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Notes on a Journey from Cornhill to Grand Cairo

Notes on a Journey from Cornhill to Grand Cairo

NOTES ON A JOURNEY FROM CORNHILL TO GRAND CAIRO WILLIAM MAKEPEACE THACKERAY DEDICATION TO CAPTAIN SAMUEL LEWIS OF THE PENINSULAR AND ORIENTAL STEAM NAVIGATION COMPANY'S SERVICE. My Dear Lewis After a voyage during which the captain of the ship has displayed uncommon courage seamanship affability or other good qualities grateful passengers often present him with a token of their esteem in the shape of teapots tankards trays &c. of precious metal. Among authors however bullion is a much rarer commodity than paper whereof I beg you to accept a little in the shape of this small volume. It contains a few notes of a voyage which your skill and kindness rendered doubly pleasant; and of which I don't think there is any recollection more agreeable than that it was the occasion of making your friendship. If the noble Company in whose service you command (and whose fleet alone makes them a third-rate maritime power in Europe) should appoint a few admirals in their navy I hope to hear that your flag is hoisted on board one of the grandest of their steamers. But I trust even there you will not forget the "Iberia" and the delightful Mediterranean cruise we had in her in the Autumn of 1844. Most faithfully yours My dear Lewis W. M. THACKERAY. LONDON: December 24 1845. PREFACE On the 20th of August 1844 the writer of this little book went to dine at the--Club quite unconscious of the wonderful events which Fate had in store for him. Mr. William was there giving a farewell dinner to his friend Mr. James (now Sir James). These two asked Mr. Titmarsh to join company with them and the conversation naturally fell upon the tour Mr. James was about to take. The Peninsular and Oriental Company had arranged an excursion in the Mediterranean by which in the space of a couple of months as many men and cities were to be seen as Ulysses surveyed and noted in ten years. Malta Athens Smyrna Constantinople Jerusalem Cairo were to be visited and everybody was to be back in London by Lord Mayor's Day. The idea of beholding these famous places inflamed Mr. Titmarsh's mind; and the charms of such a journey were eloquently impressed upon him by Mr. James. "Come" said that kind and hospitable gentleman "and make one of my family party; in all your life you will never probably have a chance again to see so much in so short a time. Consider--it is as easy as a journey to Paris or to Baden." Mr. Titmarsh considered all these things; but also the difficulties of the situation: he had but six-and-thirty hours to get ready for so portentous a journey--he had engagements at home-- finally could he afford it? In spite of these objections however with every glass of claret the enthusiasm somehow rose and the difficulties vanished. But when Mr. James to crown all said he had no doubt that his friends the Directors of the Peninsular and Oriental Company would make Mr. Titmarsh the present of a berth for the voyage all objections ceased on his part: to break his outstanding engagements--to write letters to his amazed family stating that they were not to expect him at dinner on Saturday fortnight as he would be at Jerusalem on that day--to purchase eighteen shirts and lay in a sea stock of Russia ducks--was the work of four-and- twenty hours; and on the 22nd of August the "Lady Mary Wood" was sailing from Southampton with the "subject of the present memoir" quite astonished to find himself one of the passengers on board. These important statements are made partly to convince some incredulous friends--who insist still that the writer never went abroad at all and wrote the following pages out of pure fancy in retirement at Putney; but mainly to give him an opportunity of thanking the Directors of the Company in question for a delightful excursion. It was one so easy so charming and I think profitable--it leaves such a store of pleasant recollections for after days--and creates so many new sources of interest (a newspaper letter from Beyrout or Malta or Algiers has twice the interest now that it had formerly)--that I can't but recommend all persons who have time and means to make a similar journey--vacation idlers to extend their travels and pursue it: above all young well-educated men entering life to take this course we will say after that at college; and having their book-learning fresh in their minds see the living people and their cities and the actual aspect of Nature along the famous shores of the Mediterranean. CHAPTER I: VIGO The sun brought all the sick people out of their berths this morning and the indescribable moans and noises which had been issuing from behind the fine painted doors on each side of the cabin happily ceased. Long before sunrise I had the good fortune to discover that it was no longer necessary to maintain the horizontal posture and the very instant this truth was apparent came on deck at two o'clock in the morning to see a noble full moon sinking westward and millions of the most brilliant stars shining overhead. The night was so serenely pure that you saw them in magnificent airy perspective; the blue sky around and over them and other more distant orbs sparkling above till they glittered away faintly into the immeasurable distance. The ship went rolling over a heavy sweltering calm sea. The breeze was a warm and soft one; quite different to the rigid air we had left behind us two days since off the Isle of Wight. The bell kept tolling its half-hours and the mate explained the mystery of watch and dog-watch. The sight of that noble scene cured all the woes and discomfitures of sea-sickness at once and if there were any need to communicate such secrets to the public one might tell of much more good that the pleasant morning-watch effected; but there are a set of emotions about which a man had best be shy of talking lightly--and the feelings excited by contemplating this vast magnificent harmonious Nature are among these. The view of it inspires a delight and ecstasy which is not only hard to describe but which has something secret in it that a man should not utter loudly. Hope memory humility tender yearnings towards dear friends and inexpressible love and reverence towards the Power which created the infinite universe blazing above eternally and the vast ocean shining and rolling around--fill the heart with a solemn humble happiness that a person dwelling in a city has rarely occasion to enjoy. They are coming away from London parties at this time: the dear little eyes are closed in sleep under mother's wing. How far off city cares and pleasures appear to be! how small and mean they seem dwindling out of sight before this magnificent brightness of Nature! But the best thoughts only grow and strengthen under it. Heaven shines above and the humble spirit looks up reverently towards that boundless aspect of wisdom and beauty. You are at home and with all at rest there however far away they may be; and through the distance the heart broods over them bright and wakeful like yonder peaceful stars overhead. The day was as fine and calm as the night; at seven bells suddenly a bell began to toll very much like that of a country church and on going on deck we found an awning raised a desk with a flag flung over it close to the compass and the ship's company and passengers assembled there to hear the Captain read the Service in a manly respectful voice. This too was a novel and touching sight to me. Peaked ridges of purple mountains rose to the left of the ship--Finisterre and the coast of Galicia. The sky above was cloudless and shining; the vast dark ocean smiled peacefully round about and the ship went rolling over it as the people within were praising the Maker of all. In honour of the day it was announced that the passengers would be regaled with champagne at dinner; and accordingly that exhilarating liquor was served out in decent profusion the company drinking the Captain's health with the customary orations of compliment and acknowledgment. This feast was scarcely ended when we found ourselves rounding the headland into Vigo Bay passing a grim and tall island of rocky mountains which lies in the centre of the bay. Whether it is that the sight of land is always welcome to weary mariners after the perils and annoyances of a voyage of three days or whether the place is in itself extraordinarily beautiful need not be argued; but I have seldom seen anything more charming than the amphitheatre of noble hills into which the ship now came-- all the features of the landscape being lighted up with a wonderful clearness of air which rarely adorns a view in our country. The sun had not yet set but over the town and lofty rocky castle of Vigo a great ghost of a moon was faintly visible which blazed out brighter and brighter as the superior luminary retired behind the purple mountains of the headland to rest. Before the general background of waving heights which encompassed the bay rose a second semicircle of undulating hills as cheerful and green as the mountains behind them were grey and solemn. Farms and gardens convent towers white villages and churches and buildings that no doubt were hermitages once upon the sharp peaks of the hills shone brightly in the sun. The sight was delightfully cheerful animated and pleasing. Presently the Captain roared out the magic words "Stop her!" and the obedient vessel came to a stand-still at some three hundred yards from the little town with its white houses clambering up a rock defended by the superior mountain whereon the castle stands. Numbers of people arrayed in various brilliant colours of red were standing on the sand close by the tumbling shining purple waves: and there we beheld for the first time the Royal red and yellow standard of Spain floating on its own ground under the guardianship of a light blue sentinel whose musket glittered in the sun. Numerous boats were seen incontinently to put off from the little shore. ...