Page images

yet a faith without scrutiny is but cowardice before the truth, though zealots name that scrutiny blasphemy, and its result, if against the public religion, is ranked as one of the actual sins of the day. Our dandy is no religionist, he is no philosopher; delicately he walks through the flower gardens of life, but the brick-kiln, and the quarry, and the harvest-field, and the workshops of the more stalwart, he passes by as overstern schools for his dainty senses. His God is pleasure; and his shrine is not to be found in the temple or in the labour-field.

Yet though they numbered coquettes and fops among them, there was but little folly for all that in the "Sons of Khem." For the most part they were grave and solemn: even in their lightest arts still recurring to the mysteries of their faith, and in their grander works proving a sublimity of idea overwhelming to us of this pigmy day. But they had both luxury and humour, aye, and the spirit of beauty too among them; though many will smile at this, remembering only the stiff, flat, angular figures painted in red and blue and yellow on the walls, with disproportioned shoulders drawn in front when the figure itself is in profile, with hands long, lean, and skinny, and fingers joined together most uselessly, with large flat feet advanced before each other in a mode which rendered locomotion impossible; all these offences against artistic beauty will rise up in condemnation of our words, and we shall be voted a theorist who takes ideas for substances and wishes for actualities. Forget their delineation of the human figure, where the archaic stiffness of a rude and early time was perpetuated for sanctity in a refined and cultivated age, and instead of priests and kings (though we often find much sweetness, dignity, and grace, with all their angularity and wooden hardness), look at those things which the narrowing hand of religion had not touched. Their vases, cups, baskets, jewellery, and furniture, illustrate their perception and appreciation of beauty; while their architecture and statuary attest to their grandeur, their sublimity, their majesty; and their painted satires prove the humorousness which lurked beneath all their gravity and solid stern philosophy.

The Egyptian architecture stands alone. Neither Parthenon nor Erechtheion, neither Temple of Theseus nor Fane of Artemis, neither Olympeion nor Choragic monument, nor any of the most beautiful temples of Greece, rich as she was in all noble structures, were more harmonious in detail or more grand in idea than the Nile-washed Gods' houses. Symmetry in the parts, and a visible intention throughout the whole, made Egypt's temples the noblest buildings in the world. The heart of the nation was in the work; and when this is the case the result must be proportionately grand.

As to their satire, it must be borne in mind how massive and severe was the genius of the Mizraimites. They had nothing of the Athenian's lighter graces, they had nothing (to judge by analogy) of the sparkling wit, the rapid flow of genial life, the graceful gay luxuriousness, the thoughtless chace of pleasure, which formed the chief elements of Ionian existence; but a staid humour, a seriousness even in frivolity, a power even in weakness, appear through the Egyytian efforts of painted satiric poetry. And thus we exhume torn scrolls and half-effaced pictures of biting satire, together with sacred bird and adored divinity, together with holy amulet and mystic scarab, piled up around the blackened corse of what was once the casket of so much proud fervid life. The tombs on the lonely desert

sands give these to the Arab fellah and the English noble, and with them one of the saddest moral lessons we may learn.

In our example of Egyptian frivolity, an Egyptian dandy, we shall see whether in him, too, are not the characteristics of the nation, despite all his efforts to overlay the core of native solemness with the foreign gilding of gaiety and luxury. See him as he rises from that elegantly-shaped and highly-chased bronze bedstead, tossing aside the fine linens so sweetly perfumed and so richly embroidered, perhaps in his eagerness tossing them on the blue and ornamented alabaster head-pillow where his head has rested the whole night through, his soul luxuriating in the dreams that floated about him. Grave and decorous is his mien, for all that he is still young enough to gain pardon for any levity; his first waking reflection is, whether the gods have spoken favourably to him through his dreams, and whether they promise him good fortune during the day by the omen of the words first heard. If words of pleasant import, if a blessing or the promise of a happy future, if words of praise, or love, or kindness, then his brow is smooth and bright as a young child's, and the smiles which play around his lips have in them a world of mindless happiness never seen in the smiles of men. And lighter, too, is the weighty business of the toilet, than if weeping, wrangling, discomfort, dispraise, or sorrow, have first greeted him as he awoke from his long soft sleep. The flight of birds, favourable if to the right hand, ominous if to the left, has also the power to affect our dandy as he watches them sail across the square opening from which he has withdrawn the drapery that curtained out the sun; and by such signs as these he interprets of the wrath or favour of the gods; by such small, simple, fortuitous, events the will of the Great Creator, the design of the Awful Wisdom, is fathomed and displayed. This is called piety.

Be the auguries as they may, his day begins with that diurnal curse of civilised man, to shave or to be shaved, as custom and character make it verb active or passive. The Egyptian man of fashion and breeding would probably imitate the upper class of his country, and that upper class was the priestly. This was Mizraim's aristocracy; and wisely and mightily had they welded the political and ecclesiastical power into one giant sword of rule, under which the laymen passed as captives under the harrows. Now the priests, we are told by dear old Herodotus, shaved the whole body for the sake of a cleanliness well-prized in a country which forbade swine's flesh and produced palm-trees; and to be in this hieratic fashion our dandy passes under the knife. Perhaps it is of finely tempered steel, beautifully damaskeened, or inlaid with gold; most likely it is of this, or even a richer pattern, if belonging to himself; but if the property of the barber then a blade of metal, plain and unornamented, or simpler still, a sharp flake of Ethiopian flint shocks our fopling's delicacy and removes his hairy superfluities at the same time. But as the Egyptians hedged round all things pertaining to their religion with peculiar sanctity, and as these Ethiopian flints were used by the incisor to the embalmer, it is probable that the laity were not thus far honoured. For in all its branches embalming was a highly religious rite; and every thing connected with it, excepting the incisor before mentioned, was endowed with a peculiar sacredness unknown to the uninitiated.

After the shaving comes the bath, the most delicious of the luxuries with which every hour of the day is enframed as gems in gorgeous casings.

While he lies in the large cool marble bed, whose sides are covered all over with glowing pictures and marked with gay devices, the huge jars or amphora of unglazed porous earthenware stand round, from whence the cold fresh water is poured over him in a gentle stream by his careful attendants, and flowers and fruits are strown upon the bath to delight the voluptuary idling there. Sweet herbs are gathered up in handfuls; fresh flowers are heaped upon the stands in a pyramid of perfumed loveliness; and the finest gums and essences of Arabia are burnt or scattered round. What a heaven he lies in now! with the bright water laving his delicate body, the breath of the young blossoms and the heavier scents of the burning incense wreathing about him, every luxury of nature and of art collected there for his sole pleasure, and he himself one of a land which was supreme in the earth, one of a race which the gods loved to the exclusion of all foreign and polluted brethren. Bright thoughts are they which fleet through his mind as the clear water slowly trickles


And now his body must be anointed with unguents, and scented with other and more precious perfumes of that dear Araby whose very soil is odorous, so steeped in all most exquisite sweetness is it. The ointment is so precious that it is bought with many a one of those massive golden rings, or circular bars, which he keeps in the treasure chests and closets, piled up in small pyramids according to the prevailing fashion. After his body, not his own natural mother-given hair, but that large, bushy, curled, and plaited wig which hangs on the cedar-wood stand near his ebony dressing-table, must also be scented and anointed. The slave who pours the unctuous drops on those black threads is careful not to allow the smallest stain to fall on the carved and gilded stand. For our dandy disdains all his native woods. The sycamore, tamarisk, acacia, and dômpalm trees are not fit to form the furniture of his aristocratic chambers; or if admitted, it is only when dyed, or stained, or gilded, or veneered, or painted, that he could suffer their homeliness to make part of a collection so rare and costly. Cedar, ebony, ivory, cinnamon-wood, all and every richest produce of distant lands he diligently collects together in that place of refinement and one of their charms to him is their very costliness.

His eyes and eyebrows must now be painted with the black kohl or collyrium, which he keeps in a small case made of fine porcelain, or of the substance called the false emerald, of the lazule stone, of transparent glass, of agate, gem, or gold, as it suits his fancy. This case or bottle has separate compartments, into which is carefully plunged the slight bronze or golden needle; for it is a delicate operation, requiring skill and much dexterity. In this practice of blackening his eyes he imitates the example of the sweet women of his land, whose languishing orbs have been the theme of praise for ages long. He cannot have more bright examples than the women of his day; superior then and ever in all the graces and adornments of life man cannot err when he takes them as his guides. Our dandy thinks this, though his lips are silent, as he looks into that round highly-polished metal mirror, whose gilded handle, formed perhaps in the likeness of Athor, the dearest and most beautiful of the goddesses, brings a mingled sense of religious, personal, and human admiration, as the goddess, himself, or the woman, is the image most regarded.

His robe of fine linen fringed and bordered with purple, blue, or scarlet, the breast and shoulder-straps being worked in gold, and the full

sleeves daintily plaited, is then brought to him. It is in the hot summer solstice, so he wears no other garment save this long loose flowing linen one, which he fastens round his waist by a girdle worked in variegated colours, stiff and heavy, and rustling with gold and silk embroidery. Chains, bracelets, armlets, necklaces, rings of gold chased and plain, and others of lazule, gem, or finest porcelain, complete his equipments of a gentleman at home. The chains are surpassingly beautiful; they are variously patterned; some are formed into small pendant leaves, some are long irregular beads, some are rows of sacred amulets, the scarab and the ibis and the cynocephalus the most frequent, and others are imitations of flowers which gold and gem together fashion right livingly. Elegant sandals of papyrus or of painted leather are the last to be indued; and now the finely-dressed gentleman issues from his dormitory into that temple of art and luxury where his daily life is spent. He might be one of the gods of the Edes, he is so rich in his investiture, so gorgeous in his adornments; he looks scarcely a son of this common every-day world as he treads the shining floor so haughtily, mincing his dainty feet, and seeming as though nature had been created solely for him. His slaves feel the influence of the high superiority which riches and rank have given; and they bend their necks in all lowliness, casting down their eyes with humility, and speaking below their breath for fear, lest theiraugust master should deem they thought themselves men such as himself. Aye, aye, even in Egypt, grand, great, glorious Egypt, reigns the baleful spirit of respect for that which claims it by nought more holy than accident or arbitrary apportionment!

The breakfast or morning meal, which it is the next personal duty of our dandy to despatch, is probably light and simple, as with the Greeks, and early Romans, and all the nations of former times of whom we know any thing certain. A few vegetables, a little wheaten bread, fruits according to the season, cucumbers, melons, peaches, dates, grapes, quinces, nuts, or figs, a draught of light Teniatic wine much diluted, which he pours from an unglazed jar into an alabaster cup, the scent of the roses or bay leaves with which the amphora has been closed still lingering on the sparkling drops, complete the early repast. There is nothing of the grosser luxury of northern nations; nothing of the heavy voluptuousness of the midday meals; all is simple, light, easily prepared and easily partaken, leaving him free for what active exertion he may choose to make.

But oh! no active exertion yet! It is too delicious to lie on the painted, cushioned couch, before which is placed the round table with its gorgeous colours and well-worked carving, strown as it is with all the loveliest flowers of the Nile-gardens; it is too delicious to lie so luxuriously there, slowly sipping the cool wine, or plucking the purple grapes one by one from their curling stem, gazing on the bright river as it rushes by, bearing on its broad bosom such wealth and life; he cannot rise just yet to dispose of himself for the day. No; he will recline there some moments longer, counting the sails as they glide past, and judging from the shape and equipments of the boats on what service they speed. The merchant-gallies are easily distinguishable, by the simplicity of their fittings and the absence of all superfluity in adornment or in furniture, from those gay barks with painted sails and flower-formed prows which steal up and down the great river, bearing but one cargo of love and pleasure, bound but to one harbour of delight. Their gay streamers,

their beautiful painted hulls, their bright oars fashioned and coloured into mimic flowers, the laughter, song, and music which poured from them, made even our dandy feel a faint wish that he might for once be unconventional, for once be free and gay, according to nature and not according to society. But loud mirth was in Egypt, as in Athens, a mark of vulgarity which no well-bred gentleman would ever dream of indulging. So strictly do men think it needful to bar in yon hoyden Nature from roaming and acting at her will. Something like a faint sigh, as he hears the merry music and the loud laughter revelling on the young breeze, is followed by a glance of conscious superiority, a smile of pride as he reflects on his own patrician refinement; his high place of birth and education and riches, raising him so far above that meaner herd who might safely laugh and sing in all their rude vulgarity. Society does not revenge herself on born plebeians.

The occupations of the day must at last be commenced. It is yet very early, long before the sun has gained his strength, perhaps before he has fully risen. Our dandy has messages to send, or visits to pay, or business to attend to at his country-seat or farm, which lies on the banks of the Nile, not far from this city of Thebes in which he dwells. If he must transmit his affections or his courtly greetings before setting out, his slave brings him his painted wooden case, together with an embossed and embroidered leathern bag, very fine and soft, in which are his writing-materials. And then after due consideration, our dandy, though a good scribe, never doing any thing in a hurry, spreads before him a sheet of the best superfine "three digits broad" papyrus, and on it indites his letter in the popular or demotic characters. How highly scented is that papyrus! how delicately trimmed that reed! Who but a dandy such as ours could ever fashion lines so fine and small, so suitable for the delicate hand that traced them! With no small pride he folds up his well-written document, fastening it with a string, and inscribing it to its destination.

The first labour completed, the slaves are summoned; and after having flung over his loose linen robe a cloak of soft white wool, he goes forth into the street attended by them, and carrying, as his peculiar mark of gentility, a long cherry-wood stick which is beautifully carved and partially gilded; the same stick, or rather staff, is also used by the Babylonians; and not unfrequently it is made the index to the bearer's station and fortune. In Thebes, where the priesthood was the haute noblesse, it was the aim of every well-regulated mind to appear as priestly as he was able; hence the stick always carried in religious processions (very probably originally with some mythic intention or allusion), became afterwards a sign of high breeding in the laity, as approaching them in one outward circumstance at least with the hieratic nobility.

The sun rapidly becomes more powerful; our dandy is increasing in indolence. Then his light chariot must be brought out, for it is impossible with slaves, cherry-wood staff, umbrella-fan, and all, to face the burning heat of an Egyptian summer day. The chariot is brought, and the young noble steps slowly into the open body. The two powerful Nubian horses harnessed with straps from the head, not along the flanks, bear him like lightning through the streets, clattering noisily down the great avenues, and past the colossi, and through the squares, and by the temeni or sacred enclosures, till they bring him to his friend's house.

« ՆախորդըՇարունակել »