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It was in the early part of the year of the invasion of Syria by the Egyptians, some eight years gone, that I first visited Thebes. My barque was stowed against the bank of the river, near the Memnonion; the last beam of the sun, before it sunk behind the Libyan hills, quivered on the columns of Luxor; the Nubian crew, after their long and laborious voyage, were dispersed on shore; and I was myself reposing in the shade, almost unattended, when a Turk, well mounted, and followed by his pipe-bearer, and the retinue that accompanies an Oriental of condition, descended from the hills which contain the tombs of the queens, and approached the boat. I was surprised, on advancing to welcome him, to be hailed in my native tongue; and pleased, at such a moment and in such a place, to find a countryman. While we smoked the pipe of salutation, he told me that he had lived at Thebes for nearly ten years, studying the antiquities, the history, and the manners of its ancient inhabitants. I availed myself of his invitation to his residence, and, accompanying him, I found that I was a visitor in a tomb, and yet by no means a gloomy dwelling-place. A platform, carved in the mountain, was surrounded by a mud wall and tower, to protect it from hostile Arabs. A couple of gazelles played in this front court, while we, reposing on a divan, arranged round the first chamber of the tomb, were favoured with a most commanding view of the valley outspread beneath. There were several inner chambers, separated from each other by hangings of scarlet cloth. Many apartments in the Albany have I seen not half as pleasant and convenient. I found a library, and instruments of art and science; a companion full of knowledge, profound in Oriental manners, and thoroughly master of the subject which naturally then most interested me. Our repast was strictly Eastern, but the unusual convenience of forks was not wanting, and my host told me that they were the very ones that he had used at Exeter College. I shall never forget that first day at Thebes, and this my first interview with one then unknown to fame, but whom the world has since recognised—the learned, the ingenious, and amiable Mr. Wilkinson.

We’ve made several journeys — few of less than three hundred miles. Enormous trains, enormous wagons, with beds and lavatories, with negroes who brush you with a big broom, as if they were grooming a horse. A bounding movement, a roaring noise, a crowd of people who look horribly tired, a boy who passes up and down hurling pamphlets and sweetmeats into your face: that’s an American journey. There are windows in the wagons— enormous like everything else; but there’s nothing to see. The country’s a void — no features, no objects, no details, nothing to show you that you’re in one place more than another. Aussi you’re not in one place, you’re everywhere, anywhere; the train goes a hundred miles an hour. The cities are all the same; little houses ten feet high or else big ones two hundred; tramways, telegraph-poles, enormous signs, holes in the pavement, oceans of mud, commis-voyageurs, young ladies looking for the husband. On the other hand no beggars and no cocottes— none at least that you see. A colossal mediocrity, except (my brother-inlaw tells me) in the machinery, which is magnificent. Naturally no architecture (they make houses of wood and of iron), no art, no literature, no theatre. I’ve opened some of the books —ils ne se laissent pas lire. No form, no matter, no style, no general ideas: they seem written for children and young ladies. The most successful (those that they praise most) are the facetious; they sell in thousands of editions. I’ve looked into some of the most vantés; but you need to be forewarned to know they’re amusing; grins through a horse-collar, burlesques of the Bible, des plaisanteries de croquemort. They’ve a novelist with pretensions to literature who writes about the chase for the husband and the adventures of the rich Americans in our corrupt old Europe, where their primeval candour puts the Europeans to shame. C’est proprement écrit, but it’s terribly pale. What isn’t pale is the newspapers — enormous, like everything else (fifty columns of advertisements), and full of the commérages of a continent. And such a tone, grand Dieu! The amenities, the personalities, the recriminations, are like so many coups de revolver. Headings six inches tall; correspondences from places one never heard of; telegrams from Europe about Sarah Bernhardt; little paragraphs about nothing at all — the menu of the neighbour’s dinner; articles on the European situation à pouffer de rire; all the tripotage of local politics. The reportage is incredible; I’m chased up and down by the interviewers. The matrimonial infelicities of M. and Madame X. (they give the name) tout au long, with every detail — not in six lines, discreetly veiled, with an art of insinuation, as with us; but with all the facts (or the fictions), the letters, the dates, the places, the hours. I open a paper at hazard and find au beau milieu, apropos of nothing, the announcement: “Miss Susan Green has the longest nose in Western New York.” Miss Susan Green (je me renseigne) is a celebrated authoress, and the Americans have the reputation of spoiling their women. They spoil them à coups de poing.


“‘Scipio Americanus’ is a blockhead.”

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