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Chapter 65: in Europe, Egypt, and Constantinople

Early in the season of 1884, I made up my mind, if possible, to go to Europe. General Sherman, after his European tour, had told me that I ought not to undertake it until I had at least seven thousand dollars ahead. I was aware that I had not means enough to take my family; I was sure, however, that if I waited until I laid up that sum, I should never go. One day Mr. Lemon, the editor of the National Tribune of Washington, D. C., was on a visit to Omaha. He said he would pay me for monographs on the Civil War if I could furnish one a week. I thereupon entered into a contract with him which aided me to take the trip. My son Jamie was studying in Germany and would meet me at Antwerp, and we two together could make a reasonably extensive observation.

General Sheridan, then commanding the army, gave me a leave of absence, and further extended the time by detailing me to attend the French maneuvers of the Seventeenth Corps d'armee in southern France. Furthermore he instructed me to proceed to view the English war operations near the upper Nile in Africa and report upon them. The campaign for the relief of Khartoom and General Gordon had just then been inaugurated.

I sailed from New York March 15, 1884, on the [495] steamer Belgesnland of the Red Star line. I had a very pleasant voyage and was as usual not seasick.

My son James W. Howard had been for some time a student attending lectures at the University of Gtattingen. He came to Antwerp and was on hand soon after I landed. Speaking French and German, he became my guide and interpreter. In Antwerp we saw the panorama of Waterloo and different works of art; and became acquainted with some ambitious young artists who were studying, sketching, and painting in the city. One of them I remember was very kind to us. He was of good talent and promise. He became offended at me, however, at last, because one day when I was with him I compared a beautiful chromo with an oil painting, saying that in my judgment the chromo was nicer than the painting. After that weak assertion of mine, the young man, enthusiastic and loyal to his art, would speak to me no more, and I could not blame him.

At Brussels we enjoyed the fine architectural buildings and such pictures of the old masters as everybody sees.

My son and I had a good visit to the battlefield of Waterloo. As soon as I came in sight of the British Monument, approaching it from the north, I could see the favorable military position which Wellington took into his view when he was preparing for battle. The grounds have been disturbed by landscape gradings, and yet there is the well-defined crest of a long ridge behind which the artillery and infantry of Wellington were formed for action. You can see where the sunken road once was, and easily how it broke up Napoleon's cavalry charge.

I was much interested in looking at the walled hamlet [496] of Hougomont which Colonel MacDonnell, the indomitable Scotchman, defended to the last. It was in front of Wellington's line of defense, as Devil's Den was out in front of Meade's defensive line at Gettysburg. Hougomont and Devil's Den were alike useful to Wellington and Meade in contributing to final victory. These two great battles furnish epochs in history, and results hard to compare or enumerate.

My son had been in Paris before and at our Hotel de Tibre, and was glad to take me to see the magnificent public buildings, and also the statuary and paintings in the Louvre. Our eight days here were busy ones indeed. Tourists in that time could not have seen more of Paris. During my visit the Hon. Levi P. Morton was our minister to France. He received us kindly, but we did not stay long enough to accept his proffered hospitality and entertainment.

Late Sunday night, April 6th, we set out for Marseilles. We took “third class” on the cars. I had two objects in this. One was economy and the other was to see the people. My son readily conversed with the passengers in French and I could understand them better the longer I was with them. I noticed, however, that I was always treated with marked politeness and a deference they did not show to one another. I asked one intelligent-looking man the reason for this; he said, “Vous êtes un savant,” meaning that I was a student or scholar. I wished to know what made him think so. He drew his hand across his forehead, and then called attention to the crowsfeet beside my eyes. Of course this distinction was amusing and pleasant to me and to my son, who, they were sure, was a student, though he purported to be only a guide and interpreter. But this feeling hindered the more familiar [497] comradeship which I desired. However, in France we were not only treated with deference but with uniform kindness.

Our visit in Marseilles was greatly enjoyed. Notre Dame, the grand church, impressed me, and not less so when a special guide took us to see the offerings to the Lady, such as oars, ankle supports, canes, crutches, and other things which were donated, coming from those who had been healed. The guide smiled incredulously when he said that the Mother and Child had come down miraculously and rescued drowning sailors in the harbor and cured the maimed whose love offerings we were beholding. It is not a bad superstition to suppose that the loving Virgin with the Child in her arms had come down and exerted this healing power, but I felt that the guide himself did not sufficiently credit the tales.

Marseilles is an old city, and it makes a lasting impression to look upon the streets that have been in the same condition for ages. They were narrow, thronged with people, and nowhere in good police. However, many parts of Marseilles show architectural beauty and modern improvements.

On Thursday, April 10th, we embarked for Alexandria on a good-sized steamer, La Seyne, and found that there were three divisions of people on the steamer. One was the first class; the next, the second class; and the third, the steerage. The second class was the most numerous and consisted of very respectable people hailing from every civilized nation. For the first class there was but one passenger, an English gentleman, who became very lonely and crossed the line of separation to converse with other passengers. We took passage in the second class, a [498] slight promotion from our railroad travel from Paris to Marseilles.

It was delightful to be upon the Mediterranean, of whose islands and coasts I had from my childhood read interesting stories. The weather could have hardly been more mild and pleasant and we spent much of our time on the upper deck or on the bridge with the politest and most accommodating of captains, so that we were shown everything that eye could take in as we coasted along eastward.

There was one attractive French family on the steamer who seemed to enjoy our society; three ladies and a gentleman, very tidy in their dress and sprightly in their conversation. There was besides a retired English army officer about sixty years of age — a bona fide Englishman in every respect. He had traveled; had seen the world, and was willing to admit when driven to extremes that the United States was already on the road to coequal prosperity and rank with Great Britain. I only wondered, as perhaps he himself did with regard to us, why he had allowed himself to be consigned to the second class; probably because of the price.

In good time we arrived at Naples and anchored out in the offing. Our ship had hardly stopped before she was thronged with small boats of different sizes. After having taken a general survey of the situation, of the city so beautiful in the morning light, of the islands in sight, and of the mountains, particularly of Vesuvius of which we had heard so much, we slowly descended to take one of the most commodious of the transport boats. The man in charge was able to talk a little English and was very polite and accommodating. He sold us our passage at a reasonable rate and [499] told us distinctly that he would take us for the price over to the shore and back, for our steamer was bound for Alexandria and we were to be allowed so many hours ashore. As we were being rowed across the harbor I looked up and down the coast and said to my son, “How like our Seattle are the shores and approaches to the city of Naples and the city itself.” I was not disappointed in any view that we obtained that day — the clearness of the cloudless skies, the softness of the atmosphere, and the singular beauty and charm of all things that the sunlight of Italy touched. As in Marseilles, there was every evidence of modern civilization-streets that were broad and well kept, houses that were of every variety, from the neat homelike cottage to the palatial residence; but not far from the main thoroughfare you struck throngs of the poor people and streets so narrow that the buildings almost touched across them in their juttings. Along with all the poverty that comes with the poor tenement structures, there was no cleanliness observable, and I do not wonder that contagious diseases have often decimated the population. I said to myself as we turned back to the quay: “It does not do to go too near to those places which appear so beautiful at a distance.” As we undertook to reembark, a boat, entirely different from that in which we came, was at the dock for our accommodation. The man in charge cried out that the boats all belonged to the same company. We stepped in and were rowed halfway to our steamer, when the same man stopped the oarsmen and demanded of us another fare. Of course I understood the swindle and naturally made objection. The man talked to me angrily in a language I could not interpret. With some of my old impatience of spirit which [500] I have never been able wholly to quell, I seized this Italian by the lower part of his blouse and roughly set him down upon a cross seat. Just then my son cried out as he saw the man's motions, “Father, father, his knife” He did not strike me with it, but I was forced, as were the other passengers, to pay a second fare. I have never recovered from the feeling I had, to be thus publicly robbed; and I wondered how the authorities of Naples could be willing to have an abiding reputation for mistreating strangers.

The next day by 3 A. M. we were on deck for the passage of the Straits of Messina. Too calm they then were for any historic purpose.

The remainder of the voyage from Naples to Alexandria was a safe one and in every way enjoyable. Easter Day afforded us a delightful song service. When the sea was calm and the sun shining, the scenery, as long as you could see the land, was delightful. The nights also were charming; we had a bright dome of abundant starlight over our heads, and all the way to Alexandria mild April weather.

Upon the Mediterranean with such perfect weather and favorable skies it was hard to recall either the disasters of jEneas or the shipwreck of St. Paul.

Canon Kingsley in “Hypatia” has given such a lively description of the old landing places in Alexandria and of the wharf loaded with grain and other produce that Jamie and I became curious to compare the modern with the ancient. Indeed, there had not been much change until recently. Now the English and French occupation can be felt as you step upon the shore. Crowds of people meet a boat load of passengers and show the utmost eagerness and enthusiasm; and there are still on the quay, as of old, piles and [501] piles of produce, merchandise, and luggage of every description, from the handbag to the commercial traveler's strong box.

Jamie was getting wiser as we journeyed on, so that when at least twenty guides presented themselves, stretching out their hands and endeavoring with much confusion of tongues to speak English, he quietly remarked, “Je suis un guide, monsieur.” However, he sought for one determined-looking man and said to him in French that he would pay only him to get our luggage from the dock to the Abbot Hotel. That well-chosen dragoman, if we may so call him, selected our luggage and had us delivered in good form at the public house, but he could not prevent our being thronged all the way and even after our arrival by overfriendly natives, each of whom wanted to do something, be it ever so little, for our comfort. Jamie obtained some large copper coins of the value of perhaps half a cent each, and he very graciously extended one of these to every man or boy who had been of the least service. That was his polite return for a slight favor. It worked better with him than with me, for I had made no such provision, so that among the irresistible beggars my small change soon disappeared. My banker, Jamie, wisely abstained from too frequent replenishment of my denuded pockets.

A whole book could be written on our new experiences in Alexandria; the statues, old caskets in stone, mummies, all were reminders of ancient history and art which one finds in the principal collections.

During my short stay in Alexandria I was especially interested in the peculiar dress and manners of the people. I would stop long and look at caravans of camels and men of the East just loading for their [502] departure. I enjoyed noticing the women sitting back in shady places; of course, thinly clad, but in garments that had seen much service, and always with the ugly veils below their eyes. There would be adult groups by themselves, or women with children, but men with large turbans sat in stolid dignity — I mean, of course, those who are not servants and waitersthey were always separate.

As early as I could, I went to the principal Christian Mission. The “home” and the school building were just then empty because it was in vacation, so that I did not see either teachers or scholars. One day, however, we journeyed to Rameses, the place familiar to readers of the Scriptures. There Rev. Mr. Ewing and his family had a summer residence where they stayed during the hottest season. As soon as I entered their principal room I felt as if I were in the United States. It was a Christian home. The mottoes over the doors, the few select books, including the Bible and hymn book on the table, and the rocking chairs that had found their way even to Rameses; the familiar pictures on the wall and the tidy lounge underneath-everything reminded one of an American home! I felt this more as we sat down to the noonday meal with the family, when Mr. Ewing bowed his head and in a few words gave God thanks for comforts and blessings.

We visited one Egyptian residence and saw all we were allowed to see. It was an old type of living and how different from this home at Rameses We at one time looked in upon a school taught after the Mohammedan fashion: ten or twelve boys sitting on the dirt floor, going over and over again extracts from the Koran or from Sanscrit selections. The missionary [503] teaching of some two hundred pupils in Alexandria was far different. Certainly the new was better than the old.

I met in Alexandria English officers who were returning from the great expedition in upper Egypt, which at one time it was hoped would relieve the pressure upon Chinese Gordon and set him free. Gordon before this had been slain and the expedition given over for the time. One officer, Lieutenant Colonel Ardagh of the Royal Engineers, took me to his temporary office and showed me sketches of the fields of battle in Egypt, and explained to me with so much of detail all that had lately been done that I was able to make a full report to my Government. No officer of our own army could have treated me with more kindness than did this young engineer, and I was exceedingly grateful.

On Friday, April 18th, we set out for Cairo. The English railroad, here as everywhere, was very complete and the journey comfortable all the way. The rate of travel, not then very rapid, gave the observer every opportunity of taking into account this curious country of the Nile. The unique method of plowing with the buffalo, using a stick for a plowshare, the raising of water by old-fashioned machinery, the activity of the people at that season in plowing and planting very much as the people do in Mexico, took our attention. After all, however, I was disappointed in this portion of the Nile country. It seemed so like something that had been, and of which there was now but a faint reminder of the past. Here everybody spoke of streets that once existed, of towns that had almost disappeared, and the bulk of the inhabitants appeared to have little hope of anything better, and [504] therefore showed little vitality. It seemed bootless in this weary land to attempt to engraft a new civilization upon the old.

Arriving at Cairo, we found a commodious inn, the H6tel d'orient, and soon after met the missionaries who had come from England and the United States. We found here missionary work going on. There was not only the diligent teaching of children, but the faithful care of the sick in modem hospitals. Our experiences were similar — to those in Alexandria in visiting the museums, mosques, and public buildings where the Khedive was ostensibly the head of the Government, but the English and French commissioners, because they controlled the finances, had the real power. There was considerable discontent and fretting among the common people. The French were not satisfied, and the populace in general expressed dislike of the English. One could, however, perceive that English power there was safety, and, as a rule, a just administration of affairs. We were very much interested to see how a body of English cavalry were kept in bivouac in some open spaces in Cairo. Their. camp was in order, but the men were behaving very much as if they were commissioned officers; they were lying around in groups under shady trees and entertaining each other, with songs and stories, as we were wont to do when times of rest came. We found that each soldier had employed what was called a “fellah” to take care of his horse, to groom, saddle, bridle, and bring him when wanted. Surely it was almost as good as a commission to the soldier thus to be able to keep a servant at his command. It is human nature for a man to wish to have somebody below him. [505]

The next day after our arrival at Cairo we took our way to the Pyramids — from start to finish pursued by an army of beggars. My son's precaution to secure a proper dragoman and give him entire charge during the journey was indeed a wise one. In ascending the large Pyramid an English gentleman who had not taken that precaution was persecuted by volunteer helpers. One would aid him here and another there as he ascended the four-feet blocks, from one terrace to another. At last he became furious and swore at them and said if they did not let him alone he would throw them to the bottom, and I think he could have done it. Our dragoman protected us for the most part against such persecution. After our descent from the lofty height I was left alone with a guide to enter rooms that had been opened in the base of the Pyramid. I succeeded in getting up several difficult steps until we came to one room in which was found a sarcophagus long enough and deep enough to take in a giant man. The huge casket was made of granite. After ruminating awhile upon the object of these chambers and of what they contained, I turned back. At one point we came to a sharp descent of four feet. The stone was as smooth as polished marble and of great hardness. My guide turned around and let himself down to the next level. This with one hand I could not do. The guide stood back, and looking up at me smiling said, “Backsheesh, Backsheesh,” meaning a special reward. I was helpless, so I said, “All right,” and sprang into.his sturdy arms without being bruised, as I must have been had I tried to descend alone. I had given away all my change, but having a gold collar button, I pulled it out and gave it to him. He seemed satisfied and we worked our way slowly to [506] the outside of the Pyramid. The guide then hastened to find my son and told him that my collar button was not good for him, so Jamie redeemed it for the sum of thirteen cents.

A bright little boy about ten years old was very attentive to me all day. He led me to see the great Sphinx and showed me the curious phenomenon, always affectionately patting my hand and running along holding my fingers. I enjoyed the sprightliness and playful ways of the child. My son had given him a small reward, but when we had stepped into our carriage and had started, the boy ran after the carriage screaming and crying, “Backsheesh, Backsheesh!” In his judgment I had not given him sufficient reward. He stopped his crying only when the driver threatened him with his whip, and our dragoman shook his fist at him. Imagine fifty others besides ourselves undertaking that day to satisfy that large swarm of Egyptian “fellahs” who were self-constituted guides. Poor people out there in the desert This was their only source of revenue.

In Cairo we found the heat intense. The thermometer ran to 110° in the shade.

We next went back to Alexandria and returned the visits of our consul and American residents, all of whom appeared delighted to give us entertainment. The Quinebaug, a United States naval vessel commanded by Captain Ludlow, was in the harbor. He had not only paid me a special visit but invited my son and myself to accept his hospitality on shipboard. We were to sail with him from Alexandria to Smyrna. I had been instructed before leaving Washington to concert with the commander of the Eastern Squadron, Admiral Baldwin, in the matter of observing the operations [507] of the British in Egypt. Having already exchanged letters with the admiral I was glad enough to go on with Captain Ludlow to meet him. We embarked about three o'clock in the afternoon, April 21st, and were hospitably entertained. Several officers came to pay their respects to me as the representative of the army. During the night the Quinebaug pulled up anchor and set out for Smyrna. We moved slowly along during Tuesday and Wednesday and found ourselves passing numerous islands of the archipelago. Several of them like Chios, Patmos, and Samos, had familiar names. Thursday at sunrise the Quinebaug came in sight of Smyrna. The view was simply magnificent as we entered the harbor. A glorious sight in the morning light was the panorama framed in by the hills and the mountains-all as charming as Naples, and something like it in the distance. We soon saw the admiral's ship in the offing. In the afternoon Admiral Baldwin sent his barge with an officer to take me to his quarters. Then I was presented to many more officers of the navy, some of whom I had known before. It was not long before I went ashore. We made the acquaintance of our consul, Mr. Stevens, and also of our excellent missionary of the American board, Dr. Bowen. I had heard much said against the work of the foreign missions, so that I was curious here, as I was in Alexandria, to see all that was going on. There was a grand missionary work in progress; a fine school also where some two hundred students were attending. The effect of the faithful teaching of the missionary was to stir up the Armenians and interest them to erect larger buildings and operate larger schools. One's only feeling of regret is that the privileges cannot be extended. to the [508] Mohammedans. I was invited one evening to address the English-speaking people at the missionary chapel, and I had a full house. One helper, an Armenian, who could not speak English, looking up into my face, seemed to be filled with enthusiasm and emotion. When asked if he could understand what General Howard said, he answered in his own tongue, “No, but I understand the spirit of it.”

It was a great privilege to visit the tomb of Polycarp and to take in all we could of Smyrna, which is the only one to remain of all those cities mentioned in the Revelation. Smyrna has surely fulfilled the prophecy. We passed by rail out to Ephesus through rolling uplands like the hill country of Massachusetts. We were greatly interested in the Temple of Diana. Many pillars of the great structure had been excavated and each pillar was lying upon the surface of the ground. There is very little of Ephesus to be seen. It has quite another environment from the old; still we found the debris of a large city. There were the remnants of the amphitheatre and a place where many of the ancient tombs had been uncovered. There were fragments of the outer walls, and sheep cotes and shelters within them, always opening outward. All the fields round about were roughly cultivated. These lands were hard to work, for they seemed as if sown with fragments of rock. Men were at that time plowing among them and gathering them into heaps. It was difficult to realize that this was the city which the Apostle Paul had so often visited.

We returned from Ephesus to Smyrna and to the Quinebaug. On Sunday, Admiral Baldwin invited all hands to religious services aboard his flag ship the Lancaster, on which Captain Potter after service kept [509] us to lunch at his mess. Our stay on the Quinebaug gave me for the first time some knowledge of the customs of the navy with which I had never been acacquainted. There was ceremony which was kept up with great strictness, as it doubtless has to be where many people are confined to so small a space as on a man-of-war.

I soon took passage from Smyrna to Alexandria on the merchant steamer Cambodge. Captain Ludlow courteously sent us in his own boat to the steamer and we embarked for Constantinople about three o'clock on Thursday afternoon.

After two nights and a day on board the Cambodge we were in Constantinople and went to the Hotel de Pesth. The first night in Constantinople I wrote in my note book, “People, people I Dogs, Dogs and a city on hills.” As our funds were rather limited Jamie and I took rooms in the fifth story of the hotel. We had not been in the city a day before the English ambassador, Earl Dufferin, climbed the rickety stairs to our rooms and gave us a cordial invitation to spend all the time we could at the British Embassy. I had been able to give him and those with him special attention some years before in Omaha, Neb., when he was on a tour of observation, and he appeared more than glad to reciprocate. Lady Dufferin was to have that night some amateur theatricals. We did not stay very much at the Embassy, but we did attend the theatricals and once we dined with the family.

Earl Dufferin was a noble soul and an able man, and his wife was a beautiful woman, much beloved by all connected with the Embassy, and by all who knew her.

There is much to see in Constantinople. We visited [510] our minister, my friend, General Lew Wallace, whom I longed to see. From his rooms in the suburb of Therapia we went across the Bosphorus to see where Xenophon encamped his 10,000. We enjoyed Robert College and all it represented. When I addressed the students there, perhaps two hundred of them, from Bulgaria and other states, I naturally inquired, “How many can understand me in English?” Nine tenths of the young men immediately responded by holding up their hands. It was during this visit with General Wallace that he told me that he had written “Ben-Hur” before he went to Palestine, and that he had his book with him on his first visit to consult and see how near he had come to veritable descriptions of places in the Holy Lands.

The Sultan of Turkey invited Admiral Baldwin and his officers, also myself and son, to dine at the palace with him. General Wallace went with us and introduced us to his majesty. When we were seated at the table, the Sultan at one end and his two sons at the other, the guests were distributed so that the members of the cabinet and chief officers of the Turkish army and navy should sit between any two of the guests. It was to be a dinner to the army and navy of the United States. I had on my left the Minister of War and on my right some other cabinet official. Neither of them could speak English or French, but they smiled upon me and kindly helped me at table. The young princes were near me. I was told that they were good French scholars, but they did not venture to talk except in monosyllables. The richness of the plate and the multitude of courses it would take an observant news correspondent or an American lady to describe. After dinner we passed into a long hall, [511] where we had a charming reception by the Sultan, who was flanked by his cabinet and staff. General Wallace presented us all. The Sultan spoke to me very kindly, particularly mentioning the abundant services that he had heard I had rendered my own country, and referred to my armless sleeve as a badge. He was short in stature and had very much the appearance of the educated Japanese; his eyes were exceedingly dark, bright, and piercing, and his smile that came and went was very pleasant..

Captain Henry Otis Dwight, the son of a missionary and a missionary himself, who had come home to America to bear the part of a soldier throughout our Civil War and then had returned to his missionary field, was there at Constantinople. He devoted several days to our entertainment and showed us the walls of the city, the mosques, the old churches, including Saint .Sophia, the Constantine Arch, the Hippodrome, the

Obelisk, and Pera. We passed over to the other side of the Bosphorus (to Scutari) where Dr. Cyrus Hamlin's great work had been done in furnishing the soldiers with bread during the Crimean War, and there we found a splendid girls' school quite equal in quality if not in numbers to Robert College. Miss Williams, the principal teacher, married a missionary while we were there; and we saw the departure of the couple from the institution. The girls were all in tears while they threw rice after the departing couple.

I think that my most instructive visit was to a large room of the harem of a great Turk (Achmet Vefik, Pasha). He had at one time been the governor of a large province, but just then was on the retired list of officials. He had many wives but we were not allowed to see them. He spoke several languages and [512] conversed with us in very fair English. He told us that he preferred the French tongue. He was, however, fond of English books, especially of Shakespeare. He had tea brought in and served on little tables and gave us the opportunity to sit on the side cushions, or floor mats, and smoke. However, he had several chairs for us in his reception room. He was not offended because I did not smoke. The Pasha appeared to enjoy his visitors as much as we did the interview.

We had with us Professor Grosvenor of Robert College, a scholarly man who was a great favorite of this pasha.

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