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Bethlehem or Jaffa gate, by which we had left it; having made the entire circuit of the city walls.
I cannot imagine a spot in the universe more picturesque than the situation of the little town of Bethlehem. The scenery alone, independent of the sacred associations with which it is connected, is such as to excite the enthusiasm of the traveller. The hill on which it stands is very high : the surrounding mountains are still higher; and between them and the town itself is a deep vale, planted with olives, some of them fine old trees. The soil, which is of a deep-red-brown, adds in no small degree to the beautiful character of the landscape. Little foot-paths wind along the terraced and highly-cultivated hill sides ; and many watch-towers, from the top of which a head often peeps forth, appear amongst the vineyards that adorn both hill and dale. Here and there a cottage, ruined and deserted, gives sad evidence of the destructive cruelty of war. Far beyond the hills of Bethlehem, piles of mountains rise one above the other, their dim and pointed tops almost lost in the distance. The watch-towers are built of stone; they are generally round, though we passed some square; and are from ten to twenty feet in height. Many references are made in Scripture to the custom of building and watching upon towers of this kind, to protect the vineyards, olive and other fruit-trees, corn-fields, &c. from being robbed :-(see Isa. and Matt. 21, 33.) Several other passages refer more properly to towers of defence in time of danger or war. Fruit-trees of various kinds, and beautiful cornfields, meet the eye on every side ; and the rugged rocks that jut forth from the mountain's brow are strikingly contrasted with the verdure which cultivation has produced on every spot to which it could extend. Nor were flocks and herds wanting to complete the picture ; sleek cattle fed leisurely in the green pastures, and sheep reposed in groups upon the slope of the opposite hills. Upon this lovely scene we gazed, until the setting sun sank behind the distant mountains; and we repaired to our tent, to dwell upon the deeply interesting events which render Bethlehem sacred in the
eyes every Christian.
After commenting, with equal judgment and eloquence, on the various events which are connected with this remarkable spot, Miss Platt thus describes the “Grotto of the Nativity,” its chief object of interest:
Immediately after breakfast we walked to the convent, which bears the name of St. Giovanni. It has the appearance of a fortress, and is surrounded by walls of considerable thickness, having stony buttresses. overlooks a deep valley on the north of the town. From the hill on which it stands, was pointed out to us, on the south-east, a high mountain, standing alone, called the “Frank Mountain ; the sides of which appeared steep, and the summit rounded. It seems to have derived this name from a prevalent tradition among the Franks, that the mountain was occupied, as place of defence, by the Crusaders. Far beyond was seen the mountains of Moab; between which and the nearer hills and plains, are the waters of
the Dead Sea. The convent is supposed to occupy the site of the Saviour's birth-place, and contains within its walls a church, the erection of which is attributed to the Empress Helena. The interior of the latter is handsome, ornamented by forty-eight marble columns in the Corinthian style, and various Mosaic pictures. The Latins, Greeks, and Armenians, have all their separate possessions within this sacred edifice. A flight of steps leads from the church into the " Grotto of the Nativity.” I have seen few sacred spots more impressive than this, on first descending from the church into the solemn gloom of this subterranean cave. All incredulity, as to the authenticity of the spot, was lost in the absorbing reflections occasioned by the scene itself, in connection with the wondrous event which it is desigued to commemorate. The mind of the Christian traveller is, generally speaking, more likely to be occupied by its own train of thought and feelings, to which, in all probability, those pilgrims who from time to time prostrate themselves before this venerated shrine are strangers, than disposed to investigate or doubt the identity of the spot itself. It is a cave cut out of the rock, which is limestone : and is said by the monks to be the identical stable where the child Jesus was born. It is not more than eight or nine feet in height: the floor and walls are of marble, and a marble pillar supports the roof. On the right-hand side of the flight of steps leading from the church is a recess, with a circle in the centre formed of jasper and agate, around which is the following inscription :—"Hic de Virgine Maria Jesus Christus natus est. This is supposed to mark the spot over which the star rested, which guided the Magi to the place of the Saviour's birth. A marble altar is erected over the recess; and before it fourteen silver lamps are continually burning. On the left-hand side, a descent of two steps leads to the manger in which it is said the Saviour was laid. This is of white marble, and is scooped out something in the shape of a manger. Fronting it is a smaller altar, where the Magi presented their gifts to the Holy Child. Here, also, are large silver candlesticks with wax tapers, and silver lamps, burning day and night. Several paintings are hung around, as well as on the walls of the grotto; and there are small marble columns in different parts; besides many other lamps which are not lighted, excepting on particular occasions ; those only around the larger altar and over the manger, being kept constantly burning. Hangings of tapestry and other rich material adorn the walls of the cave and sides of the manger. Besides this most venerated spot, are shown two other caves ; one called the study or oratory of St. Jerome ; and the other containing the supposed tomb of the infants massacred by the command of Herod. We visited several other small chapels, to each of which some improbable story was appended ; and another larger grotto, in which tradition states the Virgin dwelt for some time with the infant Saviour, before her departure to Egypt.
Although these various sacred places are calculated, from their present appearance, to arrest the attention of the traveller, there is so much that is utterly at variance with common sense in the traditions of the monks respecting them, that the Christian visitor will turn from them gladly, to contemplate, with feelings of far greater solemnity, facts which admit of no doubt, and need no Popish garb to enhance their interest. He will bend his steps, wearied with the outward show of veneration in which the Church
of Rome has enveloped the lowly manger where Jesus lay—and still more wearied with her inventions, without regard either to truth or reason-and will feel a delightful relief in looking round upon the simple, yet majestic beauties of Nature which characterize the place, out of which was destined to come forth "the Governor who should rule his people Israel.”
The following remark on the “Silence of the Desert,” suggested on the wild and boundless waste traversed in their journey to the Natron Lakes (Egypt), must not be passed over,-it is most simply, yet happily expressed, and rich in the truest poetry of natural feeling:
We trode the deep sand, hour after hour; and no earthly sound came across the boundless plain, to break upon its deathlike stillness. Silence and the desert seem inseparable ; but at night, when the eye ever wanders round the same expansive circle, and still rests on nought but the curveless line that divides the dark surface of earth from the dim light of heaven, who could disturb the solemnity of such a scene with words? They are unwelcome to the ear—they chill the heart: for the mind can turn but to one all-important subject, while the eye gazes on its fittest emblemeternity. Traverse the desert wilds by night, all ye long train of ceaseless talkers! and if ye be not for once constrained to silence—ah, even to reflection-talk on, there is little hope of you !
We might dwell on every page of this deeply interesting work with the warmest admiration of its varied and conspicuous merit; and we cannot refrain from again observing how inadequate must any attempt be to convey, within the compass assigned to the present notice, a just impression of its value and interest. One more extract, and we close, with regret bordering on pain, the pleasant ties of sympathy that have connected us with the diversified wanderings and adventures, so eloquently and feelingly described in this simple “Journal.”
Varied, indeed, have been the scenes through which we have passed ; and still more varied the situations in which we have reared our dwellings and laid down our heads to rest, during our last nine weeks of wandering. We have pitched our tents on the summit of the lofty mountain, and we have reposed in the deep vale beneath. We have accepted the friendly shelter of a huge block of granite, projecting fearfully from its parent cliff; and we have rested in peace in a deep gorge in the rocks, enclosed on every side by impassable barriers. We have hailed with delight a lodging on the verdant banks of a stream of running water; and we have encamped, too, on the broad and scorching sandy plain, where not a blade of grass relieved the eye, nor a mound varied the outline of the blank horizon. We have slumbered amidst the fragrant scent of aromatic shrubs; and we have been equally contented if the word “to halt was given in a field of honest clover, surrounded by an impenetrable fence of prickly-pear. The sycamore, the pomegranate, the mulberry, the fig tree, have alike afforded us their kindly
protection from the intense rays of the noonday sun; and our lowly couches have been spread in the sombre shade of the palm-grove, the olive-grove, and the acacia-grove. We have dreamed of our home amidst the loveliest flowers; we have established ourselves for the night in the pebbly bed of a winter stream; and we have found a snug retreat in some green brook, where but a few weeks before had flowed refreshing waters, imparting health and verdure to every spot within their reach. We have taken refuge outside the walls of ar Arab village, where the yelping of curs has disturbed our repose; and we have sometimes ventured to lodge amongst the miserable inhabitants within, in the midst of a court surrounded by various species of the animal creation, both beasts, birds, and insects. We had the audacity to settle our infidel house under the minarets of a Mahomedan mosque; we have lain side by side with the silent dead in the centre of a Turkish burialground; and again, amidst a silence as deathlike, have rested in the green pastures of the sloping hills, or amongst the luxuriant corn that waved in the fertile vale. We have been glad to station ourselves in a deep recess between the buttresses of some lonely convent's walls; we have looked from our tent door upon the sea through whose divided flood the hosts of Israel passed ; and again upon the distant waters of the Mediterranean, and remembered, too, that its blue waves must be re-crossed ere we should again behold our native shore.
We dwelt with deep interest on the ever-changing scenes of our days since we left the gate of Caïro to become wanderers in the wilderness; and while memory vividly retraces the long and dreary route, with each fair oäsis that cheered us in the way, gratefully we desire to own the “Guiding Hand unseen, " that has safely conducted us through the dangers and difficulties that beset our path ; and fully do we estimate the many privileges and enjoyments which in large proportion have mingled with them. Now, every thing that occasioned annoyance or alarm sinks into the shade; while all that gratified the eye, the ear, and the heart, presents itself more prominently to view; and, though it has lost the strong colouring of the present, retains a charm not less powerful, which the flight of years can never destroy.
ART. VI. 1. Poems on Slavery. By W. H. LONGFELLOW. Cambridge U.S. 2. Legends, Lyrics, and other Poems. By B. SIMMONS. Blackwood
and Son. 3. Elegiac Poems. Moxon. With avidity we seize upon books of poetry that have the stamp of genuine feeling and of imposing truth distinctly impressed upon the pages. We have now before us several collections that claim at our hands a hearty fulfilment of this general practice; and without further preamble proceed to the pleasing duty of introducing specimens, every one of which has something moving or melting, arousing or touching in its spirit and expression.
Mr. Longfellow's " Poems on Slavery" are in every sense worthy of him, and what is more, of the cause which they espouse. They contain poetical fire, they present the chastened luxuriance and the graphic description which are widely known to characterize the author's effusions; while sympathies and feelings the most excellent and purifying embalm the whole. The scholar and the poet are outstripped by the man, genius by humanity.
The whole of the “Poems" have one object, although contemplated from different points and approached through distinct channels. Mr. Longfellow's earnest, eager, and fearless aim is to hold up the Negro as one of the human species, with all the endowments, emotions, capacities, and responsibilities of an immortal; to picture his degradation and sufferings in bondage; and to awaken the white man to a full and brotherly sympathy for the slave,--to a sense of the imminent danger, the sure retribution which await the hideous violations of human rights that darken even at the present hour the history of the freedom-boasting citizens of the United States of America. We say fearless aim; for it requires no small share of heroism in a man of Mr. Longfellow's prominence to lift up his voice in exposure and denunciation of a condition, a practice, and an institution that can muster such multitudes of unscrupulous and desperate men in its defence, as the few following excerpts will indicate, taken from certain American papers. These we have met with in the Examiner, deeming the importance of the exposure, and the opportunity for making it, too great and valuable to require any apology for enlarging its extent.
We hardly ever take into our hands a book written about the United States, especially if the author be a native of the British isles, without finding that slavery, as exhibited in that country, constitutes a leading topic. The statements, to be sure, are often conflicting; although we rarely experience any difficulty in discovering, even in the most apologetic and softened accounts of the system and its details, features and facts that are revolting and terrible. When it is asseverated that the slaves are well fed and housed ; that they laugh and dance, are merry and happy, the inevitable reply is, that their degradation is thus proved to be just the more complete,—that their moral sense has been brutalized, and their understanding levelled to the things that perish.
It is proper and necessary, however, that our readers should know that there can be opposed to all the imagined ameliorations, to all the positive physical advantages alleged concerning Negro bondage in " the land of liberty," a dreadful array of wrong-doings, of savage cruelties, of deep-dyed crimes. Nor are these fearful occurrences all of a remote date. Several instances of barbarism which no nation in Europe would allow to stain her annals or to stultify her laws,which would disgrace even the stoical Rcd Indians, have within the