against every man, and every man's hand against theirs. But, although the Arabs should continue hostile, while we are masters of the sea, and can strengthen Aden so completely upon the land-side, as to render it, what many people believe it can be made, a second Gibraltar, we have a wide field for commercial speculation in the opposite coast of Africa.
Aden is, at present, a very expensive possession, and the long period which has elapsed since our occupation, without preparations having been commenced for a permanent residence, has occasioned an apprehension that it may be ultimately abandoned. Many persons are, however, sanguine in the hope that, as soon as scientific men have decided upon the best site for a cantonment, buildings will be erected for the reception of the garrison. These, it is confidently expected, will be upon a grand scale, and of solid construction. The greater portion of the materials must be brought from distant places, and already some of the European inhabitants are conveying from Bombay those portable houses which are commonly set up during the cold season on the Esplanade, and which will afford a great improvement upon the dwellings of bamboos, reeds, and mats, which at present form the abodes of the officers of this establishment. It has been satisfactorily ascertained, that the clearing out and repairing the old tanks and wells will be sufficient to secure an ample supply of water for a very extensive population, the report of those gentlemen employed in analyzing its quality being highly favourable.
A little allowance must, of course, be made for the sanguine nature of the expectations formed by persons whose imaginations are dazzled by the splendid visions of the future arising before them; still, enough appears to have been demonstrated to justify a strong hope that there are no serious difficulties in the way of our permanent occupation of a place which we have succeeded in rescuing from Arab tyranny. It will be long, perhaps, before the neighbouring sheikhs will consent to an amicable arrangement with the British authorities of Aden, for they at present entertain the most exaggerated notions of the wealth of its new possessors.
The English, with their usual thoughtless improvidence, threw about their money so carelessly, that, soon after their arrival, every article of household consumption doubled and trebled in price, the remuneration for labour rising in proportion. This improvident expenditure has had the effect of making the people discontented. Imagining our resources to be inexhaustible, they do not know how much to ask for their commodities or their services, and it will require great firmness and discretion, on the part of the persons in authority, to settle the fair price for both. The erection of new houses, which are called for by nearly every fresh arrival, even in their present light construction, serves very materially to enrich the inhabitants of Aden, the natural consequence being an increase of the industrious portion of the population, while it may be confidently expected that the commencement of superior works will attract a superior class of persons to the place.
The present Resident is a strenuous advocate for the abolition of all duties, at least for a time; and should the representations made by him, and other persons well acquainted with the character and resources of the surrounding countries, succeed in inducing the Government of India to render Aden a free port, it would soon become the queen of the adjacent seas. The town of Senna is only at the distance of seven or eight days' journey for camels and merchandize. The coffee districts are actually nearer to it than to Mocha, and the road equally safe and convenient; other large towns in Yemen are within an easy journey, and the rich and populous places in the province of Hydramut are open for its trade.
The mountains to the north of Aden produce gums, frankincense, and coffee, which would soon find their way to so promising a market. Its harbour being immediately to the north of Barbar, vessels during the north-eastern monsoon would reach it with the produce of Africa in twenty-four hours, returning with British and Indian produce in the same time. All the exports of Hanall, and other large interior towns on the opposite coast, consisting of coffee, gums, myrrh, hides, elephants' teeth, gold dust, ostrich feathers, &c, would be conveyed to Aden, to be exchanged for piece goods, chintzes, cutlery, and rice; all of which would find a ready market. The manufactures of India and of Great Britain would thus be very extensively introduced, there being good reason to believe that they would be largely purchased in the provinces of Yemen and Hydramut.
Amongst the great advantages which Aden possesses over Mocha, is the situation of its harbour, which may be entered by a ship or boat at any period of the year, and quitted with the same facility: whereas its rival port is so difficult of access in the months of March, April, and May, that boats are sometimes six, seven, or eight days getting to the straits, a distance of forty miles only. These are considerations worthy of the attention of merchants, the length of the voyage not being the sole source of annoyance, since vessels taking cargoes at Aden save the great wear and tear occasioned in their return down the Red Sea.
Perhaps, considering the difficulty of conciliating the semi-barbarous tribes in the neighbourhood, the trade and population of Aden have increased as much as we could reasonably hope; but when peace shall at length be established, it will doubtless attract merchants and Banians from Surat, as well as all other adjacent places. If at this moment our expectations have not been completely answered, we have at least the satisfaction of knowing that, besides having saved the Red Sea from the encroachments of the Pasha of Egypt, we have anticipated a rival power, which has already derived greater advantage from our supineness, with regard to our Eastern possessions, than is desirable.
The Americans, during 1833-4-5, had a small squadron looking all about for a spot which they could turn to good account. Socotra, from its convenient position between Africa and Arabia, proved a point of attraction, and had not Capt. Haines, of the Indian Navy, promptly taken possession, in the name of Great Britain, they would in all probability have succeeded in effecting a settlement. With their usual attention to the interests of their commerce, the Americans have a resident permanently stationed at Zanzibar, and have made advantageous arrangements with the Imaum of Muscat, whereby the trade with the United States has greatly increased; American ships are constantly arriving, with piece-goods, glass-ware, &c, and returning with profitable cargoes, the produce of Africa.
The inhabitants of Aden appear to be a peaceable race, generally well affected to the government, from which they cannot fail to derive advantage. The Jews, as I have before mentioned, are the most important, both in consequence of their number and of their superior wealth; they belong to the tribe of Judah, and are very industrious, being the manufacturers of the place.
It is by the Jews and their families, the females assisting, that a coarse kind of cloth, employed for their own garments, and also sold to strangers, is spun and woven. This cloth is in much esteem amongst the Arabs: when prepared for them, it is dyed blue, sometimes ornamented with red borders, indigo being employed, together with extracts from other plants. The women generally wear a single loose garment, covering the head with a handkerchief when they leave the house; they do not, however, conceal their faces. Previous to the occupation of Aden, the Jewesses were remarkable for the propriety of their manners, but as they are esteemed handsome, and moreover attract by their good temper and intelligence, it is to be feared that they will meet with many temptations to depart from the decorum they have hitherto maintained. Like their sex and peculiar race, they are fond of ornaments, adorning themselves with large silver ear-rings, bracelets, necklaces, and armlets. Hitherto, whatever wealth they possessed, they were obliged to conceal, the Arabs proving very severe and oppressive masters; their prospects are now brightening, and they have already shown a disposition to profit by the new order of things, having opened shops in the bazaar, and commenced trading in a way they never ventured upon before.
Nor is it in spinning and weaving alone that the Jews of Aden excel; artizans in silver and copper are to be found amongst them, together with stone-cutters, and other handicrafts-men. They have a school for the education of their male youth, the females not having yet enjoyed this advantage, in consequence of the intolerance of the Arabs, who view with prejudiced eyes every attempt to emancipate women from the condition to which they have been so long reduced.
The means of instruction possessed by the Jews of Aden are not very extensive, a few printed Bibles and MS. extracts forming the whole of their literature. It has been thought that missionaries would here find a fair field for their exertions; but, unfortunately, the most promising places in the East are, by some mistake, either of ignorance or ambition, left wholly destitute of Christian teachers. While the pledges of Government are compromised in India, and its stability threatened, by the daring attempts to make converts at the presidencies, and other considerable places, where success is attended with great noise and clamour, many portions of the Company's territories, in which much quiet good might be effected, are left entirely without religious aid.
The Banians, though small in number, rank next to the Jews in importance, and are, perhaps, more wealthy; they are not, however, so completely identified with the soil, for they do not bring their families with them when emigrating to Aden from the places of their birth. The greater number come from Cutch, arriving at an early period of life, and with the craft that usually distinguishes them, studying the character of the Arabs, and making the most of it. They are not esteemed such good subjects to the new government as the Jews, their expectations of benefit from a change of masters, in consequence of their having proved the chief gainers heretofore, being less sanguine.
The Soomalees are natives of Barbora, and are in number about two hundred. They employ themselves in making baskets, mats, and fans, from the leaves of a species of palm-tree; they are not so active and industrious as the Jews, but the younger portion, if brought up in European families, might, with the advantage of good tuition, become useful as servants and labourers. They are Mohamedans, but not very strict, either in their religious or moral principles, violating oaths sworn upon the Koran, and cheating and thieving whenever they can. The love of money, however, is a strong stimulus to improvement, and where it exists, or can be created, the case is far more hopeful than when the wants and desires are both limited. The Soomalee women are reckoned handsome, though in that respect they cannot compare with the Jewesses, their complexions being much darker and their hair coarse; they have tall, well-proportioned figures, and are as attentive to their dress and appearance as their poverty will admit. The Arabs are the least prepossessing of all the inhabitants of Aden, and it will be long before any confidence can be placed in them. They religiously conceal their women, and are a bigoted, prejudiced race, disaffected of course to the new government, and shy of intercourse with the British occupants.
That the hopes entertained of the prosperity of Aden have not been more speedily realized, may be attributed to the prevalent belief that its new masters could not maintain their ground against the hostile Arabs of the neighbourhood. It is the opinion of a competent judge, that, "as soon as the inhabitants of distant countries feel convinced that our occupation of Aden is intended to be a permanent, and not a temporary measure, they will establish agencies there under our flag, in preference to any other, and open an extensive traffic." The same authority states that "it is the opinion of the Banians and Arabs, that Aden will regain her former commercial renown."
With respect to the goods at present in requisition, or likely to meet a sale, at Aden, we learn from the report above quoted, that "of the manufactures of Europe, coloured handkerchiefs and hardware are only in demand, though longcloths are procurable and are sometimes purchased by the Arabs; but these articles are priced so high, as to prevent any great consumption of them. From what I observed of the Arab disposition and taste, I certainly believe that coloured cotton goods of fast colours, and of patterns similar to those elsewhere specified, if offered at rates somewhat reasonable, would in a very short period meet with an extensive sale, and be rapidly introduced into common use amongst the Arabs of the interior. The novelty of the experiment would at first induce the Arabs to become purchasers, when, finding the articles good, it is but reasonable to anticipate an extensive demand. The colours should be particularly attended to, for the certainty of obtaining goods of fast colours would alone ensure the articles in question a speedy sale. The handkerchiefs that have already been introduced into Aden are of the worst sort relative to colour, generally becoming after two or three washings white, or nearly so; thus it cannot be wondered at if these goods meet with but a poor demand."
The ravages committed by the army of the Pasha of Egypt, in the fertile districts of the neighbourhood of Aden, have been prejudicial to the interests of the new settlement, and perhaps so long as the hope of plunder can be entertained by the petty princes, who rule the adjacent districts, they will be unwilling to wait for the slower advantages derivable from commerce. The apparently reckless expenditure of the British residents, and the princely pay given to the soldiers of the garrison, have offered so dazzling a prospect of gain, that they (the native chiefs) will have some difficulty in abandoning the hope of making themselves masters, at a single blow, of all the treasure brought to their shores. It is said that some Turks, deserters from Mehemet Ali, who took refuge in Aden, upon being made acquainted with the amount of pay given to the British troops, and the regularity with which it was issued, exclaimed, "God is great, and the English are immortal!"
During the proper seasons, Aden is well supplied with fruit; its trade in honey and wax might become very important, the adjacent countries yielding abundance of both, and of so fine a quality, as to compete with the produce of the hives of the Mediterranean. Drugs are procurable in equal abundance, together with perfumes and spices. The European inhabitants are, of course, compelled to send to Bombay for those luxuries which habit has rendered necessary; the constant communication with the presidency renders them easily procurable, while the intercourse with India and England, by means of the steamers, relieves the monotony which would otherwise be severely felt.
I could have spent two or three days with great pleasure at Aden, inquiring into its early history, present condition, and future prospects, and regretted much when a summons reached me to depart. We entertained a hope that the steamer would come round and take us off at the northern point; however, we were obliged to return the way we came. There are, and have been since its occupation, several English ladies living at Aden, but whether they have not shown themselves sufficiently often to render their appearance familiar, or the curiosity of the people is not easily satisfied, I cannot say; but I found myself an object of great attention to the women and children.
The sun having declined, the whole of the population of Aden seemed to be abroad, and many well-dressed and good-looking women were seated on the rude steps and broken walls of the stone houses before-mentioned. As they saw me smiling upon them, they drew nearer, salaamed, and laughed in return, and appeared to examine my dress as closely as the open doors of the palanquin would permit. Some of the very little children turned away in horror from a white face, but the greater number seemed much pleased with the notice taken of them. While waiting a few minutes for my party, my bearers wanted to drive them away, but this I would not permit, and we carried on a very amicable intercourse by signs, both being apparently mutually delighted with each other. Their vivacity and good-humour made a favourable impression upon my mind, and I should like to have an opportunity of becoming better acquainted with them, feeling strongly tempted to proceed to Aden on my return to England in a sailing vessel, and await there the arrival of a steamer to convey me up the Red Sea to Cosseir or to Suez.
I was offered a present of a milch-goat at Aden, but not being able to consult with the captain of the Berenice concerning its introduction on board, I did not like to allow the poor creature to run any risk of neglect. Its productiveness would soon have diminished on board a steamer, and it was so useful in a place like Aden, that I could not feel justified in taking it away for my own gratification. I obtained, however, a bottle of milk, and when I got on board, having dined early, and being moreover exhausted with my journey, as I was only recovering from an attack of fever, I wished to have some tea. This was too great an indulgence to be granted by the petty authorities who ruled over the passengers. Unfortunately, upon leaving Suez, I had given away all my tea to my servant, Mohammed, who was fond of it, nothing doubting that I should be able to procure as much as I pleased on board the steamer. The refusal was the more provoking, as there was plenty of boiling water ready, and I had humbly limited my request to a spoonful of tea. Under the circumstances, I was obliged to content myself with milk and water: had the captain or the surgeon of the vessel been at hand, I should doubtless have been supplied with every thing I wanted, but in their absence, it was impossible to procure a single article. Upon one occasion, while tea was serving, a passenger in the saloon asked for a cup, and was told to go upon deck for it.
I also procured a supply of soda water at Aden. I had suffered much from the want of this refreshing beverage during my fever, the supply taken on board having been exhausted on the voyage up. The passengers down the Red Sea have the disadvantage of sailing with exhausted stores. It seems hardly fair to them, especially in cases of illness, that the whole of any particular article should be given to the people who embark at Bombay, they having a right to expect that, as they pay the same price, a portion should be reserved for their use.
On the second day after our departure from Aden--that is, the 22nd of October--we arrived at Makallah. It was mid-day before the vessel ceased to ply her engines, and though invited to go on shore, as we could not penetrate beyond the walls of the town, we thought it useless to exchange our cabins for a hot room in the mansion of its ruler. The town of Makallah, which forms the principal commercial depot of the south-west of Arabia, is built upon a rocky platform of some length, but of very inconsiderable width, backed by a perfect wall of cliffs, and bounded in front by the sea. It seems tolerably well built for an Arabian town, many of the houses being of a very respectable appearance, two or more stories in height, and ornamented with small turrets and cupolas: the nakib, or governor's residence, is large, with a high square tower, which gives it the air of a citadel.
There is not a tree or shrub to be seen, the absence of vegetation investing the place with a character of its own, and one that harmonizes with the bold and bare rocks which bound the coast on either side. We were told that, between two ranges of hills close to the entrance of the town, a beautiful green valley occurred, watered by delicious springs, and shaded by date-trees. Had we arrived at an early period of the morning, we might have spent the day on this delightful place, proceeding to it on the backs of camels or donkeys, or even on foot; but it being impossible to get thither while the sun was in full power, we were obliged to content ourselves with a description of its beauties.
Although a very good understanding exists between our Government and that of Makallah, which has for some time been a depot of coal for the use of the steamers, it is not advisable for visitors to proceed very far from the town without protection. A midshipman belonging to the Indian navy having gone on shore for the purpose of visiting the valley before-mentioned, and straying away to some distance, attracted by the beauty of the scenery, was suddenly surrounded by a party of Bedouins, who robbed him of all he possessed, cutting off the buttons from his clothes, under the idea that they were of gold--an impression which obtains all over the coast, and which inspired the people who made the last assault upon Aden with the hope of a rich booty.
The population of Makallah is estimated at about 4,600 people, of various tribes and countries, the chief portion being either of the Beni Hassan and Yafai tribes, together with Banians, Kurachies, and emigrants from nearly all parts of the adjacent coasts. It carries on rather a considerable trade in gums, hides, and drugs, which, with coffee, form the exports, receiving in return iron, lead, manufactured cloths, earthenware, and rice, from Bombay, and all the productions of the neighbouring countries, slaves included, in which the traffic is said to be very great.
The gentlemen who went on shore purchased very pretty and convenient baskets, wrought in various colours, and also quantities of sweetmeats, which are much in esteem in India; these are composed of honey and flour, delicately made, the honey being converted into a soft kind of paste, with a coating of the flour on the outside. These sweetmeats were nicely packed in straw baskets, of a different manufacture from those before-mentioned, and were very superior to the common sort which is brought from the coast in small coarse earthenware basins, exceedingly unattractive in their appearance.
The interior of the country is said to be very beautiful, abundantly watered by refreshing springs, and shaded by groves of date-trees. Amongst its animal productions, the most beautiful is the gazelle, which, properly speaking, is only to be found in Arabia; a delicate and lovely creature, with the soft black eye which has been from time immemorial the theme of poets. The gazelle is easily tamed, becoming in a short time very familiar, and being much more gentle, as well as more graceful, than the common antelope. Its movements are the most airy and elegant imaginable. It is fond of describing a circle in a succession of bounds, jumping off the ground on four legs, and touching it lightly as it wheels round and round. At other times, it pirouettes upon the two fore feet, springing round at the same time like an opera-dancer; in fact, it would appear as if Taglioni, and all our most celebrated artistes, had taken lessons from the gazelle, so much do their chefs-d'oeuvre resemble its graceful motions. When domesticated, the gazelle loves to feed upon roses, delighting apparently in the scent as well as the taste. It is the fashion in the East to add perfume to the violet, and I found these gazelles would eat with much zest roses that had been plentifully sprinkled with their extract, the goolabee paanee, so greatly in request. The gazelle is also very fond of crisply-toasted bread, a taste which must be acquired in domestication. It is a courageous animal, and will come readily to the assault, butting fiercely when attacked. In taking a gazelle away from Arabia, it should be carefully guarded against cold and damp, and if not provided with water-proof covering to its feet, would soon die if exposed to the wet decks of a ship.
We had lost at Aden our fellow-passenger, whom I have mentioned as having assumed the Turkish dress for the purpose of penetrating into the interior of Abyssinia. He depended, in a great measure, for comfort and safety, upon two native priests, whom he had brought with him from Cairo, and who, in return for his liberality, had promised all the protection and assistance in their power. He left us with the good wishes of all the party, and not without some fears in the breasts of those who contemplated the hazards which he ran. Young and good-looking, he had, with pardonable, but perhaps dangerous, vanity, studied the becoming in his costume, which was composed of the very finest materials. His long outer garment, of a delicate woollen texture, was lined throughout with silk, and the crimson cap, which he wore upon his head, was converted into a turban by a piece of gold muslin wound round it. He expected nothing less than to be plundered and stripped of this fine apparel, and it will be well for him should he escape with life. The adventure and the romance of the undertaking possessed great charms, and he talked, after spending some years in a wild and wandering career, of sitting down quietly in his paternal halls, introducing as many of the Egyptian customs as would be tolerated in a Christian country.
A short residence in Cairo proves very captivating to many Englishmen; they like the independent sort of life which they lead; their perfect freedom from all the thralls imposed by society at home, and, when tired of dreaming away existence after the indolent fashion of the East, plunge into the surrounding deserts, and enjoy all the excitement attendant upon danger. Numerous anecdotes were related to me of the hardships sustained by young English travellers, who, led by the spirit of adventure, had trusted themselves to the Bedouins, and, though escaping with life, had suffered very severely from hunger, thirst, and fatigue. I have no reason to doubt the veracity of one of these enterprising tourists, who assured me that he had passed through the holy city of Mecca. According to his account, he had made friends with an Arab boy, who offered to afford him a glimpse of the city, provided he would consent to pass rapidly through it, at an early hour in the morning. Accordingly, disguised in Mohamedan garb, and mounted upon a camel, they entered and quitted it at opposite ends, without exciting curiosity or remark. Of course, he could see nothing but the exterior of the houses and mosques, only obtaining a partial view of these; but, considering the difficulty and peril of the undertaking, the pleasure of being able to say that he had succeeded in an achievement which few would be daring enough to attempt, was worth running some risks.
Notwithstanding the intolerant spirit generally manifested by the Arabs, those English strangers who embrace their way of life for a time frequently attach them very strongly to their persons, obtaining concessions from them which could scarcely be expected from a people so bigoted in their religious opinions, and entertaining so contemptible an opinion of those who are followers of other creeds. In spite of the faults of his character--for he is frequently deceitful, treacherous, cruel, and covetous--the Arab of the desert is usually much respected by the dwellers in towns. His independent spirit is admired by those who could not exist without the comforts and conveniences of life, which he disdains. It is no uncommon sight, either at Cairo or Alexandria, to see a handsome young Bedouin, splendidly attired, lodging in the open street by the side of his camel, for nothing will persuade him to sleep in a house; he carries the habits of the desert into the city, and in the midst of congregated thousands, dwells apart.
We, who merely crossed the desert from Cairo to Suez, could form little idea of the pleasures which a longer sojourn and more extended researches would afford--the poetry of the life which the Arab leads. Nothing, I was told, could exceed the enjoyments of the night, when, after a day of burning heat, the cool breezes came down from elevated valleys, occurring between the ranges of hills which I had observed with so much interest. This balmy air brings with it perfumes wafted from sweet-scented flowers, which spring spontaneously in the green spots known to the gazelle, who repairs to them to drink. Although the dews are heavy, the Arab requires no more protection than that afforded by his blanket, and he lies down under the most glorious canopy, the broad vault of heaven with its countless spangles, no artificial object intervening throughout the large circle of that wide horizon. Here, his ablutions, prayers, and evening-meal concluded, he either sinks into profound repose, or listens to the tales of his companions, of daring deeds and battles long ago, or the equally interesting though less exciting narratives of passing events; some love-story between persons of hostile tribes, or the affection of a betrothed girl for a stranger, and its melancholy consequences.
Notwithstanding the slight estimation in which the sex is held by the fierce and jealous Arab--jealous more from self-love than from any regard to the object that creates this feeling--there is still much of the romantic to be found in his domestic history. English travellers, who have acquired a competent knowledge of the language, may collect materials for poems as tragical and touching as those which Lord Byron loved to weave. I could relate several in this place, picked up by my fellow-travellers, but as they may at some period or other desire to give them to the public themselves, it would be scarcely fair to anticipate their intention.
We now began to look out with some anxiety for the arrival of the steamer at Bombay, speculating upon the chances of finding friends able to receive us. As we drew nearer and nearer, the recollection of the good hotels which had opened their hospitable doors for us in the most unpromising places, caused us to lament over the absence of similar establishments at the scene of our destination. Bombay has been aptly denominated the landing-place of India; numbers of persons who have no acquaintance upon the island pass through it on their way to Bengal, or to the provinces, and if arriving by the Red Sea, are totally unprovided with the means of making themselves comfortable in the tents that may be hired upon their landing.
A tent, to a stranger in India, appears to be the most forlorn residence imaginable, and many cannot be reconciled to it, even after long custom. To those, however, who do not succeed in obtaining invitations to private houses, a tent is the only resource. It seems scarcely possible that the number of persons, who are obliged to live under canvas on the Esplanade, would not prefer apartments at a respectable hotel, if one should be erected for the purpose; yet it is said that such an establishment would not answer. Bombay can never obtain the pre-eminence over Calcutta, which it is so anxious to accomplish, until it will provide the accommodation for visitors which the City of Palaces has afforded during several years past. However agreeable the overland journey may be, it cannot be performed without considerable fatigue.
The voyage down the Red Sea, in warm weather especially, occasions a strong desire for rest; even those persons, therefore, who are so fortunate as to be carried off to friends' houses, immediately upon their arrival, would much prefer the comfort and seclusion of a hotel, for the first day or two at least. The idea of going amongst strangers, travel-soiled and travel-worn, is anything but agreeable, more particularly with the consciousness that a week's baths will scarcely suffice to remove the coal-dust collected in the steamers of the Red Sea: for my own part, I contemplated with almost equal alarm the prospect of presenting myself immediately upon the termination of my voyage, or of being left, on the charge of eight rupees per diem, to the tender mercies of the vessel.
We entered the harbour of Bombay in the evening of the 29th of October, too late to contemplate the beauty of its scenery, there being unfortunately no moon. As soon as we dropped anchor, a scene of bustle and excitement took place. The boxes containing the mails were all brought upon deck, the vessel was surrounded with boats, and the first news that greeted our ears--news that was communicated with great glee--was the damage done by fire to the Atalanta steamer. This open manifestation, by the officers of the Indian navy, of dislike to a service to which they belong, is, to say the least of it, ill-judged. A rapid increase in the number of armed steam-vessels may be calculated upon, while the destruction of half of those at present employed would scarcely retard the progress of this mighty power--a power which may alter the destinies of half the world. The hostility, therefore, of persons who cannot hope by their united opposition to effect the slightest change in the system, becomes contemptible.
It is a wise proverb which recommends us not to show our teeth unless we can bite. To expose the defects of steamers, may produce their remedy; but to denounce them altogether, is equally useless and unwise, since, however inconvenient they may be, no person, with whom despatch is an object, will hesitate to prefer them to a sailing-vessel; while every officer, who takes the Queen's or the Company's pay, should consider it to be his duty to uphold the service which tends to promote the interests of his country.