Eothen: Traces of Travel in the East - A. W. Kinglake


[Illustration] from Eothen - Travel in the East by A. W. Kinglake

Neither old "sacred" himself, nor any of his helpers, knew the road which I meant to take from Nazareth to the Sea of Galilee and from thence to Jerusalem, so I was forced to add another to my party by hiring a guide. The associations of Nazareth, as well as my kind feeling towards the hospitable monks, whose guest I had been, inclined me to set at naught the advice which I had received against employing Christians. I accordingly engaged a lithe, active young Nazarene, who was recommended to me by the monks, and who affected to be familiar with the line of country through which I intended to pass. My disregard of the popular prejudices against Christians was not justified in this particular instance by the result of my choice. This you will see by-and-by.

I passed by Cana and the house in which the water had been turned into wine; I came to the field in which our Saviour had rebuked the Scotch Sabbath-keepers of that period, by suffering His disciples to pluck corn on the Lord's day; I rode over the ground on which the fainting multitude had been fed, and they showed me some massive fragments—the relics, they said, of that wondrous banquet, now turned into stone. The petrifaction was most complete.

I ascended the height on which our Lord was standing when He wrought the miracle. The hill was lofty enough to show me the fairness of the land on all sides, but I have an ancient love for the mere features of a lake, and so forgetting all else when I reached the summit, I looked away eagerly to the eastward. There she lay, the Sea of Galilee. Less stern than Wast Water, less fair than gentle Windermere, she had still the winning ways of an English lake; she caught from the smiling heavens unceasing light and changeful phases of beauty, and with all this brightness on her face, she yet clung so fondly to the dull he-looking mountain at her side, as though she would

"Soothe him with her finer fancies,

Touch him with her lighter thought."


If one might judge of men's real thoughts by their writings, it would seem that there are people who can visit an interesting locality and follow up continuously the exact train of thought that ought to be suggested by the historical associations of the place. A person of this sort can go to Athens and think of nothing later than the age of Pericles; can live with the Scipios as long as he stays in Rome; can go up in a balloon, and think how resplendently in former times the now vacant and desolate air was peopled with angels, how prettily it was crossed at intervals by the rounds of Jacob's ladder! I don't possess this power at all; it is only by snatches, and for few moments together, that I can really associate a place with its proper history.

"There at Tiberias, and along this western shore towards the north, and upon the bosom too of the lake, our Saviour and His disciples——" Away flew those recollections, and my mind strained eastward, because that that farthest shore was the end of the world that belongs to man the dweller, the beginning of the other and veiled world that is held by the strange race, whose life (like the pastime of Satan) is a "going to and fro upon the face of the earth." From those grey hills right away to the gates of Bagdad stretched forth the mysterious "desert"—not a pale, void, sandy tract, but a land abounding in rich pastures, a land without cities or towns, without any "respectable" people or any "respectable" things, yet yielding its eighty thousand cavalry to the beck of a few old men. But once more—"Tiberias—the plain of Gennesareth—the very earth on which I stood—that the deep low tones of the Saviour's voice should have gone forth into eternity from out of the midst of these hills and these valleys!"—Ay, ay, but yet again the calm face of the lake was uplifted, and smiled upon my eyes with such familiar gaze, that the "deep low tones" were hushed, the listening multitudes all passed away, and instead there came to me a dear old memory from over the seas in England, a memory sweeter than Gospel to that poor wilful mortal, me.

I went to Tiberias, and soon got afloat upon the water. In the evening I took up my quarters in the Catholic church, and the building being large enough, the whole of my party were admitted to the benefit of the same shelter. With portmanteaus and carpet bags, and books and maps, and fragrant tea, Mysseri soon made me a home on the southern side of the church. One of old Shereef's helpers was an enthusiastic Catholic, and was greatly delighted at having so sacred a lodging. He lit up the altar with a number of tapers, and when his preparations were complete, he began to perform his orisons in the strangest manner imaginable. His lips muttered the prayers of the Latin Church, but he bowed himself down and laid his forehead to the stones beneath him after the manner of a Mussulman. The universal aptness of a religious system for all stages of civilisation, and for all sorts and conditions of men, well befits its claim of divine origin. She is of all nations, and of all times, that wonderful Church of Rome!

Tiberias is one of the four holy cities, according to the Talmud, and it is from this place, or the immediate neighbourhood of it, that the Messiah is to arise.

Except at Jerusalem, never think of attempting to sleep in a "holy city." Old Jews from all parts of the world go to lay their bones upon the sacred soil, and as these people never return to their homes, it follows that any domestic vermin which they may bring with them are likely to become permanently resident, so that the population is continually increasing. No recent census had been taken when I was at Tiberias, but I know that the congregation of fleas which attended at my church alone must have been something enormous. It was a carnal, self-seeking congregation, wholly inattentive to the service which was going on, and devoted to the one object of having my blood. The fleas of all nations were there. The smug, steady, importunate flea from Holywell Street; the pert, jumping puce from hungry France, the wary, watchful pulce with his poisoned stiletto; the vengeful "pulga" of Castile with his ugly knife; the German "floh" with his knife and fork, insatiate, not rising from table; whole swarms from all the Russias, and Asiatic hordes unnumbered—all these were there, and all rejoiced in one great international feast. I could no more defend myself against my enemies than if I had been pain à discrétion  in the hands of a French patriot, or English gold in the claws of a Pennsylvanian Quaker. After passing a night like this you are glad to pick up the wretched remains of your body long, long before morning dawns. Your skin is scorched, your temples throb, your lips feel withered and dried, your burning eyeballs are screwed inwards against the brain. You have no hope but only in the saddle and the freshness of the morning air.