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and menials is all performed by themselves, their expenses are not very extended. The entrance to each of these convents is hy a small trapdoor, against which two millstones are rolled within. The buildings appear to have lasted for several centuries, and the walls are still firm and substantial. No praise is to be given to the Religious for cleanliness; but as the list of their furniture and apparel is very small, they cannot be frequently renewed. Human beings, more ignorant of mankind and their transactions than some of those whom I conversed with, are scarcely anywhere to be found; but the Superiors in both were in a certain degree intelligent. One of them, when I was admitted, was mending his shoes, and seemed to think little of theological controversies. The other attempted to prove to me the tenet of Monothelism; and on my expressing myself persuaded by his arguments, he seemed highly gratified. Indeed I met with, on their part, every mark of hospitality. I inquired for manuscripts, and saw in one of the convents several books in the Coptic, Syriac, and Arabic languages. Among these were an Arabo-Coptic Lexicon, the works of St. Gregory, and the Old and New Testament in Arabic. The Superior told me they had nearly eight hundred volumes, but positively refused to part with any of them, nor could I see any more. The monks are strangers to all idioms but the vulgar Arabic.'
The next account of this place is that by General Andréossy in his · Mémoire sur la Vallée des Lacs de Natron, et celle du Fleuve-sans-eau.' At the time of his visit, in 1799, there were nine monks in the convent of El-Baramous, eighteen in that of the Syrians, twelve in the Amba-Bishoi, and twenty in the St. Macarius.
• Their only books,' he says, ' are ascetic works in manuscripts, on parchment or cotton-paper, some in Arabic, and some in Coptic, having an Arabic translation in the margin. We brought away some of this latter class, which appear to have a date of six centuries.
In the year 1828, Lord Prudhoe, who thinks no labour too great when any real advantage to science or literature is probable, made an excursion to these monasteries. We have been favoured by his Lordship with the following brief account of his visit:
In 1828 I began to make inquiries for Coptic works having Arabic translations, in order to assist Mr. Tattam in his Coptic and Arabic Dictionary. On a visit to the Coptic bishop at Cairo, I learnt that there was in existence a celebrated Selim or Lexicon in Coptic and Arabic, of which one copy was in Cairo, and another in one of the Coptic convents of the Natron Lakes, called Baramous, besides which libraries were said to be preserved both at the Baramous and the Syrian convents. In October, 1828, Mr. Linant sent his dromedaries to Terane, on the west bank of the Nile, where the natron manufactory was established by the pacha, and on the next day Mr. Linant and I embarked in a cangia on the Nile, and dropped down to Terane, where we landed.
Mounting Mounting our dromedaries, we rude to the Baramous convent, and encamped outside its walls. The monks in this convent, about twelve in number, appeared poor and ignorant. They looked on us with great jealousy, and denied having any books except those in the church, which they showed. We remained with them till night, and in some degree softened their disposition towards us by presents of some comforts and luxuries of which their situation in the desert deprived them. On the following morning we again visited the monks, and so far succeeded in making friends of them that in a moment of good humour they agreed to show us their library. From it I selected a certain number of manuscripts, which, with the Selim, we carried into the monks' room. A long deliberation ensued among these monks how far they were disposed to agree to my offers to purchase them. Only one could write, and at last it was agreed that he should copy the Selim, which copy, and the manuscripts which I had selected, were to be mine in exchange for a fixed sum in dollars, to which I added a present of rice, coffee, tobacco, and such other articles as I had to offer. Future visitors would escape the suspicions with which we were received, and might perhaps hear how warmly we had endeavoured to purchase and carry away the original Selim. Next we visited the Syrian convent, where similar suspicions were at first shown, and were overcome by similar civilities. Here I purchased a few manuscripts with Arabic translations. We then visited the two other convents, but found little of consequence. These manuscripts I presented to Mr. Tattam, and gave him an account of the small room with its trap-door, through which I de cended, caudle in hand, to examine the manuscripts, where books and parts of books, and scattered leaves, in Coptic, Ethiopic, Syriac, and Arabic, were lying in a mass, on which I stood. From this I handed to Mr. Linant such as appeared best suited to my purpose, as he stood in the small room above the trap-door. To appearance it seemed as if on some sudden emergency the whole library had been thrown for security down this trap-door, and that they had remained undisturbed in their dust and neglect for some centuries.
About nine years after the visit of Lord Prudhoe, the Hon. Robert Curzon, jun., who has travelled much in the East to search for manuscripts (with considerable success), and in his travels has met with many curious and interesting adventures, which we could wish were made public, was also a visitor to these monks. We are indebted to him for the following account of his excursion :
I am sorry to say that I cannot answer your letter in as satisfactory a manner as I could wish, for I have no papers by me here to refer to, and I have forgotten some things about the monasteries on the Natron Lakes which might have been interesting to you. However, as far as I remember I will tell you. During the winter of 1837 I was in Egypt for the second time, and in the month of January or February I was engaged in a brisk chace after old books, particularly two which I had heard of at Nagadé-one a Coptic History of Egypt, which I had been told at Thebes was in the possession of the Bishop of Nagadé, who
was reputed to be a great dealer in magic the other a Coptic and Arabic Dictionary, said to be the most perfect and the largest known. When I arrived at Nagadé the bishop was in church ; but certain men brought me a mat, whereon I sat in the shade of an old wall till the people came out of church, which they presently did, with the bishop at their head. The bishop sat down by me on the mat, and the congregation sat down in a ring; and after a long prologue of compliments, and coffee and pipes, and so on, we entered on the subject of manuscripts. The bishop told me that the Dictionary was gone to the palace of the patriarch at Cairo; and we were talking about the History, when suddenly there arose a great noise in the church, of howling and clanking of chains. We were all silent in consternationand I expected that the episcopal magician had been raising a spirit; when the church daors burst open with a crash, and in the dark porch there stood a tall figure in a priest's robe, waving a great brazen censer in his hand. This apparition stalked forward slowly, when I saw he had a heavy chain tied to his legs. He came up, and sat down directly before me on the ground. “Who have you the honour to be?” said I.'“Who, pray, are you ?” said one of my men. Upon which he turned round and spat in the face of the man who had addressed him. This man, who was a negro, laid his hand upon his sword, when the other sprang upon his feet with a scream, and made a dash at the negro with the censer-a very efficient weapon when properly applied. He missed my man, and broke the censer on the stones. We all started up, and a general rush ensued against the bearer of the censer, who was with some difficulty secured and carried off. He was a son of the bishop; and, being a maniac, had been chained down before the altar of St. George-a sovereign remedy in these cases--only he pulled up the staples of his chain, and so came away with the censer before his cure was completed. But the end of the affair was that the bishop departed in the scuffle, and I heard no more of the History of Egypt. The other volume had been at Cairo, but was gone when I made inquiries respecting it to the monastery of Amba-Bishoi at the Natron Lakes. I went after it, and arrived there in the month of March ; but although there were many Coptic manuscripts of Liturgies there in a room in a square tower, it was not among them. I then went to another monastery: I think it was called Baramous. There was nothing there but a few Coptic manuscripts on paper, and a prodigious multitude of fleas. I retreated from their attack to the church, where I went to sleep on the marble floor ; but I had hardly shat my eyes when I was again attacked by so many of these monsters that I was forced to be off again; 80 I got up, and watched the moon over the desert till daylight. I then departed for the monastery of the Syrians, where I arrived in a short time. Here was a congregation of black Abyssinian monks, dressed in wash-leather and tallow, who were howling in honour of some Abyssinian saint, in a strange little room at the end of a garden, which was surrounded by the high fortified wall of the monastery. They had a library of which I have shown you a sketch, where the manuscripts hung upon pegs by long straps, in a peculiar manner, different from the arrangement of any other library I have ever seen. Besides these black brethren, there were ten or twelve Copts. The superior was blind and very old, with a long white venerable beard, but very dirty. When I inquired for books he showed me the library in a high tower, in a little strong room, with stone niches in the wall. There were some very remarkable Coptic manuscripts—the finest I have ever seen. The latest of them, as I imagine, is that great quarto which you saw at Parham. Two others on vellum were lying on the top of an open pot or jar, of which they had formed the lid. There had been jam or preserves of some sort in the pot, which the books had been used to protect; but they had been there so long that the jam had evaporated, leaving some dubious-looking lumps of dirt at the bottom. I was allowed to take all the manuscripts on vellum, as they were too old to read, and of no use as covers for the vases of preserves. Among a heap of dusty volumes on the floor I found the manuscript Dictionary of which I was in search, but this they would not sell, but they sold me two other imperfect ones, so I put it in one of the niches in the wall, where it remained about two years, when it was purchased and brought away for me by a gentleman at Cairo. You say that Lord Prudhoe fed the monks, and so found the way to their hearts. Now I have found, from much practice, that the two species of Eastern and Western monks may be divided logically into the drinking and the eating kind. A Benedictine or even a Capuchin is a famous hand at a capon, and an oyster pâte or so has great charms for him on a fast-day-probatum est ; but the monks of St. Basil are ascetics—they know nothing of cookery beyond garlic and red pepper, and such like strong condiments -howbeit they have a leaning to strong drink, and consider rosoglio as a merchandise adapted to their peculiar wants.
• The old blind abbot had solemnly declared that there were no more books in the monastery besides those I had seen ; but I had been told by Mr. Linant, the pacha's engineer, who had accompanied Lord Prudhoe, that there were some ancient manuscripts in the oil-cellar. Nevertheless the abbot denied the fact; but I got him into my room, with another father who always went about with him, and there I gave them some rosoglio which I had brought on purpose. It was very soft stuff I remember, pink, and tasted as sweet and pleasant as if there was no strength in it. They liked it much, and sat sipping fingiansthat is, coffee-cups-of it with a happy and contented air. When I saw that the face of the blind man waxed unsuspicious, and wore a bland expression which he took no pains to conceal--for he could not see, and did not remember that those who could might read his countenance-I entered again upon the subject of the oil-cellar. “There is no oil there,” said the old man. “ I am curious about the architecture,” said I: “I hear yours is a famous oil-cellar.” “ It is a famous cellar," said the other elder; "and I remember the days when it overflowed with oil. Then there were I do not know how many brethren here, but now we are few and poor; bad times are come over us; we are not what we used to be.” This monk having become sentimental, and the abbot unsuspicious, “ Well, let us go,” said I, “and see this famous cellar,
and and we will have another bottle when we come back.” This last argument prevailed. We went to the oil-cellar, which was under the great tower, and there were some prodigious pots which once held the oil of gladness, but which now sounded hollow and empty to the touch. There was nothing else here; but taking the candle from the hands of one of the brethren- for they had all followed us into this hole like sheep-I found a low door, and passed into a little vaulted room, which was full of loose leaves of Syriac manuscripts, more than knee-deep. These are the famous volumes now deposited in the British Museum. Here I fumbled about a long time, and after a good deal of digging I pulled out four books; and two monks, struggling together, pulled out the great manuscript Evangelistarium, which you have seen. It was tied up with a string.“ Here is a box,” shouted the two monks, who were nearly choked with the dust. “A box !” echoed the blind abbot. “Bring it out, make haste—where is the box ? Heaven be praised, it is a treasure.” “ Yes,” screamed all the monks, " a treasure. Allah Akbar! a box-out with it-bring out the box." Out they all rushed with the treasure, and I issued forth into the dark (for they had run away with the candle in their anxiety about the box), with three octavos under one arm, and a quarto under the other. I found no more, except fragments. These I took to my room, and the abbot and the other brother soon came after me for the promised bottle of rosoglio, which they now much wanted to keep up their spirits, when they found the box of treasure to be only a great book. They mumbled and murmured to themselves between their cups; and when they were gradually getting comforted again, I. began to say, “ You found no box of treasure in the vault; but, behold, I am a lover of old books. Give them to me, and I will give you a certain number of piastres in exchange ; and so you will have found a treasure, and I will go my way in gladness." "Ah!” said they, “ how much will you give ?” “How much do you want?” said I. And so we settled it over the rosoglio, which smoothed many difficulties. The Coptic manuscripts on vellum were ensconced in one side of a great pair of camel-bags. “Now,” said I, “ I will put these into the other side, and you shall take it out, and help to load the camels." All we could do we could not put all the books in; and the two monks would not let me have any extra parcel lest the other brethren should see it and smell a rat, and claim their share of the spoil—at least I suppose that was their reason. In this extremity I looked at each of the three octavos and the quarto, not knowing which to leave behind. At last, the quarto being imperfect, I left that, and great is my sorrow that I did so, for on looking at the manuscript again, I believe that very quarto is the famous book dated A.D. 411, now the great pride and treasure of the British Museum. However, I am glad that establishment is now possessed of it, and I hope it will be duly made use of. This is all I have to tell you of the manuscripts in the monasteries of the Natron Lakes.'