Frank Leward: Memorials
Part VII. Egypt and Italy
Part VII. Egypt and Italy.
Frank to Bampton.
Dear old B. Im awfully sorry you couldnt manage to come to see me here its the jolliest place to spend the winter in there is I feel sorry to go away and leave it. The Arabs you meet in the town and about it are as different to what you generally imagine Arabs to be as anything can be they are as quiet and peaceable as possible and dont seem to think about much except making a little money or getting backshish. All the Egyptians want that from one end to the other they are like the Turks in that. They cant do a thing for you without yelling out for it. Its the most corrupt government you ever saw. I have made friends with an English merchant here an awfully rich man. He went in for buying all the government sugar for the year and bid a million for it and got it, then he said began the bother though page 270he had got the contract he wasnt allowed to have the sugar till every one of the Pashas had got his whack out of him. It took him months arranging the amount. Every day he had to go to their houses and was up half the night bargaining with them trying to see what he could get off for and they trying to see how much they could get out of him. As fast as he settled with one another came on and made more demands. Of course as he said if it hadnt been for all this time and money he could have afforded to tender a lot more for the sugar. So its the unfortunate people who have to pay after all.
Youll never do any good in this place till you get rid of the Pashas. If the people had any go in them they would turn them out or hang them up and have no more bother with them. I suppose some day some one will rise up to do it. The Viceroy isnt much better he squeezes as much as he can out of the people and builds tremendous palaces he doesnt want and some of them he hasnt ever seen.
Its the unfortunate country people who suffer most what they call the feelahs. They work small bits of ground and have tremendous taxes to pay and if they plant a few palm trees or do anything to make the land a little better down comes the tax man and makes them pay double taxes for it. Yet they seem a happy jolly sort of people on the whole and live in sort of mud villages and wear awfully pretty dresses. I dont think I should ever be tired of sitting about in Cairo looking at the people in the bazaars. Thats what I did chiefly when I first got here from the Crimea. I was awfully page 271bad when I got here hardly able to do anything I thought it was all up on the voyage the Crimea took it out of me fearfully. A beastly fool of a Greek doctor here made me stop in bed for nearly a month and said if I got up I should kick. So when I did get up I was as weak as a cat. When I first got up I could only manage to go about the streets at a walk on old Bango I brought him here because I knew hed be so badly off if I left him behind. The Arabs were awfully astonished at him hes such a rough looking blaguard. Its mostly donkeys here some awfully fine well groomed sleek ones with splendid harness and things and saddles something like the Mexicans have in California. I had a dragoman who went about with me on a donkey. Bango didnt like the donkey at first but hes used to it now. I could hardly get along at first and had to go at a walk but the jolly weather soon put me to rights and I could go all over the place. It was jolly when I began to get all right like a new life. I thought at first Id send to tell you I was bad just to make you come but I thought it would be a shame because I knew you would come and you might be busy so I didnt. I wanted you awfully or old Saunders or best of all both to be here all the same.
I dont think there can be anything jollier than a ride in the morning when your just getting better I felt as if I could do anything. It would have been jollier if you had been here you would like this country tremendously. What do you think when I was ill I began to read Herodotus again I found I hadnt forgot so much as I page 272expected Greek seems to have stuck to me somehow. I like him better than I used to although I was supposed to be awfully bad I couldnt help laughing at some of the things he says. Hes much better than most of your new histories.
The Arabs in the desert are awfully fine fellows splendidly dressed some of them and splendid horses. When I went to the pyramids a tremendous lot of beggars came and bothered me they begin long before you get there but I put Bango at them and kept scattering them. I didnt care much about the pyramids I couldnt see any use in them but I could fancy the poor brutes who had to work at them for nothing being licked if they got ill or couldnt work hard enough. The sphinx is different I liked that theres something in it looks cool and indifferent looking over the desert goodness knows how long and will go on looking till goodness knows when I suppose.
Then I went up the Nile as far as the first cataract in an extraordinary Arab boat it just suited me as I wasnt up to much and still rather weak on my pins. We went awfully slowly and I could land now and then and have a shot at the quail awfully good shooting. We passed along by a tremendous lot of old places temples and things I was tremendously interested what a wonderful country it must have been. The ruins of Thebes beat them all. Theres a sort of town up on a sort of hill. I cant describe all the things I saw there. The two statues of Memnon sitting by themselves in the desert look something like the Sphinx calm and sedate page 273and colossal. They are said to be statues of Pharoah I dont know.
Its about the richest country along the Nile I suppose in the world if it was properly governed. What with the land and the river the people would be very well off and prosperous if they only had a chance they are very industrious too and want precious little to eat except rice. Poor beggars they often cant get even that they are so robbed.
Its very fine in winter and hardly ever rains and they dont know what snow is and Ive almost forgotten its so many years since I saw any I used to like a jolly English winter I wonder whether I should now. Its getting too hot now and I must clear out I want to come back some day and get right up the Nile to see where it really does come from. I dont like coming home so I shall go to Italy I think and stay there a little. I always wanted to go there and theres such a lot of Italian talked here I can get on in it pretty well now Good-bye old man for the present
Frank to Mr. Saunders.
Dear Mr. Saunders I was very glad to get your last letter you dont know how jolly it is to get letters from people in England when youve been living a long time among people who dont speak your language. I thought you and Bampton would have come to Italy in the Autumn I was looking out for you all the time. Not page 274but what Ive got a lot of friends in Italy and I like Italians very much but not these Napolitani they are the lowest scum of the earth no good whatever almost as bad as the people at Alexandria I think they are the worst. Whether these Napolitani are really a different race or Whether it is because of their bad government I dont know but they are low cowardly treacherous and worse even than that. As to their government poor brutes bad as they are its too bad even for them. From the king downwards a bigger lot of nincompoops never breathed. The king though hes only a young man seems worn out and his ministers are a lot of intriguing brutes. If now and then there rises up from the common dung hill any one in whom the old Greek spirit remains at all and tries to liberate them the Government sticks him at once into a beastly fetid dungeon huddled up with a lot of others and lets him die of rot. I was reading Gladstones speech about it the other day given to me by one of the patriotic people here on the quiet and was awfully pleased he had spoken out about it. Id never heard of it before I so seldom read the papers. Its every word true. I wish some one would come and put a stop to the whole business. I suppose in time if they got a chance the people would improve and be able to govern themselves decently. Now everything is done to demoralise them and keep them down.
I landed here when I first came to Italy from Egypt but I didn't stop long it was too hot so I went to the lakes in the North and wandered about Como and the Lago Maggiore all the rest of the summer and autumn page 275I thought I had never seen anything so beautiful. You know them well so I wont try to describe them and you know how stupid I am at describing things. Then I went about the old towns in the North. I think I liked Verona the best till it got too cold and I went to Florence.
I got to know a lot of Italian families in the North from meeting my old Sardinian friends who were in the Crimea they seemed glad to see me and gave me introductions to people in Florence. By Jove how they curse and swear up there at the Austrians. They mean to have a go at them before long I should like to be there when they do. Though the Austrians arent bad sort of fellows and all the officers I met at Milan were thorough gentlemen still what I cant help thinking is what right have they got to be there at all. They arent Italians why cant they keep to their own country. They seem to have enough to do to look after that without mismanaging the people of Lombardy and others. If they go on much longer at it they will have to take the consequences and a people fighting for their own country on their own ground are stronger really although they may seem weaker than foreigners who may seem stronger and are trying to keep the others down.
Im getting to like the Italians more and more. They have been very kind and obliging to me and seem to wish to make one happy. I dont know they should be so jolly to me but even the women are as kind to me as possible. I suppose it is because I was with their friends in the Crimea.page 276
I did like Florence I got tremendously fond of going about seeing the pictures especially in the Ufizzi gallery. I didnt care so much about the Pitti ugly grim heavy stone place I didnt think the pictures there so good. But I dont know much about them and never saw any before that I know of. I wish you and Bampton had been there to show me what was good. On jolly warm spring days I used to loaf about the Piazza Signoria under Orcagna's alcove place where the statues are it used to be awfully jolly in the morning reading there. I think that statue of Perseus with the Gorgons head by Benvenuto Cellini is the most graceful thing I ever saw. I read a lot of your old favourites I had no idea they were so jolly. I got to like Tasso most of all but Petrarch is awfully beautiful sometimes and I used to roar sometimes over Boccacio though its beastly broad I got to like them much more than I expected. I can read and talk Italian now almost like English. I dont quite understand Dante I suppose hes above me. If you would only come and explain it it would be all right. I dont think most of the Italians themselves know much about him.
We used to have long walks generally on Sunday I and one or two Italian officers to Fiesole and other places and good lunches but very frugal with a flask of splendid Monte Pulciano or Chianti on the table for nothing. These officers are as different as possible to the English and French awfully simple in their ways of living. After dinner sometimes one would buy a soldo or two worth of hot chestnuts and we used to go into a page 277wine place and have some splendid wine for a lira or so and eat the chestnuts awfully good fun we had and we could go to the opera for ninepence and hear very good music. Then I went to Pistoia for a little time they say they speak nearly the same language there as Dante wrote. I read Dante with a man they call a professor of Dante but I thought he was rather a humbug. Now Ive come here for the winter and Im going on to Sicily. The people here seem worse off than ever. There are a few like the people in the north who are determined to get rid of this degraded government but not many.
I must send this off now if they open it they wont let it go and they often do. Next time I will tell you about Pompeii and other places here. Yours very affectionately