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Nazareth.-Acre.-Empress Helena.- Decay of Palestine.-A Serenade. -The Tale of the Crusaders.-An Adventure.-A Night Alarm.-Approach to Nazareth.—Church of the Annunciation.-Monkish Legends. -Sincerity in Delusion.
ALTHOUGH two days have elapsed since my last short epis tle, yet I have gathered but little wherewith to amuse you.
Were it not that you will expect something from this place, I should defer writing until I had collected more materials. I will first return with you to the Wells of Solomon, and then accompany you over the road pursued by us during the last two days, and will finally bring you to the "brow of the hill," where our present encampment overlooks a miserable Arab town in a deep valley; and when I shall have heard you exclaim, "Can there come any good thing out of Nazareth?" I will then find you disposed not to be disappointed at my very short account of it.
Our road the greater part of the first day was exceedingly rough and dangerous, as our horses could not, without much difficulty, keep their feet on the slippery rocks and precipices of the last spurs of Lebanon, as they are lost in the sea or die away in the plains.
On reaching the summit of the last ridge which crossed our path, we descried at our feet the whole plain of Acre, bounded on the south by Mount Carmel, and on the east by the mountains of Galilee. This was the territory of the tribe of Ashur.
From this northern Pisgah I caught the first glimpse of that part of the Promised Land of which the tribes of Israel held undisputed possession.
I will not now descant upon the feelings with which I was
so deeply imbued, while standing on a spot where so many thousand pilgrims, during fifteen hundred years past, have contemplated the same scenes. You can more readily imagine than I can describe them.
Descending from this height, we crossed the division line between Syria and Palestine.
We met several caravans of camels going to Tyre, not laden, however, with the spices of Yemen or with the balm of Gilead, wherewith to trade in her fairs; but with articles of the first necessity, grain and salt.
This first portion I had seen of the land of promise was but a poor specimen, being unfit for cultivation; it is occupied as pasturage, and we saw many very large herds of cattle and flocks of goats. At a well which we passed the herdsmen were drawing water for them, which called to mind many scenes referred to in the scriptures, as having occurred at similar places under the same circumstances. There is a curious race of goats in this country, all black, with ears twelve or fourteen inches long. The sheep are of the singular broad-tailed species; but I saw none of these appendages so large and heavy as to require a small "wheelbarrow" to support it, and to relieve its owner from its enormous weight, as recounted in notes of other travellers in eastern countries. I would not, however, question the fact that such things do exist in other countries; for the more I travel and the more I see of the wonders and peculiarities of nature and art, the less skeptical I become, and the more inclined to believe the most extraordinary and apparently extravagant recitals of other travellers, whose general accounts are, in the main, impressed with the semblance of truth.
At noon we took our lunch by the side of a noble fountain, protected by masonry and once adorned by art. Here we met with a venerable old man, who spoke good French. He gave us some curious accounts, and related a few inter
esting anecdotes of Lady Stanhope, in whose service he had been for a considerable time.
About sundown we came in sight of our encampment, in the plain of Acre, where a comfortable divan and a more acceptable dinner awaited the wayworn travellers. After our repast was over, there was sufficient daylight remain. ing to permit a stroll.
While the gentlemen were engaged in giving orders for the next day's business, I strayed some distance to a rising ground, where I had a full view of our encampment. The spot was one of those so peculiarly adapted to the purpose of a halting-place (being just a caravan-day's journey from Tyre), with its indispensable well, and lying in the direct road from Syria to Palestine. Among other reflections inci. dent to the locality, I was led to inquire of myself how many millions of travellers had lain down to rest on this spot. Doubtless not a single night has passed since the first foundation of Tyre (and, perhaps, much earlier), in which one or more caravans have not halted at this fountain for repose. Persian, Arabian, Ethiopian, Egyptian, Philistine, and Is raelite merchants here have rested their weary camels on the eve of their last day's journey to the great fairs of Tyre.
Less peaceful encampments have also been made around this well, from the time of the first Egyptian and Persian struggle for the possession of these regions, down to the last camp of Christendom flying before the legions of victorious Islam; and, still later, to the recent period when the eagles of Gaul swept from these plains the horsetail standards of Turkestan. During these musings, the last ray of twilight departed, and in the obscurity which succeeded, my imagination began to warm in proportion as objects became more uncertain. The camp-fires and lights of our own party, together with those of several other encampments near by, were easily convertible by me, while in this mood, into those which illuminated the camps of David and Solo
mon on the eve of their interviews with Hiram in his own capital, or when the latter king of Israel was journeying towards his villa in Lebanon. Although our white canvass tent, with its scarlet trimmings and gilded crescent at its summmit, was but a sorry apology for the gold-embroidered and cashmere-lined pavilion of Byzantium, yet I could fancy before me one of the latter, sheltering from the dews of evening an empress, who, with a pious and holy zeal, had left behind her the splendours of her court, and the comforts and luxuries of her home, to make a pilgrimage to the tomb of the author of her newly-adopted creed, three centuries after the death of him who died that man might live. It was not difficult to persuade myself that Helena had once, if not oftener, reposed on this identical spot, under the protection and guidance of the spiritual advisers who accompanied her in her progress through the Holy Land, and who watched over her slumbers during this first night on the sacred soil.
While I was returning to our tent, the impression made on my mind when I first landed on the coast of Syria returned to me with increased interest, now that I felt myself actually treading on the soil of Palestine, the theatre of so many mighty events. All my historical recollections, sacred and profane, came fresh to my memory; and I fancied I saw in every face a patriarch, and in every warrior chieftain an apostle.
This land was once the home of the patriarchs, the birthplace of a Saviour; it had been the scene of the labours of all the holy men of old; and, in more modern times, the theatre of some of the most bloody conflicts that ever darkened the page of history. Here the armies of the cross and the hosts of the infidel met in their deadliest strife. The Promised Land, as occupied and divided among the different tribes of the Israelites, must have contained, as nearly as can be computed from Bible history, about four hundred cities,
DECAY OF PALESTINE.
towns and villages. Nor could these have been contempti ble in size and importance, when we read in Numbers xxvi., that some of the tribes furnished upward of sixty thousand fighting men "able to go to war in Israel.”
Nothing so forcibly shows the contrast between the state of the country as it then existed and its present condition, as the fact that the whole number of places which deserve the names of cities at this moment are said not to exceed five or six, viz., Acre, Nazareth, Nablous, Jerusalem, Tiberias, and Damascus (the latter is not in Palestine, although now considered in the Holy Land). And none of them contain a population, including men, women, and children, bond and free, of more than thirty thousand, except Damascus, which is said to have with its suburbs 150,000. The villages are said to be few in number; and those I have already seen are small in size, and contain but few inhabitants, living in wretched mud-hovels, with scarcely an article of furniture beyond a mat and a water-jar.
During the night we were saluted with the hideous yellings of jackals, that came down from the neighbouring mountains, attracted by the savoury odours from our kitchen. This being the first time I had ever heard these unpleasant sounds, I became a little alarmed; but, as I knew our tent to be well guarded, I contrived to get a little sleep in the intervals of the serenade.
The next morning we rose at dawn of day, and were in our saddles by seven o'clock. Our morning ride for two hours was over the plain of Acre, so memorable from the protracted and bloody struggles between the champions of the crescent and the cross. Independent of all other associations connected with this interesting locality, it has been converted into classic ground by the " Talisman"-ic pen of the immortal bard of Scotland. On every side I fancied I could recognise some spot so graphically described in his Tale of the Crusaders. An artificial mound in the plain I pronounced at