GREAT ROCK-CUT TEMPLE, ABOU SIMBEL, NUBIA.
A THOUSAND MILES UP THE NILE
AMELIA B. EDWARDS
AUTHOR OF 'UNTRODDEN PEAKS AND UNFREQUENTED VALLEYS,' 'LORD BRACKENBURY,' 'BARBARA'S HISTORY,' ETC.
WITH UPWARDS OF SEVENTY ILLUSTRATIONS ENGRAVED ON WOOD BY G. PEARSON
AFTER FINISHED DRAWINGS EXECUTED ON THE SPOT BY THE AUTHOR.
'It flows through old hushed Egypt and its sands,
Like some grave, mighty thought, threading a dream.'–LEIGHT HUNT.
GEORGE ROUTLEDGE AND SONS, LIMITED
BROADWAY, LUDGATE HILL
GLASGOW, MANCHESTER, AND NEW YORK
BY THE SAME AUTHOR,
UNIFORM WITH THIS EDITION
AND UNFREQUENTED VALLEYS:
A MIDSUMMER RAMBLE IN THE DOLOMITES.
TO THE SECOND EDITION
FIRST published in 1877, this book has been out of print for several years. I have therefore very gladly revised it for a new and cheaper edition. In so revising it, I have corrected some of the historical notes by the light of later discoveries; but I have left the narrative untouched. Of the political changes which have come over the land of Egypt since that narrative was written, I have taken no note; and because I in no sense offer myself as a guide to others, I say nothing of the altered conditions under which most Nile travellers now perform the trip. All these things will be more satisfactorily, and more practically, learned from the pages of Baedeker and Murray.
AMELIA B. EDWARDS.
PREFACE TO THE FIRST EDITION.
"Un voyage en Égypte, c'est une partie d'ânes et une promenade en bateau entremêlées de ruines." – AMPÈRE.
AMPÈRE has put Egypt in an epigram. "A donkey-ride and a boating-trip interspersed with ruins" does, in fact, sum up in a single line the whole experience of the Nile traveller. Àpropos of these three things – the donkeys, the boat, and the ruins – it may be said that a good English saddle and a comfortable dahabeeyah add very considerably to the pleasure of the journey; and that the more one knows about the past history of the country, the more one enjoys the ruins.
Of the comparative merits of wooden boats, iron boats, and steamers, I am not qualified to speak. We, however, saw one iron dahabeeyah aground upon a sandbank, where, as we afterwards learned, it remained for three weeks. We also saw the wrecks of three steamers between Cairo and the First Cataract. It certainly seemed to us that the old-fashioned wooden dahabeeyah – flat-bottomed, drawing little water, light in hand, and easily poled off when stuck – was the one vessel best constructed for the navigation of the Nile. Other considerations, as time and cost, are, of course, involved in this question. The choice between dahabeeyah and steamer is like the choice between travelling with post-horses and travelling by rail. The one is expensive, leisurely, delightful; the other is cheap, swift, and comparatively comfortless. Those who are content to snatch but a glimpse of the Nile will doubtless prefer the steamer. I may add that the whole cost of the Philæ – food, dragoman's wages, boat-hire, cataract, everything included except wine – was about £10 per day.
With regard to temperature, we found it cool – even cold, sometimes – in December and January; mild in February; very warm in March and April. The climate of Nubia is simply perfect. It never rains; and once past the limit of the tropic, there is no morning or evening chill upon the air. Yet even in Nubia, and especially along the forty miles which divide Abou Simbel from Wady Halfeh, it is cold when the wind blows strongly from the north.1
Touching the title of this book, it may be objected that the distance from the port of Alexandria to the Second Cataract falls short of a thousand miles. It is, in fact, calculated at 964 1/2 miles. But from the Rock of Abusir, five miles above Wady Halfeh, the traveller looks over an extent of country far exceeding the thirty or thirty-five miles necessary to make up the full tale of a thousand. We distinctly saw from this point the summits of mountains which lie about 145 miles to the southward of Wady Halfeh, and which look down upon the Third Cataract.
Perhaps I ought to say something in answer to the repeated inquiries of those who looked for the publication of this volume a year ago. I can, however, only reply that the Writer, instead of giving one year, has given two years to the work. To write rapidly about Egypt is impossible. The subject grows with the book, and with the knowledge one acquires by the way. It is, moreover, a subject beset with such obstacles as must impede even the swiftest pen; and to that swiftest pen I lay no claim. Moreover the writer, who seeks to be accurate, has frequently to go for his facts, if not actually to original sources (which would be the texts themselves), at all events to translations and commentaries locked up in costly folios, or dispersed far and wide among the pages of scientific journals and the transactions of learned societies. A date, a name, a passing reference, may cost hours of seeking. To revise so large a number of illustrations, and to design tailpieces from jottings taken here and there in that pocket sketch-book which is the sketcher's constant companion, has also consumed no small amount of time. This by way of apology.
More pleasant is it to remember labour lightened than to consider time spent; and I have yet to thank the friends who have spared no pains to help this book on its way. To S. Birch, Esq., LL.D., etc. etc., so justly styled "the Parent in this country of a sound school of Egyptian philology," who besides translating the hieratic and hieroglyphic inscriptions contained in Chapter xviii., has also, with infinite kindness, seen the whole of that chapter through the press; to Reginald Stuart Poole, Esq.; to Professor R. Owen, C.B., etc. etc.; to Sir G. W. Cox, I desire to offer my hearty and grateful acknowledgments. It is surely not least among the glories of learning, that those who adorn it most and work hardest should ever be readiest to share the stores of their knowledge.
I am anxious also to express my cordial thanks to Mr. G. Pearson, under whose superintendence the whole of the illustrations have been engraved. To say that his patience and courtesy have been inexhaustible, and that he has spared neither time nor cost in the preparation of the blocks, is but a dry statement of facts, and conveys no idea of the kind of labour involved. Where engravings of this kind are executed, not from drawings made at first-hand upon the wood, but from water-colour drawings which have not only to be reduced in size, but to be, as it were, translated into black and white, the difficulty of the work is largely increased. In order to meet this difficulty and to ensure accuracy, Mr. Pearson has not only called in the services of accomplished draughtsmen, but in many instances has even photographed the subjects direct upon the wood. Of the engraver's work – which speaks for itself – I will only say that I do not know in what way it could be bettered. It seems to me that some of these blocks may stand for examples of the farthest point to which the art of engraving upon wood has yet been carried.
The principal illustrations have all been drawn upon the wood by Mr. Percival Skelton; and no one so fully as myself can appreciate how much the subjects owe to the delicacy of his pencil, and to the artistic feelings with which he has interpreted the original drawings.
Of the fascination of Egyptian travel, of the charm of the Nile, of the unexpected and surpassing beauty of the desert, of the ruins which are the wonder of the world, I have said enough elsewhere. I must, however, add that I brought home with me an impression that things and people are much less changed in Egypt than we of the present day are wont to suppose. I believe that the physique and life of the modern Fellâh is almost identical with the physique and life of that ancient Egyptian labourer whom we know so well in the wall paintings of the tombs. Square in the shoulders, slight but strong in the limbs, full-lipped, brown-skinned, we see him wearing the same loin-cloth, plying the same shâdûf, ploughing with the same plough, preparing the same food in the same way, and eating it with his fingers from the same bowl, as did his forefathers of six thousand years ago.
The household life and social ways of even the provincial gentry are little changed. Water is poured on one's hands before going to dinner from just such a ewer and into just such a basin as we see pictured in the festival-scenes at Thebes. Though the lotus-blossom is missing, a bouquet is still given to each guest when he takes his place at table. The head of the sheep killed for the banquet is still given to the poor. Those who are helped to meat or drink touch the head and breast in acknowledgment, as of old. The musicians still sit at the lower end of the hall; the singers yet clap their hands in time to their own voices; the dancing-girls still dance, and the buffoon in his high cap still performs uncouth antics, for the entertainment of the guests. Water is brought to table in jars of the same shape manufactured at the same town, as in the days of Cheops and Chephren; and the mouths of the bottles are filled in precisely the same way with fresh leaves and flowers. The cucumber stuffed with minced-meat was a favorite dish in those times of old; and I can testify to its excellence in 1874. Little boys in Nubia yet wear the side-lock that graced the head of Rameses in his youth; and little girls may be seen in a garment closely resembling the girdle worn by young princesses of the time of Thothmes the First. A Sheykh still walks with a long staff; a Nubian belle still plaits her tresses in scores of little tails; and the pleasure-boat of the modern Governor or Mudîr, as well as the dahabeeyah hired by the European traveller, reproduces in all essential features the painted galleys represented in the tombs of the kings.
In these and in a hundred other instances, all of which came under my personal observation and have their place in the following pages, it seemed to me that any obscurity which yet hangs over the problem of life and thought in ancient Egypt originates most probably with ourselves. Our own habits of life and thought are so complex that they shut us off from the simplicity of that early world. So it was with the problem of hieroglyphic writing. The thing was so obvious that no one could find it out. As long as the world persisted in believing that every hieroglyph was an abstruse symbol, and every hieroglyphic inscription a profound philosophical rebus, the mystery of Egyptian literature remained insoluble. Then at last came Champollion's famous letter to Dacier, showing that the hieroglyphic signs were mainly alphabetic and syllabic, and that the language they spelt was only Coptic after all.
If there were not thousands who still conceive that the sun and moon were created, and are kept going, for no other purpose than to lighten the darkness of our little planet; if only the other day a grave gentleman had not written a perfectly serious essay to show that the world is a flat plain, one would scarcely believe that there could still be people who doubt that ancient Egyptian is now read and translated as fluently as ancient Greek. Yet an Englishman whom I met in Egypt – an Englishman who had long been resident in Cairo, and who was well acquainted with the great Egyptologists who are attached to the service of the Khedive – assured me of his profound disbelief in the discovery of Champollion. "In my opinion," said he, "not one of these gentlemen can read a line of hieroglyphics."
As I then knew nothing of Egyptian, I could say nothing to controvert this speech. Since that time, however, and while writing this book, I have been led on step by step to the study of hieroglyphic writing, and I now know that Egyptian can be read, for the simple reason that I find myself able to read an Egyptian sentence.
My testimony may not be of much value; but I give it for the little that it is worth.
The study of Egyptian literature has advanced of late years with rapid strides. Papyri are found less frequently than they were some thirty or forty years ago; but the translation of those contained in the museums of Europe goes on now more diligently than at any former time. Religious books, variants of the Ritual, moral essays, maxims, private letters, hymns, epic poems, historical chronicles, accounts, deeds of sale, medical, magical and astronomical treatises, geographical records, travels, and even romances and tales, are brought to light, photographed, facsimiled in chromo-lithography, printed in hieroglyphic type, and translated in forms suited both to the learned and to the general reader.
Not all this literature is written, however, on papyrus. The greater proportion of it is carved in stone. Some is painted on wood, written on linen, leather, potsherds, and other substances. So the old mystery of Egypt, which was her literature, has vanished. The key to the hieroglyphs is the master-key that opens every door. Each year that now passes over our heads sees some old problem solved. Each day brings some long-buried truth to light.
Some thirteen years ago,2 a distinguished American artist painted a very beautiful pictured called The Secret of the Sphinx. In its widest sense, the Secret of the Sphinx would mean, I suppose, the whole uninterpreted and undiscovered past of Egypt. In its narrower sense, the Secret of the Sphinx was, till quite lately, the hidden significance of the human-headed lion which is one of the typical subjects of Egyptian Art.
Thirteen years is a short time to look back upon; yet great things have been done in Egypt, and in Egyptology, since then. Edfu, with its extraordinary wealth of inscriptions, has been laid bare. The whole contents of the Boulak Museum have been recovered from the darkness of the tombs. The very mystery of the Sphinx has been disclosed; and even within the last eighteen months, M. Chabas announces that he has discovered the date of the pyramid of Mycerinus; so for the first time establishing the chronology of ancient Egypt upon an ascertained foundation. Thus the work goes on; students in their libraries, excavators under Egyptian skies, toiling along different paths towards a common goal. The picture means more to-day than it meant thirteen years ago – means more, even, than the artist intended. The Sphinx has no secret now, save for the ignorant.
In this picture, we see a brown, half-naked, toil-worn Fellâh laying his ear to the stone lips of a colossal Sphinx, buried to the neck in sand. Some instinct of the old Egyptian blood tells him that the creature is God-like. He is conscious of a great mystery lying far back in the past. He has, perhaps, a dim, confused notion that the Big Head knows it all, whatever it may be. He has never heard of the morning-song of Memnon; but he fancies, somehow, that those closed lips might speak if questioned. Fellâh and Sphinx are alone together in the desert. It is night, and the stars are shining. Has he chosen the right hour? What does he seek to know? What does he hope to hear?
Mr. Vedder has permitted me to enrich this book with an engraving from his picture. It tells its own tale; or rather it tells as much of its own tale as the artist chooses.
|Each must interpret for himself |
The Secret of The Sphinx.
AMELIA B. EDWARDS.
CAIRO AND THE GREAT PYRAMID.
Arrival at Cairo – Shepheard's Hotel – The Moskee – The Khan Khaleel – The Bazaars – Dahabeeyahs – Ghizeh – The Pyramids.
CAIRO AND THE MECCA PILGRIMAGE.
The Mosque of Sultan Hassan – Moslems at prayer – Mosque of Mehemet Ali – View from the Platform – Departure of the Caravan for Mecca – The Báb en-Nasr – The Procession – The Mahmal – Howling Dervishes – The Mosque of 'Amr – The Shubra Road.
CAIRO TO BEDRESHAYN.
Departure for the Nile Voyage – Farewell to Cairo – Turra – The Philæ and crew – The Dahabeeyah and the Nile sailor – Native music – Bedreshayn.
SAKKÂRAH AND MEMPHIS.
The Palms of Memphis – Three groups of Pyramids – The M. B.'s and their groom – Relic-hunting – The Pyramid of Ouenephes – The Serapeum – A royal raid – The Tomb of Ti – The Fallen Colossus – Memphis.
BEDRESHAYN TO MINIEH.
The rule of the Nile – The Shâdûf – Beni Suêf – Thieves by night – The Chief of the Guards – A sand-storm – "Holy Sheykh Cotton" – The Convent of the Pulley – A Copt – The Shadow of the World – Minieh – A native market – Prices of provisions – The Dôm palm – Fortune-telling – Ophthalmia.
MINIEH TO SIÛT.
Christmas Day – The Party completed – Christmas Dinner on the Nile – A Fantasia – Noah's Ark – Birds of Egypt – Gebel Abufayda – Unknown Stelæ – Imprisoned – The Scarab-beetle – Manfalût – Siût – Red and black pottery – Ancient tombs – View over the plain – Biblical legend.
SIÛT TO DENDERAH.
An "Experienced Surgeon" – Passing scenery – Girgeh – Sheykh Selîm – Kasr es Syad – Forced labour – Temple of Denderah – Cleopatra – Benighted.
THEBES AND KARNAK.
Luxor – Donkey-boys – Topography of Ancient Thebes – Pylons of Luxor – Poem of Pentaur – The solitary Obelisk – Interior of the Temple of Luxor – Polite postmaster – Ride to Karnak – Great Temple of Karnak – The Hypostyle Hall – A world of ruins.
THEBES TO ASSÛAN.
A storm on the Nile – Erment – A gentlemanly Bey – Esneh – A buried Temple – A long day's sketching – Salame the chivalrous – Remarkable Coin – Antichi – The Fellâh – The pylons of Edfu – An exciting race – The Philæ wins by a length.
ASSÛAN AND ELEPHANTINE.
Assûan – Strange wares for sale – Madame Nubia – Castor oil – The black Governor – An enormous blunder – Tannhäuser in Egypt – Elephantine – Inscribed potsherds – Bazaar of Assûan – The Camel – A ride in the Desert – The Obelisk of the Quarry – A death in the town.
THE CATARACT AND THE DESERT.
Scenery of the Cataract – The Sheykh of the Cataract – Vexatious delays – The Painter's vocabulary – Mahatta – Ancient bed of the Nile – Abyssinian Caravan.
Pharoah's Bed – The Temples – Champollion's discovery – The Painted Columns – Coptic Philæ – Philæ and Desaix – Chamber of Osiris – Inscribed Rock – View from the roof of the Temple.
PHILÆ TO KOROSKO.
Nubian scenery – A sand-slope – Missing Yûsef – Trading by the way – Panoramic views – Volcanic cones – Dakkeh – Korosko – Letters from home.
KOROSKO TO ABOU SIMBEL.
El-'Id el-Kebir – Stalking wild ducks – Temple of Amada – Fine art of the Thothmes – Derr – A native funeral – Temple of Derr – The "fair" families – The Sakkieh – Arrival at Abou Simbel by moonlight.
RAMESES THE GREAT.
Youth of Rameses the Great – Treaty with the Kheta – His wives – His great works – The Captivity – Pithom and Rameses – Kauiser and Keniamon – The Birth of Moses – Tomb of Osymandias – Character of Rameses the Great.
The Colossi – Portraits of Rameses the Great – The Great Sand-drift – The smaller Temples – "Rameses and Nefertari" – The Great Temple – A monster tableau – Alone in the Great Temple – Trail of a crocodile – Cleaning the Colossus – The sufferings of the sketcher.
THE SECOND CATARACT.
Volcanic mountains – Kalat Adda – Gebel esh-Shems – The first crocodile – Dull scenery – Wady Halfeh – The Rock of Abusir – The Second Cataract – The great view – Crocodile-slaying – Excavating a tumulus – Comforts of home on the Nile.
DISCOVERIES AT ABOU SIMBEL.
Society at Abou Simbel – The Painter discovers a rock-cut chamber – Sunday employment – Reinforcement of natives – Excavation – The Sheykh – Discovery of human remains – Discovery of pylon and staircase – Decorations of Painted Chamber – Inscriptions.
BACK THROUGH NUBIA.
Temples ad infinitum – Tosko – Crocodiles – Derr and Amada again – Wady Sabooah – Haughty beauty – A nameless city – A river of sand – Undiscovered Temple – Maharrakeh – Dakkeh – Fortress of Kobban – Gerf Hossayn – Dendoor – Bayt-el-Welly – The Karnak of Nubia – Silco of the Ethiopians – Tafah – Dabôd – Baby-shooting – A dilemma – Justice in Egypt – The last of Philæ.
SILSILIS AND EDFU.
Shooting the Cataract – Kom Ombo – Quarries of Silsilis – Edfu the most perfect of Egyptian temples – View from the pylons – Sand columns.
Luxor again – Imitation "Anteekahs" – Digging for Mummies – Tombs of Thebes – The Ramesseum – The granite Colossus – Medinet Habu – The Pavilion of Rameses III – The Great Chronicle – An Arab story-teller – Gournah – Bab-el-Molûk – The shadowless Valley of Death – The Tombs of the Kings – Stolen goods – The French House – An Arab dinner and fantasia – The Coptic Church at Luxor – A Coptic service – A Coptic Bishop.
ABYDUS AND CAIRO.
Last weeks on the Nile – Spring in Egypt – Ninety-nine in the shade – Samata – Unbroken donkeys – The Plain of Abydus – Harvest-time – A Biblical idyll – Arabat the Buried – Mena – Origin of the Egyptian People – Temple of Seti – New Tablet of Abydus – Abydus and Teni – Kom-es-Sultan – Visit to a native Aga – The Hareem – Condition of women in Egypt – Back at Cairo – "In the name of the Prophet, Cakes!" – The Môlid-en-Nebee – A human causeway – The Boulak Museum – Prince Ra-hotep and Princess Nefer-t – Early drive to Ghizeh – Ascent of the Great Pyramid – The Sphinx – The view from the Top – The end.
|I.||A. M'Callum, Esq., to the Editor of 'THE TIMES'||493|
|II.||The Egyptian Pantheon||493|
|III.||The Religious Belief of the Egyptians||495|
|V.||Contemporary Chronology of Egypt, Mesopotamia, and Babylon||499|
LIST OF ILLUSTRATIONS.
|GREAT ROCK-CUT TEMPLE, ABOU SIMBEL, NUBIA||Frontispiece.|
|THE SECRET OF THE SPHINX. After a Painting by ELIHU VEDDER, Esq.||xvii|
|TUNIS MARKET, CAIRO||7|
|CARPET BAZAAR, CAIRO||9|
|HEAD OF TI||62|
|"HOLY SHEYKH COTTON"||78|
|MARKET BOAT MINIEH||87|
|RIVER-SIDE TOMBS NEAR SIÛT||98|
|KASR ES SYAD||113|
|COLONNADE OF HOREMHEB, FROM A PHOTOGRAPH BY BRUGSCH-BEY||135|
|TEMPLE OF LUXOR||138|
|HYPOSTYLE HALL, KARNAK||149|
|TEMPLE OF ESNEH||161|
|NATIVE BOAT, ASSÛAN||173|
|CAMEL AT ASSÛAN||193|
|SOUDAN TRADERS AT MAHATTA||201|
|PHARAOH'S BED, PHILÆ||206|
|GRAND COLONNADE, PHILÆ||209|
|PAINTED COLUMNS, PORTICO OF LARGE TEMPLE, PHILÆ||217|
|EARLY CHRISTIAN SHRINE, PHILÆ||218|
|SHRINES OF OSIRIS, 1, 2, and 3||227, 228|
|RESURRECTION OF OSIRIS||229|
|INSCRIBED MONOLITHIC ROCK, PHILÆ||232|
|TEMPLE OF DAKKEH, NUBIA||241|
|TEMPLE OF DERR, NUBIA||253|
|SAKKIEH, OR WATER-WHEEL||257|
|CARTOUCHES OF RAMESES THE GREAT||263|
|RAMESES THE GREAT (Bayt-el-Welly)||286|
|RAMESES THE GREAT (Abydus)||286|
|RAMESES THE GREAT (Abou Simbel)||286|
|PROFILE OF RAMESES II (From the Southernmost Colossus ; Abou Simbel)||287|
|SMALLER TEMPLE, ABOU SIMBEL, NUBIA||294|
|CLEANING THE COLOSSUS||308|
|THE ROCK OF ABUSÎR||324|
|ENTRANCE OF SPEOS||331|
|PATTERN OF CORNICE||339|
|STANDARD OF HORUS AROËRIS||340|
|RAMESES II OF SPEOS||342|
|TEMPLE OF AMADA||357|
|TEMPLE OF WADY SABOOAH||359|
|HEAD-DRESS OF A KING||365|
|TEMPLE OF GERF HOSSAYN, NUBIA||371|
|TEMPLE OF DENDOOR||372|
|HEAD-DRESSES OF KINGS||374|
|TEMPLE OF KALABSHEH, NUBIA||375|
|RUINED TEMPLE AT TAFAH, NUBIA||378|
|TEMPLE OF DABÔD||381|
|RUINED CONVENT (COPTIC) NEAR PHILÆ||383|
|PHILÆ FROM THE SOUTH||388|
|NUBIAN WOMAN AND CHILD||389|
|TEMPLE OF KOM OMBO, UPPER EGYPT.||394|
|THE LOVELY ARAB MAIDEN.||408|
|DIGGING FOR MUMMIES||413|
|OSIRIDE COURT AND FALLEN COLOSSUS, RAMESSEUM, THEBES||419|
|PALACE ENTRANCE – MEDINET HABU||426|
|VASES AND GOBLETS, MEDINET HABU||427|
|OSIRIDE COURT, MEDINET HABU||433|
|THE "FRENCH HOUSE." LUXOR||452|
|COLUMNS OF AMENHOTEP III (LUXOR)||453|
|SAKKIEH AT SIÛT||481|
|"IN THE NAME OF THE PROPHET – CAKES!"||482|
|PRINCE RA-HOTEP AND PRINCESS NEFER-T||485|
|SPHINX AND PYRAMIDS||489|
1 For the benefit of any who desire more exact information, I may add that a table of average temperatures, carefully registered day by day and week by week, is to be found at the end of Mr. H. Villiers Stuart's 'Nile Gleanings.' [Note to Second Edition.]
2 These dates, it is to be remembered, refer to the year 1877, when the first edition of this book was published. [Note to Second Edition.]
Initial scanning and proofing by Diane J. Donaldson, Kayla Johnson, and Mary Mark Ockerbloom
Final proofing and formatting by Mary Mark Ockerbloom at A Celebration of Women Writers.
Size and location of illustrations may vary somewhat from the original. Footnotes have been renumbered to reflect their ordering in each chapter, rather than their ordering on each page. (The original page number and footnote number can be seen by viewing the source code and looking at the NAME attribute of the note.)
Amelia Ann Blanford Edwards (1831-1892)
Anyone who has lost themselves in one of Elizabeth Peters' "Amelia Peabody" mysteries, daydreaming of high adventure amid the pyramids of Egypt, will be intrigued by the writings of her real-life contemporary Amelia Edwards. Edwards enjoyed three separate careers: as an journalist, a novelist, and an egyptologist. She was also an active supporter of the suffrage movement, serving at one time as Vice-President of the Society for Promoting Women's Suffrage. Unlike the fictional Amelia Peabody, Amelia Edwards never married, but lived and travelled for much of her life with a female companion.
Amelia Edwards was born in 1831 in London. Her father had been an army officer before becoming a banker. Her mother was Irish. Amelia was educated at home by her mother, and showed promise as a writer at a very young age. Her first published poem appeared at age 7; her first published story, at age 12. Amelia published poetry, stories, and articles in a number of magazines including Chamber's Journal, Dicken's Household Words and All the Year Round. She also wrote for the newspapers, the Saturday Review and the Morning Post. Several of her short pieces can be read on-line at Gaslight.
Her first full-length novel was My Brother's Wife (1855). Her early novels were well received, but it was Barbara's History (1864), a novel of bigamy, that solidly established her reputation as a novelist. She spent considerable time and effort on their settings and backgrounds, estimating that it took her about two years to complete the researching and writing of each one. One might be set in America, another in England, a third in France. This painstaking work paid off. Her last novel, Lord Brackenbury (1880), was a run-away success which went to 15 editions.
Yet it is not her novels that are reprinted nowadays, but her traveller's tales. At age 30, following the death of her parents, Amelia had little reason to stay in England. Nor was there anyone close to her who would criticize if she chose to travel. The proceeds of her writings were sufficient to enable her to live independently and go where she wished. Amelia embarked on a series of intrepid expeditions, of which she wrote. Her accounts are notable for her knowledge of her surroundings, her interest and openness towards the people and customs of other countries, and not least for the humour and enthusiasm which enliven many of her experiences.
At a time when male chaperonage was considered socially, if not physically, essential for a woman traveller, she chose to travel and live with a woman companion. Male servants or guides were hired as needed, but in no way controlled the journeys. Their first trip was chronicled as Sights and Stories: A Holiday Tour Through Northern Belgium (1862). A challenging journey through the Dolomites, a mountainous area almost unknown to tourists at that time, is recounted in Untrodden Peaks and Unfrequented Valleys (1873). In the introduction, Edwards warns her readers,
"The passages are too long and too fatiguing for ladies on foot, and should not be attempted by any who cannot endure eight and sometimes ten hours of mule-riding." (Untrodden Peaks and Unfrequented Valleys, 1873, p. xxxiii.)
Together the two women braved flies, mud, cold, heat, poor roads (or no roads at all), resistant or hostile male servants and villagers, and other difficulties and privations. They thoroughly enjoyed themselves. It is clear that part of the attraction of travelling, for Edwards, was the challenge of reaching areas that were almost entirely untouched and inaccessible; of meeting and overcoming difficulties that others would not face. She sounds delighted when she states:
"We journeyed sometimes for days altogether without meeting a single traveller either in the inns or on the roads, and encountered only three parties of English during the whole time" (Untrodden Peaks and Unfrequented Valleys, 1873, p. xxxiv.)
It was her third documented journey, however, that substantially changed the direction of Edwards' life. In 1870, she travelled to Egypt and sailed a dahabiyeh up the Nile to Abu Simbel. There, she spent six weeks excavating at the Temple of Rameses II. Her animated and engaging account of the trip was published as A Thousand Miles Up the Nile in 1877. Of setting off the first day, in their boat, the Philae, she writes:
"Happy are the Nile travellers who start thus with a fair breeze on a brilliant afternoon. The good boat cleaves her way swiftly and steadily. Water-side palaces and gardens glide by, and are left behind. The domes and minarets of Cairo drop quickly out of sight. The mosque of the citadel, and the ruined fort that looks down upon it from the mountain ridge above, diminish in the distance. The Pyramids stand up sharp and clear." (A Thousand Miles Up the Nile 1891 edition, p. 37.)
By the end of the trip, Amelia was entirely smitten with Egyptology. It would become the major work of the rest of her life. All the same, the initial realization that intriguing artifacts were quarried from the graves of the dead was a shock. She writes of the changing perceptions of herself and others:
"Shocked at first, they denounce with horror the whole system of sepulchral excavation, legal as well as predatory; acquiring, however, a taste for scarabs and funerary statuettes, they soon begin to buy with eagerness the spoils of the dead; finally, they forget all their former scruples, and ask no better fortune than to discover and confiscate a tomb for themselves. " (A Thousand Miles Up the Nile 1891 edition, pp. 51-52.)
Trade in antiquities was largely illegal, and lucrative. There was tension and colonial rivalry between French and English explorers. The political climate was unstable. Once found, a site would almost certainly be pillaged and destroyed by the knowledgeable, the greedy, and the random passer-by. Edwards writes with regret:
... the wall-paintings which we had the happiness of admiring in all their beauty and freshness, are already much injured. Such is the fate of every Egyptian monument, great or small. The tourist carves it all over with names and dates, and in some instances with caricatures. The student of Egyptology, by taking wet paper "squeezes," sponges away every vestige of the original colour. The "collector" buys and carries off everything of value that he can get; and the Arab steals for him. The work of destruction, meanwhile, goes on apace. There is no one to prevent it; there is no one to discourage it. Every day, more inscriptions are mutilated–more paintings and sculptures are defaced. ... When science leads the way, is it wonderful that ignorance should follow? (A Thousand Miles Up the Nile, 1891 edition, pp. 353.)
Yet science offered the hope of recording and preserving something of that beauty and history rather than losing it utterly. Scientific investigations might lead to understanding, not just accumulation of treasure. When she returned to England, Edwards was determined to promote the cause of Egyptian archaeology. The field of Egyptology was just beginning to professionalize: many of those involved were "gentlemen explorers" whose technical expertise and knowledge varied widely. In such a climate, a rare gentlewoman might also become involved. Edwards consulted with leading experts, educated herself about the field, and formed lasting friendships with young gifted men such as Maspero and Flinders Petrie.
With her expertise in journalism, Edwards was well-placed to arouse public interest in supporting excavation work. With Reginald Poole, she began planning and promoting the founding of an Egyptological Society. It met for the first time in June 1880, at the British Museum. In 1882 it became formally known as the Egypt Exploration Fund, with Amelia Edwards and Reginald Poole as its joint honorary secretaries. While Poole took over the internal administration, Edwards attended to publicity and subscription work. Through the unceasing dedication of both Poole and Edwards, the society was soon able to finance the exploration work of Flinders Petrie. There is no question that the sound financial status of the Egypt Exploration Fund was largely a result of her extensive campaigning.
Edwards wrote letters soliciting possible supporters, and campaigned for the society by undertaking strenuous lecture tours through England and the United States. A series of such lectures were rewritten and published in book form, as Pharaohs, Fellahs, and Explorers in 1891. Edwards' personality sparkles through the pages. In Chapter 8, she chooses to describe in detail a Queen of Egypt, Hatasu, dissenting from other Egyptologists who minimized her importance. Edwards' love and knowledge of Egyptology are ably demonstrated in this collection. It also gives some idea of her ability to communicate clearly and interestingly to an audience. Edwards also translated a number of works into English, including Maspero's Egyptian Archaeology. She completely gave up her successful career as a novelist, writing only on Egyptological matters after 1880.
Her work was generally respected. She received three honourary degrees:, from Columbia College, New York; Smith College, Massachusetts; and the College of the Sisters of Bethany, also in Massachusetts. She also received an English civil list pension for "her services to literature and archaeology."
However, as the field of archaeology increasingly became the province of professional males, her influence in the policies and direction of the Egypt Exploration Fund decreased. More and more, de facto decisions were made by a sub-committee at the British Museum, in which she was not included, rather than by the Executive Committee of which she was part. Her marginalization was possible partly because so much of her time was spent away from London, campaigning on behalf of the society. Flinders Petrie, who unsuccessfully complained about the change to Poole, was to state flatly in his memoirs: "Poole and Newton cut out the founder, Miss Edwards."
Although saddened, Amelia continued to dedicate herself to the Egypt Exploration Fund. Her happiest and most productive period, however, was over. Her health began to deteriorate after the breaking of an arm during a lecture tour in American, in 1889-1890. Her enthusiasm did not decrease, but her energy did. Then, in January 1892, she suffered a personal loss: the death of the woman who had travelled with her and shared her West Country home for nearly thirty years. On April 15 of that year, Amelia too died, the immediate cause of her death being severe influenza.
She left an extensive library of Egyptology and a collection of Egyptian antiquities to University College, London. With it went a bequest of 2,500 pounds, to establish the first English chair in Egyptology. She would have been happy to know that, in accordance with her wishes, her friend and colleague Flinders Petrie was appointed to the position. The rest of her library was given to Somerville College, an early women's college at Oxford.
- My Brother's Wife 1855.
- Barbara's History 1864.
- Debenham's Vow 1870.
- The Days of My Youth 1873.
- Lord Brackenbury 1880.
- The Ladder of Life
- Hand and Glove
- Half a Million of Money
- Miss Carew
- Monsieur Maurice
- The phantom coach by Amelia B. Edwards ; adapted by I.M. Richardson, illustrated by Hal Ashmead. c.1982.
- Ballads. New York: Carleton,18--.
- A poetry-book of elder poets, consisting of songs & sonnets, odes & lyrics, selected and arranged, with notes, from the works of the elder English poets, dating from the beginning of the fourteenth century to the middle of the eighteenth century. 1878.
- Sights and Stories: A Holiday Tour Through Northern Belgium. 1862.
- Untrodden Peaks and Unfrequented Valleys: A Midsummer Ramble in the Dolomites. London: Longman's, Green, and Co. 1873.
History and Archæology
- Pharaohs, Fellahs, and Explorers New York: Harper & Brothers, 1891.
- A Thousand Miles Up the Nile London: George Routledge and Sons, Limited, 1891.
- The Story of Cervantes
- Outlines of English history : from the Roman conquest to the present time : with observations on the progress of art, science, and civilization, and questions adapted to each paragraph : for the use of schools c.1857.
- Manual of Egyptian archaeology and guide to the study of antiquities in Egypt : for the use of students and travellers by Sir G. Maspero. Translated by Amelia B. Edwards.