THE DAWN OF A CENTURY OF DISCOVERY
The traveller returned from Medina to Mecca, and devoted himself to a secret study of the town, with its religious ceremonies, and to taking astronomical observations, which determined the position of the capital of Islam.
Seetzen returned to Jeddah on the 23rd March, 1810. He then re-embarked, with the Arab who had been his guide to Mecca, for Hodeidah, which is one of the principal ports of Yemen. Passing the mountainous district of Beith-el-Fakih, where coffee is cultivated, after a month's delay at Doran on account of illness, Seetzen entered Sana, the capital of Yemen, which he calls the most beautiful city of the East, on the 2nd of June. Upon the 22nd of July he reached Aden, and in November he was at Mecca, whence the last letters received from him are dated. Upon re-entering Yemen, he, like Niebuhr, was robbed of his collections and baggage, upon the pretext that he collected animals, in order to compose a philtre, with the intention of poisoning the springs.
Seetzen, however, would not quietly submit to be robbed. He started at once for Sana, intending to lay a complaint before the Iman. This was in December, 1811. A few days later news of his sudden death arrived at Taes, and the tidings soon reached the ears of the Europeans who frequented the Arabian ports.
It is little to the purpose now to inquire upon whom the responsibility of this death rests—whether upon the Iman or upon those who had plundered the traveller—but we may well regret that so thorough an explorer, already familiar with the habits and customs of the Arabs, was unable to continue his explorations, and that the greater portion of his diaries and observations have been entirely lost.
"Seetzen," says M. Vivien de Saint Martin, "was the first traveller since Ludovico Barthema (1503) who visited Mecca, and before his time no European had even seen the holy city of Medina, consecrated by the tomb of the Prophet."
From these remarks we gather how invaluable the trustworthy narrative of this disinterested and well-informed traveller would have been.
Just as an untimely death ended Seetzen's self-imposed mission, Burckhardt set out upon a similar enterprise, and like him commenced his long and minute exploration of Arabia by preliminary travel through Syria.
"It is seldom in the history of science," says M. Vivien de Saint Martin, "that we see two men of such merit succeed each other in the same career or rather continue it; for in reality Burckhardt followed up the traces Seetzen had opened out, and, seconded for a considerable time by favourable circumstances which enabled him to prosecute his explorations, he was enabled to add very considerably to the known discoveries of his predecessor."
Although John Lewis Burckhardt was not English, for he was a native of Lausanne, he must none the less be classed among the travellers of Great Britain. It was owing to his relations with Sir Joseph Banks, the naturalist who had accompanied Cook, and Hamilton, the secretary of the African Association, who gave him ready and valuable support, that Burckhardt was enabled to accomplish what he did.
Burckhardt was a deeply learned man. He had passed through the universities of Leipzic, and Göttingen, where he attended Blumenbach's lectures, and afterwards through Cambridge, where he studied Arabic. He started for the East in 1809. To inure himself to the hardships of a traveller's life, he imposed long fasts upon himself, accustomed himself to endure thirst, and chose the pavements of London or dusty roads for a resting-place. But how trifling were these experiences in comparison with those involved in an apostolate of science!
Leaving London for Syria, where he hoped to perfect his knowledge of Arabic, Burckhardt intended to proceed to Cairo and to reach Fezzan by the route formerly opened up by Hornemann. Once arrived in that country, circumstances must determine his future course.
Burckhardt, having taken the name of Ibrahim-Ibn-Abdallah, intended to pass as an Indian Mussulman. In order to carry out this disguise, he had recourse to many expedients. In an obituary notice of him in the "Annales des Voyages," it is related that when unexpectedly called upon to speak the Indian language, he immediately had recourse to German. An Italian dragoman, suspecting him of being a giaour, pulled him by his beard, thereby offering him the greatest insult possible in his character of Mussulman. But Burckhardt had so thoroughly entered into the spirit of his rôle, that he responded by a vigorous blow, which sending the unfortunate dragoman spinning to a distance, turned the laugh against him, and thoroughly convinced the bystanders of the sincerity of the traveller.
|Portrait of Burckhardt.
(Fac-simile of early engraving.)
Burckhardt remained at Aleppo from September, 1809, to February, 1812, pursuing his studies of Syrian manners and customs, and of the language of the country, with but one interruption, a six months' excursion to Damascus, Palmyra, and the Hauran, a country which had hitherto been visited by Seetzen only.
It is related that, during an excursion into Gor, a district north of Aleppo, upon the shores of the Euphrates, the traveller was robbed of his baggage and stripped of his clothes by a band of robbers. When nothing remained to him but his trousers, the wife of a chief, who had not received her share of the spoil, wished to relieve him even of those indispensable garments!