EGYPTIANS DRAWING NILE WATER FOR IRRIGATION.
horror well, but by many younger folk it is almost forgotten; probably among these the Tichborne Claimant has a greater fame than Gordon. I remember a few years ago addressing a vast and educated audience in America and on my mention of his name, hearing a whisper run from rank to rank “Charles Gordon? Who is Charles Gordon?” Yet we may think, and be forgiven for thinking, that old Nile which has so many memories, will yet bear on his to the future ages of mankind, his whose severed head was reflected in its waters. Surely of all that the ancient river has seen, no romance or tragedy is greater than that of Gordon. Well,
“He will not come again, whate’er our need,
No, Gordon will return no more and his tale grows faint.
“Enough; he is forgotten amongst men.”
It is pardonable to wonder also how many of these young people of our day remember the gallant struggle to conquer the Nile, its cataracts and distances, that was involved in the effort to rescue Gordon. It failed, as we all know, this wild war-office attempt to drag steamers and whale-boats over sixteen hundred miles against the current and through six cataracts. Had it been begun earlier it would have succeeded after all, but as it was, Sir C. Wilson arrived just a day too late. Gordon was already dead and the dervishes by hundreds were burying their spears in his poor body. Afterwards there was another ascent of the Nile and the battle of Omdurman. Revenge walked with a leaden foot, but when it came at length, it was complete. Some thirteen years after the murder of Gordon about twenty thousand dervishes paid the price of his precious blood, and now over Khartum, where the Mahdi and the Khalifa exercised their devilish rule, fly the flags of Egypt and of England.
Yet to-day the real romance of, the great river, although by cmparison it may seem dull, lies in the conquest of Nature achieved with the help of Nature directed by human skill.
Ages and ages ago the old Egyptians knew nothing of the origin of their mighty Nile, or why it swelled and sank at certain seasons. They imagined that it sprang from the ground somewhere above Philae, and if anyone had told them that it rose from a vast lake in the dim interior of an unknown continent, and measured 4,000 miles between its sources and the sea, probably they would have set him down as a romancer of the period. In the same way they had not the slightest idea of what was the cause of the annual inundation which gave them their wealth and had created the great Delta and indeed all cultivatable Egypt. Perhaps they thought that the river-god or some other divinity, did this for their especial benefit. Being people of great common sense, however, they took advantage of the kindly operations of the god. They made banks; to a certain extent they distributed the fertilizing water, they dug canals and lakes; they kept elaborate records of the rising of the stream at certain points, mostly by cutting them upon rocks, which records remain to us to this day; they punished those who broke embankments with severity.
But all these things they did by rule of thumb as the result of the observation of centuries. They were unaware that the Nile is two Niles joining in the neighborhood of the modern Khartum, some thirteen hundred miles above what was their border. These separate rivers are of course the Blue Nile and the White Nile. The White Nile comes from Lake Victoria and the Blue Nile from Abyssinia. It is the latter that together with the Atbara, brings down the mud in which the inhabitant of the narrow land of Egypt grows, and always has grown his crops. In June the green flood water of the White Nile appears at Cairo, and towards the end of July the red water of the Blue Nile, charged with soil, from the Abyssinian hills (one wonders why this never becomes exhausted) reaches the same place, after which arrives the flood from the Atbara.
THE GREAT BARRAGE ABOVE CAIRO.
Click pictures and drawings to download higher-resolution versions.
REMEMBER: Peoples' attitudes toward race, religion, and culture were a lot different when this was written! The opinions expressed in this article are not necessarily those of TravelHistory.org or of Hidden Knowledge, Publishers.