Page images
PDF
EPUB

land came out, and I have got them all on my side, that we cannot afford to buy nitrogen to raise corn.

I have never had a chance to claim the credit of that until now. I have practiced applying my manure in the fall. I have eighty loads in the cellar now, which will be drawn out and put upon the ground as soon as it can be. I have done it for years, but I have not a neighbor or a townsman who has dared to do it.

Mr. WARE. We have passed a vote of thanks to every speaker, and certainly if any of them are worthy of it, Professor Roberts is. I move a vote of thanks to him for his able and instructive lecture.

The motion was seconded, and carried unanimously.

Adjourned to 7.30.

EVENING SESSION.

The meeting was opened at the hour appointed, by the singing of a duet by Mr. GEORGE C. Rice of Worcester and Mrs. G. A. WASON of New Hampshire, which was loudly applauded.

The chairman then introduced as the lecturer of the evening Hon. John E. RUSSELL of Leicester, late secretary of the Board.

THE AGRICULTURE OF THE NILE VALLEY.

BY JOHN E. RUSSELL OF LEICESTER.

The Nile is, in ancient speech, the parent of Egypt. The inhabited country is the actual bed of the river, bounded by the rising lands and mountain chains of the Lybian and Arabian deserts upon each side.

The remarkable physical fact is that rain practically does not fall in this region, and all vegetation is confined to the land that in the annual rise of the river is overflowed by it, or that is watered by irrigation. Much of the ground is several months under water, nearly all of it is not only watered, but also fertilized by the black silt or slime, as it is called, and which it resembles, that is brought down by the flood ; this comes in great part from the last tributary

of the Nile, the Atbara, which enters it in lat. 17° 45' N., taking its waters from the Samen Mountains.

The annual overflow of the Nile is one of the greatest marvels in the physical geography of the globe ; with the regularity of the re-appearance of the stars in their orbits its movement may be expected, only retarded in hours or minutes by adverse winds that slacken its current, rising to within a few inches of the same height each year, and remaining full about the same time; this is recorded as having taken place with almost unbroken regularity, for nearly ten thousand years. There is evidence that there have been failures and consequent famine; from what cause is unexplained.

The rise is due to the prodigious rains that, in their regular season, fall in the equatorial regions; the river begins to swell about the 25th of June, and goes on with gentle rise for three months, when it reaches its full volume. It remains at flood twelve days, then subsides with the same gradual and gentle action. The rise is about forty feet at the tropic of Capricorn. At Thebes it is thirty-six feet, flooding the Temples of Karnac on the other side of the river, and rising to the knees of the vocal Memnon. In ancient days these great works were protected with dykes. At Cairo and the vicinity of the pyramids the rise is fronı twenty-five to twenty-seven feet. Great effort has been made from the earliest times to fill canals and artificial basins with the water, and retain it for the subsequent irrigation of lands distant from the river; these works exist in all parts of the country where there is any considerable breadth to the valley, and it is a large part of the business of government to maintain them.

The first sight of the full Nile is at Cairo. Here it is a powerful stream, about five-eighths of a mile wide, flowing with strong current between high banks, and crossed by a fine suspension bridge. The great city of Cairo is chiefly on the right bank, but it extends to the other side, and the pyramids, though five or six miles away, seem to rise above the sycamore and acacia groves not half a mile from the bank.

The Nile is peculiar in various aspects. It differs from all

other streams in the character and in the beneficent effect of its annual flood. It is remarkable in the fact that its valley was the seat of a civilization thousands of years before even our conjecture, and that from it proceeded the knowledge that established Greece, and also in the physical wonder that for fifteen hundred miles it flows through a desert without receiving a tributary, wasted by the unclouded sun, the thirsty soil and the drafts upon it, for irrigation to supply the needs of several millions of people. This continuous waste has the effect peculiar to this river, that it grows larger as it is ascended, until, a thousand miles to the south, its mighty torrent pours through the sculptured walls of its rocky sides, in volume and power far greater than that which passes Cairo, and divides into the two branches that make the Delta and join the Mediterranean. The river at Cairo is alive with craft; all the business of upper and middle Egypt comes down in large boats with the vast triangular sails called lateen, so much used in the Levant. There are small mail and government dispatch steamers, and large steamboats that ply with passengers as far as the first cataract, which is about six hundred miles.

The travelers' observation of the Nile valley, except what he gets from his railway journey from Cairo to Alexandria, or across the land of Goshen to the Suez Canal, must be from the journey up the Nile; and the only way to properly make this voyage is to take a Nile boat and spend the winter on the river, slowly sailing up with the north winds when they favor, and sailing with the south winds and drifting back again with the current, in the spring. To do this I chartered the boat “India,” one hundred and ten feet long, drawing thirty-four inches; two masts, one at stern and one at bow, carrying large sails. The cabin occupied about two-thirds of the boat, and the top of it made an upper deck with awnings and seats. The crew consisted of a captain, steersman and fourteen men, a cook and assistant, two cabin servants, and the dragoman, who is the glory of the East, the guide, philosopher and friend, interpreter, caterer and never-failing comforter of the traveler. Our dragoman was a good Mussulman, bearing the honored name of Hassan Mahomet; an Arab of ancient lineage and gay apparel. His dress was Oriental, except that he preferred European shoes to the slipper of his people that can readily be thrust off at the door of the mosque; his full petticoat trousers, gathered at the ankle, were of the finest cloth; his jacket of the same color, - usually & fine blue, — and tastefully embroidered with black on the seams; a silk vest of yellow or scarlet to the throat; about the waist a rich Persian scarf, a heavy turban in which was wound a Damascus handkerchief of such beauty that whenever I looked at it I was reminded of the famous handkerchief that Othello describes : “ That handkerchief did an Egyptian to my mother give; there's magic in the web of it. A sybil that had numbered in the world the sun to make two hundred compasses in her prophetic fancy sewed the work, - the worms were hallow'd that did breed the silk, and it was dyed in mummy that the skillful conserved of maiden's hearts."

This man's accomplishments were various; he was skilled in languages, his good nature was unfailing; he had abundant tact and patience; he was a thorough servant, waiting at table, and always ready to accompany us on shore for excursions, of which he arranged every detail, and intending that nothing should ever disturb the comfort or ease of his travelers.

With this outfit, one lovely December afternoon, a north wind blowing in from the sea, our 'captain, a gloomy and dignified Egyptian, carried an anchor out toward the middle of the river from the Cairo bank; our vessel was then pulled to it, and, hoisting our great lateen-sails, we soon saw the citadel and minarets of Cairo behind us, on the left, and the pyramids, dark against the glow of the evening sky, on the right. At night-fall we tied to the bank at Memphis, within easy reach of some of the most interesting monuments in the world.

It is not my intention, this evening, to attempt any description of the temples or tombs of Egypt. Egyptology is, in our day, a science that has created libraries, and absorbed the whole attention of many devoted students. It was my good fortune and intention to meet two of the most eminent of these gentlemen, the renowned German author, Brugsch Bey, in charge of all Egyptian antiquities, and the celebrated English authority, Professor Sayce. I had also the pleasure and profit to travel nearly all the distance up the river in company with the boat of Mr. Charles Wilbour of Paris, a distinguished Egyptian scholar, who, with the American artist Blashfield, had a boat about the size and equipment of ours. From these gentlemen I had much advice, assistance and information. My purpose before this assembly is to treat in a cursory manner of the agriculture of a rainless climate, with a few observations on its limited botany.

The continent of Africa, east of the Barbary States, bordering on the Mediterranean Sea for a thousand miles, and extending south for nearly two thousand miles, is a mighty expanse of rainless desert. Groups of mountains and chains of rocky promontories add to the lonely desolation of these wastes. The atmosphere is brilliant, and the winter air cool and bracing, but the eye seeks almost in vain for vegetation; there are, at wide intervals, oases where water is found in wells, and there are marshes and bitter lakes, but they are like little islands in a wide ocean. This terrible monotony is broken by the Nile, and the prodigious fertility of the narrow strip of land subject to its overflow.

In such a country the perennial flora must be one that in a state of nature withstands the months of inundation when the valley is soaked with water, and that can absorb moisture and store up strength enough to bear the complete drouth of the intervening season. There is no forest, and all plants that in tropical regions flourish in dim shade and upon the moisture of dying wood, and all the parasitic life of vine and air plants, are here unknown. The seeds of the North, carried by winds or birds, obtain here no lodgment. The slime of the Nile or the parched earth destroys them. The small number of plants that remain may be recalled without a written list. The date and doom palms, the acacia, the tamarisk and the sycamore fig are the chief of these, and live the better the nearer they are to the river bank. With irrigation, orange, lemon, pomegranate, apricot, almond, myrtle, jasmine, rose and similar vegetation flourishes.

Useful annuals seem to depend entirely upon the care of

« PreviousContinue »