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The Letters of Israel Abrahams from Egypt and Palestine in 1898

Phyllis Abrahams

<plain_text><page sequence="1">The Letters of Israel Abrahams from Egypt and Palestine in 1898* PHYLLIS ABRAHAMS, M.A.(Oxon), Doc.Univ.Paris The opportunity for me to contribute some small items to the fund of Anglo-Jewish history came my way in an unexpected manner. In November 1959 there died my mother, herself a piece of Anglo-Jewish history. After her death, I was occupied for many months in clearing up the mass of paper which she had accumulated, for she had never, I believe, thrown away a single piece of paper since her marriage in 1894. The day came when I turned my attention to my mother's writing case, of mahogany, about two feet high, with the initials F.A. in brass on the front. I fiddled about with the partitions, and released the spring of a secret drawer. On top lay my mother's cheque-book for the year 1898; and underneath this lay a roll of letters, written by my father to my mother during his visit to Egypt and Palestine in the same year. These letters form the subject of the paper I have the honour to read to you tonight. Landmark in his Life In 1898, Israel Abrahams was 40 years old. He had been a member of the staff of Jews' College since 1881; in 1896 he had published Jewish Life in the Middle Ages; he was married to the only daughter of the Rev. Simeon Singer, and was the father of a little girl just 3 years old. He had many friends (among whom were Joseph Jacobs, Lucien Wolf, and Claude Montefiore, to mention only a few), and lived a full and happy life on his small income. Now, in March 1898, he was about to set out on a journey to the East that was to form a landmark in his life. His purpose in visiting Palestine was twofold. In September 1895 he had signed an agreement with the firm of Putnam to write a book with the title Judas Maccabeus and the conflict between Hellenism and Hebraism, and he had not even begun to write it. In fact, he never did write it, and afterwards he used often to declare that the mere signing of a contract made it impossible for him to produce the book. In 1898, however, he still believed that he would write it, and he considered that a visit to the battlefields of the Maccabean campaigns was essential for a proper understanding of the course of events. (Many years later he made good use of the material he had collected, when he wrote his Schweich Lectures on 'Campaigns in Palestine'.) It should be noted that journeys to the Holy Land were very much in the air at that date in the circle of I.A.'s friends. In the previous year, Herbert Bentwich had led a number of members of the Maccabeans on a 'Pilgrimage' to Palestine. But I.A. had his own programme to arrange, for in addition to his tour of the battlefields he wished to visit the educational establishments sponsored by the Anglo-Jewish Association in Palestine, and especially the Evelina School in Jerusalem. After some deliberation, there? fore, he decided to travel alone. The visit to Egypt seems to have been thrown in as part of the usual route to Palestine; there was also the attraction of the already famous Cairo Geniza. An Amusing Letter Israel Abrahams left London early in March 1898, and sailed from Marseilles on Thursday, 10 March, landing in Alexandria on Tuesday, 15 March. In spite of a very bad passage, he wrote a long and very amusing letter on board ship which he posted in Alexandria. * Paper delivered to the Society on 20 March 1961, but the text was not available until a few months before the regretted death of Dr. Abrahams in 1973. When she read it, she included copious extracts in appropriate places, but for the purpose of publication it has been decided to give the letters in full.?Ed. 1</page><page sequence="2">2 Phyllis Abrahams 'On board the Sindh. Friday 9 a.m. [March 11] 'My darling wife, I will keep a brief diary for you and post it in Alexandria or Cairo. I am hoping to find a letter?but I know it is impossible. I must wait patiently for a word from my love. After I posted my letter to you, I found that I had six hours to wait in Marseilles. I amused myself with the streets, as there is nothing of interest in the buildings. I had my hair and beard cut in proper French style and then lunched in French style. That is to say I sat outside a cafe and ate some fish?so far good, but then the beggars! They pestered one in a shameless way, and offered, even more shame? lessly, disgusting pictures for sale. Not even the desire to satisfy a certain person's curiosity could induce me to buy the loathsome things. What I would have bought, namely some fancy post-cards for the baby, I could not get. I have smoked only one cigar since I left you and as they charged me 1.50 francs for what costs 6d. in England, this and one other reason has kept me from smoking on board. We started yesterday at 4.30?and have full 5 days of it. I cannot find words to describe my awful sufferings. Inside the harbour, and for the first three hours, all was well. But when we got fairly into the Gulf of Lyons, then we got it. The wind has been howling all night, and I have been howling to keep it company. This is my first experience, of all night aboard, but bad as I felt, will you believe me that I have had some tea and toast, and am still very very unsettled, I am not so disposed to swear "Never again!" as I anticipated. I had one comfort; an excellent cabin for 2 all to myself. It was worth going first class. I can have all my baggage in my cabin and keep my eye on the camera. This morning I am wearing the Knickers. I cannot tell you how I have enjoyed all your kindness. Everything that you put in was useful, and mother's thoughtful ness has been fruitful of much convenience. The towel in particular was of much service, and I lent it and my soap to the ladies in the train [see Appendix]. I am getting very friendly with the people on board. Many of them were as sick as I was, and that adds to our fellow sympathies. I will tell more of the people in my next sheet. Though I cannot send these separately, yet I cannot lose the chance of separately sending you my best love. Saturday, March 12. 9 a.m. After the first dreadful night, I have not been sick again, but have had qualms. The screw's constant vibration takes a long while getting used to, but I think I am secure now. I eat nothing but breakfast so far?with the merest apology for lunch and dinner. But I think I may buck up today. The food looks excellent. Yesterday was a lovely day?a real genuine piece of sunny south weather. I have never seen such a sky before as between Corsica and Sardinia. These are very rocky coasts, but full of beauty. We passed quite close to both islands, between the straits, and kept Sardinia on our right for several hours. The people on board are all very nice, and we are a very friendly party. There are several Scotchmen, some missionaries, some mere sightseers. Several of them knew me?directly they heard my name, which they soon dis? covered by watching my serviette ring. When I found that they knew my name, I told them what it was. They all knew the J.Q.R.,1 all I mean of this clique. The sightseers are mostly Americans, who are rather amusing. There are two widows, on the look out for their seconds, but they are being fairly laughed at all round. One of them is mashing the captain, but he is still unmoved. One couple we never see except at meals. The general opinion is that they are honeymooners. Where they hide all day, no one knows, and I must add, no one cares. They are quite uninteresting. Then there is at least one Meshummad Missionary on board: he is fortunately 2nd Class, and thus I only see him on deck. He has tried to make my acquaintance but I have not allowed him. This is not because he is a Meshummad, but because I overheard him sneering about Judaism and telling [the] usual lies about it. 1 The Jewish Quarterly Review, which Abrahams and Claude Montefiore founded and edited, 1888-1908.</page><page sequence="3">Letters of Israel Abrahams from Egypt and Palestine in 1898 3 Curiously enough, directly the Scotchmen found a real true Jew aboard, they forsook the Meshummad and clave unto Israel. My books are being read by all on board, especially my Smith. Everyone is very grateful for it?it is indeed a fine work. My Baedeker is also in demand. Yesterday I took a few snapshots, but we were not near enough to get anything good, and?my hand shook, owing to aforesaid qualms. I have already been talking to some of Cook's party on board about joining part of their Palestine tour. But I will write more of this from Jerusalem. Ever yours affectionately, Israel. Sunday 3 p.m. [March 13] Note the hour! I am just out on deck, after 23 hrs. in my cabin. This fraud of a Mediter? ranean, which everyone says is so calm and friendly! A terrific storm has been raging ever since we passed the straits of Messina yesterday morning. We had a good view of Stromboli, and the passage through the Straits of Messina between Italy and Sicily, with a view of Reggio and Messina quite close and of Mount Etna in the distance, was delightful. But it only made what was to come worse. I ate a tiny bit of lunch yesterday, and then on came the storm. The lightning was a magnificent thing, but the wind was so loud and explosive that we did not hear a single clap of thunder. Then the rolling of the ship! I have never had such a miserable 24 hours?I was crying for you? metaphorically?all night. If you had only been there to share the misery we would both have been happy. Nothing is dreadful when I have you near. It was not so much the rolling as the vibration that sent thrills of agony through one. Every time the stern rises high in the air, the screw gives a weird twirl which shakes the ship from end to end and makes sleep absolutely impossible. One man paced the deck all night?I don't know how he could stand. From 4 o'clock yesterday afternoon till 3 o'clock this afternoon I have lain in the cabin, never sleeping and never sick?worse luck! If I had been sick I might have got over it sooner. I got up just now in desperation and put on my serge suit to look Sunday-like. When I went on deck (of course I have had no breakfast or lunch?the thought of food maddens me?) everyone said, how well I was looking. And after 23 hours' torture to be told how well you were looking! I expected to present a haggard appearance such as would win everyone's sympathy. Instead of which here I was congratulated on my looks. The sailors say that the bad weather (and they all admit that we have had the worst passage for years) is due to the number of parsons on board. When I get to Cairo 1 will try to change to [sic] return route if I can do it without excessive cost. By returning via Brindisi, I have a shorter sea journey, but alas I have my return ticket for the steamer and fear I cannot get out of my horrible bargain. The sailors call the sea calm now. It is rough enough for me, I can tell you. Angry dark skies above?well there's always your love bright for me at home. Monday 8.30 a.m. [March 14] I am up betimes today having had a really good night's rest. To think that I could ever get accustomed to the incessant din and vibration and sleep through it! The morning is fresh and invigorating. I forget whether I have told you how very cold it has been ever since we left Marseilles. Father must have had bad weather I fear, if it has been anything like the state of things on the Mediterranean. The sea is still angry this morning, but it is much warmer. We have just passed Crete, its hills covered with deep snow. It looks very peaceful from the sea. Among the people on board are a party of Syrians who are returning to Beyrout from Brazil. They have to spend all their time on deck, and must have suffered much during the storm. There are some pretty children among them, one or two babies in arms. The men were (and are) horsebreakers?a profession in which the Syrians excel. They were attracted to Brazil by some dishonest offers, and are returning home poorer and wiser. I keep away</page><page sequence="4">4 Phyllis Abrahams from their end of the boat, as they look too awfully dirty for anything but to be thrown into the sea. Perhaps the storm was a blessing in disguise. Another person on board (he is in the 2nd Cabin) is a Mr. Rafelowitch, or some such name. His brother is a photographer in Jerusalem, and will lend me his dark room for changing the plates. This is a comfort. The man himself has been in England selling MSS to Schechter, Elkan Adler and Gaster. The latter told him that he would find me on board, and so he got himself introduced. I am glad to know someone in Jerusalem besides Old Zangwill and Cohn?the latter I barely remember. I have had my first loss. I lost my spectacles. (Don't worry they have been found). All the stewards and all the passengers searched my cabin in vain. At last, Mrs. Nicholls (a clergy? man's wife) asked whether she might look. She walked in to my cabin, and straight off found the glasses in about 3 seconds. What fools men are! I assure you we all looked every? where. I wonder whether she had hidden them in her pocket. Perhaps that's the way you women find things. I looked at your photo often?it is a comfort. The baby's I can't bear to see?it makes her look so stupid. I will take a better one on my return. Tuesday 8 p.m. [March 15] What a night! The confounded boat has been behaving like a demon?plunging every? way at once. I was thrown out of bed several times and am a mass of aches all over. But with the bright fresh air and brisk breeze I don't feel so bad. You can't imagine though what an awful passage we have had. If I have to return this way, I fear I shall not return in a very amiable temper. But what must be, must?and the funny thing about it all is that I am now never sick, and never wish to be. We were supposed to reach Alexandria before this, but we shall be some hours late. They now say that we shall arrive between 3 and 4; if that be so, I doubt whether I shall be able to post this till I get to Cairo. As far as I understand, I shall be in Cairo six or seven days, leaving there for Jaffa next Tuesday. This is only a day's sail?I think nothing of a day's sail now. You will never find me shirk a channel crossing again, that is soon over, whereas here, on board for a week nearly! When you read all this do sympathise and don't jeer at me. Of course my address in Jerusalem will be Hotel Kaminitz. As last night was our final one on board, the passengers gave a concert. It was a dismal thing. You should have heard the parsons sing old-fashioned love ditties, and deliver goody goody recitations. At last two of us couldn't stand it. So I offered to contribute an item and gave them a burlesque sermon, which I will say to their credit they took in excellent humour. Then, the other malcontent said he would sing. And he did sing. He started with one of Chevalier's coster songs, and followed this up with a very remarkable Margate ditty, telling how when you go to bathe and some one sneaks your clothes and you have to walk home without and meet a lot of girls you know?"that's when you feel all right"?and so forth. The verse I have quoted is the mildest of the lot. How the parsons and missionaries shivered! One by one they left the saloon until the songster and I were left alone to laugh heartily at our victory. The field had been left to us. We are going to have a meeting now to decide about tips to stewards etc. We all feel that everyone should give alike and not some too much and some too little. I think it an excellent idea. Much love to you my dear?and to mother and all. I am very lost without you?and I do not think that anything shall ever induce me again to leave you for so long a time. I will telegraph to you from Cairo. Ever yours affectionately, Israel.' He spent only a few hours in Alexandria, and in the evening of the same day he wrote a short letter home from Shepheard's Hotel in Cairo.</page><page sequence="5">Letters of Israel Abrahams from Egypt and Palestine in 1898 5 'Shepheard's Hotel, Cairo. March 15 1898. 'Dearest, A day on dry land has revived me a good deal, but on the other hand it only adds to my loneliness. I missed you for other reasons today. The first view of an Oriental city is so astonish? ing, so full of colour and incident, that I felt intensely selfish to be seeing it all without you. But already I miss you so immeasurably that I am counting the days for my return. And then there are several sea journeys yet before me. First I shall have to go to Jaffa from Port Said?and that is said to be dreadful. Then, 1 have to get back from Jaffa to Marseilles, an awful 7 days of it, to say nothing of the final crossing to Dover?would that were near at hand! For the present, I must content myself with telling you of my doings in the past, leaving the future to take care of itself. When I arrived at Alexandria, I heard that a mail was going off and so, as I had no time to look for the Post Office, I entrusted the posting of my long letter to a Cook's man, who said he would run to the Post Office with it. I hope that he did so. We did not land for full an hour after that, and then Cooks took care of my luggage while I saw something of Alexandria. I got a dragoman (fee 2 francs) and a coachman (fee 2 francs an hour). I saw a good deal in an hour and a half (I did not stay overnight because I shall probably have a day in Alexandria on my return route). I saw Pom pey's Pillar and the showplaces?I refused the Museum, because I wanted to see the streets. Of course the carts go the wrong side of the way, keeping to the right instead of the left. Hiring a coachman is good fun. There is a little group of idlers round each of the carriages, and each of them passes on the order to the other, in a most consequential sort of way. My dragoman was great on harems. "Ze house of Hassan Pasha?weree reech, he haf 15 harems." Later we passed another fine place. Is he rich also ? I asked. "Ye-es . . . but he haf only 7 harems. Not so rich as Hassan." The carts you meet are the funniest. A bullock, a donkey, a horse?anything does to draw a cart. And the camels are very effective. But I cannot attempt to describe the bustle, the life, the glare of it all. The sky is something to dream of, but it certainly did get cold at night. My bedroom seems stuffy enough. Mosquitoes ? I can't say yet?shall know more about it in an hour or two. There are muslin curtains round the bed: that looks like something creepy. This hotel is a gorgeous affair. I am only here a few days, and this is my chief extravagance. It is rather fun seeing the luxury of it all. There are many Jews here?but I have not yet seen anyone I know. That was hardly likely, as I have only been in Cairo an hour at present. With much, much love, I am, Ever yours affectionately, Israel' The next day, Wednesday, 16 March, he was again writing to his 'darling Fritz', describing the street scenes of an Eastern town, his first visit to the old Jewish Quarter, and his chance meeting with Schorstein. 'Shepheard's Hotel, Cairo. Thursday March 17, 1898, [error for Wednesday March 16] 'My darling Fritz, As a mail leaves tonight, I write again though you will I think get both letters at once. (I did not wire 'Affable"2 because I thought that perhaps my Marseilles letter missed you. From Jerusalem I will use the word "Affable" = Arrived Fine Form Accept i?est Love Fver.) I will not wire again until I reach Marseilles on my return journey. I have so much to tell you today! I had an excellent night, and so far have escaped the attentions of mosquitos (I am not certain if that is the right spelling). I used the oil of cloves which made me smart so much for a time that I am not sure that I shouldn't have preferred the mosquitoes to the remedy. I got up at 8, breakfasted, then went for a walk in the streets. The donkey-boys are real good fun. "Ze only donkey what speaks Inglis"?that is what the 2 See Appendix.</page><page sequence="6">6 Phyllis Abrahams boys tell you. I shall try a ride before I leave. Then I went to the Rabbi. I was taken straight to him tho' he was engaged over a divorce or marriage, I couldn't understand which. The lady (a fat party of about 30) wept profusely and wiped her eyes (and nose) often with her skirt. Then I had a minute with him and when he found out who I was, he threw off all his business, took me to his private room and gave me coffee and cigarettes. We got on capitally in Hebrew, with a little French thrown in. He knows no English. My own opinion is that Schechter by no means exhausted the Geniza? but keep this quiet till I worm out more from them. I am going back to the Jewish quarter tomorrow and will take some photos of places and streets. The Jewish quarter is the most quaint part of Cairo. You enter by a gate and then are involved in a labyrinth of streets or courts. I will be better able to describe these after a second visit. I found it by no means so dirty as I expected. On my way out a donkey boy pestered me to employ him. He showed me a testimonial in English. Who do you think wrote it ? The very doctor I had at St. Thomas's! The doctor wrote: "This man is a not very over-grasping conductor of a not very un amiable donkey." I think I must try it after that. After lunch?the attendants at the hotel look very picturesque in Egyptian dress? they are all Egyptian waiters?I came across Schorstein. I was overjoyed and so seemed he. In fact he had come in to Cairo to see me; he did not know my hotel but as luck would have it he found me at the first attempt. I am driving with him this afternoon to the Pyramid Hotel to dine with him. I shall drive back tonight or tomorrow morning. The weather is perfectly glorious. Much love to you and the dear baby, from Your affectionate husband, Israel.' (The Schorstein mentioned in these letters from Egypt was Dr. Gustave Isidore Schorstein, a distinguished physician of his day, who died in 1901. His sister, Therese Schorstein, married I.A.'s friend Claude Montefiore, and was the mother of Robin Montefiore.) Dr. Schorstein was staying at the Mena House Hotel, near the Pyramids of Gizeh. 'Shepheard's Hotel. Thursday 17th 1898. (March). My darling wife, I have, I find, got a little confused about the dates, and I called yesterday the 17th in my letter. After I had written I received your letter, very welcome indeed and a sweet reminder of yourself and of home. I suppose that I shall hardly hear from you again till I get to Jerusalem. I am numbering the letters I write from here, so that you may know their order if you receive several by one post. This is the third. The weather continues glorious, such magni? ficent sunshine, without excessive heat, and such delightful mornings and evenings, cool but not cold, clear skies and soft breezes. I had a 10 miles drive along the Nile at ten o'clock last night so I can judge. But I must tell you how it happened. Schorstein insisted on my dining with him. He is staying at the Mena House Hotel, which is 10 miles from Cairo and is just at the foot of the Great Pyramid. So at 5 o'clock in the afternoon he came here for me and drove me to the Pyramids. The road runs by the Nile, through one continuous avenue of orange and lemon trees and Egyptian acacias. There is no break in this shady grove the whole ten miles. The horses here are exceedingly fast, so we were not an hour on the journey. While Schorstein went inside, I sat out on a balcony opposite the Pyramids. I am not good at gushing descriptions, but I cannot but try to explain the effect of the sight. I saw the Pyramids under very different conditions from those in which Cook's tourists see them. It was sunset, and the rich yellow of the sandstone rock out of which the Pyramids are built was topped by a golden-brown crest cast by the lingering sunshine. It was the very edge of desert; at the foot of the Pyramids vegetation ceases entirely, and while on the one side all is green, on the other all has that marvellous colour which, once seen, will haunt one for ever. Colour, that is what it is. The sky, the ground, the air, trees, the rocks, the river, everything has a</page><page sequence="7">Letters of Israel Abrahams from Egypt and Palestine in 1898 7 colour which rouses one to an ecstasy of wonder and happiness. Then there is the moral effect of the Pyramids. These tombs of the Kings are now the centre of a sanatorium for the living?for such the Mena House Hotel is. Here are these Pyramids again, to remind one how true it is that 1000 years are in God's sight as an instant that passes away. The whole of this extraordinary civilization is gone for ever. I returned home by the grove at 10 o'clock. The moon was shining and it was a rare delight. If you had only been with me! I must work hard to enable me to bring you to Egypt one winter?you must come here at some time, and so must father and mother. If you do, stay at the Mena House, not at Shepheards. At Shepheards' the guests are a mixed crew of gouty old colonels and middle-aged spinsters, young bounders of both sexes, and scores of bad ones equally of both sexes. For me, it was impossible to stay elsewhere, because it would be ridiculous to be 10 miles from Cairo during a stay of a few days. So I resisted Schorstein's pitiful request that I should stay with him. He told me that the sight of me had done him a lot of good. I think it really did. We had a lovely chat about everything from 5 till 10 at night and then had not finished. Talk about women being chatterboxes! I am to see him again tonight, he dines here but not with me, as he had already arranged it with some travel acquaintances. Still we shall get another glimpse of one another. He goes to Sicily on Tuesday, thence to Italy, thence home by the end of May. Schorstein spilt a whole bottle of ink at Cook's yesterday and got a stain on his trousers. So he bought some spirits of salt and applied it with my help at his hotel. Nett results of operation: it was a little stain, it is a big one. We simply expanded the area of mischief. I am soon off to the Jewish Quarter again, a little nervous about the photos. It is very hard to walk in Cairo?the natives look upon it as a personal insult if they see a European not riding. The donkey-boys and donkeys are so hospitable! But off I will trot without a donkey boy. I promised one that I would engage him this morning, I must try to dodge him, but I reckon that he will waylay me. Give my best love to mother, to whom I will write tomorrow. Also to father when he gets back home. I have just met some Germans who crossed from Naples at the same time that we came from Marseilles. On their boat they were ill consecutively for 56 hours. So I shall not change my route home after all. You see, dear, that delightful as Cairo is my thought is ever of the route home and the return to my sweet love. Israel.' The remaining letters from Cairo are mainly concerned with the writer's visits to the old Jewish Quarter in Fostat, the photographs he took of the Chief Rabbi, who was, I believe, R. Raphael ben Simon Cohen, and the Geniza. 'Shepheard's Hotel, Cairo. 18th March, 1898. 'My darling wife, It seems immoral to come here and omit all the sights, so I went to one or two yesterday and shall do some more this afternoon. First of all I visited the Arab Museum, which is brimful of beautiful remains of Saracenic art. Why do not Jewish artworkers come to this Museum? It is perfectly ridiculous, the way in which our Synagogues flounder about trying to get geometrical designs for stained windows, mosaics, and panellings. Well here are some beautiful things in all these branches ?no figures of animals or even trees, but just forms and curves. But what variety, what grace! So, too with the lamps. But it is useless grumbling. We shall go on till the end of time with the same tawdry, ugly, glaring synagogue vestments and decorations. I then went to the Tombs of the Caliphs. Of course there are two distinct branches of antiquity here: the Ancient Egyptian and the Mohammedan. Yesterday I made a Mohammedan day. The drive to the Tombs lay through the narrow lanes of the native quarter. The coachman drive at a furious pace,</page><page sequence="8">8 Phyllis Abrahams shouting out "Yemini K'abar" ("Get to the right that I may pass") or "Dau el Cham?r" ("Get that donkey out of the way"), "Amaye abar" ("I want to pass"). The barefooted children slip in and out under the very horses' hoofs, and never get hurt, though the drivers turn round the corners at breakneck rates. Camels, donkeys, oxen, people all clear out of the way with extraordinary dexterity. The only person who is in real danger is the pas? senger. Every second you think that you are sure to be pitched out. The road yesterday was particularly trying to one's nerves. It was simply a huge dust heap with ruts at least 2 feet deep in all directions. I am now talking of the place when we got clear of the native quarter. A huge open plain, covered with deep sand and stones dotted with the small tombs of the poor and the huge Mosques of the great, with goats prowling about and little girls spinning silk here and there turning the wheels with their naked feet, and dust, dust, dust in stormy waves. For the first time I used my dark glasses. The sun here is not at all trying, brilliant though it be. The bad eyes of the natives are entirely their own fault. They let the flies settle all over their faces and will not take the trouble to brush them off. Well, my dragoman told me some fine lies about the tombs. One, said he, is 2,500 years old (that is to say twice as old as Mohammed himself!) Are you quite sure? said I. Well, he replied, not quite 2,500 years yet; but in July the 2,500 years will be complete! The effrontery of these chaps is most mirth-provoking. Then he showed me some stones, in little holes by the Tombs. You take these stones, put them in water, and then use the latter as a lotion in case of illness. "If people believe it a good stone it make him better" said the dragoman, truly enough. Then he showed me some marks in a stone preserved with great care. The marks were the feet of Mohammed. When he fled from his foes across the sand his feet left no trace, so that though he made tracks he made no track I suppose. His foes therefore could not follow him in the desert for they didn't know which way the wily one had gone. When he got off, he rested his hot feet on a stone and hence the footprint which they show you. In the afternoon I went again to the Jews' Quarter. I took several photos?I don't know with what result, I think without success. I am going to old Cairo now?the Shamash is coming to fetch me. He is a very decent young man?quite well educated. He only wants one reward for his trouble (and he has had lots of trouble with me)?namely that I will take his photo. The Rabbi also wishes the same thing. Of course I will do it. I have not had the heart to confess that I have never taken portraits before. I will try my best for them. The children all crowd round me and the little devils peep under my focussing cloth with their dirty little heads. The pretty children are shy and refuse to be taken, the ugly little beasts get in front and obscure the view. I shall go there today and try a few snapshots. But I have no hope of good work yet. By the time I get to Jerusalem I shall be far more expert. One thing I can't help noticing. In the Jewish quarter one is not plagued for "backsheesh" like one is elsewhere. This may be because I had the Rabbi's servant with me, but at all events it is the truth. One word of business. I hope you paid Halford and that you will pay income tax on April 1st. (It is over ?6 O.Od. Joslyn will give you the amount). Best love to you, Ever yours affectionately, Israel.' 'Shepheard's Hotel, March 18th 1898. 'My dear Fritz, There is nothing like a sea journey for making acquaintances. Here are the people I was on board with turning up at every step, and some are going in my boat to Jaffa and the rest will be a little later on in Jerusalem so that I shall not be with entirely fresh faces. They were hardly a lively lot, but still there were some very decent fellows among them, and I particularly like a Mrs. Nichol of Edinburgh, who is staying here overnight only. She was on board from Marseilles. I had a busy morning in Old Cairo. I saw the Geniza?there is a great deal left. I should</page><page sequence="9">Letters of Israel Abrahams from Egypt and Palestine in 1898 9 not wonder that there is as much again as Schechter took. Possibly I may get permission to look through some of the residue on Sunday. Don't let this leak out yet?I may write an article for Myers3 on my visit to Old Cairo where the Geniza is. Perhaps I will write also another for him called "Friday in the Cairo Ghetto". I was there all the afternoon. I will not fill my letter up with what I saw in case I write the article, and you need not read it twice. I have at all events had a very full day. I have now taken 12 photos in Cairo, and shall know the result tomorrow. Developing is as cheap here as in London, and the result of these will give me a guide for Palestine. I think that I have over-exposed them, but it takes me a long time to learn that a mere flash does the trick. By the time I get home I shall be quite expert?I feel certain of it. Again I noticed that I do not get asked for baksheesh in the Jewish Quarter. Elsewhere the dear little babies who can't yet talk, hold out their pretty chubby hands. What a training in self-respect! The weather has been very strange today? exceedingly hot, with sand showers. They say these showers last 3 days usually. Hence it is a bad look out for tomorrow, when I am going with Dr. Nicholl (husband of the afore? mentioned lady) to the Gizeh Museum. It would be criminal not to go, as it is the greatest collection of Egyptian antiquities in the world. But this will be my last expedition. On Sunday I go early to the Rabbi and perhaps to the Geniza again on that day, or more probably on Monday. On Tuesday morning I leave for Port Said. My experiences at the Geniza, as regards my photography, would make a cat laugh. One thing was serious. They all will get their heads under the focussing cloth. When I got back home, I smothered it in camphor. Some of them would see their own faces and were astonished that they could not. It was useless trying to explain that they could only see what was in front of the camera and not what was behind. They thought I was tricking them. The dragomans are an accursed race. I have as little to do with them as I can. One man in this hotel hired one as a regular job for a fortnight. He never turns up but sends a substitute, whom he sweats. Then they get commissions from all the shopkeepers in the Bazaar?enormous commissions of 50 per cent. You think that they are shouting and quarrel? ling to cut down the prices for you. They are really cutting up the commission for themselves. Last night about 150 people from this hotel, and I am told hundreds from other hotels, went to an Egyptian wedding. No one invited them, but the dragomans. The latter forced themselves on the hotel-stayers and thus were responsible for the latter's disappointment. As you know, weddings in the East are open to everyone?the banquet is spread for all? comers. But then it hardly means several hundreds of European strangers! Hence, the natives are finding it impossible to admit all the invaders, and last night many returned (having paid their dragomans) with hopes frustrated. I found out that what I witnessed the other day at the Rabbi's was a marriage. She was 28, he was 45. I have further ascertained that the usual marriage age for girls is 18-21?quite a respectable age. There are hardly any girls who do not marry. This is remarkable, but true?at least so I heard today. "Suppose no one will have them" I objected. "But someone does have them." There are some Jews with two wives, but not many. The reason for the second marriage is: no children after 10 years of wedded life. "Why not divorce wife A before marrying wife B?" I asked this question as a feeler. The reply was excellent: "Because he loves his wife A." I have put almost these very words in my book,4 and it is curious to have it confirmed. But if I write Myers the articles I will put these things into it. I will not write them till after I have seen the Rabbi again and perhaps revisited the Geniza. The latter is a hard job. The ride is long and the place very dusty indeed. Still duty must be done, and I did not come away on a pleasure jaunt. So if I must, I must. I sent you today a few photographs {not taken by me) and a card 3 Asher Myers, then Editor of the Jewish Chronicle, London. 4 Jewish Life in the Middle Ages (1896), ch. VII, pp. 117-118.</page><page sequence="10">10 Phyllis Abrahams to baby. I wrote to Sophy and cards to several people of the usual gang. Very best love to you my dear, Ever yours affectionately, Israel.' 'Shepheard's Hotel. Saturday, 19 March, 1898. 'My dear Wife, I have had the blues all day?and have been very lonely, especially as it is Saturday and I have not cared to go on any expedition. I walked 3 miles to the Great Museum, and in reward for my piety found it closed today because the Khedive attended a state function in an altogether different place. "Bokra" (Tomorrow) was all one could get out of the Arab in charge of the gate. So I trudged back another 3 miles through oceans of mud. There was rain in the night?and though this morning has been as fine as ever, there being no drainage, the rain remains. They bring round pumps and draw the liquid mud into the very same carts as they otherwise employ for conveying fresh water. This, as you may imagine, takes time and so the streets have been filthy all day. My photos have been mostly failures?but I have got one good one of a Synagogue interior. As to the others, they were all well focussed, but they were over-exposed. I shall do better next time. They do their best here at this hotel to keep their visitors in a good humour. There is excellent music during dinner, and all this afternoon we had a military band in front of the Hotel. Afternoon tea on the Veranda is a great function, for besides the hotel people, swarms of friends come from other hotels. The scene is bright and lively, but extremely noisy. A depressing thing is the absence of children. There are no children in Cairo (except native children of course). I have not seen 3 white children since I was here, always excepting the Jews' Quarter. How I miss our little dear's prattle. I have had no heart for anything today. Tomorrow may bring me relief in hard work if I can contrive to return to the Geniza. But I cannot tell whether I shall get the necessary authorisation. I shall not cry if I do not, but, between ourselves, it is a real sell Schechter pretending that he had brought away everything. I daresay they deceived him into believing that he had. The people near me at table are all interesting and affable, and there is no special reason why I should feel so utterly disconsolate as I do today. No special reason? A very special one indeed. I missed you when you left me to go to Harro? gate, but I miss you a hundred times more now that I am away from you. I do not think that I shall be able to endure it. Ever yours affectionately, Israel.' 'Shepheard's Hotel, Sunday, March 20, 1898 'My darling wife, I received your letter and card together this morning and they cheered me up very much. I feel much better since they arrived. When you write to Jerusalem, write full details of everything, you cannot imagine how it interests me and seems to bring you nearer. I am having a very lazy time today, but tomorrow my work will be cut out. I went to the Jewish Quarter and that is all I did. In this afternoon tomorrow I may return to the Geniza, but I am not certain. I shall certainly go to the Museum tomorrow morning. I have had my photos developed?they were mostly failures. But I think that I told you that already. I took two more today, which I think will also be bad, but I am pretty confident that my next lot will be successful. I take things here