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remind us of the truth and power of God, here so often displayed
-we may hear the low, unceasing murmur of “that ancient river, the river Kishon,” as it flows fast by Carmel to the sea.
J. D. BURNS.
DAMASCUS AND LONDON. DAMASCUS is one of the greatest and most truly oriental cities in the world; let us, therefore, for our amusement and instruction, compare it in its general external features with London. In this way we may, perhaps, be able to get a clear idea of an oriental city.
From the dome of St. Paul's you behold London lying before and around, like a wide, waving, endless sea of slates, tiles, houses, churches, spires and monuments of all kinds. The eye is relieved with the heights and the hollows, the great and the little, the lowly lanes and the heaven-pointing spires. In Damascus the scene is very different: there is much less variety; no spires, but multitudes of domes upon the mosques, and baths surmounted by little minarets. The houses are all flat-roofed, and the hue of the whole is a dim ash colour. A stillness like that of the dead reigns over the whole scene, and the city, surrounded with its celebrated and evergreen gardens, suggests the idea of a ship sailing away through an ocean of verdure. Dun walls, flat roofs, domes and minarets, the stillness of death and the verdure of paradise, make up the elements of this most charming oriental
Tradition tells that Mohammed refused to enter the city, saying, “As there is only one paradise allotted to man, I shall reserve mine for the future world.”
London and most large western cities are very often surmounted by clouds of smoke, owing to the coldness of the climate and the great consumption of coal. The sky over Damascus appears as bright and serene as elsewhere. The climate renders, for the greater part of the year, little or no fire necessary; and the little that is used is not from coal, but wood or charcoal.
The rooms have neither chimneys nor fire-places, and, except for the preparation of the supper, fire is rarely required during the course of the
day. Hence the oriental city is not encircled with a graceful wreath of smoke, to remind you either of an ungenial clime or of the progress of mechanical genius.
But approach the city. All seems very still and quiet. Is it an enchanted capital, whose inhabitants have been turned into stone or brass ? No; but the streets are not paved; there are no wheel-carriages of any kind; the shoes, more like foot-gloves than shoes, have no nails; no cotton-mills lift up their voice in the streets; all those noisy triumphs of mechanical genius, in the way of forging, spinning, weaving, beetling, which are so frequent among us, are unknown in Damascus. The Easterns hold on their old course steadily, and yield to no seductions of novelty: the water-pump was invented in Alexandria, but the inhabitants prefer the ancient well and bucket. But if the ear is not saluted with the roar and turbulence of mills, forges, and mechanical operations, Damascus has its own peculiar sounds, not less various and interesting in their way. The streets are filled with innumerable dogs, lean, lazy, and hungry-like; mules, donkeys, camels, dromedaries, &c., meet and mingle in those narrow streets, and impress both the eye and the ear of the traveller with a pure and perfect idea of Orientalism.
Our British cities spread out, as it were indefinitely, into the country, in the way of parks, gardens, summer-houses, gentlemen's seats, and smiling villages. It is not so in the East. The city is within the walls, and all without is garden as at Damascus, or desert as at Jerusalem. Single houses are, in any country, the proof of the supremacy of law as well as of the respectability and independence of labour. Life and property have not attained perfect security in the East; a pistol, or rather a musket, was presented at my breast, within half a mile of Damascus, in broad daylight. These noble gardens have no inhabitants, nor do any
fine cottages, tasteful houses, or princely palaces, adorn this fertile region, Within the city you are safe;—without are dogs (Rev. xxii. 15), insecurity of property, and the liability of being shot. The whole population, therefore, live either in cities or in villages, except in such regions as Beyrout, where European influence and power prevail. There you have gardens and single houses, much after the English fashion.
But place a Damascene at Charing Cross, or Cheapside, and what do you think would amaze him most? The number of vehicles, undoubtedly. He would say, “When will this stream of cars, cabs, coaches, carriages, omnibuses of every shape and size, have an end ? Are the people mad? Can they not take their time?' But had the oriental nations of antiquity no wheel-carriages? They had; the Jews and the Egyptians had them, the Greeks and the Romans had them, and perhaps they may exist in some parts of the East to the present time. Here in Damascus there are none. The streets are not formed for them. The horses are trained only for riding. There are no common, levelled, and well-ordered public roads. Our fathers used no coaches; they preferred the more manly exercise of horsemanship, and yielded the soft, effeminate luxury of the coach to the ladies. JVhirlicotes were used in England in 1398, for the mother of Richard II. used one in fleeing from the rebellious people. They were afterwards disused, as effeminate and unnational, until, in 1580, the Earl of Arundale introduced the spring-coach from Germany or France, which speedily became popular with the nobility. In 1601 they were forbidden by the Parliament, as effeminate; yet, in defiance of all legislation, they were common enough in the city of London in 1605. In the year 1625 hackney coaches were established and licensed ; and in 1778 the number of coaches in England was twenty-three thousand, which paid £117,000 duty. The origin of the easy suspension, or spring-coach, is ascribed to Hungary, and the post-chaise we owe to France. In London there are now about nine hundred omnibuses, each of which takes about £1000 annually. Such is the present state of coaching with us. How different is Damascus ! and how different must the aspect of the streets appear !
With us, the city is laid out in streets, squares, crescents, royal circuits, and such-like devices of beauty and regularity. This is the case particularly in the west ends and newer parts of our cities and towns. There is nothing of this in Damascus, or any of the eastern cities that I have seen; squares, crescents, and circuits are unknown. The streets are extremely irregular, crooked, winding, and narrow; which seems to arise out of the anxiety to find a protection from the sun. In the narrower streets, where the houses are high, the sun's rays are effectually excluded; and in the wider ones, where this is not attainable, the numerous windings and angles afford salient points where the passenger may for a moment or two enjoy the shade. This may appear trifling, but I bave often found the heat of the solar rays so intense and unendurable that even the sun-burnt Bedouin, the children of the desert, were glad of the least passing shade, the least momentary shelter, from the intolerable heat. In the bazaars of Damascus, on the contrary, the streets or avenues are laid out with the greatest regularity, and as straight as possible. In the heat of the day these are nearly deserted ; business is at a stand; the merchant is reclining with the pipe in his mouth, in a state of semi-somnolency, in which the influence of opium or the odour of the redolent weed has carried the fertile imagination into the regions of celestial ease, where the blue-eyed houries make a paradise more pleasing than even Demesk il Sham. Awnings are sometimes erected to protect these bazaars from the sun ; vines, too, are in some places so trained as to form over your head an agreeable defence; and always and everywhere, in these dog-days, ices, sherbets, and draughts of cooling water, are present for your acceptance at a very moderate price.
In an Eastern city you have no prospect. With us you can see a considerable way along the streets. In Damascus you feel absolutely isolated; the streets are so narrow and crooked that at the most you can rarely see a perch before you, and nothing that does meet the eye in the way of buildings has the least attraction. Irregularity in style and clumsiness of execution, combined with the absence of fine doors, all windows, everything in the shape of fronts, railings, ornaments, &c., make the impression in that respect very disagreeable. In our streets we are pleased with large houses, fine rows of large windows, tastefully arranged doors and entrances ;—everything seems to convey the idea of order, attention, cleanliness, combined with the possession of wealth and the consciousness that it is our own. We conceal nothing, for we have no motive to conceal. Our house is our palace, and though the winds may whistle through our dilapidated halls, the king himself dare not enter without our permission. Freedom has increased our property, and our wealth has enhanced the value of our freedom. Our temptation is not to concealment, but to ostentation and unnecessary display. This tendency or temptation among us stands in connection with our character as a highly civilized and commercial nation. Great transactions cannot be carried on without credit, and credit is necessarily based on the belief of wealth; so that very often, where there may be little real property, it may be most desirable that there should be the appearance of it. This principle of display, our system of banking, our mercantile character, and our adherence to truth in our dealings with one another, are all most closely interwoven; and, in connection with religious and political liberty, act and re-act reciprocally upon each other, and influence very considerably the national tastes. The mean, low door in Damascus, tells you of tyranny, concealment, and the want of confidence in public justice. Misery without and splendour within is a principle which befits a land where paper is just paper, whatever name it bears; where gold is the only circulating medium; where a man's own house is his bank; and where the suspicion of being rich may make him a prey to the rapacity of the Government. On the contrary, the noble streets, squares, crescents, &c., of our modern cities, are clear indications, not only of great wealth and power, but also of something far dearer and nobler-namely, that confidence in one another, formed by myriads of concurring circumstances, of which Christianity is one of the mightiest, and out of which flow most of the blessings of European civilization and free political institutions.