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ART. I. Narrative of a Journey in Egypt and the Country beyond the Cataracts. By Thomas Legh, Esq. M.P. pp. 143. London. 1816.
IT is rather a phenomenon, in these days of bookish luxury, to
encounter a volume, and more particularly a volume of Travels, destitute of the usual garniture of fine prints or aquatinta sketches, without a single head or tail-piece, vignette or even portrait of the author, but sent naked into the world with no other embellishment or illustration than a fair type, excellent paper, and a style as plain and free from tawdriness as the sheets on which it is written. Nor is this total disregard of all ornament the only point in which Mr. Legh has shewn his utter deficiency in the notable art of bookmaking: it will scarcely be credited, especially by some of our more celebrated tourists, that a three months cruise in the Egean sea, a visit to Mitylene, Scio, Delos, Mycone, and Athens-a voyage down the gulf of Lepanto to Zante, from Zante to Malta, from Malta to Alexandria, and a journey from Alexandria to Ihrîm in Nubia, 120 miles beyond the first Cataract of the Nile, should have produced only 143 pages of moderate-sized letter-press. Such, however, is the fact. Perhaps we have found a suitable companion for this unpretending volume in Norden's modest account of his travels, through Egypt and Nubia. This honest Dane, when on his sick bed, anxious for his reputation, and fearful that he should not live to arrange his observations, but still more fearful lest the mistaken zeal of others should add to his notes and observations, thus writes to his friend: It is my desire that all wandering prolixities be curtailed, in order to avoid the sarcastic imputation of the French against the learned of the North, that they never know when to have done with a subject; "ils ont tant la rage de bavarder." But Mr. Norden was no bavard; nor, in truth, is Mr. Legh. A few good plates, indeed, of the Nubian temples, and some account of the natural history of this upper region of the Nile, so very little known, would have greatly enhanced the value of the work; but-non omnia possumus omnes-and when we find Englishmen of rank, of family and of fortune, foregoing all the pleasures within their reach, for a voluntary exile; exposing themselves, with
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their eyes open, to all the inconveniencies and hardships of painful and perilous journies, to the effects of bad climates and pestilential diseases, not merely out of idle curiosity, but for the sake of seeing with their own eyes, hearing with their own ears, and of obtaining that information and receiving those impressions which books alone can never give, we ought to be proud of this national trait, peculiarly characteristic, we believe, of British youth; and so far from visiting their literary omissions with critical severity, we should consider their communications as entitled to every indulgence. On the present occasion we have nothing to find fault with but the omissions. We could have wished to know something more of the ancient country of the Ethiopians, in which Mr. Legh has gone beyond any former traveller, (that is to say, along the banks of the Nile,) except two, whom we shall have occasion to mention hereafter, and whose labours are not yet before the public.
The plague, which, in 1812, raged at Constantinople and throughout Asia Minor, compelled our author, and his fellow traveller the Rev. Mr. Smelt, to abandon their original plan of travelling by Smyrna to the capital of the Eastern empire, and to turn their faces towards Egypt. For though the communication between Constantinople and Alexandria had been uninterrupted, the latter remained perfectly free from the contagion; and so inexplicable and capricious is the way in which this most dreadful of all diseases spreads from country to country, that a Greek, who acted as British cousul at Scio, observed to our travellers he had no fear of its infection being communicated from Smyrna, where numbers were daily dying, and from whence persons were daily arriving at the island, though within a few hours sail; but,' he added, should the plague declare itself at Alexandria, distant some hundred miles, we shall certainly have it at Scio.' It did reach Alexandria while they were in Upper Egypt and carried off one half of its inhabitants, who, before this dreadful visitation, had dwindled down to about 12,000 souls. New Alexandria,' says Norden, may justly be looked on as a poor orphan who has no other inheritance but the respectable name of its father.' Most travellers agree in the melancholy feelings excited by the present forlorn and neglected state of this once magnificent city; which abounded in temples, palaces, baths and theatres; and which reckoned 300,000 freemen among its population at the time when it fell under the dominion of the Romans. The inhabited part is confined to the narrow neck of land which joins the Pharos to the continent; the circuit of nearly five miles, inclosed by the wall of a hundred towers built by the Saracens in the thirteenth century, is now, for the most part, a deserted space,