Page images
PDF
EPUB

daughter of Mrs. Tattam, a young lady of great talenis and acquirements, who took notes of everything which passed during their journey, for the amusement of her mother after their return. This interesting Journal has since been printed, but, as she writes in her preface, very reluctantly, at the particular request of several friends, and solely for private circulation. They arrived at Cairo on the 19th of October: having staid here for about three weeks, busily employed in visiting the patriarch and other ecclesiastics, and making inquiry after manuscripts, they set out on the 13th of November, and proceeded up the Nile as far as Esneh, visiting many churches and monasteries, both in going and returning, and inspecting their libraries, which the patriarch's letters rendered accessible. But in most of these Mr. Tattam found little more than liturgies and service-books. At Sanabou there were some very fine Coptic manuscripts, in number amouniing to eighty-two. They returned to Cairo on Christmas-day.

On the 12th of January they started across the desert for the valley of the Natron Lakes; and, at eight o'clock in the evening, pitched their tent at a short distance from the monastery of Macarius. Such passages as relate to our purpose we are glaul to be allowed to quote from Miss Platt's Journal.

Sunday, Jan. 13th.—The first object on which our eyes rested, as we sat at breakfast in the tent, was the solitary convent of Abou Magar (St. Macarius), a desolate-looking building, like a fortress surrounded by the sea. It is enclosed by a high plastered wall, containing a space of about 300 by 200 feet. Within this area are built the church, the convent itself, a strong tower, and a small chapel, which, according to the account given by the monks, dates its origin as far back as the fifth century. There is not a window or an aperture to be seen on the outside, with the exception of a low door-way, which is almost overlooked as the eye wanders over the high blank wall. A considerable descent, scooped out from the drifted sands, leads to the threshold of the heavy iron-door. It was not thought advisable to remain here until we had visited the further convents. Mr. Tattam spoke to some of the priests at the gate, and two of them accompanied us to the middle convents, which are about two hours' ride from the first. In passing at the back of the gardenwall we perceived the remains of buildings still connected with the present monastery, which led us to suppose that it had once been much more extensive.

* As we crossed the ridge of hills separating the two valleys we observed the remains of many convents. The monks state that there were formerly three hundred and sixty on the mountain and in the valley of Nitria, and that the ruins of fifty of them may still be seen. We descended gradually between the rocks, and saw before us the two middle convents, Deir Amba Bischoi and St. Soriani, or the Syrian convent. They were of the same description as St. Abou Magar, but larger and in better preservation, particularly the latter. Our tent was pitched

beneath

beneath the walls of St. Sorjani: Mr. Tattam immediately entered the convent, where pipes and coffee were brought him ; after which the priests conducted him to their churches, and showed him the books used in them. They then desired to know his object in visiting them; upon which he cautiously opened his commission by saying that he wished to see their books. They replied that they had no more than what he had seen in the church ; upon which he told them plainly that he knew they had. They laughed on being detected, and after a short conference said that he should see them. The bell soon rang for prayers.

Jan. 14th.-Mr. Tattam went into the convent immediately after breakfast. The priests conducted him to the tower, and then into a dark vault, where he found a great quantity of very old and valuable Syriac manuscripts. He selected six quarto volumes and took them to the superior's room. He was next shown a room in the tower, where he found a number of Coptic and Arabic manuscripts, principally liturgies, with a beautiful copy of the Gospels. He then asked to see the rest; the priests looked surprised to find he knew of others, and seemed at first disposed to deny that they had any more, but at length produced the key of the apartment where the other books were kept, and admitted him. After looking them over he went to the superior's room, where all the priests were assembled, about fifteen or sixteen in number: one of them brought a Coptic and Arabic selim, or lexicon, which Mr. Tattam wished to purchase, but they informed him that they could not part with it, as it was forbidden to be taken away by an interdiction at the end, but they consented to make him a copy. He paid for two of the Syriac manuscripts he had placed in the superior's room, for the priests could not be persuaded to part with more, and left them, well pleased with his ponderous volumes, which he gave me through the top of the tent, and then rode off with Mohamed to the farthest convent, of Baramous, about an hour and a half's ride from St. Soriani. In the convent of El Baramous Mr. Tattam found about one hundred and fifty Coptic and Arabic liturgies and a very large dictionary in both languages. In the tower is an apartment with a trap-door in the floor, opening into a dark hole full of loose leaves of Arabic and Coptic manuscripts. The superior would have sold the dictionary, but was afraid, because the patriarch had written in it a curse upon any one who should take it away.'

Into the monastery of Amba-Bischoi, after some reluctance on the part of the monks to open their door to a lady, Miss Platt was herself admitted :

On the ground floor was a vaulted apartment, very lofty, with arches at each end, perfectly dark, and so strewn with loose leaves of old liturgies that scarcely a portion of the floor was visible; and here we were all fully occupied in making diligent search, each with a lighted taper, and a stick to turu up old fragments. In some parts the manuscripts lay a quarter of a yard deep, and the amazing quantity of dust was almost choking, accompanied by a damp and fetid smell, nearly as bad as in the Tombs of the Kings. We did not find anything really valuable here, or anything on vellum, excepting one page.'-vol. i. p. 279.

On On Tuesday the 15th, Mr. Tattam set out to return to Cairo, having previously obtained from the monks of the Syrian convent four other valuable Syriac manuscripts. He called at the monastery of Macarius as he passed : here he found about one hundred liturgies, and a beautiful copy of the Epistles in Coptic, which the monks refused to sell. There were also a great number of fragments and loose leaves, from which he selected about a hundred, which he was permitted to take away.

In the month of February Mr. Tattam returned to these convents, and was more successful than upon the former occasion.

Saturday, Feb. 9th.-Immediately after breakfast Mr. Tattam went with Mohamed to St. Soriani, leaving me to my own amusements in the tent.... Mr. Tattam soon returned, followed by Mohamed, and one of the Bedouins bearing a large sack-full of splendid Syriac manuscripts on vellum. They were safely deposited in the tent, and a priest was sent for from St. Amba-Bischoi, with whom Mr. Tattam entered the convent, and successfully bargained for an old Pentateuch in Coptic and Arabic, and a beautiful copy of the four Gospels in Coptic. We are delighted with our success, and hope, by patience and good management, to get the remainder of the manuscripts.'

Feb. 10th.-Mr. Tattam went in the evening to St. Soriani to take his leave of the monks there, who said he might have four more manuscripts the next day......... Mohamed brought from the priests of St. Soriani a stupendous volume beautifully written in the Syriac character, with a very old worm-eaten copy of the Pentateuch, from St. AmbaBischoi, exceedingly valuable, but not quite perfect at the beginning.'

This Mohamed, who seems to have been little less eager than his master in his endeavours to procure the manuscripts, had recourse to the same means of negotiation as Mr. Curzon found it wise to adopt, and applied them with similar success, only substituting arakie for rosoglio.

The manuscripts which Mr. Tattam had thus obtained in due time arrived in England. Such of them as were in the Syriac language, not falling in with the object for which his journey had been originally undertaken, were, by and bye, disposed of 10 the Trustees of the British Museum. This was indeed a most important accession. Forty-nine manuscripts of such extreme antiquity, containing some valuable works long since supposed to have perished, and versions of others written several centuries earlier than any copies of the originals known to exist, constituted such an addition as has been rarely if ever made at one time to any library. The collection of Syriac manuscripts procured by Mr. Rich had already made the library of the British Museum conspicuous for this class of literature—but this treasure of manuscripts from Egypt rendered it superior to any other in Europe,

From

From the accounts which Lord Prudhoe, Mr. Curzon, and Mr. Tattam had given of their visit to the monastery of the Syrians it was evident that but few of the manuscripts belonging to this convent had been removed since the time of Assemani, and probable that no less a number than nearly two hundred volumes must be still remaining in the hands of the monks. Moreover, from several notices found written in the manuscripts already brought to England, it was evident that most of them must be of very considerable antiquity. Several of these notices were in the handwriting of Moses of Tecrit, abbot of the monastery; and in each of them he states that in the year 932 he brought into the convent, from Mesopotamia, about two hundred and fifty volumes. As there was no evidence whatever to show that even so many as one hundred of these manuscripts had ever been taken away (for those which were procured for the papal library by the two Assemani, added to those which Mr. Curzon and Mr. Tattam had brought to England, do not amount to that number), there was sufficient ground for supposing that the convent of the Syrians still possessed not fewer than about one hundred and fifty volumes, which at the latest must have been written before the tenth century. Application accordingly was made by the Trustees to the Treasury; a sum was granted to enable them to send again into Egypt, and Mr. Tattam readily undertook the commission. The time was most opportune. The good-will of the patriarch had been gained by the liberality of the Society for Promoting Christian Knowledge, who had undertaken to print, for the use of his churches, an edition of the New Testament in Coptic and Arabic, in a beautiful large type cut expressly for this purpose. Mr. Tattam, the editor of this work, was naturally in great favour with the patriarch, who by and bye gave consent to his proposals. We cannot but rejoice that these measures were taken so promptly, as we have been informed, upon the best authority, that similar representations had been made to the French government; and had much more delay been interposed, these manuscripts, which perhaps constitute the greatest accession of valuable literature which has been brought from the East into Europe since the taking of Constantinople, would in all probability have been now the pride of the Bibliothèque Royale.

The following is Mr. Tattam's own account of the manner in which he obtained the remainder of the manuscripts upon his second excursion :

* When I returned to Cairo the second time, all the Europeans who seemed to understand my business prophesied that I should not succeed, but the result proved they were false prophets. I found I could

work work more effectually through the sheich of a village on the borders of the desert, who had influence with the superior of the convent, and whom my servant had secured in my interest, and through my servant, rather than by attempting direct negotiation. I therefore set to work. After I had been in Cairo about a fortnight, the sheich brought the superior to my house, where he promised to let me have all the Syriac manuscripts. My servant was to go back with him and the sheich when he returned, and to bring away all the manuscripts to the sheich's house, where they were to be deposited, and I was to follow in three days and bargain for them. I went at the time appointed, and took money with me in the boat, and a Mohamedan as a silent witness to the transaction and the payment of the money, should any crooked ways be discovered. My servant had taken ten men and eight donkeys from the village, and had conveyed the manuscripts to the sheich's house, where I saw them as soon as I arrived ; and I found he had already bargained for them, which I confirmed. That night we carried our boxes, paper, and string, and packed them all, and nailed up the boxes, and had them in the boat before morning dawned, and before ten o'clock in the morning they were on their way to Alexandria.'

The manuscripts arrived in the British Museum on the 1st of March, 1843. Upon opening the cases very few only of the volumes were found to be in a perfect state. From some the beginning was torn away, from some the end, from others both the beginning and end; some had fallen to pieces into loose quires, many were completely broken up into separate leaves, and all these blended together. Nearly two hundred volumes of manuscripts, torn into separate leaves, and mixed up together by time and chance more completely than the greatest ingenuity could have effected, presented a spectacle of confusion which at first seemed almost to preclude hope. To select from this mass such loose fragments as belonged to those manuscripts which were imperfect, and to separate the rest, and collect them into volumes, was the labour of months. To arrange all those leaves now collected into volumes, in their proper consecutive order, will be the labour of years. Without the aid either of pagination or catchwords, it will be requisite to read almost every leaf, and not only to read it, but to study accurately the context, so as to seize the full sense of the author. Where there are two copies of the same book, or where it is the translation of some Greek work still existing, this labour will be in some measure diminished; but in other instances nothing less than the most careful perusal of erery leaf will render it possible to arrange the work, and make it complete.

The number of volumes, as now collected, including both entire works and books made up of various fragments, amounts to three hundred and seventeen, of which two bundred and forty-six are

on

« PreviousContinue »