Εικόνες σελίδας
Ηλεκτρ. έκδοση

tion of it may contribute to thy amusement, if not to thy instruction.

A few days since, just as I had finished my coffee, and was perfuming, my whiskers preparatory to a morning walk, I was waited upon by an inhabitant of this place, a gay young infidel, who has of late cultivated my acquaintance. He presented me with a square bit of painted pasteboard, which he informed me, would entitle me to admittance to the city assembly. Curious to know the meaning of a phrase which was entirely new to me, I requested an explanation ; when my friend informed me that the assembly was a numerous concourse of young people of both sexes, who, on certain occasions, gathered Together to dance about a large room with violent gesticulation, and try to out-dress each other. “In short," said he, “ If you wish to see the natives in all their glory, there's no place like the city assembly; so you must go there and sport your whiskers." Though the matter of sporting my whiskers was considerably beyond my apprehension, yet I now began, as I thought, to understand him. Í had heard of the war dances of the natives, which are a kind of religious institution, and had little doubt but that this must be a solemnity of the kind-upon a prodigious great scale. Anxious as I am to contemplate these strange people in every situation, I willingly acceded to his proposal, and, to be more at ease, I de termined to lay aside my Turkish dress, and appear in plain garments of the fashion of this country, as is my custom whenever I wish to mingle in a crowd, without exciting the attention of the gaping multitude.

It was long after the shades of night had fallen, before my friend appeared to conduct me to the assembly. “ These infidels,” thought I, "shroud themselves in mystery, and seek the aid of gloom and darkness, to heighten the solemnity of their pious orgies. Resolving to conduct myself with that decent respect, which every stranger owes to the customs of the land in which he som journs, I chastised my features into an expression of sober reverence, and stretched my face into a degree of longitude suitable to the ceremony I was about to witness. Spite of myself, I felt an emotion of awe stealing over my senses as I approached the majestic pile. My imagination pictured something similar to a descent into the cave of Dom-Daniel, where the necromancers of the East are taught their infernal arts. I entered with the same gra

vity of demeanour that I would have approached the holy temple of Mecca, and bowed my head three times as I passed the threshold.-—" Head of the mighty Amrou!!! thought I, on being ushered into a splendid saloon, “what a display is here! surely I am transported to the mansions of the Houris, the elysium of the faithful!”—How tame appeared all the descriptions of enchanted palaces in our Arabian poetry! Where ever I turned my eyes, the quick glances of beauty dazzled my vision and ravished my heart: lovely virgins fluttered by me, darting imperial looks of conquest, or beaming such smiles of invitation, as did Gabriel when he beckoned our holy prophet to heaven. Shall I own the weakness of thy friend, gond Muley ?--while thus gazing on the enchanting scene be. fore me, I for a moment forgot my country, and even the memory of my three-and-twenty wives faded from my heart; my thoughts were bewildered and led astray, by the charms of these bewitching savages, and I sunk, for a while, into that delicious state of mind where the senses, all enchanted and all striving for mastery, produce an endless variety of tumultuous, yet pleasing emotions. Oh, Muley, never shall I again wonder that an infidel should prove a recreant to the single solitary wife allotted him, when even thy friend, armed with all the precepts of Mahomet, can so easily prove faithless to three-andtwenty !

“ Whither have you led me ?'' said I, at length, to my companion, “and to whom do these beautiful creatures belong ? certainly this must be the seraglio of the grand bashaw of the city, and a most happy bashaw must he be, to possess treasures which even his highness of Tripoli cannot parallel.” “Have a care,” cried my companion, "how you talk of seraglios, or you will have all these gentle nymphs about your ears; for seraglio is a word which beyond all others, they abhor :-most of them," continued he, “ have no lord and master, but come here to catch one-they're in the market, as we term it.Ah, ha!” said I, exultingly, “then you really have a fair, or slave market, such as we have in the East, where the faithful are provided with the choicest virgins of Georgia and Circassia ?—by our glorious sun of Afric, but I should like to select some ten or a dozen wives from so lovely an assemblage ! pray what would you suppose they might be bought for ?"

Before I could receive an answer, my attention was attracted by two or three good-looking middle-sized men,

[ocr errors]

who being dressed in black, a colour universally worn in this country by the muftis and dervises, I immediately concluded to be high priests, and was confirmed in my original opinion that this was a religious ceremony, These reverend personages are entitled managers, and enjoy unlimited authority in the assemblies, being armed with swords, with which, I am told, they would infallibly put any lady to death who infringed the laws of the temple. They walked round the room with great solemnity, and, with an air of profound importance and mystery, put a little piece of folded paper in each fair hand, which I concluded were religious talismans. One of them dropped on the floor, whereupon I slily put my foot on it, and, watching an opportunity, picked it up unobserved, and found it to contain some unintelligible words and the mystic number 9. What were its virtues I know not; except that I put it in my pocket, and have hitherto been preserved from my fit of the lumbago, which I generally have about this season of the year ever since I tumbled into the well of Zim-zim on my pilgrimage to Mecca. I enclose it to thee in this letter, presuming it to be particularly serviceable against the dangers of thy profession.

Shortly after the distribution of these talismans, one of the high priests stalked into the middle of the room with great majesty, and clapped his hands three times : a loud explosion of music succeeded from a number of black, yellow, and white musicians, perched in a kind of cage over the grand entrance. The company were thereupon thrown into great confusion and apparent consternation.—They hurried to and fro about the room, and at length formed themselves into little groups of eight persons, half male and half female ;—the music struck into something like harmony, and, in a moment, to my utter astonishment and dismay, they were all seized with what I concluded to be a paroxysm of religious phrensy, tossing about their heads in a ludicrous style from side to side, and indulging in extravagant contortions of figure ; —now throwing their heels into the air, and anon whirling round with the velocity of the eastern idolators, who think they pay a grateful homage to the sun by imitating his motions. I expected every moment to see them fall down in convulsions, foam at the mouth, and shriek with fancied inspiration. As usual the females seemed most lervent in their religious exercises, and performed them

with a melancholy expression of feature that was peculiarly touching; but I was highly gratified by the exemplary conduct of several male devotees, who, though their gesticulations would intimate a wild merriment of the feelings, maintained throughout as inflexible a gravity of countenance as so many monkeys of the island of Borneo at their antics.

" And pray,” said I, “who is the divinity that presides in this splendid 'mosque ?"— The divinity! Oh, I understand-you mean the belle of the evening; we have a new one every season. The one at present in fashion is that lady you see yonder, dressed in white, with pink ribbons, and a crowd of adorers around her.” "Truly," cried I, “this is the pleasantest deity I have encountered in the whole course of my travels; -o familiar, so condescending, and so merry withal ;-why, her very worshippers take her by the hand, and whisper in her ear."

"My good Mussulman,” replied my friend with great gravity," I perceive you are completely in an error concerning the intent of this ceremony. You are now in a place of public amusement, not of public worship; and the pretty looking young men you see making such violent grotesque distortions are merely indulging in our favourite amusement of dancing." "I cry your mercy,' exclaimed I, “these then are the dancing men and women of the town, such as we have in our principal cities, who hire themselves out for the entertainment of the wealthy ;-but, pray who pays them for this fatiguing exhibition ?"--My friend regarded me for a moment with an air of whimsical perplexity, as if doubtful whether I was in jest or in earnest Sblood man,”: cried he, “these are some of our greatest people, our fashionables, who are merely dancing here for amusement.” Dancing for amusement ! think of that, Muley !—thou, whose greatest pleasure is to chew opium, smoke tobacco, loll on a couch, and doze thyself into the regions of the Houris ! Dancing for amusement !--shall I never cease having occasion to laugh at the absurdities of these barbarians, who are laborious in their recreations, and indolent only in their hours of business !-Dancing for amusement !--the very idea makes my bones ache, and I never think of it without being obliged to apply my handkerchief to my forehead, and fan myself into some degree of coolness.

"And pray," said I, when my astonishment had a

little subsided, “ do these musicians also toil for amusement, or are they confined to their cage, like birds, to sing for the gratification of others? I should think the former was the case, from the animation with which they flourish their elbows. “Not so," replied my friend, "they are well paid, which is no more than just, for I assure you they are the most important personages in the room. The fiddler puts the whole assembly in motion, and directs their movements, like the master of a puppetshow, who sets all his pasteboard gentry kicking by a jerk of his fingers. There now, look at that dapper little gentleman yonder, who appears to be suffering the pangs of dislocation in every limb: he is the most expert puppet in the room, and performs not so much for his own amusement, as for that of the bystanders.” Just then, the little gentleman having finished one of his paroxysms of activity, seemed to be looking round for applause from the spectators. Feeling myself really much obliged to him for his exertions, I made him a low bow of thanks, but nobody followed my example, which I thought a singular instance of ingratitude.

Thou wilt perceive, friend Muley, that the dancing of these barbarians is totally different from the science professed by thee in Tripoli; the country, in fact, is afflicted by numerous epidemical diseases, which travel from house to house, from city to city, with the regularity of a caravan. Among these, the most formidable is this dancing mania, which prevails chiefly throughout the winter. It at first seized on a few people of fashion, and being indulged in moderation was a cheerful exercise ; but in a little time, by quick advances, it infected all classes of the community, and became a raging epidemic. The doctors immediately, as is their usual way, instead of devising a remedy, fell together by the ears, to decide whether it was native or imported, and the sticklers for the latter opinion traced it to a cargo of trumpery from France, as they had before hunted down the yellow-fever to a bag of coffee from the West-Indies. What makes this disease the more formidable is, that the patients seem infatuated with their malady, abandon themselves to its unbounded ravages, and expose their persons to wintry storms and midnight airs, more fatal in this capricious climate, than the withering Simoon blast of the desert.

I know not whether it is a sight most whimsical, or melancholy, to witness a fit of this dancing malady. The

« ΠροηγούμενηΣυνέχεια »