DAMASCUS, 27th May. 1858.

I had thought of writing to you long ago, to tell you what I had done by way of trying to fulfil the commissions you kindly gave me; but the difficulties of sending anything like a letter “while I am on the road” in these countries, are not to be told. At least they are great to me, who am always unable to write by candle-light; and the early morning is snatched for moving forward, while mid-day heat & weariness put a veto on all labour, but that of catching & flapping away flies. And when in Hotels, (in the very {97} few spots where such houses exist) there are so many things to look after and look at, & so much re-arrangement for the next journey, that the time for a real sitting down for letter writing never seems to come. To-day the Syrian Haj takes its departure for Mecca, and as there is no chance of drawing anywhere out of doors, along of the excitement of the pious Moslem mind, which finds a safety valve in throwing stones at Nazrãni, I shall remain here and fill a sheet, if not two, which may reach you to amuse an hour or two of your leisure some fortnight hence.

My stay in Jerusalem or rather opposite the City, — for I pitched my tents on the Mount of Olives when I had ascertained the point I thought you would like best for your picture, was the most complete portion of my tour: i.e. I was able to attend thoroughly, and to the best of my ability to what I was doing, in peace & {98} quiet : whereas much of the rest of my Palestine journey has been toiled through under far other circumstances.

[After describing at great length the reasons which led him to select a north-east view of the city for Lady Waldegrave’s picture, illustrated by various little sketches reproduced here, he continues: —]

And now what shall I say on the subject of the companion painting ? One of the most remarkable as well as of the most picturesque studies, I have obtained, is of Sebbeh, or Masada, the history of which you will find in? Translation of Josephus. This was one of the places I so much wished to visit & one which I am so pleased at having drawings of. It is like this somewhat, only I cannot give here what only detail & colour can produce. The great depth {99} of the ravine below. A. is the Dead Sea : — B. is the line of Moab mountains. This scene, as that of the last Jewish struggle for freedom against Rome, would I think be a very excellent subject in its way, but in case you should not like this there is Hebron, which is very particularly a Hewbrew antiquity, & is besides sufficiently picturesque to form a good picture: though why Abraham choose to live there I cannot think: I found it abominably cold & wet, & besides, they threw stones at me whenever I drew, so that I wished the whole population in Abraham’s bosom or elsewhere 20 times a day.

Another subject which is astonishingly grand is Petra. (Not that I can ever see the sketch without feeling my ears tingle at the memory of the filthy Arab savages.) Petra was the capital of the Nabathoean {100} (or Idumoean) Kings, who reigned in Jerusalem as Herods, & it was one of them who built Masada. The magnificence of Petra is not to be told, I mean the magnificence of combined ruin, splendour of sepulchral architecture and excavated temples, united to the most romantic mountain or rock scenery & the most beautiful vegetation.

At present the heat is getting too great to allow of my drawing much, & also the country is in such a state that many places can only be visited at the risk of robbery &c., even if the traveller goes over the ground as rapidly as possibly. So travelling, — he may escape outrage, but with me, that mode of progress is useless: — I must stop often and for a considerable time, so that it is not easy to escape {101} those odious Arabs. The whole plain of Eisdrœlon for instance swarms with them, & they attack all passengers. Of known names Lord Dunglas,  Col. Cust, Sir J. Fergusson  & of unknown names, numbers have been stopped: — and lately many Americans have been robbed & some murdered, which in one sense is a very good thing, since I do not understand that the American Govt., think proper to uphold the fiction of Turkish renovation, & instead of being compelled to pooh-pooh the entirely dislocated state of all order in Palestine & Syria, they will it is to be hoped get riled and act accordingly. If it were not shocking, the fate of one large American party near Nazareth is beyond belief absurd: — the Arabs actually went off with all but one large blanket, of which Mr. & Mrs. T. made two garments & therein rode to the town. Some revenge was probably mixed up in the case, on the part of some Arab it is said they had threatened; for they took every book & drawing, & paper, & even Mrs. T.’s wig & spectacles. Of Dr. Beattie’s  party 10 days ago, the ill-fortune was as great or even greater: — they were setting out for America, but these animals took all their treasures, not only clothes, but books, collections of plants &c., {102} things of no use to them, but I believe taken as diversions for their nasty little beastly black children.

Of my own mishaps at Petra you perhaps have heard; how about 200 of them came down on me, and every-thing which could be divided they took. My watch they returned to me, but all money, handkerchiefs, knives, &c., &c., were confiscated. Since then my 2 muleteers, whom I sent by land from Jaffa to Beirût were robbed of their little all by the way, & one might add others. But, cui bono! English people must submit to these things, because we have no influence in Syria or Palestine, nor in the East generally. I should like to hear of a French party being stopped or murdered!! The Arabs (& Turks) know too well that neither French nor Austrians can be touched with impunity.

The time is evidently near at hand when all the country will be a field of dispute for Latin & Greek factions once more, and the most miserable Jerusalem once again the bone of contention. If on the one hand the Latin Patriarch is building a great Palace & Convent near Bethlehem, and the Austrians are raising a splendid “Hospital” (a sort of Knight Templars affair,) in Jerusalem itself, to be opened by Pius IX it is said, — on the other hand the Russian clergy have constantly increasing influence among the natives, & even just now a particular delegate has come to the “Holy City” with important powers from Alexander. In the meantime, the “Protestants” {103} stand alone as a mark for Hebrew, & Heathen, Musulman, Latin, Greek, & Armenian, to be pointed out by all & each as the living Pharisees of the day, professing a better & simpler form of Christ’s religion than their fellow Xtians, yet scandalizing the whole community by their monstrous quarrels; their Consuls & Bishops regarding each other with hatred, & each acting to each with open contempt & malignity, while every portion of their resident fellow religionists take one or the other side of the faction. And this forsooth at a place for example for Turks & Jews; this at the very place where He whom they believe the founder of their faith, died! By Heaven! if I wished to prevent a Turk, Hebrew, or Heathen, from turning Christian I would send him straight to Jerusalem! I vow I could have turned Jew myself, as one American has actually lately done. At least the Jews do not lie; they act according to their belief : and among themselves they are less full of hatred & malice (perhaps, — for bye the bye, they excommunicated Sir M. Montefiore in 3 synagogues because they said he tried to introduce Xtian modes of life,) than the Xtian community. But these latter, arrogating to themselves as they do all superiority in this & the next life, trample the most sacred doctrines of Christ below their feet daily: “I say unto you love one another” are words which Exeter Hall, or Dr. Phillpotts,  — Calvinist, or Puseyite, Monophysite {104} Armenian & Copt, or Trinitarian Greek, & Latin receive with shouts of ridicule & blasphemous derision. — “Almost thou persuadest me not to be a Xtian” is the inner feeling of the man who goes to the “Holy City” unbiassed towards any “religious” faction: — & it is at least my own deliberate opinion that while “the Christ that is to be,” is so far, far removed from the Xtian priesthood and Xtians in a body as it is in South Palestine, while, in a word Jerusalem is what it is by & through Xtians dogmas & theology, — so long must the religion of Christ be, and most justly, the object of deep hatred & disgust to the Moslem, of detestation & derision to the Jew. From all this mass of squabblepoison let me except the Americans: — these alone, particularly in Northern Syria seem to think that Christ’s doctrines are worth keeping thought of: as far as I can perceive, they are as much respected for their useful practical lives, as for their uniform peaceful & united disposition of brotherly love one towards another.

One word about the Jews: the idea of converting them to Xtianity at Jerusalem is to the sober observer fully as absurd as that you should institute a society to convert all the cabbages & strawberries in Covent garden into pigeon-pies & Turkey carpets. I mean that the whole thing is a frantic delusion. Are the {105} Jews fools that they should take up with a religion professing to be one of love & yet bringing forth bitter hatred & persecution ? Have the Jews shown any particular sign of forgetting their country & their ancestral usages, that you should fancy it easier for them to give up their usages in the very centre of that country they have been so long attached to, & for the memory of which they have borne such and so much misery? Once again the theory of Jew-conversion is utter boshblobberbosh — nothing more nor less.

With all this, and in spite of all this, there is enough in Jerusalem to set a man thinking for life, & I am deeply glad I have been there. O my nose! O my eyes! O my feet! How you all suffered in that vile place! for let me tell you, physically Jerusalem is the foulest and odiousest place on earth. A bitter doleful soul-ague comes over you in its streets. And your memories of its interior are but horrid dreams of squalor & filth, clamour & uneasiness, hatred & malice & all uncharitableness. But the outside is full of melancholy glory, exquisite beauty & a world of past history of all ages: — every point forcing you to think on a vastly dim receding past, or a time of Roman war & splendour, (for Ælia Capitolium was a fine city) or a smash of Moslem & Crusader years, with long long dull winter of deep decay through centuries of misrule. The Arab & his sheep are alone the wanderers on the pleasant vallies and breezy hills round Zion: — the file of slow {106} camels all that brings to mind the commerce of Tyre & other bygone merchandize.

Every path leads you to fresh thought: — this takes you to Bethany, lovely now as it ever must have been: quiet, still little nook of valley scenery. There is Rephaim & you see the Philistines crowding over the green plain — Down that ravine you go to Jericho: from that point you see the Jordan and Gilead. There is Anatoth, & beyond all, the track of Sennacherrib — Mishmash, Giba, Ephraim. There is the long drawn hill line of Moab. There is Herodion where the King-Tetrarch was buried: below it you see the edge of Bethlehem which he so feared. That high point is Neby Samuel and beyond it is Ramah. Close by, that single peak is Gibeah of Saul, where Rizpah watched so long. (Bye the bye that is a 5th subject to choose from, for I went there on purpose to get the view: & wonderful it is. A. the Moab hills. B. Dead Sea. C. Jordan.) And thus, even from one spot of ground, you are full of thought on endless histories & poetries — I cannot conceive any place on Earth like Jerusalem for astonishing and yet unfailing mines of interest. {107}

But to leave an endless subject: My stay at Bethlehem delighted me greatly, And I then hoped to have got similar drawings of all the Holy Land. All the country near it is lovely, and you see Ruth in the fields all day below those dark olives. (This is the 6th subject. A. the Moab hills.) Next to those I came to the Dead Sea, which is a wonder in its way, but the finest part, Ain Gidi, I could not draw well, by reason of more Arab botheration. Beyond there I saw little else of Southern Palestine, the plain of Jericho, but not the Jordan, for there again my beloved Arabs distroyed my peace. Mâr (Deir) Saba, a wonderful monastery ‘‘all as one cut of a Cheshire cheese” as my man said: — the plain of Sharon, & Jaffa: — this was all.

The last part of my journey, (for I came from Jaffa by sea to Beirut,) has been of a different kind. All the Lebanon country is safe & pleasant, & the Maronite Xtians are kindly & respectable critters. But on the other hand, there wants that indescribable charm, far above and beyond all local beauty & novelty, which the scenery of sublimer Palestine {108} brings to the mind. The higher portions of Lebanon, i.e. the outer side — recall Etna: — & the stonier & more confined scenes, many a well known Cumberland & Westmoreland dell: — The whole plain of Cœlo-Syria, green & lovely as it is, is but Sicilian landscape, or Thessaly on a larger scale. The interior of Lebanon is however wonderfully fine: — a kind of Orientalized Swiss scenery: — innumerable villages dot the plateaus & edge the rocks which are spread on each side of & rise above dark ravines, winding winding downward to the plains of Tripoli and the blue sea. All these I could well have wished to explore and draw, & I might have gone thither, had I not become so very unwell from the extreme cold of the upper part of the mountain as to be obliged to return into Cœlo-Syria as soon as I could, having my drawing of the Cedars as a sign of my Lebanon visit.

Next I saw Baalbec but I can by no means endorse the enthusiasm of travellers regarding these very grand ruins. Their immense size, their proportions, the inimitable labour & exquisite workmanship of their sculptured details, none can fail to be struck with, nor to delight in contemplating. But, all the florid ornaments of architecture, (Roman withall,) cannot fill up the place of simplicity, nor to me is it possible to see hideous forms of Saracenic walls around & mixed with such remains as those of Baalbec, without a feeling of confused dislike of the whole scene, so incomplete & so unimpressive. To {109} my mind, the grand and positive-simple Temple of Pæstum — the lonely Segesta the Parthenon & Theseium, & above all, the astonishing singleness of the Egyptian temples are worth heaps of Baalbeks. Possibly also, the presence of 6 tents full of English travellers, of a rope-dancer from Cairo, with consequent attendant crowds, & of a village full of tiresome begging impical Heliopolitans had somewhat to do with my small love of Baalbek & its neighbourhood. The day’s journey thence half way over Anti Lebanon, & the following journey down hither would be of great interest could more time be spent on the way: — but though I have added little to my collection of drawings, the view of this city and its plain is almost a recompence for any trouble. Imagine 16 worlds full of gardens rolled out flat, with a river and a glittering city in the middle, & you have a sort of idea of what the Damascus pianura is like. I really hope to get a good view of this, but I am sadly put out at losing two days by the vagaries of these horrid Musclemen, not to speak of my being lame from a stone thrown at me yesterday, pig! I shall set off from here on Saturday the 29th & get to Beirût I hope on June 1st.

[I have omitted the pictures which are not mentioned in the text. The full letter with the illustrations and Lear’s description has been published in SL, 149-60.]