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THE PLAIN OF METIJIAH.
the French lines. These are supported on large wooden posts; and as the Arabs are frequently lying in wait to have a chance shot, the fifteen men they each contain are often a week without stirring out, and are obliged to be supplied with water and provisions once a fortnight.
From this spot there is also a good view of the plain of Metijiah, the garden of Algiers, and one of the most fertile spots in this part of Africa—fifty miles by twenty in extent; but now completely neglected, as, though within the so-called conquered territory, the Arab still feeds his flock, and the Bedawee pitches his tent there with impunity. The French have established no intercourse or commerce whatever with the interior, for even if the tempting hopes of gold induced any one tribe of the natives to bring their produce to market, so great is the antipathy still existing towards the new-comers, that they would be sure to be robbed by another tribe on their way, and the French dare not attempt the mountains, or cross this plain without a force of five or six hundred men, as an ambush would certainly await them amongst the enormous reeds and underwood that its neglected condition has suffered to spring up.
On our way home we passed through some of the villas occupied by the French officers. Nothing has yet been done towards clearing, and vast thickets of wild olive, mastich, dwarf-oak, palma-christi, and palmetta, clothe the valleys, or spread over the former inclosures. The wild olive is large, and tolerably good to eat, and the gentleman who accompanied us had found that engrafting the cultivated one on the wild fully succeeded. The government have planted the mulberry near the town; but the trees do not look in a very healthy state, though the climate promises well. The cactus, or prickly pear, grows to a great size, and its fruit is a great favourite with the natives ; the French tried the cochineal on it, but, as might be expected in a country of rain and occasional frost, it failed, and has been abandoned in despair. The rows of agave Americana form impenetrable fences to the inclosures, and when in blow present a scene of great splendour. The French soldiers, with their usual ingenuity, have turned the fibres to some account, and manufacture them into purses and work-bags; and it would, I should think, form a cheap and durable ship-cordage. Near the town are some wide-spreading date-palms, and the process of fecundation is a ceremony of much interest throughout
Barbary, and attended with great rejoicing. There are a few bananas, (musa paradisaica,) but the fruit is not at all so large or well-flavoured as that of Madeira. Wheat, barley, Indian corn, beans, and a small description of millet, are the principal grain produced here; but, at present, in quantities so small, that it would not supply a tenth of the demand for half the year. As yet the grain has to be supplied from the mother country, so that a well-regulated blockade along the coast would soon starve the garrison into capitulation.
Considering the number of officers and their families at Algiers, there is not so much society as might be expected, but this may be owing to the smallness of their pay; there are, however, many agreeable little soirées among the upper classes, which cheap and convenient mode of seeing friends, without the formality of daily invitations, is worthy of imitation.
The military governor, the chief man here, sees no one ; but the intendant-civil opens his house once every fifteen days for dancing, and eau sucre, administered upon the homeopathic plan. One of these sugar-water and lemonade re-unions occurred during our stay, and we accompanied our consul to it. The scene would have been one of particular animation, but for the narrowness of the rooms of the Turkish house ; the heat was intense, and the crushing of the ladies' padding and buckram really terrific. None but the married ladies are permitted to waltz! On asking a lady to dance, she referred me to a little ornamented memorandum-book in her girdle to see what set she was disengaged for, and in something of Newmarket style, booked me for the fourteenth! Several Easterns and officers of the Swauves were present, and all the military lions of the day exhibited, whose prowess here is looked upon as absolutely beyond any thing the French army has achieved for centuries, and their orders and decorations were most dazzling.
There is an opera, besides a petit Champs Elysée, and minor theatres without number ; but so thoroughly disgusted were we with them, and the former in particular, that we shall not inflict a description of them on our readers.
One of the stipulations on giving up the town was, that the Mohammadan religion should be protected ; and although the French have turned one of the mosques into a chapel, they are erecting another near the mole.
VISIT TO A MOSQUE.
Under the guidance of Moostapha, the consul's dragoman, we were gratified with a view of the principal mosque, before which was an open court, with a handsome fountain, where the pious Moosselmans were making their ablutions. We had to leave our shoes at the door, and then entered a large oblong building, divided by two rows of square pillars, supporting those peculiar Saracenic arches, whose sides, if prolonged, would meet in a point at the ground. The floor was matted as well as part of the pillars, and a magnificent crimson carpet ran along the principal side, in the centre of which was the Kiblah (or Mehrab)—the sacred spot -the holy of holies—a small semi-circular space, like a niche left in the wall, also matted and carpeted, but without any thing whatever within. There was no image, no ornament or decoration of any kind in this place, which faces Mekeh, and where the immediate presence of the Deity is supposed to reside, and none enter its precincts. On the wall, on either side of this, were hung tablets, with verses of the Koorán or the name of Allah inscribed in large characters upon them; and beneath these sat two remarkable old Moolahs or priests reciting the Koorán. In front of them a number of youths, squatted on their toes and knees, formed a semicircle, repeating the responses in a loud though not unpleasing chime, prostrating themselves, and touching the ground with their foreheads, whenever they mentioned the name of Allah. Throughout the building were scattered individuals praying beside the pillars, apparently in deep devotion. The chanting of the boys is kept up during the entire Ramadan ; this latter is really a fast, really a privation, compared with that of other religious sects, as from sunrise to sunset the pious Mooslim never tastes a morsel. They deny themselves the greatest luxury, that of smoking ; nay, even a pinch of snuff, or a drink of water, unless in a case of extreme urgency, is forbidden.
The external architecture of the Algerine mosques is perfectly plain, and the minarets are simple square towers, without any of that beautiful stalactite-like adornment I afterwards saw in Egypt, and throughout the East.
The only ornaments of any description within this building, were its numerous lamps, hung by long bronze chains from the roof, and a number of ostrich eggs, the usual adornment of mosques and all other sacred places of the Mohammadans. They hold the second commandment to the letter, and the graven image of any
thing having life is their greatest abhorrence. This will often account for the destruction of many a valuable antique, when mere wantonness has been attributed to them. An instance occurred to me in proof of this. I was informed by a friend that a handsome white marble bust, said to have been dug up here some time ago, was in possession of one of the Moors. I hastened to the spot, and requested permission to see it, but its late owner told me that, “thank Allah,” he had just broken it up for lime! The images in the French places of worship excite their contempt as well as their hatred ; and in speaking to us of the English and their religion, they frequently put their fore-fingers together, intimating that they were alike ; a compliment some of our divines would not be very willing to receive. They have no faith in the French ; and the Turks being proverbial for keeping their word, they often quoted to us the Persian proverb—"An Englishman never tells a lie.”
One day we visited Moostapha Basha, the son of the last Dey but one; he received us kindly, but was a silent old man, and seemed particularly cautious in speaking about the French. His house is one of the finest in Algiers, but his hareem being still in existence, we were unable to procure admittance farther than the usual reception-room. The few Mohammadans of distinction here are difficult of access now, as during Ramadan they confine themselves to their houses, engaged in their devotions.
Port dues are very high, and the duty on English goods, in particular, is raised to eight and in some instances even to sixteen per cent. Still we undersell all, and our manufactures, especially of soft goods, are preferred by the natives. I made accurate inquiry into this matter, and find that the French conquest has materially injured the trade we formerly had here. Had the French made it a free port for even a few years, it would certainly have been much to the advantage both of the town and colony; but peculation is the order of the day, each person in authority taking what he can lay hold on. This may account, in some measure, for there having been no less than seven governors since the conquest seven years ago, and at this moment (December 1837) there are two French generals under arrest for exacting illegal taxes in the provinces ; and one has just arrived, and is now in prison, it is said, for entering into a league with Achmet Bey to assist in restoring to him Constantina, the site of so much hidden wealth ; and it
HOSPITALS AND DISEASES.
was only at the intercession of an Englishman that an officer was saved from the pillory, prior to being sent to the galleys for scraping silver off five franc pieces !!
The civil hospital is small and crowded to excess. The principal diseases now are intermittent fevers, caught from the miasma of the plains. They are of all types-quotidian, tertian, and quatertian, and sometimes what is called a pernicious or irregular rigour will carry off the patient suddenly. It is remarkable, that although some get well for the time being, and health seems perfectly restored, yet are they liable to relapses again and again, often after an interval of several months, and that without any fresh exposure to infection. Diarrhæas, anasarca, subacute dropsies, and enormous enlargement of the spleen, are the usual sequents of this disease, which is the principal epidemic of the country, and by which the French have lost great numbers, especially on the out-stations. The treatment consists in quinine, given in exceedingly large doses, even to twenty grains ; and at times this has the effect of completely cutting short the malady. Continued fevers are fortunately of rare occurrence, and I did not see four cases of ophthalmia, although its effects are every where visible among the native inhabitants ; but affections of the skin are very general. Inoculation has been long practised by the natives.*
The military hospital is an immense establishment, and beautifully situated in the former garden of the Dey, about a mile from the town, near the sea. It was admirably clean, airy, and well regulated, and has around it the finest orange groves in this neighbourhood. A portion is set apart for the officers. The Sisters of Charity act as nurses, and are highly serviceable among the sick. Besides the numbers here suffering under the wounds and operations resulting from the late attack on Constantina, were many labouring under the fever of the plain. On my way to it the road led from the Bab-el-Ouetta gate, through
* Some diseases have been introduced by the French, which were almost unknown before; when these did occur, they were of mild character, and the natives treated them on the purest antiphlogistic system, keeping the patients on raisins and water for thirty days. I learn that perfect success attended this practice.