The Author, by Permission of his Master, travels to Medina, the burial Place of the Prophet Mahomet.
THE director soon after pro|posed, that I should attend some mer|chants, as a surgeon in a voyage and journey to Medina, the burial, and Mec|ca the birth, place of the prophet Ma|homet; assuring me, that I should be treated with respect, and indeed find some agreeable companions on the tour, as sev|eral of the merchants were infidels, like myself, and that any monies I might ac|quire, by itinerant practice, should be my own. I accepted this proposal with pleas|ure, Page 204 and was soon leased to two Mussul|man merchants, who gave a kind of bond for my safe return to my master. I had cash advanced me to purchase medicines, and a case of surgeon's instruments, which I was directed to slow in a large leather wallet. I took a kind leave of my pat|rons in the hospital, who bestowed ma|ny little presents of sweetmeats, dates, and oranges. I waited upon the good Mollah, who presented me with fifty dol|lars. I have charity to believe that this man, though an apostate, was sincere in his faith in the Mahometan creed. He pressed my hand at parting, gave me ma|ny salutary cautions, as to my conduct during the voyage; and said, while the tears started in his eyes, my friend, you have suffered much misfortune and mis|ery in a short life; let me conjure you not to add the torments of the future to the miseries of the present world. But, added he, pausing, who shall alter the de|crees Page 205 of God? I flatter myself, that the scales of natal prejudice will yet fall from your eyes, and that your name was numbered among the faithful from all eternity.
Our company consisted of two Alge|rine merchants, or factors, twenty pilgrims, nine Jews, among whom was the son of my deceased friend Adonah, and two Greek traders from Chios, who carried with them several bales of silks and a quantity of mastic, to vend at Scanda|roon, Grand Cairo and Medina. We took passage in a Xebec; and, coast|ing the African shore, soon passed the ru|ins of antient Carthage, the Bay of Tu|nis; and, weathering cape Bona, and steering south easterly, one morning hove in sight of the Island of Malta, inhabited by the knights of that name, who are sworn enemies of the Mahometan faith. I could perceive, that the sight of this island gave a sensible alarm to the crew Page 206 and passengers. But the captain, or rather skipper, who was a blustering, rough renegado, affected great courage and swore that, if he had but one can|non on board, he would run down and give a broad side to the infidel dogs. His bravery was soon put to the test; for, as the sun arose, we could discern plainly an armed vessel bearing down upon us. She overhauled us fast, and our skipper conjectured she bore the Maltese colours. All hands were now summoned to get out some light sails, and several oars were put out, at which the brave skipper tugged as lustily as the meanest of us. When the wind lulled and we gained of the ves|sel, he would run upon the quarters of the Xebec, and hollow; "Come on, you christian dogs, I am ready for you," I have some doubts, whether the vessel ever noticed us. If she did, she despised us; for she tacked and stood to the south west. This was no sooner perceived by Page 207 our gallant commander, than he ordered the Xebec to lay too, and swore, that he would pursue the uncircumcised dogs, and board them; but he first would pru|dently ask the approbation of the passen|gers, who instantly determined one and all that their business was such, that they must insist upon the captain's making his best way to port. The captain consent|ed, but not without much grumbling at his misfortune, in losing so fine a prize; and declared that, when he landed his passengers, he would directly quit the port and renew the chase. After a smart run, we dropt anchor in the port of Alex|andria, called by the Turks Scandaroon. This is the site of the antient Alex|andria, founded by Alexander the great; though its present appearance would not induce an opinion of so magnificent a founder. It lies not far from the wester|most branch of the river Nile, by which, in ancient day, it was supplied with wa|ter. Page 208 The antiquarian eye may possibly observe, in the scattered fragments of rocks, the vestiges of the ruins of its an|tient grandeur; but a vulgar traveller, from the appearance of the harbour, chok|ed with sand, the miserable buildings, and more wretched inhabitants of the town, would not be led to conclude that this was the port, which rose triumphant on the ruins of Tyre and Carthage. We here hired camels; and, being joined by a number of pilgrims and traders, collect|ed from various parts of the Levant, we proceeded towards Grand Cairo, the pres|ent capital of Egypt; and, after travel|ling three days, or rather three nights, for we generally reposed in the heat of the day, which is severe from one hour after the sun's rising until it sets, we came to a pretty town on the west bank of the Nile, called Gize, and hence passed over on rafts to the city of Grand Cairo, called by the Turks Almizer; the suburbs of which Page 209 extend to the river, but the principal town commences its proper boundaries, at about three miles east of the Nile. I was now within a comparatively short distance of two magnificent curiosities, I had ever been desirous of beholding. The city of Jerusalem was only about five day's journey to the south east, and I had even caught a glimpse of the pyra|mids near Gize. I went with my mas|ters and others to see a deep stoned pit, in the castle, called Joseph's well; and said to have been dug by the direction of that patriarch. I am not antiquarian enough to know the particular style of Joseph's well archite|cture; but the water was sweet and extremely cold. The Turks say that Potiphar's wife did not cease to persecute Joseph with her love, after he was released from prison, and advanced to power; but the patriarch, being warned by a dream to dig this well, and invite her to drink of the water, which she had no Page 210 sooner done, but one cup of it so effectu|ally cooled her desires, that she was ever afterwards an eminent example of the most frigid chastity. In Grand Cairo, we were joined by many pilgrims from Palestine, and the adjacent countries. The third day, our carivan, which con|sisted of three hundred camels and drom|edaries, set out for Medina, under the convoy of a troop of Mamaleuk's guards, a tawny, raw boned, ill clothed people. Some of the merchants, and even pilgrims made a handsome appearance in person, dress, and equipage. I was myself well mounted upon a camel, and carried with me only my leather wallet of drugs, which I dispensed freely among the pilgrims; my masters receiving the ordinary pay, while I collected many small sums, which the gratitude of my patients added to the usual fee. We passed near the north arm of the red sea, and then pursued our journey south, until we struck the same Page 211 arm again, near the place where the learned Wortley Montague has con|cluded the Israelites, under the conduct of Moses, effected their passage. The breadth of the sea here is great, and the waters deep and turbulent. The infidel may sneer, if he chooses; but, for my own part, I am convinced beyond a doubt, that, if the Israelites passed in this place, it must have been by the miraculous in|terposition of a divine power. I could not refrain from reflecting upon the in|fatuated temerity, which impelled the E|gygtian king to follow them. Well does the Latin poet exclaim; Quem Deus vult perdere, prius dementat. We then travelled east, until we came to a small village, called Tadah. Here we filled many goat skins with water, and laded our camels with them. In addition to my wallet, I received two goat skins or bags of water upon my camel. The weight, this useful animal will carry, is Page 212 astonishing; and the facility and promp|titude, with which he kneels to receive his rider and burthen, surprising. We now entered the confines of Arabia Petrea, very aptly denominated the rocky Ara|bia; for, journeying south east, we passed over many ridges of mountains, which appeared of solid rocks, while the vallies and plains between them were almost a quicksand. Not a tree, shrub, or vegeta|ble is to be seen. In these vallies, the sun poured intolerable day, and its re|flections from the land were insupport|able. No refreshing breeze is here felt. The intelligent traveller often fears the rising of the wind, which blows such sultry gales, that man and beast oft|en sink beneath them, "never to rise again" or, when agitated into a tempest drive the sand with such tumultuous vio|lence, as to overwhelm whole caravans. Such indeed were the stories told me, as I passed these dreary plains. The only Page 213 inconvenience, I sustained, arose from the intense heat of the sun, and the chills of the night, which our thin garments were not calculated to exclude. On the third day, after we left Tadah, the water, which we transported on our camels, was nearly expended. These extraordinary animals had not drank but once, since our departure. Near the middle of the fourth day, I observed our camels snuff the air, and soon set off in a brisk trot, and just before night brought us to wa|ter. This was contained in only one deep well, dug, like a reversed pyramid, with steps, to descend on every side, to the depth of one hundred feet; yet the sagacity of the camel had discovered this water at perhaps twenty miles distance. So my fellow travellers asserted; but I have since thought, whether these camels, from frequently passing this desert coun|try, did not discover their approach to water, rather from the eye, noting familiar Page 214 objects, than the actual scenting the water itself. A horse that has journeyed the whole day, will quicken his step at night, when, upon a familiar road, within some miles of an accustomed stable. Our es|cort delighted in the marvellous. Many a dreadful story did they tell of pois|onous winds and overwhelming sands; and of the fierce wandering Arabs, who captured whole caravans, and eat their prisoners. Many a bloody battle had they fought with this cruel banditti, in which, according to their narratives, they always came off conquerours. Fre|quently were we alarmed, to be in read|iness to combat their savage free booters; though I never saw but two of the wild Arabs, in the whole of our journey. They joined us at a little village, east of Islamboul, and accosted us with great ci|vility. They were dressed in blue frocks, girded round the waste with particolour|ed sashes, in which were stuck a pistol Page 215 and a long knife. Their legs were bare, and sheepskin caps covered their heads. Their complexions were sallow, but their garments and persons were clean. In|deed, their dress and address evinced them to be of a more civilized race than our guards, who affected to treat them with lofty hauteur; and, when they departed, assured us that they were spies, and that an attack from their countrymen might now be apprehended with certainly; if, said the leader of our escort, they are not ter|rified by finding you under our protec|tion.